Further Reading

What have you ever done, except to rain on the AA miracle?

I get periodic letters from AA members who tell me how AA is an unmatched success, and asking for any positive impact I have had. I list a number of appreciative letters at SPAWS. But I’m not sure I ever got a letter like this from an active AA member.

Dr. Peele,

I am an eight-year member of Alcoholics Anonymous, and for the last four years I have been a full-time lay researcher on the history of the Alcoholics Anonymous movement and the alcoholism paradigm, the disease concept, etc.

I wanted to thank you wholeheartedly for your outstanding contribution to the field of addiction research and understanding. As a member of AA, I am quite the anomaly. Indeed, the overwhelming majority of my peers are in the dark regarding the controversies in the alcoholism field. This is understandable, as AAs are dissuaded from reading anything that is not "AA Conference-approved" literature. Names like Mark and Linda Sobell, Alan Marlatt, Stanton Peele, Herbert Fingarette et al. are simply unknown to most 12-Steppers. And it is a shame. Similarly, AA has all but forgotten its own history. What was at one time a small group of like-minded ex-alcoholics helping each other to overcome their problem has mushroomed into a one-size-fits-all therapeutic disaster, leaving AA with at best a 5% success rate, and leaving Fellowshippers in the dark as to the true state of its organization.

Of course, you know all this.  However most AA's don't. Though they don't read anything outside of their own domain, they love reading anything written by fellow AAs. This is where I hope to be of service to my fellow constituents. Not one AA member as of yet has addressed these issues, and if we are to be of real help to other alcoholics, we need to realize where our real place is. Your library of articles and your books have been simply fascinating, and your work has had an enormous effect on my own personal life. As a survivor of fourteen inpatient alcohol programs (and subsequently drinking soon after each experience), it was quite a revelation to realize that I did not have to hang onto some fear of the first drink every evening of my life. Equally important was the First Edition of AA's Big Book from 1939. These early pioneers thought differently. They did not speak in terms of "one day at a time" or having some elusive disease talking to them. Indeed, what was at one time a movement geared towards life in communion with God and permanent sobriety had given way to a daily reprieve contingent upon the maintenance of an ill-defined higher power and attendance at meetings. The celebration of life had been usurped by the celebration of sober time. The game had irrevocably changed.

It never fails to amaze me how much my AA forebears had overstepped their boundaries into areas they had no business being involved with. And how can all this be remedied? The family and the community can do so much, and yet we are in an era of so much responsibility and pressure that we consistently feel it necessary to abdicate our roles as models and pass the buck to the counselors. The quick fix. And what a mess it has left us with.

When I first read "The Truth About Addiction and Recovery," it was like a lightbulb that suddenly flickered on. After years of relapsing and believing I was always returning to zero, it suddenly dawned on me that the reason things were getting worse with every episode was due to my own creation. I had believed the stories in the meeting halls, and I was indeed laying out my own self-fulfilling prophecy. The merry-go-round could end, and I had the ability to stop it permanently. Amazingly, it was at that point that my fellow AAs told me I was treading on dangerous ground. How could I possibly think that I could be well forever? Years later, I have visited some of these same AA groups, and the same people are still griping about the same problems and the same fears, still clinging to the same twenty-four hour chips, still exalting the wonders of AA, and still insisting that "life may not be rosy, but at least I'm sober." Is this all life is meant to be? Some "Spirituality of Imperfection?" Had I indeed already made it by attending 2,500 AA meetings, regardless if I had continued drinking recklessly?

Recently I have spoken at national Alcoholics Anonymous history conferences, and I have written some articles on AA history to the local intergroups in my area (Massachusetts). To say that the reception has been cool would be an understatement. I had gotten the point from your work as well as that of others that the addiction field is rife with emotionalism. It's another thing to experience it firsthand.

My appreciation to you, and I'm looking forward to your future writings.

Best regards,

Rick Kolenda
Haverhill, MA