Denver, CO

Some get sober without anonymous 12-step programs

David Heitz

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Alcoholics Anonymous die-hards bemoan rehab centers.

They say the centers simply roll out free 12-step programs in glitzy environs and charge a bundle.

You can get the same treatment for free, they say, in church basements with folding chairs.

It’s all about money, AA says of the rehab centers.

AA is fooling no one. Credible rehabs are staffed by medical professionals.

Anonymous people are calling the shots in the church basements.

In 2016, the powerful AA that pretends to be just a bunch of humble alcoholics decided to take someone to court.

The AA “Big Book” proclaims, “We have ceased fighting anything or anyone.”

So much for that.

AA claimed the original “Big Book” belongs to co-founder Bill Wilson. The “Big Book” is referred to as the Bible of AA and spells out the 12 steps. It was expected to fetch millions at auction.

But it belongs to us, AA argued.

They later dropped the suit when their own members called them out on their hypocrisy.

AA not for everyone

AA talks about service to others yet encourages anonymity in sobriety. Some believe the best way to address addiction and alcoholism is to stamp out stigma by standing up, not remaining anonymous.

Allowing alcoholics and addicts to remain anonymous in “the rooms” and encouraging other members to keep them “anonymous” can be a recipe for exploitation.

And people do get exploited in AA meetings.

Don’t be intimidated

Not all AA groups are bad. But my thoughts after 90 days were “My sobriety is too important to me to put up with harassment from angry alcoholics who claim to be happy, joyous and free.”

Happy among themselves, maybe. I found it clique-ish. Meantime, Americans are dropping like flies from opioid addiction.

The program works well for the people it works for: Alcoholics who want to drink vodka first thing in the morning.

AA was not designed by Bill W. to treat masses of people forced into the program. AA’s own Big Book says the only requirement for AA is a desire to get sober.

Court-ordered often not serious about sobriety

Some people are court-ordered into AA. Those court-ordered people generally are not interested in getting sober. Some act like disrespectful thugs in the meetings.

The truth is AA’s program is just not a good fit for some people.

Vulnerable people need to be treated by clinicians.

AA horror stories more common than you think

In a 2013 ProPublica piece, the website reported what I know to be true:

“Each year, the legal system coerces more than 150,000 people to join AA, according to AA’s own membership surveys. Many are drunken drivers ordered to attend a few months of meetings.

“Others are felons whose records include sexual offenses and domestic violence and who choose AA over longer prison sentences. They mingle with AA’s traditional clientele, ordinary citizens who are voluntarily seeking help with their drinking problems from a group whose main tenets is anonymity.”

“(When telling often-harrowing stories of their alcoholism, the recovering drinkers introduce themselves only by their first names.)”

Woman meets her killer in AA

AA cost Karla Brada Mendez her life when she met a sexual predator. ProPublica explains the perp was a narcissist who knew the Big Book backward and forward.

To quote ProPublica:

“To Victor Vieth, a former Minnesota prosecutor who now heads the National Child Protection Training Center in Minneapolis, none of these developments is surprising. Vieth has been involved in sexual abuse cases and prevention for 25 years and has become a nationally recognized expert in developing protective mechanisms for volunteers in service organizations.

“It’s predictable that if you put violent offenders in the company of those who are vulnerable, this is going to happen. This is exactly where they want to be, and who they want to target,” Vieth said.

“Sentencing a man who has repeatedly been physically violent to women to attend AA meetings, he said, is akin to sentencing a pedophile to be a middle-school hall monitor.

“Predators find the company of who they want and violate them,” he said. “If you are a woman in AA and you have social factors intervening in your life and you need someone to understand you, offenders know that. They can demonstrate compassion and kindness.

“This is exactly where they want to be. It’s 100 percent predictable that violence or sex offenses will occur because this is their target.”

Judges, he said, should consider the possibility of predatory behavior.”

My 90 days in Alcoholics Anonymous

I attended AA for 90 consecutive days. The idea is by attending 90 meetings in 90 days you set a good foundation for sobriety.

Then I fired my sponsor. I did not believe he was the right person for the job.

After I stopped attending an AA group packed with business people, I found a meeting in a nearby small town. The people all were friendly, down to earth, and affirming.

I received my two-year sobriety chip from that group, known as Milan, Ill. Serenity. But I never found another sponsor. I moved to Denver instead.

Anonymity creates free-for-all environment

The AA cloud of anonymity gives members anonymity in court, too. A convicted killer’s testimony recently was thrown out, for example.

AA creates a place where volatile people can come together in a setting where nobody can be sued. There is no payor-sponsored clinician present.

Addiction is serious. Few and fragile are the chances you get to show someone a way out. There needs to be recovery alternatives for people who do not feel comfortable attending AA.

In larger communities, there are sobriety groups such as SMART Recovery, which is science-based, and LifeRing, which is secular-based.

But in smaller towns these groups aren’t available.

Everyone needs support when they become sober. If you choose to stay away from AA, try to find an alternative.

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I have been in the news business more than 30 years, spending much of my career at some of the best local newspapers in the country. Today, I report on Denver City Hall, homelessness and other topics for NewsBreak, much like I did in my twenties covering Newport Beach, Calif. for the Daily Pilot. I consider myself a lucky guy to still be doing what I love after so many years.

Denver, CO
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