It's the 75th anniversary of AA: Is it time to ditch the 'anonymous' in Alcoholics Anonymous?

June 26th 2010

Addictions & Answers

BILL: A few years ago, I went to a Murray Hill AA meeting. “I was once at a cocktail party,” one of the speakers said to me afterwards, “where you said you were in AA and asked for iced tea. You were the first adult I ever met who did not drink. Up till then, I thought of AA as a bunch of shabby people, ashamed of who they were – winos or skid-row bums, or you had to be some kind of religious maniac, and if I went to a meeting, they’d make me sing hymns.

“But there you were, clean and sober, telling a joke or two without a drink or even seeming to miss it! That memory stayed with me. Then one day, near the end of my rope, I thought, Ellie, why not try AA yourself? Bill, you never said a word to me, but memory of you at that party changed my life.”

DR. DAVE: And you’re telling our Daily News readers this story right now because--?”

BILL: This month marks AA’s 75th Anniversary. Maybe it’s time for AA to evolve with the times – maybe Anonymity has worn out its usefulness? To give you a feeling for that now vanished time, pick up an AA pamphlet called, "Problems Other Than Alcohol." It was written by co-founder Bill W. himself. He begins by saying nonalcoholic addicts should never be admitted into AA. “No nonalcoholic, whatever his affliction, can be converted into an alcoholic AA member." Today, drug addicts are accepted routinely at any AA meeting; and drug courts, which are set up to deal with narcotics cases only, demand that clients attend so many meetings a week, AA or NA, either will do.

DR. DAVE: Writing this column for the Daily News, we have indeed heard from a lot of other groups —START, Rational Recovery, and some more closely connected to religion, Alcoholics Victorious or Rapha Groups. All have changed the wording of the 12 Steps to suit their own therapeutic philosophy.

BILL: Exactly my point. Isn’t it time for the AA leadership to drop their secrecy, and spend the next 75 years organizing all these splinter groups into one great overall movement “to carry the message to the alcoholic who still suffers” along with their partner, NA, carrying “the message to the addict.”

DAVE: Whoa there! NA and AA are no more partners than AA and Rational Recovery. AA cooperates, but says it will “never affiliate” with other organizations. As for the leadership that you think exists, one of the basic tenets of AA is that “Our leaders are but trusted servants, they do not govern.”

BILL: Pretty clear they won’t be making many decisions where votes would be needed to organize with the other programs…

DR. DAVE: Bill, what you are advocating goes against one of AA’s most traditional beliefs: “That Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all [our] Traditions, reminding us to place principles before personalities.”

BILL: Well then, maybe it’s time for a new leadership, one that won’t be so cautious about collaborating with everybody else to be more effective. Sorry to be the one who points out the Emperor has no pants, but AA’s rules were designed back when, like the Murray Hill member said, if people knew you were an alcoholic, they simply saw you as a deadbeat scoundrel. Now, with chemical dependency seen as a treatable disease why are they still in hiding?

DR. DAVE: The answer is—thousands of recovering alcoholics and addicts did give up their anonymity after the St Paul Summit of 2001, led by the most recognized recovering person of his era—the late Senator Paul Wellstone. AA, NA and the other programs remained anonymous—it was their members who come together in public with NO organization affiliation.

BILL: Sort of a reverse anonymity where the recovering people are known, but their support group affiliations aren’t!

DR. DAVE: And if any of our readers want to reach out and join this new unified group of recovering persons -- maybe as a birthday tribute to the first group of drunks back in Akron Ohio who started it all -- they can go to the group’s website and join, what is aptly called, The Faces and Voices of Recovery.

BILL: On my way Doc, just a mouse click away.

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