Thursday, April 5, 2007

How Alcoholics Anonymous Failed Me

By Marianne Gilliam

Reviewed by Don B.

Despite the title, this is not one of your typical "AA-bashing" books. What we have instead, is one woman's personal story of multiple addictions - food (bulimia), cocaine, and alcohol - and recovery.

When she encountered difficulties with the 12-step programs (AA, NA, OA) she struck out on her own path to sobriety. Mrs. Gilliam does point out problems with 12-step programs and discusses them clearly and rationally. For her, the programs are fear-based (fear of drinking/using again, fear of this "cunning, baffling disease", fear of not working the steps properly) rather than love-based. Not surprisingly, she likens 12-step programs to Christianity and the parent-child relationship - looking for something (someone or some power) outside ourselves for help and guidance, rather than looking within.

This is also evident in the sponsor-sponsoree relationship where the sponsoree is always in a subservient position, never reaching equality with one's sponsor. Instead of dealing with her emotions and cravings, her sponsor dealt her orders and slogans - go to more meetings, do a fourth step, "Let Go and Let God".

She also realized that when taking a "moral inventory", the only items on that inventory had to be shortcomings, character flaws, and moral defects - no room for any positives. It all added up to a program that left her fearful, dominated by others, powerless, and seeking outside validation.

When 12-step meetings stopped working for her, Mrs. Gilliam embarked on her own program for self- empowerment through meditation, inner spirituality, responsibility for oneself, and love. It seems to have worked for her, and she is smart enough to point out this fact, not claiming it's the only way or that everyone should do exactly as she has.

Parts of this book are a bit too "new-Age-ish" for this 50+ male, with numerous quotes and references to Shakti Gawain and Deepak Chopra, but nicely balanced with others by Charlotte Kasl and Stanton Peele. I'm sure that women would get even more out of this book than I did.

One parting thought that has stuck with me - Mrs. Gilliam refers to herself now as "recovered," rather than "in recovery" (with its implied lifelong meetings and steps). I like the term and may start considering myself recovered from now on.

Comment by Marty N.:

This book is worthy of notice because the author shares AA's core view that addiction is a spiritual defect, and that the way out lies through a spiritual conversion experience. Yet, no matter how hard she tried, Gilliam could not find in the AA environment the spiritual fulfillment she sought. This may suggest that AA -- perhaps particularly in the Atlanta area where Gilliam lives -- has become so wooden in its dogma and arrogant in its power, like a church that got too rich, that there is no genuine spirituality left in it. Or perhaps the whole theological dispute is a smokescreen for the decision Gilliam recounts, now that she is "recovered," to try drinking in moderation. Time will tell.

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