ISSN 1551-8086
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   poets list
   Francisco Dominguez & Aire Celeste Norell
   Marie Lecrivain & Angel Uriel Perales
   Sheikha A.
   Steve Abee
   L. Ward Abel
   Carl Abt
   Han Adcock
   Elizabeth Addis
   Aderemi Adegbite
   Adeolu Emmanuel Adesanya
   Neil Aitken
   M.I Akande
   Shahd Al-Shemmari
   Lynn Albanese
   Scott Alexander
   Nicole Alexander
   Will Alexander
   Gwyndyn Alexander
   Alaina Renee Alexander
   Inalegwu Omapada Alifa
   Maureen Alsop
   Rafael Alvarado
   Steven Alvarez
   Keiko Amano
   Veronica An
   Zack Anderson
   Amy Anderson
   Kristine Anderson
   G.D. Anderson
   Lori Anderson-Moseman
   Grace Andreacchi
   Renae Andruse
   Arlene Ang
   Michelle Angelini
   Roger Angle
   Stephen Anstay
   Azure Antoinette
   Theresa Antonia
   Aurora Antonovic
   Maria A Arana
   Carlye Archibeque
   Joseph Armstead
   Feral Artist
   Baron James Ashanti
   Charlene M. Ashendorf
    Askew
   Gregory Austin
   Shawn Aveningo
   maeghanne ayers
   Goodness Lanre Ayoola
   John-Patrick Ayson
   Jim Babwe
   Sophie Bachard
   Vasile Baghiu
   Bridget Bagne
   song-hue bahk
   Michael Baker
   Prerna Bakshi
   Anna Balint
   David Banuelos
   Jared Barbick
   J. Mae Barizo
   Peter Barlow
   Matthew A. Barraza
   James Barros
   Jeni Bate
   Jonathan Beale
   Richard Beban
   Gary Beck
   Gary Beck
   Marjorie R Becker
   Lytton Bell
   Hakim Bellamy
   Michele Beller
   Laura Bellotti
   Stefanie Bennett
   Hayley Berariu
   Kevin Berger
   Lawrence Berger
   Mike Berger, Ph.D.
   Tom Berman
   luis cuauhtemoc berriozabal
   Catherine Berry
   Nick Bertelson
    Besskepp
   Mary Rose Betten
   Robert Beveridge
   Cheryl Beychok
   Gwendolyn Beyer
   François Biajoux
   Jarvis Black
   Heitham Black
   Beau Blue
   Rose Mary Boehm
   Bonnie Bolling
   Julie Bolt
   Lek Borja
   Cristogianni Borsella
   Gerald Bosacker
   Amanda Boschetto
   Wendy Bourke
   Jack G. Bowman
   Jennifer Bradpiece
   Bob Bradshaw
   Marcielle Brandler
   Peter Branson
   Sumiko Braun
   Adam Bresson
   Quiana Briggs
   Jack Bristow
   paulo brito
   Alan Britt
   Michelle Brodeur
   Lynne Bronstein
   Charles Brooks
   Deborah Edler Brown
   Jason Sanford Brown
   zoey brown
   Leah Brown
   Adam Levon Brown
   Bob Browning
   Sir Mark Bruback
   MC Bruce
   Jeffrey Bryant
   Kate Buckley
   Robin M. Buehler
   Ron Burch
   Graham Burchell
   Maria Rose Burgio
   Betsy Burke
   Matt Burns
   Richard Burrill
   Zachary C. Bush
   Tony Bush
   Elissa Calvin
   Joseph Camhi
   JR Campbell
   Don Kingfisher Campbell
   Neil Campbell
   Don Kingfisher Campbell
   Dana Campbell
   Velene Campbell
   Luis Campos
   Janine Canan
   Lyn Cannaday
   Pasquale Capacosa
   Joey Capone
   Hélène Cardona
   Britton Laine Carducci
   D.J. Carlile
   Julia Carlson
   Alicia Carpenter
   Jonathan Carr
   Patricia Carragon
   Oscar Carrasco
   Jared Carter
   Michael Aaron Casares
   John Casey
   Lisa Castro
   Anna Cates
   Rachael Kelechi Caulker
   Nika Cavat
   Michael Caylo-Baradi
   Steve Ceniceros
   Adrian Ernesto Cepeda
   Michael Ceraolo
    Cerise
   Robert Cesaretti
   Cheryl Chambers
   Lita-Luise Chappell
   Shibani Chattopadhyay
   Lisa Cheby
   Beth Cheng
   Ralph-Michael Chiaia
   Juhi Chowdhury
   David Christensen
   Phil Clark
   Darice Clark
   Terry Clark
   Terry Clark
   Charles Claymore
   Jeanette Clough
   Kim Cochran
   Ed Coet
   Tobi Cogswell
   Megan Coker
   Bruce Colbert
   Karen E. Cole
   Merrill Cole
   Christopher Coleman
   Larry Colker
   Beverly M. Collins
   Christiane Conésa-Bostock
   David Concepcion
   Christiane Conesa-Bostock
   Brendan Connell
   Alice Constantine
   Jack Cooper
   Flavia Cosma
   Chella Courington
   Rachel Coventry
   R. Paul Craig
   David Cravens
   William Crawford
   Natalie Crick
   Rosemarie Crisafi
   Carla Criscuolo
   Chris Crittenden
   Benjamin Crowley
   Susan Culver
   Bill Cunningham
   Joe Cyr
   Jim D Babwe
   Morgaine d'Abney
   Karen Corcoran Dabkowski
   Daniel Daian
    Dalton
   Catherine Daly
   Iris Dan
   Marie Lecrivain & Daniel Gallik
   Dan Danila
   Michelle Daugherty
   Piper Davenport
   Kathrine David
   Gareth Davies
   Holly Day
   Frank De Canio
   Gregory De Feo
   Steve De France
   J. de Salvo
   J de Salvo
   kumari de Silva
   Pijush Kanti Deb
   Shalla DeGuzman
   JD DeHart
   Diane Dehler
   Aurelius Demarco
   Darren C Demaree
   Gloria Derge
   Chris Derrico
   Lea Deschenes
   Maurice Devitt
   Theo Diamantis
   Mike Dias
   Martin Dickinson
   Edward J DiMaio
   Mark Dixon
   Peggy Dobreer
   Rosemarie Dombrowski
   Francisco J. Dominguez
   Linsly Donnelly
   Lisa Helene Donovan
   Kevin Doran
   Marvin Dorsey
   John Dorsey
   Marvin Louis Dorsey
   Laura A. Lionello & Douglas Richardson
   Doug Draime
   Donelle Dreese
   Dale Duke
   Jawanza Dumisani
   Henri Dumolet
   Max Dunbar
   Robin Wyatt Dunn
   t. joseph dunn
   Tyler Dupuis
    Durenda
   Walter Durk
   Ron Dvorkin
   Douglas Dvorkin
   Amitabh Vikram Dwivedi
   Alfie Ebojo aka alfie numeric
   Elisabeth Adwin Edwards
   Sabrina Edwards
   Patricia J. Edwards
   Miguel Eichelberger
   John Elison
   Julian Ellis
   Neil Ellman
   Dalia Elmanzalawy
   K. Eltinaé
   R.M. Engelhardt
   Margarita Engle
   Jon Epstein
   Sufi Erter
   Eli Eshaghian
   Michael Estabrook
   Alexis Rhone Fancher
   Richard Fein
   John Feins
   Raymond Fenech
   Emily Fernandez
   Melissa Fischer
   W.S. Fisher
   Jamie Asae FitzGerald
   Amelia Fleetwood
   Jake Fleshner
   John Jay Flicker
   David Flynn
   Rich Follett
   Arthur Charles Ford
   Liz Fortini
   Sesshu Foster
   Heather Fowler
   Clint Frakes
   Sarah Francois
   Amelie Frank
   Amélie Frank
   Alex M. Frankel
   Allie Frazier
   E.L. Freifeld
   M. Frias Frias-May
   Suzanne Frost
   Delia J. Fry
   Elliott Gabay
   Steven Gabriel
   Timothy Gager
   Daniel Gallik
   J Gamble
   Ishmael Garay
   Jerry Garcia
   Daniel Garcia-Black
   Alex Gardner
   Vince Garofalo
   Gabriella Garofalo
   Yvonne Garrett
   Nelson Gary
   Donna Gebron
   Ulrike Gerbig
   Janice Gero
   Ursula T. Gibson
   Rebecca Gimblett
   Tony Gloeggler
   Steve Goldman
   Vesna Goldsworthy
   Melanie Gonzalez
   Gerda Govine Ituarte
   Jeffrey Graessley
   Allison Grayhurst
   Jeff Green
   Timothy Green
   Jeanie Greensfelder
   Rhoda Greenstone
   Amos Greig
   John Greiner
   John Grey
   Summer Griffiths
   Danielle Grilli
   Brian Grillo
   John Grochalski
   Wendy Grosskopf
   Andrew Grossman
   Ro Gunetilleke
   Kenneth Gurney
   John R. Guthrie
   Grant Guy
   Debashish Haar
   Erik Haber
   Hedy Habra
   Tresha Faye Haefner
   Matthias Hagedorn
   James Hall
   Tom Hamilton
   Danielle Harper
   David Harrington
   Matt Harris
   William Harris
   Dawnell Harrison
   JD Hart
   Jack Harvey
   J. Alana Hauenschild
   Kari J. Hayes
   KJ Hays
   Ann L. Healey
   Jessica Healy
   Eloise Klein Healy
   Jim Heavily
   Dan Hedges
   Paul Hellweg
   Samantha Henderson
   Jack Henry
   Darrell Herbert
   David Herrle
   JD Heskin
   Kenneth Hickey
   Jerry Hicks
   Marvin R Hiemstra
   Ed Higgins
   Carlos Hiraldo
   Sherri Hoffman
   Guy Hogan
   Ali Hosseiny
   Dave Houston
   Eric Howard
   Nate Howard
   David Howard
   Bryon D. Howell
   A J Huffman
   Hunter Lee Hughes
   Roger Humes
   Trista Hurley-Waxali
   Elizabeth Iannaci
   Thea Iberall
   Armine Iknadossian
   Gedda Ilves
   Alegria Imperial
   Victor Infante
   Victor D. Infante
   Glenn Ingersoll
   Augustus Invictus
   Tom Irish
   Susan Irvine
   Alexandra Isacson
   Natalie Itzhaki
   Amber Jacob
   Scott Jacobson
   Larry Jaffe
   Sonika Jaggi
   Emmanuel Jakpa
   Matthew James
   Colin James
   Andrea Janov
   T.A. Jennings
   Kait Jensen
   Ivan Jenson
   Dani Jimenez
   Alex Johnson
   Michael Lee Johnson
   Strider Marcus Jones
   Lois P. Jones
   Tao Jones
   Georgia Jones-Davis
   Jasmin Jordan
   Quentin Josephy
   Liu Jue
   Ruth Juris
   Gary Justice
   Gene Justice
   Pete Justus
   Mikel K
   Scott C. Kaestner
   Sheema Kalbasi
   Peycho Kanev
   Rachel Kann
   Jay Kantor
   Paula Sfier Kattan
   Russ Kazmierczak
   James Keane
   Gretchen Keer
   Aaron Keller
   Collin Kelley
   Kamuran Kelly
   Bernard Kennedy
   Raud Kennedy
   Kathleen Kenny
   Stephen Kerr
   Hari Bhajan Khalsa
   Elisabeth Khan
   Just Kibbe
   Jerome Kiel
   lalo kikiriki
   Ashley King
   Robert S King
   Franklin Lafayette King
   Sofia Kioroglou
   Rusty Kjarvik
   Kenny Klein
   LeAnne Kline
   Julia Knobloch
   Philip Kobylarz
   Deborah P Kolodji
   Tracy Koretsky
   Edith Kornfeld
   George Korolog
   Dimitris P. Kraniotis
   Thomas KrÀmer
   Mark Krewatch
   Chris Krueger
   Amanda Krut
   Gerard Kuc
   Christopher Kuhn
   Donna Kuhn
   Len Kuntz
   Craig Kurtz
   Tammy Ho Lai-Ming
   Daniel Lambert
   Anthony Langford
   Donald Langosy
   Ray Lanthier
   Phillip Larrea
   Phillip Larrea
   Kasandra Larsen
   Wolf Larsen
   Ethan Latham
   Lisa LaTourette
   Marie Lecrivain & Laura A. Lionello
   Marianne LaValle-Vincent
   Kevin Lavey
   Judith A. Lawrence
   Eric Lawson
   Richard Leach
   Marie Lecrivain
   Anne Lecrivain
   Noah Lederman
   Pete Lee
   Kevin Patrick Lee
   Emma Lee
   N.M. Leepsa
   Alexandra Leggat
   Laura LeHew
   Gary Lehmann
   Sharmagne Leland-St. John
   Kevin LeMaster
   Michal Lemberger
   Kim Leng
   John Leonard
   Roland Lesterin
   Tiffany Lettieri
   P.A. Levy
   Martin Lewis
   Cheyenne Lewis
   Anthony Liccione
   Cynthia Linville
   Laura Lionello
   Zachary Locklin
   Jessica Lopez
   Harold Lorin
   Tess. Lotta
   B.D. Love
   Adam Lowis
   Ron Lucas
   Andrew Lundwall
   Rick Lupert
   Suzan Lustig
   Radomir Luza
   Stosh Machek
   John MacKenna
   Sarah Maclay
   Stefanie Maclin
    Magdalena
   Gary Maggio
   Holly Magill
   Anthony Magistrale
   Marieta Maglas
   Peter Magliocco
   Suvi Mahonen
   Donal Mahoney
   Robert Maiolo
   Kelly Ann Malone
   Michael Malota
   Shahé Mankerian
   Angela Consolo Mankiewicz
   Chris Mansell
   H.E. Mantel
   April-May March
   Rick Marlatt
   John Marshall
   Agnes Marton
   Francis Masat
   Lee Mason
   Hyatt Mason
   Anthony Mason
   Johnny Masuda
   Mira N. Mataric
   Sonjaye Maurya
   Nate Maxon
   Ellyn Maybe
   Michelle Mazzetti
   Mary L. Mazzocco
   Ted Mc Carthy
   Austin McCarron
   Terry McCarty
   Paul McConnell
   Brendan McCormack
   Deborah McCreath-Akbar
   Catfish McDaris
   Bray McDonald
   Karen J McDonnell
   Matt McGee
   Allen McGill
   Afric McGlinchey
   Terance James McGunigle
   Cat Angelique McIntire
   David McIntire
   Xavier McIves
   david mclean
   Isobel McQueen
   Stephen Mead
   Fernando Meisenhaulter
    Mephistopheles
   Corey Mesler
   Melissa Michaels
    Mike the Poet
   Robert John Miller
   Scott Miller
   Richard Lee Miller
   Rajnish Mishra
   Hany Haggag Abdl Mobdy
   Richard Modiano
   William Mohr
   Sonnet Mondal
   Jason Monios
   Leslie Monsour
   Amanda Montei
   Patrick Mooney
   Carl Moore
   Greggory Moore
    Albert Lee Moran
   A.J. Morelli
   Christopher Mulrooney
   Frank Mundo
   Barbara-Marie Mundt
   Augusto Munoz
   Mark Murphy
   Craig Murray
   Kristine Ong Muslim
   Genie Nakano
   JL Nathan
   Nimah Nawwab
   Leslie Maryann Neal
   Jason Neese
   Raghab Nepal
   Robbi Nester
   Mindy Nettifee
   Martina Reisz Newberry
   Beth Escott Newcomer
   Peter Nezafati
   Scott Nichols
   keith niles
   Dave Nordling
   Aire Celeste Norell
   Steve Norwood
   Laura Nye
   Charlotte O'Brien
   Toti O'Brien
   Suzanne O'Connell
   Katie O'Loughlin
   Peter O'Niell
   Tom O'Reilly
   Akor Emmanuel Oche
   A.J. Odasso
   Rita Odeh
   Kirsten Ogden
   Daniel Olivas
   Maurice Oliver
   Marc Olmstead
   Philip ONeil
   Nzingah Oniwosan
   Chika Onyenezi
   Sergio Ortiz
   David Ishaya Osu
   Scott Thomas Outlar
   Holly Painter
   Lizbeth Palma
   Heather Palmer
   Greg Patrick
   Miss Natalie Patterson
   David E. Patton
   Jared Pearce
   E. Martin Pedersen
   Tim Peeler
   Steve Pelcman
   Angel Perales
   Simon Perchik
   Alice Pero
   Angela J. Perry
   Helen Peterson
   Brenda Petrakos
   bc petrakos
   Adam Phillips
   James G Piatt
   Rebecca Pierce
   Gareth Pike
   James Pinkerton
   Rob Plath
   Kushal Poddar
   Contributors to poeticdiversity
   Meg Pokrass
   Traian Pop Traian
   Bethany W Pope
   Wayne E. Popelka
   Elisha Porot
   Adrian Potter
   Fabrice Poussin
   Ren Powell
   Frank Praeger
   Kristena Prater
   Luke Prater
   Shannon Prince
   Stephany Prodromides
   Hattie Quinn
   Octavio Quintanilla
   Beverly J. Raffaele
    Raindog
   Catherine Rajca
   Steve Ramirez
   Mauricio Alejandro Ramos
   Vishnu Rao
   Ingrid Rattay
   James Rauff
   Kasey Ray
   Bili Redd
   Brian Redfern
   Marie Rennard
   Luivette Resto
   E.W. Richardson
   John Richmond
   Francisca Ricinski-Marienfeld
   Kevin Ridgeway
   Lillian Ridgeway
   Dee Rimbaud
   Elijiah Rios
   Cat Risinger
   Ariel Robello
   Ebi Robert
   John D Robinson
   Paula Rodriguez
   Nydia Rojas
   Daniel Romo
   Rina Rose
   Emily Rose
   Diana Rosen
   Poet-broker Rosenthal
   Alison Ross
   James Robert Rudolph
   Walter Ruhlmann
   Gina MarySol Ruiz
   Cody Rukasin
   Cody Rukasin
   Ashley Rumery
   David W. Rushing
   Maryann Russo
   Sonya Sabanac
   Miriam Sagan
   Howard Sage
   Russell Salamon
   Opalina Salas
   April Salzano
   Bryan Sanders
   Lisa Marie Sandoval
   Cecile Sarruf
    Sasparella
   Ethan Sassouni
   John Saunders
   Lorraine Sautner
   Rati Saxena
   Iftekhar Sayeed
   Frances Schiavina
   Kim Schroeder
   Carol Schwalberg
   Iris N Schwartz
   Peter Schwartz
   Ken Scott
   Sondra L. Scott
   David Scriven
   Justin Scupine
   LB Sedlacek
   Lisa Segal
   Anthony Seidman
   Anthony Seidman
   Oleg Semonov
   Margarita Serafimova
   Sanjeev Sethi
   John W Sexton
   Jack Allen Shafer
   Dahn Shaulis
   Tom Sheehan
   Jake Sheff
   Steve Shickman
   Nancy Shiffrin
   June Shiitake
   Larissa Shmailo
   Ferrari Silverpowder
   Rishan Singh
   Durlabh Singh
   Rishan Singh
   Kalpna Singh-Chitnis
   Bobbi SInha-Morey
   Apryl Skies
   Knute Skinner
   Sam Skow
   Ratpack Slim
   Lee Sloca
   Carol Smallwood
   Annette Marie Smith
   Clinton Smith
   Spencer Smith
   Danielle Smith
    smzang
   Megha Sood
   Kate Soto
   Ghetto Speare
   Jeanne Marie Spicuzza
   Richard Spuler
   Matina Stamatakis
   Mark States
   Jan Steckel
   Julia Stein
   Eric Steineger
   Carl Stillwell
   Bruce Stirling
   Alex Stolis
   Karr Stratynberg
   Kevin Stricke-9
   Keith Stump
   Daniel Suffian
   Annette Sugden
   J. C. Sullivan
   Mani Suri
   Terrence Sykes
   Ann Christine Tabaka
   John Duncan Talbird
   John Talbird
   Sister Taxi Hopscotch
   Jonathan Taylor
   Barbara A. Taylor
   Mark Taylor
   Allen Taylor
   Paul Kareem Tayyar
   Perry Terrell
   Alene Terzian
    The Unarmed Man
   A. Thiagarajan
   G. Murray Thomas
   Kallista A Thompson
   Lynne Thompson
   David Thornbrugh
   Kari Thune
   Sarah Thursday
   Ilona Timoszuk
   Tim Tipton
    TJungle
   Chrys Tobey
    tolbert
   Imani Tolliver
   A. TOMIC
   Anthony Torchia
   Mary Torregrossa
   Zev Torres
   Evan Traiger
   Davide Trame
   Tri Tran
   Ryan Tranquilla
   Alain Marcel Treadaway
   Pedro Trevino-Ramirez
   Ben Trigg
   Paul Tristram
   Alyssa Trivett
   Maja Trochimczyk
    Troy
   The TruthHearse
   Tatiana Tulskaya
   Yelena and Roman Tunkel
   Roman Tunkel
   John Turi
   Danny Uebbing
   Lois Michal Unger
   Amy Upham
   Amy Uyematsu
   Philomena van Rijswijk
   Gene van Troyer
   Wanda Vanhoy Smith
   Brenda Varda
   Luis Rubio Vargas
   Carmen Vega
   Ms. Veronica
   Papa Vic
   Clee Villasor
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Larissa Shmailo
April 2019
   

 

Alcoholics Anonymous and the “Recovered” Movement: When the 12 Steps Turn Toxic

    By a deeply held Alcoholics Anonymous tradition, I am not supposed to identify myself as a member to media. However, this tradition eliminates a layer of public scrutiny which would give prospective A.A. members useful information about how actual members turn out. After thirty years in and out, mostly in, I turned out an A.A. apostate. Part of my “story,” that lingua franca of A.A. speak, follows, along with a cautionary word about “turning your will and your life over” to any entity besides yourself.
    I joined AA in its heyday, the 80s, when celebrities and politicians and everyone who was anyone was getting sober. In tolerant New York City A.A., a library of information was discussed alongside the official program literature, Alcoholics Anonymous (known as the “Big Book”) and The 12 Steps and 12 Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous. We shared about dysfunctional families, child abuse, therapies for body and mind, and a range of opinions on god, atheism and agnosticism among them. A.A. helped me by providing a community where sobriety was normative. Some brainwashing was helpful in that regard, but the insistence upon unquestioning acceptance of other “truths” became pernicious.
    I first became cognizant of the Recovered movement in 2013. This subgroup of A.A. is named after the subtitle on the “Big Book’s” title page, “The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism.” Ordinary alcoholics in the Fellowship sometimes identify themselves in meetings as “recovering alcoholics,” to underscore the idea that recovery is ongoing and never ending. Recovereds believe that, upon finding god, the alcoholic is fully recovered through grace, and point to the past tense word on the title page; if the title page says “Recovered,” once and for all, then that is how this must be.
    At a vulnerable time in my recovery, I began noticing that, suddenly, more sponsors became available for service, where there had been a dearth before. “I’m X, a Recovered alcoholic, and I sponsor from the Big Book,” I began hearing. Listening to these individuals, I heard stories of a tremendous liberation from craving, a genuine spiritual awakening that had trounced a half dozen character defects at a blow. They spoke with certainty and with joy. I had to learn more and asked a member of the group to sponsor me.
    I noticed first off that Recovereds held separate meetings and were disdainful of the recovery of other alcoholics. The problem, according to my sponsors, was that they focused on sobriety, a matter of the First Step, they told me: What of the other Steps? Weren’t they still wallowing in a godless mass of defects? Weren’t they in A.A. kindergarten?
    I mentioned the A.A. Tradition that said the only requirement for membership was a desire to stay sober, that A.A.’s primary purpose was to help members stay sober and to help others achieve sobriety. No! I was told roundly. A neophyte, I had not gotten the true message, written loud and clear in the Big Book: The purpose of “The Book” was to find god.

    Big Book “Recovereds” fundamentalists say the purpose of the organization is not to find sobriety, but to find god.

    So began my Big Book tutelage: Go to God.
    Recovereds did not spring up sui generis – there is much in the A.A. soil that supports unquestioned belief.

    As a racist president tweets hate, particularly glaring is the A.A. injunction against political action in the routinely cited "Acceptance" paragraphs. This writing abjures members not to concern themselves with outside causes and to focus exclusively on bettering themselves. This philosophy is brought home by the constant repetition of the slogan, “I am powerless over people, places, and things.

    The fellowship is now overrun by fundamentalist Christians and "Recovereds" who do not tolerate any questioning of the Big Book. As a racist president tweets hate, particularly glaring is the injunction not to become political, the oft cited "Acceptance" paragraphs that abjure members not to concern themselves with outside causes and to focus exclusively on bettering themselves: “not to address what is wrong in the world, but only within me.” This philosophy is brought home by the constant repetition of the docile slogan, “I am powerless over people, places, and things.” All power is god’s and personal powerlessness is a holy state. God must deal with everything outside the member’s spiritual status.
    Any mention of politics, of any cause, or outside organizations (exceptions are made for churches) is strictly forbidden in the A.A. culture. This apolitical environment is meant to welcome members of varying persuasions. But it is a policy that failed the Oxford Group, the group Bill Wilson closely modeled A.A. upon. In a fit of hubris, Oxford Group leaders tried to appease Hitler—and it was the end of them. The narrow-minded “Recovered” movement, unable to adapt to the complexities of modern life and tacitly affirming the status quo, may also spell the end of A.A.
    The program, while claiming it is not a religion, is strongly pro-church—members are exhorted to join or rejoin theirs with alacrity. Creationism is favored over science, as in the Second Step in the Twelve and Twelve which mocks the theory of evolution with humankind "rising majestically from the primordial ooze." In the A.A. meeting rooms, also largely in churches, in place of science are beliefs designed for people who do not understand science; meetings resonate with new age philosophies cast as laws, such as the “law of attraction,” a version of positive thinking. Hopeful ex-drunks strive to “vibrate” at prosperous “frequencies” as they chant Orwellian affirmations opposite to reality and in place of action: “I am rich, I am thin, I am loved.”

    Beyond the drink: Is rock bottom the best time to choose your life philosophy?

    My novel, Patient Women, is a love letter to the program, which certainly saved this alcoholic’s life, but at what price? And being recruited when at rock bottom, as all members are, and being told that A.A. was my only hope, what other options might have been open to me besides the hard-selling program? And beyond the drink: Is rock bottom the best time to choose your life philosophy?
    A.A. is the last acceptable and mainstream faith healing organization; law courts routinely refer people to A.A. Shrouded in secrecy, with members told that they will die if they leave, dominated by fundamentalism, it remains the first word in referrals for alcoholics. But the humorous slogan, “We Are All Here Because We Are Not All There” is true – there is a veritable cornucopia of untreated emotional and mental illness in the rooms that rarely gets better on the A.A. program alone.
    Members are constantly reminded that they are “diseased.” “The Disease,” the anthropomorphic avatar of addiction, is “cunning, baffling, and insidious,” and progressive even during periods of sobriety; only a lifetime of A.A. membership can save you from degradation and death. Cult thinking manifests in a vicious cycle: you can never be cured, you must attend every day, and you will die if you leave. Members cite those who left after 20 years sobriety and came back, hungover and back to square one. Without the program, relapse is inevitable, they say. But A.A. and its members do not track those who leave and remain sober, or even more horrifying to the program, learn to drink moderately. Dependence on drink is replaced with a dependence upon meetings, dependence upon god. Attending one meeting a week “makes you weak.” The meetings are your strength and you, a solitary meerkat, cannot make it outside the group or without constantly hearing the A.A. “message.”

    Welcome to the Hotel 12-Step: You Can Never Leave . . .

    Of course, A.A. will tell you that you can believe anything you want, but the group dynamics of the meetings make such intellectual independence impossible, especially when contrarian thinking is labeled “your disease speaking.” Argument and outside ideas are verboten—“Get off the debating society,” the Second Step commands. Another slogan insists, “Utilize, don’t analyze.” And defiance is a “characteristic of (unrecovered) alcoholics.” A prevalent wall hanging at meetings showing the word Think upside down prepares members for intellectual passivity. Intuition is in; thinking is out. Apolitical, anti-intellectual, and anti-science, what most A.A.s need is not the honing of their intuition, but a course in logical reason.

    The 12 “Suggested” Steps: We Only Want Your Will and Your Life

    The so-called “suggested” Steps are in fact mandatory if you wish to participate in A.A. life. The linchpin is the Third Step, which involves a decision to turn your will and life to the care of god; this effectively means turning one’s will and life over to the program. What then follows is a morbid fascination with character defects, the endless and thankless task of self-perfection (yes, this is the stated A.A. goal, spiritual perfection.) With perfection as the goal, there is never time for outside interests like joining a union or organizing a protest march.
    Spiritual status trumps everything in A.A., and even trumps sobriety among the Recovereds; with the Recovered movement, sobriety is ancillary to meeting face-to-face with your maker. If you read the Big Book, which the Recovereds do to the exclusion of all books other than the Bible, you will see written that the point of the program is to help you find god. But, we are told, A.A. is not a religious program. It has an infallible “Book,” mentions god or a higher power six times in the Steps, devotes chapters to god in the literature, collects donations daily, and proselytizes, but is not a religion. It is, in Orwellian doublespeak, a “spiritual program.” But in effect, A.A. is a true religion in the Judeo-Christian tradition. The Lord’s Prayer is often said even when Jewish members are in attendance, as is the masochistic St. Francis prayer. Belief is ground in not in one weekly sermon, but daily, and, per the 12th Step, in all aspects of the member’s life.
    The 12th Step enforces active proselytizing of new members. It is an A.A. dictum that “you can’t keep it unless you give it away”; this is what is called “carrying the Message.” This ensures that A.A. and its contributions and literature sales grow as amateurs undertake the treatment of very ill people. Along with the mission to convert is the hagiography of the founders, especially Bill Wilson, in whose case the program didn’t work. Never on his feet financially until the royalties from A.A. literature secured his fortune, Bill suffered from chronic depression and even took hallucinogens to treat it. He also was a philanderer who tormented his long-suffering wife Lois with his infidelity. Not cured by the program, Wilson experimented with arcane chemical treatments while other mentally ill A.A.s were told to have faith and not take medication, that they would not be sober if they did. Many came to disastrous consequences.

    Epilogue: Breaking Anonymity

    An atheist today, I believe that there is no higher power, and that I, Larissa Shmailo, the poet, with the help of other human beings and no paranormal forces, have to restore myself to sanity. In the parlance of the program, I “took my will back” by deciding to be master of my fate and captain of my soul and rejecting a closeted religious group that fosters superstition and wishful thinking. I believe the Steps create a slave mentality, make people obsess about their defects, keep them involved with dysfunctional people, knock the fight out of them. Most people after thirty years in are still active in some “ism.”
    At its inception, John D. Rockefeller did not donate money to Bill Wilson’s pet project as the latter had hoped but saw immediately that the program’s “will-less,” undefiant people would make good subservient employees. But defiance, frowned upon in A.A., is the font of much if not all progress. And anger, which is to be eliminated completely per A.A., has survival value, lets people know when they must stand up for themselves, fight for their rights, as we must today. Apolitical, staunchly religious, moving ever further right, what is the value of A.A.’s will-less life in a world intent upon foisting its implacable will on people today?
    Since the advent of Trump, I have been carefully re-examining the Steps, the fellowship, and the mindset they create. What may have been adaptive for me in the 80s may not be so today, what with medications for addiction and mental illness, and an urgent requirement for political action. Apolitical and anti-med, what is A.A.’s role today?

    Larissa Shmailo is a poet, author, translator, editor, and critic. www.larissashmailo.com

copyright 2019 Larissa Shmailo