A couple of remarks about the infallibility of 12-step programs

Let me say at the outset that I am a firm believer in AA, NA and the other 12-step fellowships, just in case no one has noticed. They saved my life, the life of my wife, and of my best friend, his wife, my son-in-law and many of the other people who are most important to me.


It worried me early on, and continues to worry me nearly two decades later, how some people in the rooms seem afraid to allow their knowledge of alcoholism — not their program, but alcoholism — to progress beyond the middle of the last century. It’s as though if they admit that the founders didn’t know every possible thing there was to know, back in the days only a few years after the invention of penicillin, that it somehow calls the entire recovery issue into question.

Now I’ve gotta tell you: if I had a deadly disease (which I do — two, in fact), and if my continued good health and well-being were contingent upon my knowing as much about it as I could find out (which I believe they are), and if I were constantly giving guidance to people with less experience who suffer from the same disease (which I am), I would feel morally obligated (which I do) to find out every single thing that I thought might be useful in educating people about our little problem.

There is no question but that the 12-step model works for a lot of people. (Well, there are non-believers, but I’m not trying to start an argument.) Personally, I know way too many people who have been helped by it to doubt the point. But let’s get back to that word “believers” for a moment.

That’s what I get from a lot of folks in the rooms: that they are True Believers, and that anyone who suggests that the first 167 pages of the Big Book (or whatever) aren’t the be-all and end-all of knowledge about recovery should be treated about the same as an evolutionist at a camp meeting.

As stated above, I’m a believer. But I no more ignore the 70 years that have passed since the first edition of Alcoholics Anonymous than I am likely to ignore the little nuances that the medical community have developed since Sir Alexander Fleming’s heyday. I have a theory about the folks I’m discussing — the same one I have about creationists. They’re afraid to learn anything new, because then they might have to get out of their rut and walk with the rest of the world.

I gotta tell you, I hope none of those folks ever need a liver transplant. We’ll just have to give ‘em a shot of penicillin and leave them to recover on their own.

2 thoughts on “A couple of remarks about the infallibility of 12-step programs

  1. Rebecca H

    Thank you posting this. Our society and medical professionals locked up the insane in the last century. The big book thumpers are sometimes pious but I am able to tolerate it for two reasons. One, the people generally are living in a fear based state of perpetual ‘my disease is doing pushups’ and or they are sick of the watered down AA that has developed as a result of people dropping out of the program after a decade of recovery. I see the young people following each other around and a lot of sober insanity expanding in our community and very little behavior MOD and a lot of justifications based on the fact they are clean and sober. Lots of Hep C as well to comment albiet briefly on your other post.
    I am a book quoter myself only because it helps me to keep it simple and focus on what works for me, and what does not (me treating me).

    “the watered down AA that has developed as a result of people dropping out of the program after a decade of recovery”

    An interesting observation, and quite at variance with my own over the past two decades. It seems to me that AA works as well as it ever did; I just want to see it work better. I’d be interested in having you expand on that thought (perhaps on your own blog, or this one). To me, it doesn’t quite seem to follow, but perhaps I don’t understand.


  2. lightning

    I enjoy your blog.I am a supporter and believer in AA.I have attended other recovery programs that offer helpful and useful treatment methods to recover as well.We do know their are successful programs of recovery outside AA.I find it interesting that the psychiatric and psychology sciences learned from “bill’s” 12 steps and developed recovery methods based on the original doctrine.Those sciences were not able to present a solution until the “6” steps were discovered,practiced,and proven to work.They then began to study and analyze why and how.The original program was only 6 steps and later changed to 12 steps.


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