Friday, May 04, 2007

Exploiting Altruism – AA Name Defiled

Is there anything more despicable than taking a name that has earned a reputation for goodness and virtue and using it for selfish purposes? That is the question that members of the Washington DC Alcoholics Anonymous community are asking themselves, after one AA group has been revealed as a cult.

Alcoholics Anonymous is designed to help people suffering from a terrible disease. The group is not designed to benefit from its membership, either monetarily or otherwise, and its primary purpose is to help people who are suffering the disease. AA tries to avoid the power struggles that accompany leadership, and allows individuals to find the path most comfortable for themselves.

That is the key to AA’s success. The people who come into the program are often at their most vulnerable, and it’s the safe environment and flexibility of the program that allows individuals, like myself, to open up and help deal with the spiritual malady that is at the root of the alcoholism. The program focuses on people working together as equals with a similar affliction that they are trying to defeat.

But now one group is exploiting the good reputation of Alcoholics Anonymous. Newsweek exposed the Midtown AA Group in Washington DC, which appears to be designed as a cult. New members are urged to cut off ties with family and friends; members are pushed to avoid therapy and prescribed medications for things like depression; members of the group are even given paying jobs with other members of the group. The group becomes the center of the recovering alcoholic’s life.

All of the behavior I described above is against the tenets of AA, but the group has gone even further, by pushing new members to date members who have been in the group longer, and even to have sex with them. While different members of AA have different opinions on severing ties with old friends and taking prescription drugs, there is no question that the program is dead set against intimate relationships in early sobriety.

Members of the group point to their high success rate, and I’m not surprised so many people can stay sober in the group; the more support that is given to a member of AA, the easier it is to stay sober. Members of AA who have tight-knit circles of friends in the program tend to stay sober together, relying on each other in difficult situations. This would most certainly be true for members of the Midtown Group.

But AA is not only about staying sober, it’s about living a sober life. This group is pulling people out of life, preventing them from existing in society by providing for their every want and need in the group. They have created their own society which is probably successful in staying sober. The drawback is that each member has lost most positive aspects of their lives. The individual has been sacrificed for the common good of the group.

As a newcomer to AA, desperate to be relieved of the affliction of alcoholism, despairing at the multiple unsuccessful attempts to stay sober, immersing oneself in a group like this may seem like an attractive alternative. But the real benefits of AA, that allow members who work the 12 step program to live and experience life in a sober fashion, are lost. As such, I hope that this group gets revealed for what it is, a cult, before it hurts too many newcomers to the AA program.

Posted by Scottage at 12:09 AM / | |