Alcoholics and Drug Addicts in Alcoholics Anonymous
Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength, and hope as it relates to recovery from alcoholism. Thousands and thousands of meeting are held daily worldwide. The Alcoholics Anonymous text book has been translated into several languages. And as for recovery rates? “Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path…” [Chapter 5, Big Book or here is the Big Book online in its entirety.]
As for my story and how A.A. relates to it; I wouldn’t be here today were it not for the Twelve Steps and Traditions and even the fellowship of A.A.
Alcoholics Anonymous meetings are for alcoholics. But increasingly, alcoholics as well as drug addicts are in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. What does A.A. say about drug addicts in Alcoholics Anonymous? Can a non-alcoholic drug addict be an A.A. member?
Related Article: Prescription Drugs and Painkillers in Alcoholics Anonymous (Aug 17, 2013)
How does A.A. address this? Does A.A. address this? Are “addicts only” welcome? Is it conducive to the group purpose to introduce yourself as an addict or alcoholic/addict? How about if you have no problem with alcohol? Can A.A. still help you? And who enforces the Traditions anyway? These are questions I hope to answer with extensive clarity.
Here is the A.A. preamble to begin with:
Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. There are no dues or fees for A.A. membership; we are self-supporting through our own contributions. A.A. is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution; does not wish to engage in any controversy; neither endorses nor opposes any causes. Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics achieve sobriety. [Read more at the Alcoholics Anonymous website.]
Twelve Steps Help the Alcoholic Individual
It’s been said that the steps are there to keep me from killing myself as I journey onward to sobriety and jokingly said that the Traditions keep me from killing you, another member. Although this is a weak illustration, I think it proves the point rather well. When I came into A.A. I had no idea the Traditions had anything to do with me. I thought they were for people who were in there and knew what they were doing.
Since then, it’s been my experience that #1, no one hardly knows what they are doing in the first place and #2, if “they” [others in A.A.] are not following the Traditions, where is my responsibility in that?
My responsibility in that is clear. Since then, I have been led through the Traditions, I have studied them, I have sought their truth. Alcoholics Anonymous – the program itself, as well as the good people in the fellowship itself who were sober - saved my miserable life and now, as one who knows better, it is my responsibility to pass that on.
And I did something last night that, for me, required a great deal of courage. I chair a Beginner’s meeting and I have never heard of a Beginner’s meeting turning into a Tradition meeting with a Group Conscience flavor. But that’s what I did. By God. or By Bill. Whichever.
Twelve Traditions help the Group [to help the Alcoholic]
The Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous are a set of guidelines that insure the meetings we have, although perhaps full of the sickest alcoholics in the lot, remain sane and healthy. This, I believe. I have spent years looking at this theory. And every time I see – even “well-adjusted” A.A.’s in a meeting – Traditions going overlooked, denied, or excused, it ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS turns into a very sick “spreading your disease around” point of time. I can be as *healthy* as I pretend to be when I walk into a meeting. But if I sit there and overlook broken Traditions or even contribute to broken Traditions, I am going to walk away either with nothing good from the meeting or “sicker” than when I went in.
When I meet someone through my A.A. meetings, I need to be mindful of Tradition 1 that states: “Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon A.A. unity.” as well as Tradition 5 that states: “Each group has but one primary purpose — to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.”
So with our common welfare coming first and with our recovery depending upon A.A. unity, it makes sense to me that we keep our primary purpose in mind lest we deviate into the realm of cursed “sickest group in town” status!
Are you an Alcoholic? Are you an Addict? Are you a Purple Giraffe?
So with all that said, what about the people who come into an A.A. meeting and call themselves addicts? Frankly, I do not care. As I shared with a newcomer, who was loathe to label herself as an alcoholic (but had decided to try to stop drinking),
“You can introduce yourself as a purple green giraffe. The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking; Not ‘to introduce yourself as an alcoholic.’” [From Tradition 3, if you please, that states: "The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking."]
With that said, at my personal core, if asked, I discourage people from saying, “My name is ____ and I’m an alcoholic and addict.” It’s because it dilutes the A.A. message. It dilutes our purpose from being there. What if I introduced myself as an alcoholic and a sugar addict and an approval addict and everything else I am trying to improve upon? And more than that, what’s the point?
Over here at An Alcoholics Story in his article “Alcoholic/Addict”, the author asks “Why?” to the thought, “Why do some people in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting say, ’I'm an alcoholic and addict’?”
I responded (and with much fervor at that!) to the article because it’s been coming around for me lately.
I have a sponsee and we talked about this last week. She began introducing herself as an addict, not knowing she was an alcoholic til her 4th step. Discovering she was an alcoholic she added “and alcoholic” into her introduction.
So then I began wondering about our singleness of purpose and my responsibility to the 12 Traditions.
Ergo, we had a conversation that went along the lines of, “I don’t say I am an alcoholic and a sugar addict do I?” or “I am an alcoholic and a codependent in recovery.” …and on it went.
The point being that alcoholism comes with it – by it’s nature – many other manifestations and to scramble to the bottom or to the top of the heap, what am I trying to prove? Am I *more* special by being *more screwed up?* or am I trying to deviate from the AA singleness of purpose by *warning you AA people* that my story may involve drugs?
Listen. I am a Traditions person and people who introduce themselves as addicts AND alcoholics are not aligning their spirits to the Traditions. That’s exactly how I look at it. … I have been in a meeting of 15 people where 12 of them introduced themselves as both. Had I been a newcomer I would have felt like I did not belong.
So then…where DOES an alcoholic go who wants to save her life when AA begins not acknowledging the repercussions of overlooking the Traditions? The Traditions are what keep us Alcoholics Anonymous.
I’ve worked with – and been worked on – by all sorts in the 12 Step Recovering Community because after getting sober is when my manifested “other symptoms” became prominent – such as anorexia, self-injuring, people-pleasing, and even sugar addiction. Does this mean that I should have begun sharing all these other labels at my A.A. meeting? No. Vehemently, no.
Are some addicts really saying that for implicit permission to discuss their drug use; to turn our A.A. meeting into an N.A. one? You betcha! [Check out that pamphlet to the lower left.]
So did you catch my truth on that? Let me specify with another story because you know – that’s what I do best.
Are you an Addict at an A.A. Meeting?
Last Tuesday I needed an A.A. meeting. I wanted to connect with some friends and needed some recovery talk with “my people.” Maybe a third of the people in the room introduced themselves as addicts and maybe a third introduced themselves as alcoholics and another third as alcoholic and addict. It was a Closed meeting [meaning not just anyone is welcome. People with a desire to stop drinking were the only ones welcome and this means people who usually call themselves alcoholics.]
But before the meeting got underway, when the chairperson asked if any newcomers in the room, a woman spoke up as an addict and told a room full of recovering drunks that she’s never had a problem with alcohol; that her *thing* was cocaine [although it was crack and this became pertinent later] but she did not want to go to an N.A. meeting because “more people came to this one”.
So this woman was basically – introducing herself as an addict aside – sharing with us that she did not have a desire to stop drinking and that her plan was to become a member here because she did not like the N.A. [Narcotics Anonymous] meetings. This next part may confuse non A.A. Members so if you’re reading this just for kicks and giggles, skip on over til you get to the next blue sub-heading. But it didn’t stop there.
Then when we went around the room to introduce ourselves when it came back to almost her, instead of letting the man speak beside her, she said, “Oh and he’s nothing. He doesn’t drink or do drugs or anything. He’s a really good friend who just drove me to this meeting.” So crackhead lady speaks on this man’s behalf, which I personally thought was emasculating – and then hushed him up [ssssh! it's okay] when he tried to speak on his own behalf. Talk about from sick to sicker. I watched this in slight amusement which would have been even more amusing, had I not felt like I needed this meeting; This CLOSED meeting.
Open Meeting versus Closed: Opening a Closed Meeting?
I wondered what my friend – who was chairing the meeting – was going to do.
- Would she be brave and courageous and do the hard thing and explain to them what a CLOSED meeting was, thereby inviting them to leave?
- Would she be brave and courageous – kinda – and explain what a CLOSED meeting was and *overlook* that they were BOTH not there for A.A. recovery?
- Or would she pretend there was no difference and keep going? Or maybe she really didn’t know the difference? [And keep going.] Because yes, friends, some chairpeople do not know.
- OR would she completely wimp out and – ignoring the needs of the alcoholics who may have travelled long distances to get there for a CLOSED meeting – “OPEN the meeting with an-in-name-only ‘mini-group conscience’” so that she would not have to make the hard-yet-Tradition-aligning decision of #1?
She did #4. I thought she’d pull a number 1 because she’s *my* friend and she’s a hard-ass. Let me clarify. She’s a hard-ass when it comes to working with people and their steps but this example has shown me that she is a softy marshmallow when it comes to invoking the Traditions.
So when she announced the meeting as OPEN I raised my hand to speak. She called on me in a room full of quiet.
“I want to share that although this has now become an OPEN meeting from a CLOSED that there is only one difference; Anyone can be in attendance at an OPEN meeting. In both cases, however, we still abide the Traditions and abide our singleness of purpose. This means that we still discuss our problems as they relate to alcohol.”
That was about it. I do think it’s unfair and not wholly correct to “open” a closed meeting and no one would ever see me doing it. What if every chairperson open a closed meeting every time a visitor showed up? Again. It takes away from the alcoholic who has traveled there for a closed meeting. Not to mention, the group who decided it would be a closed meeting already decided it was a closed meeting. Opening it up the moment it begins, defers to visitors and usurps the Group Conscience who, for all we know, had unanimity with the decision to make it a Closed Meeting in the first place. It’s just wrong on many levels, in my opinion.
Toward the end of that meeting, drug addict woman shared that she had not felt comfortable sharing about her addiction and then nodded over at me and said, “Because you know…” I nearly laughed out loud so I stifled a personal smile instead. So all in all, the fact I needed a meeting turned out to be I think I needed comic relief. :) My group got 10 bonus points from me that night in not back-peddling with, “Oh you can share about your crackhead experience!” due to her transparent manipulation. [Yes, she was manipulative with that statement. Hence....good segue into the next section.]
Alcoholics Anonymous does not serve the Addict
Alcoholics are different than Addicts and even if they are exactly the same – watch this. In an A.A. meeting, I share my experience, strength, and hope as it relates to recovery from alcohol. How is a crackhead going to feel as if she fits in? Let’s get honest here. This poor woman has done things for her drugs I couldn’t imagine doing unless *I* too had suffered the same addiction. She probably looks at me like a goody goody quite honestly and I can see how.
There is either a newer and deeper level of manipulation or even up into a criminal element going on with drug addicts that pure alcoholics can not relate to. I did not have to hit the streets and develop a thicker skin in order to survive to get my liquor. The lowest I ever went was going to a crummy ABC store in a rancid part of town. My *addiction* did not rely on really low levels of manipulation; Sure I lied to people who questioned about how much I drank but I would hardly have called myself a “con-artist” or a “thief” which is what I hear when I visit the N.A. meetings. My friends were not people who were familiar with jail or street drugs and how to get them. Now I did have friends – I found out – who doctor shopped which is still an addict but maybe the deep criminal element is missing here.
A true difference is that there are people who drink alcohol and who do not “turn” alcoholic. They suffer no weird phenomenon of craving that the A.A. Big Book talks about and specifically in the Doctor’s Opinion. I have never had a former crackhead friend explain to me he kept crack on the coffee table and offered it up when guests came to visit. Have you ever heard of someone socially shooting heroin? Even “normal” people – not having a problem with alcohol in the past – can develop addiction through prescribed pain medicine; My point being that you don’t have to be “chemically different” in order to be an addict.
You DO have to be chemically different than *normal* people to be an alcoholic.
See the Doctor’s Opinion in the Big Book regarding this chemical difference. Or try to understand- for you non-alcoholics- what it must be like to have one beer only… to then crave the next one. Once an alcoholic inputs alcohol into her system, this weird phenomena of craving starts and nothing can assuage that intense craving other than more alcohol. If we never picked up the first drink, we’d be cherry. Alcoholics Anonymous gave me the tools to learn how to stay away from the first drink. It’s really that easy. Some tools may work for others that is not A.A., but A.A. worked for me. Maybe something else would have worked for me instead, but this is what did it. So I tend to stick with what works. Not to mention, I am happy. [Small detail? Nah. :)]
But all this talk of addicts differing from alcoholics…? Not pertinent as it relates to A.A. meetings. These are just my thoughts on the differences. A.A. has another pamphlet I cannot find online, but it’s a shorter version of the pamphlet above that actually has the questions answered as they pertain to addicts in A.A. I guess G.S.O. had to answer them point blank, finally, because people in A.A. seem to be so wary of excluding anyone. That, or ignorant of the Twelve Traditions.
Alcoholics Anonymous Traditions Exclude the Addict from Membership
When I chaired my Newcomers – or Beginners – Meeting last night and read the short pamphlet still entitled, “Problems other than Alcohol” that I took from our very own pamphlet kiosk, can you believe that people with 10 plus years of claimed sobriety via A.A.; via Alcoholics Anonymous [I say this because it's important to differentiate that people who are sober not through A.A. should and would have no reason to know of the A.A. Traditions], really did say, “I think we might have to call New York and ask them the official response.”
Thank goodness someone who was there referred back to what I’d just read after saying, “It doesn’t get any clearer than this…”
(1) Can a nonalcoholic pill or drug addict become an A.A. member? No.
(2) Can such a person be brought, as a visitor, to an open A.A. meeting for help and inspiration? Yes.
(3) Can a pill or drug taker, who also has a genuine alcoholic history, become a member of A.A.? Yes.
(4) Should these nonalcoholic pill or drug users be led to believe that they have become A.A. members? No.
These questions – AND answers – came straight from the shorter version pamphlet like the one above entitled, “Problems other than Alcohol” and it’s straight from A.A. World Service; ie, New York. So you see? I read it straight out the little short pamphlet, emphasized the answers, and still there was a comment of confusion deviating from the truth.
One more time: “Nonalcoholics are not A.A. members because there is only one requirement for membership and that is a desire to stop drinking.” If there is a desire to stop smoking crack, wonderful. Has nothing to do with A.A., though because that is an outside issue. [Tradition 10. Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the A.A. name ought never be drawn into public controversy.]
Alcoholics Anonymous Traditions Enforcement Police
I was a member of the ever-elusive A.A. Traditions police. We don’t wear badges and we’re a secret society in that we never actually tell anyone we’re the Traditions Police. This is a joke.
If you currently have about a year sober in Alcoholics Anonymous and find yourself pointing out how groups are doing it wrong or how someone broke a *rule* or still use “she should have…” or are often blaming people or groups or situations for why you could not so and so, then you’re a member of the Traditions Police now, too. Welcome aboard. [Just Kidding.]
To avoid being a member of the Traditions Police - because the most miserable member in a group will always belong to the Traditions Police Force - it may help to remember some sayings…
- Live and let Live. Easy Does it. First things First. [Let people be where they are.]
- A good bad example. [When all else fails I just think that maybe I need to see this.]
- I am responsible. [If I think YOU need to be responsible but not me, that's backwards.]
- Love and tolerance is our code. [Straight from the Big Book right here (Pg. 84).]
- The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. [NOT "do it right."]
What about Alcoholics Anonymous Tradition Breaks in Groups?
Alcoholics Anonymous is about as anarchy as it gets but, for an institution with no rules of any kind, the Traditions are there so that we insure A.A.’s survival. It’s that easy. If A.A. does not survive, the alcoholic who wants recovery will not have A.A. to turn to.
Jokingly I reference the term, “Traditions Police” to those people who have been where I am talking about. The miserable people who see the harm over the help. Who see the bad over the good. Who see the error rather than the forgiveness. Who see the pill poppers over the recovering examples. But in real life, there really *are* groups who break Traditions to such an extent that it’s a goddamned miracle when there is any kind of sobriety to be had by any individual. [I came from one such group and yes my sobriety was and is a miracle.]
I am well aware that people say A.A. is a cult. I address that in several posts already with basically the same sentiment that anything can turn into a cult when you get control freaks involved. [I would suggest codependent recovery if control freaks control you in A.A. or outside A.A.]
Here is how I explained it to a friend. In keeping with Tradition 2 which states For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority- a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern how is that we “enforce” these traditions?
We Become the Walking Example of the Traditions
Non-complicated answer: By being the example.
We are the example. We learn the Traditions. We ask to go over them with our sponsor or someone who knows them. We study them. We live them and particularly in meetings. We, in effect, become “armed with the facts about ourselves” as those facts relate to the group. You know how in the Big Book it says we cannot transmit something we do not have? Well, if we have legitimate complaints about the group or problems with the group, let’s get to the reasons why.
What Traditions are going unobserved? How could the meetings improve in carrying the message to alcoholics? Perhaps our group needs a “Group Inventory?” We take time to learn these things while also realizing it “takes time to learn these things.” :)
We study the Traditions in the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions for example. We grow to understand terms like “Group Conscience” and the “Twelve Concepts.” We take advantage of the internet in looking up other Group experiences. :) We read the literature from G.S.O. that is often in any A.A. kiosk at a meeting clubhouse. [If we cannot read we get what we can on tape or ask someone to read the literature to us and we discuss it with someone who has experience with the service structure.]
The program of Alcoholics Anonymous is the Twelve Steps, found in the Big Book. The group purpose of Alcoholics Anonymous as shared in the Traditions, is to carry the message to alcoholics. The message being how we got sober, get sober, stay sober, and so forth. The Twelve Traditions are to guide the groups so that we can best serve the alcoholics. They are not meant to be mean, elitist or exclusionary but are meant to be necessary for the welfare of the group. If we do not carry this message, who will? The onus is upon each of us who know better and this often requires – for me at least – courage.
But courage to speak up or do the next right thing should not be insurmountable when you understand that you do have the Traditions on your side. Remember. This is not your “best thinking” that you’re sharing and striving toward. They are principles founded and based upon the Twelve Traditions [and even Steps sometimes], and in that, how can you go wrong?
Here’s to your courage.