I started to read your book, but I couldn't make it past page 20. By that point you had trashed AA and the other 12-step programs so many times and in so many ways, I couldn't go further. I've been a member of many 12-step programs for 24 years, and your ignorance of their value is stunning. I'm going to share some of what you might call psycho-babble, but you've missed the point of the program so badly, I have no choice.For starters, rather than repeat myself (too much), I invite readers to review this post, which I wrote back in 2007. From here on, keep in mind that I'm not out to play GOTCHA by picking apart Michael's note, which was clearly heartfelt and well-argued. I just think that in making his points, he often ends up making my points. In my experience, this is often true of defenders of the recovery movement.
Substance abuse winds up to be, finally, a problem of isolation. In many cases it's just you, alone, in a room with a bottle, a needle, or a crack pipe. The 12-step programs promote the idea that "what we cannot do alone we can do together." You discover immediately that you have hundreds of friends who actually give a damn what happens to you. All the programs function the same way, AA, CA, NA, Pills Anonymous, Smokers Anonymous (one of the biggest). Sure, it may"appear" to have a high dropout rate. But you know what, they come back, cause they know they're always welcome, without judgment, It makes you feel you're part of something bigger than yourself. It's not a religious program, it's a spiritual one. You take what you need and discard the rest. The program is a bridge back to life, and once you cross the bridge, it's not necessary to constantly re-enforce it by going to meetings forever. I haven't been to a regular meeting in 12 years. But the principles live with me every day. They offer tools to help you cope with everyday life.
So though the rest of your book may be amusing, your failure to really do thorough research on the 12-step programs, cancels any trust I have that you've done anything more than just collect a bunch of soundbites and published them.
For starters, Michael writes: "The 12-step programs promote the idea that 'what we cannot do alone we can do together.' " In truth, the 12-steps (unwittingly) promote many things...and to my mind, the sense of shared impotence is at least as striking a feature of these programs as the sense of common purpose against a shared foe. Michael himself tells us that he has been involved with 12-steps for 24 years. Twenty-four years. If alcoholism is indeed the disease we now culturally recognize it to be...what disease requires a 24-year (-and counting) cure? But wait, I already know the answer to this one: You are never cured, in the ironic lingo of recovery. (Doesn't recovery presuppose, at some point...a recovery?) And that may be the problem in a nutshell. If you persuade people that they're hopeless, that there's no way out (except entrusting yourself to some nebulous higher power and the attaboys of like-minded friends), you create precisely the sort of helplessness I had in mind when I penned SHAM's subtitle. This is all the more true in a group setting. (Why do you think every poor-man's Tony Robbins dreams wetly of the day when he can lure a few hundred people to some hotel ballroom? In mass psychology there is strength: not your strength, but the guru's!)
And so I would say to Michael, if my ignorance of these programs' value is stunning, then perhaps his ignorance of their dangers is sad.
Rather than just continue to be snarky, I will focus on Michael's other main allegation: that I haven't done my research on 12-steps. Oh yes I have. And in this case, research does not consist of simply talking to people who relapse and keep coming back for more (which would not truly be research—it would be opinion polling—and which, in itself, again, makes one question the value of the therapy). Research consists of analyzing the cure rates put out by AA and looking at objective studies of the genre. Had Michael made it past page 20—to, say, Chapter 8, "You are All Diseased," he would have encountered a fairly thorough review of the literature on addiction and recovery. And there have been even more startling physiology-based findings about the true nature of addiction since SHAM was published. In time, such findings almost always yield new interventions. (This is a pretty good overview of addiction and the various therapeutic approaches...at least in the UK. But I suppose their addicts are pretty much like our own.)
Michael would have found that AA has not even come close to meeting its burden of proof in terms of documenting its efficacy; he would have found a consistent pattern of obstructionism and deceit on AA's part. But why should that surprise anyone? After all, the "philosophical core" of AA, and the rest of the 12-step universe, was pulled out of thin air by a couple of guys who had about as much business reinventing the world's approach to addiction as I have conceiving a new approach to neuroscience. (But wait, why shouldn't I conceive a new approach to neuoscience? I had a stroke. Doesn't that qualify me as an expert on neuroscience? ... Then why take advice on alcoholism from drinkers?)
And then we have the point I sought to make in my still-born letter to Harper's, which I blogged about here. This goes back to the impact that 12-step programs tend to have on a disciple's self-image. The addictions/disabilities, or imagined addictions/disabilities, propagate: You start out an alcoholic, then you're a codependent, then pne day you're a card-carrying member of underearner's anonymous. Are all of these things legitimate flaws that require treatment? Or do suggestible people who may, may have one basic maladjustment become psychological hypochondriacs, conceiving themselves hapless victims of each new syndrome that comes into vogue, by being chronically exposed to that kind of thinking? I'm just askin'.
Last but not least, although Narconon is not a 12-step, I think it's well worth looking into NBC's investigation of the Scientologist-run program. It suggests that apart from being ineffective, Recovery-land is also rife with abuse.
UPDATE, Saturday afternoon, August 18: I promised to give Michael the final word(s) on the subject, and he has chosen to exercise that privilege as follows:
Thank you for posting my letter.
I'm not going to play shot for shot with you, it's meaningless. You just don't get "it." And I'm not talking about Erhard's Seminar Training.
It may just be as simple an issue as that maybe you're not a substance abuse addict who's had to go in search of answers and solutions for himself.
I gotta tell ya, you're really cynical. I watched that Rock Center piece last Thurs, on Narconon: $30,000 to be hustled by Scientology. And you can't come back unless you pay another $30,000. Twelve-step programs you can keep coming back. That's the principle of the whole program. I've been to rehab: 30 days, $2500.00. Good launching pad. Works for some, fails for others. Twelve-step program costs a dollar donation. And any rehab worth a dime follows the format of the 12-step programs, and encourages meeting when you leave the rehab.
My final word about them is that they give you tools to function in recovery, that will last for the rest of your life. I know because I meet many people that don't have those tools and are so lost in their day to day functions.