12 Traditions & meme of "cults" in AA

The 12 Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous, the principles that hold our groups and society together.

12 Traditions & meme of "cults" in AA

Postby nycmember » Mon Nov 25, 2013 3:22 pm

Hi,
I'm a new member of the forum and I've had a look around for a topic that interests me and couldn't find it - so I'm starting it myself. This is a long post - more like an article - I hope you don't mind me posting it here as I'd love some feedback on other peoples' experience.
nycmember

Flashback:
1990 – my mother’s tears and my father’s powerlessness and fears. Promise after promise, my debts cleared again. Abusing loved ones in blackouts. Hiding the self-inflicted burns all over my hands when I came home for holidays. Waking up, again.
1991 – My first year of sobriety. The best year of my life. Waking up, again, but without a hangover! Seeing a future without fear. Parents afraid to believe. Excited at AA meetings. Mother speechless.
1992 – Celebrate a year. My mother sending a card with a candle on the front to my sponsor. My father wanted to donate money to AA but told he couldn’t.
1996 – Celebrate 5 years of sobriety. Finish college and get a job! I think my parents were in shock…
2006 – Celebrate 15 years. My once-dying sister sober in my home group too. My father can’t believe it could happen. Two of my oldest school friends saved by the 12 Steps.
2007 – Turn up at an AA roundup and take off my name badge worried that someone will recognize my name from abusive articles about me on an AA-related website.
2011 – Celebrate 20 years. My child’s 1st birthday. Start to be fearful that people searching for my business will find my name on that same website spreading abusive stories, and that it will damage my livelihood.

Most 12 step stories go from horror to joy, problem to solution. Mine is a little more complicated as you can tell. You see, according to that website above, “I was an AA cultist!”

The word “cult” is as sticky as a lump of mud, and just as misshapen. Throw it at a group of people with some anecdotal scare talk and it will stick. Try to find a consistent definition on the Internet, and you’ll be sadly disappointed (give it a try). I got clean and sober at the beginning of the 1990s and don’t remember hearing any talk of cults in AA or NA in the USA or Europe. It is a relatively recent phenomenon and such talk has been focused mostly in AA. The groups and members who have the cult mud thrown at them are not new – some have been around for decades. It is the label that is new. So the trend has not been in a new type of AA group or member emerging, but in a proliferation of the use of the word “cult”.

Rivalries in AA actually date back to the 1930s – with the Akron and New York groups both convinced they’d got it “right” and that the other was somehow less AA. New York were afraid Akron would scare away newcomers with religion. Bill Wilson and Bob Smith were accused of trying to make a quick buck with the Big Book, and Wilson was accused of serious financial wrongdoings at one point. In other words, the Traditions emerged in the 1940s out of a similar environment to that which we have today. Some groups thinking they’re “more AA” than others, and believing that the other groups or their leaders are actually damaging AA and its reputation. Of course each new generation says, “Yes, but this time it’s different”.

The concept of dangerous cults became prevalent in the popular imagination starting in the 1970s, and particularly since the rise of the Internet. Some time in the last ten years, alcoholics and addicts began to realize that the label could be used to attack groups or members they didn’t like. Given how unfashionable AA principles are in this day and age already, it isn’t much of a stretch: necessity of belief in a Higher Power and self-defeat and confession of wrongdoings (“Don’t they use that in Scientology to get power over people?”) Plus of course: submitting to the power of the group, over the power of the individual, as discussed in AA’s well-known first Tradition. So add in a little charismatic leadership, highly structured meetings, or too much use of the word God, and you’ve got a great label to throw around to show you’re right and “they” are wrong because they’re a “Cult”.

Who “they” are is another issue. Names get bandied around like Back to Basics, Primary Purpose, Pacific Group and so forth. Each country, state and region has their own list. Ironically these groups are not a cohesive “they”. They do not particularly interact, nor even agree on many of the things each other do.

The truth is, that for all the alarm and scaremongering, nothing much has changed. The world is widely peppered with lesser-known groups who the “cult” labellers would probably leap at deriding if they only knew of their existence. This is just the same old AA battlefield that has existed since the late 30s, but with new types of derogatory labels being used. The same Traditions that stopped AA from blowing itself apart in the 1940s will prevent collapse in this new millennium. Now, as then, AA is not divided into “us” and “them”, or “proper AA” and “false AA”. It is in reality a collection of vastly different groups, a diversity which I find a cause for celebration.

The word “cult” has also been rather creatively applied by those more fearful of this diversity, an issue eloquently discussed in an article on one AA group’s website. The article explains that a dangerous cult is dangerous because of the negative results of membership. There are also some common features of dangerous cults. However it is not these common features that make the cult dangerous, it is the negative results.

Common features include charismatic leadership, strong group cohesion, sacrifice for the greater good, and dedication of time and energy. These features are not in themselves dangerous, and are found in many mainstream organizations such as the Catholic Church, many Protestant denominations, elite military corps and investment banks, and even children’s summer camps! The danger in dangerous cults is when they cut members off from their families, remove them from mainstream society, demand excessive financial contributions and cause physical and mental damage to the member.

It would be laughable to ask the family member of someone who’s successfully joined AA or NA “is you husband (or wife) a worse family member now they’re sober?” Similarly you’re unlikely to find the member paying thousands of dollars to “get to the next step” in AA. And as for asking the family or employer “has this AA group or sponsor damaged the now-sober alcoholic?” Well…if you’d asked my parents or family that question about me or my sister, and they would laugh in disbelief.

On a more serious note, the brandishing of the label “cult” does have a dark side. There are members of AA who are so enamoured by the power of this word to scare, that they are trying to form a legislature of AA. One group of vigilantes have taken to publishing a Cult Directory online and maxing out their Google-rank to ensure the blacklist proliferates. Their implicit claim: that they are guardians of freedom in a cult-threatened AA. It is reminiscent of McCarthy’s method of protecting freedom by limiting it. They want to protect AA freedoms by denying the freedoms of the AA members they disagree with. They want to make AA more loving by verbally attacking, intimidating or humiliating various AA members in public. Those who show support for “blacklisted” groups or members are themselves in danger of being blacklisted.

These tactics of intimidation and “naming and shaming” for the sake of love and freedom are, although self-contradictory, becoming more common – as I and my family experienced a few years ago. I was accused on a public website of abusive behavior and of being a cult leader. A Europe-based AA group was being accused of repeatedly causing the deaths of vulnerable AA newcomers. In reality it was simply another AA group. One that I, and some of my friends and family, got sober in. These accusations were repeated and built on a number of times. Thankfully I had a few years’ sobriety and experience under my belt before this online bullying took place. It didn’t cause me to leave AA or damage me. However I know other people who began to feel nervous about practicing the programme that had helped them get and stay sober, all because of some sensationalist online gossip. My own sister was the subject of one such online public attack. She – and others – have now left and are drinking. I can’t help but feel that these attacks chipped away at their foundation.

These attempts at enforcing legislation show why AA’s Twelve Traditions maintain such a delicate balance. The self-righteous enforcement above is a movement against the whole philosophy of freedom in AA. AA’s philosophy of freedom is that the AA World Service Office in New York does not manage or legislate against the groups around the world, but only pools and distributes experience. The blacklisters would have the office turned into a body that legislates against those they dislike.

Perhaps one reason the AA World Service Office does not comply with these demands is that they are the home to the AA archives, the oldest 12 Step library in the world. Next time you’re in town give it a visit. It is a library full of decades of stories of AA controversies between groups who were convinced each other were wrong, or that Bill Wilson was an evil manipulative leader, or the Big Book a way of making a quick buck. See for yourself – the current “cult” controversy is nothing new, it’s just a new label – a continuation of the process that caused the original creation of the 12 Traditions.

In the final analysis, and when I think back to my own drinking and using days, all of these temporary arguments – about how to sponsor or run a group – pail in comparison with an alcoholic or addict’s painful drawn out death and living death, and the effect it has on those who love them. More than anything addicts and alcoholics need the freedom to stay alive. Just as AA and its related 12-Step fellowships have survived in the past thanks to the Traditions, so they will survive in the future, ensuring that every new generation of addicts and alcoholics are, like me, allowed to recover and remain clean and sober, in the way that they choose.
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Re: 12 Traditions & meme of "cults" in AA

Postby Blue Moon » Mon Nov 25, 2013 4:54 pm

AA is not a cult in any commonly-accepted definition of the word.

But some AA groups might be.
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Re: 12 Traditions & meme of "cults" in AA

Postby ann2 » Mon Nov 25, 2013 9:03 pm

We have had other discussions here regarding "cult" applied to AA as a whole, but none I'm familiar with regarding AA members attacking others using that word. So, thanks for the education! It's all new to me. The thing about online bullying for me is, online is so easy to avoid, and most AA members don't use it or see its worth. So if AA members are accusing each other of things using websites it seems pretty simple to just stop reading it. I have to think this is a very small minority of a very small minority involved, since I've been involved with an active online group for ten years and never heard of this, plus been involved with the Online Intergroup of AA without having seen this mentioned.

Anyway, welcome! Hope you feel comfortable here. No bullying people about their having recovered through the steps here :)

Although I do have to wonder about this 'charismatic leadership' you refer to. Can't say that's ever been my experience in AA. Our leaders are normally dragged into service and step down happily, and can more often be described as "grumpy" and "stressed" than "charismatic". In fact for the most part they're too busy doing their jobs to spend any extra energy on charisma.

Ann
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Re: 12 Traditions & meme of "cults" in AA

Postby Duke » Tue Nov 26, 2013 11:48 am

Welcome nycmember and thanks for the topic. I found it very interesting. I have to say, my attention span usually isn't that long, but Ann suggested it was worth my time, so I read it all, a couple of times. I hope you feel comfortable here and keep posting.

Like Ann, I'm not familiar with the "cult" debate within AA itself, and I have not experienced any negative consequences related to cult accusations in my time in the program. However, I can fully accept that the proclivity for individuals who disagree to resort to name-calling is not unknown in AA halls.

You really said it all when you started with; "The word “cult” is as sticky as a lump of mud, and just as misshapen." The discussion can go many different directions and I'm not going to try to say something that will wrap it all up. I'm just going to try to offer some of the thoughts I've had based on what I've seen over the years. The conclusions I've come to about the use of the cult accusations are similar to those I've reached with respect to the reasons behind most battles of ideas.

We are all born with an inherent desire to understand what life is all about. Everyone, either consciously or not, decides upon the principles and ideas that will form the foundation of their philosophy of life. What I've observed is that often, once someone's made a conscious decision to adhere to a particular set of principles or beliefs, they begin to devote significant effort to convince others to think the same. All good so far. But, what I've seen happen, is the transformation of this zeal to spread the good word into a desire to destroy or at least discredit anything that is contrary to their own belief system.

When that happens, the need to minimize and dismiss the ideas of those that disagree often takes the form of personality-based name calling, judgment and condemnation. So, what I've often seen is that labeling something a cult, is simply a short form way of judging, condemning and dismissing ideas with which the name callers do not agree. Really, when you boil it down, most turmoil between individuals and groups is simply because they don't agree with each other on ideas each of them have deemed to be important for one reason or another.

Where this all leaves me, is at acceptance. I can't find any peace if I don't accept people, places and things as they are, including anyone that feels the need to condemn me because my beliefs don't match up with theirs'. I'm sorry that what's happened in your world seems to have affected your sister and others so negatively. It's such a shame because it's really just meaningless noise that will fade with time. I hope it fades for you sooner rather than later.
"If you are humble nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are.", Mother Teresa
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Re: 12 Traditions & meme of "cults" in AA

Postby Mike O » Tue Nov 26, 2013 12:09 pm

Personally speaking, I couldn't care less whether A.A. is a cult or not. It works for me.
8)
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Re: 12 Traditions & meme of "cults" in AA

Postby Db1105 » Tue Nov 26, 2013 3:09 pm

If AA is a cult then it is the most dysfunctional cult in existence. I never knew AA was as screwed up until I read it on the Internet. The World Wide Web has given the naysayers a platform to spew their garbage. Almost all of it is pure bovine excretement. Instead of participating in it, it's best to just help the still suffering alcoholic.
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Re: 12 Traditions & meme of "cults" in AA

Postby TonyWARMS » Tue Nov 26, 2013 4:47 pm

I am an individual who gathers with a group of other like- minded people all striving for the same thing.
We try to get there by the same principles, but the journeys' are always going to be different.
So, I see AA as a cult like I imagine a well organized clowder of cats. (Clowder just means a group of cats, in case you didn't know).


Peace, Tony
"Nothing comes to stay. Everything comes to pass".
(I don't know where I heard this)
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Re: 12 Traditions & meme of "cults" in AA

Postby kenyal » Tue Nov 26, 2013 8:05 pm

What is interesting to me is how limited is any member's ability to damage AA as a whole. Picturing the worst case scenario, the awful group leader may misuse his position for a few years and even if no one stops him he will soon expire or be so reduced in health as to be harmless.

I can't correct the errors of the group across town, let alone oversee the misdoings of a group overseas or in the next State. My sympathies go out to those who are trying to do that "for the good of AA."

When World Services stepped out of bounds a number of years ago, lots of groups I had contact with cut off donations and some angry letters were fired off. Apparently they got the message as that variety of stupidity ceased and hasn't returned.

I enjoyed the OP and one thought I had in reading is we are largely a group of misfits with many fine plans for the greater good of others. No group of people ever needed a set of Traditions to go by as much as we. I think the time it takes in absorbing and understanding them is well spent.

The small but venomous anti crowd loves to incorrectly brand AA as a cult to access the negatives the word itself implicitly carries. After it's misapplied to AA their hatred then has the appearance of rationality, as disparaging a cult and denigrating it's members and their families is nowadays not an offensive thing, and most people unthinkingly cheer that on.

As AA doesn't respond to attacks they receive no response to their quite often outlandish lies, no countering misinformation, no corrections of blatant misstatements and the common characterizations of members as the most evil scum to have ever walked the earth is just shrugged off.

There is not now and can never be any kind of fight with a few ants at our picnic. I like that about us.
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Re: 12 Traditions & meme of "cults" in AA

Postby Anonyme » Wed Nov 27, 2013 8:17 am

TonyWARMS wrote:(Clowder just means a group of cats, in case you didn't know).
Peace, Tony


I didn't, thanks :D

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Re: 12 Traditions & meme of "cults" in AA

Postby nycmember » Fri Nov 29, 2013 4:56 am

Hi, thanks for the welcome to the forums and the responses to my post :)

It was good to get positive responses - which are pretty much how I feel - unity comes first in the Traditions, just like admission of personal powerlessness comes first in the Steps. One is fundamental to the survival of the individual alcoholic, and the other to the survival of the fellowship.

miaow!
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Re: 12 Traditions & meme of "cults" in AA

Postby TonyWARMS » Fri Nov 29, 2013 2:17 pm

:lol:


Peace, Tony
"Nothing comes to stay. Everything comes to pass".
(I don't know where I heard this)
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Re: 12 Traditions & meme of "cults" in AA

Postby Jessica » Mon Dec 09, 2013 11:33 am

wow, Interesting.
I've been in AA for two months and as i am starting the twelve steps I found your article interesting. more so in the fact of loved ones who are happy that i've stopped drinking but not so happy that im involved in AA. My loved ones have been all over the internet and found these "cult references" and it scares them. Especially since im putting so much effort in beginning my program. My only answer is "its not a cult, they dont force me to stay, Im there because i want to be and I need to continue doing so as long as I can. its not possible for me to just stop, go to 3 months of meetings and be ok, in my own opinion." so its definitely scary for them because its new. I only hope that there will be a positive difference in my future, and that they will realize its a positive thing and not a negative thing." Thank you, I enjoyed reading it.
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