1720 901 Intro to Psych D.


Alcoholics Anonymous was formally founded in 1935 by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith in Akron, Ohio. The first chapter of The Big Book details how Bill Wilson was introduced to the concept of using a faith based, group support program to provide the mental and emotional support needed to manage Alcohol Addiction. It¶s declared "primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics achieve sobriety". The program is unique in that each chapter is self funded, develops their own meeting format and has no dedicated or paid leadership. Despite losing an average of sixty percent of their new members in the first year, AA has been attributed with helping and keeping two million member alcoholics. As a result of its perceived efficacy, AA¶s twelve step program has been adopted for use in other addiction assistance programs. I attended an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting on Wednesday, October 6th at seven p.m. The meeting was held at the McHenry Township building on the corner of Route 31 and Johnsburg Road. I admit to feeling anxious and uneasy about observing the meeting. I was worried that my presence might offend someone, cause an imbalance or something else. Even though I arrived fifteen minutes early, there was a large group of people socializing outside while smoking. After receiving permission to observe the meeting from the meeting leader, I took a seat near the back to observe. The meeting was in moderately large and well lit room. Oddly enough, the lay out reminded me of a parent orientation meeting with rows of chairs, podium and inspiration phrases hanging from easels. The meeting had around fifty attendees. With only a few exceptions everyone was talking, either in a group or one on one. Many people walked around


1720 901 Intro to Psych D. Schaeffer

hugging others and this contributed to an overall feeling of familiarity and closeness. This also made me worry that I might be approached for a hug under the wrong pretense. The meeting started with a call to order and self introduction of the meeting leader. I couldn¶t help being amused when the members responded ³Hi Bob´. It reminded me of the shout backs leaders in Cub Scouts are expected to give when leaders introduce themselves on stage. Next the twelve steps were read aloud by a member chosen by the meeting leader. On the twelfth step, everyone around me joined in. Not knowing this was going to happen made me feel awkward and reinforced my feeling of being an outsider. After the steps were read the meeting leader called on four members to come forward and explain how the program had helped them that day. He called on two men and two women. The men in the group attributed their continued sobriety more to divine guidance than peer support. They did not say the peer support was a negligible factor, just not as important. Not being particularly religious, I found it difficult to empathize with them on this point. All of my world experiences had put in my mind the requirement of self sufficiency. I did not pity the men, or think them weak. I simply doubted I could surrender responsibility of my recovery to something/someone that was existential. On the other hand, I found I could empathize with the women. Both of them had decided to talk about how the program had helped them to grow emotionally. They placed their improvement more with their interaction in the group than with a higher being. The accepting nature of the group combined with the trust offered to them, inspired them to reciprocate that trust. I had experienced this for myself in high school. While my wife and I were dating, we attended the youth leadership meetings offered


1720 901 Intro to Psych D. Schaeffer

there. The acceptance and trust offered during these activities was overwhelming. I was impressed by how respectful the members were towards the speakers. No one talked and everyone remained seated until the break. After the coffee break, the meeting leader called on a different member to read aloud the twelve traditions. As with the twelve steps, the congregation joined the speaker in reciting the twelfth tradition. After the applause for the reading had stopped, the featured speaker was introduced. Her tale was one of adolescent alcoholism carried through to adulthood. There was a period of sobriety followed by a major relapse. She concluded by explaining that with the help of the group and the program, she had attained the twelfth step, a change in personality. I was impressed by her ability to be humbly honest and, as far as I knew, forth coming about her experiences. I could tell that she had spent many hours picking the details of her life apart to see what decisions had influenced what behavior. The meeting closed with a recitation of the Lord¶s Prayer. I was totally taken by surprise at this point. In my desire to remain unobtrusive, I joined everyone as they lined the wall and held hands. I felt conflicted joining in the recitation. This appeared to be an important part of the meeting ceremony. A meeting I was only supposed to be observing, not participating in. I also felt out of place reciting the Lord¶s Prayer itself. As I mentioned earlier, I do not identify with any particular theology. This was how I was raised. I did not learn any psalms or prayers, other than Grace for Easter when eating with relatives, until I started dating my wife. At the end of the prayer, the group recited a chant that I completely missed while in my state of emotional conflict. While observing the AA meeting, I received the impression that the meeting structure


1720 901 Intro to Psych D. Schaeffer

was well known to regular members and followed by rote. The only apparent variations seemed to be the people chosen to the steps, traditions, and told their stories. After the meeting, during my period of reflection and research, I found myself wanting to go back and experience the night again. I acknowledge that I am a solitary person by choice. While in High School and Junior College, I was very outgoing and trusted others easily. My friends were drawn from groups of people I would interact with regularly. As a result, there was very little effort needed to engage them. It was within the years following the births of my children that I realized my laziness had cost me all of my close friends and the opportunities to interact with them. Combined with a few debacles and near scandals at work, I quickly learned the only person there I could trust was my boss. As a result I keep people at arm¶s length until I decide they are safe. Despite this I couldn¶t help feeling that the air of acceptance at the AA meeting was intoxicating and I believe this is the major reason members keep returning. By all appearances, the members I observed believed in the program. I find it hard to believe they would continue coming to a program, make friends and be respectful of others if it was a waste of time. I think the program is effective for a specific group of people. Those that are more socially influenced than others, and draw their validation of self from the people they associate with. I had intentionally attended the meeting without any foreknowledge of what to expect. This allowed me to draw comparisons between what I was seeing and experiencing there and my life experience without the distraction of analysis. If I had read passages of the Big Book or studied the DSM section on Alcohol Dependency

1720 901 Intro to Psych D. Schaeffer

beforehand, I doubt the meeting would have reached me as emotionally. The guest speaker for the night fit five of the seven criterions the DSM puts forth for substance dependence. Those criterions being an increased tolerance, experiencing withdrawal, binging, making life choices around drinking, and stealing to buy alcohol. She also fit the definition for Full Sustained Remission for thirteen years which ended abruptly with an incidence of Alcohol Abuse that reestablished her Alcohol Dependence. While not having experienced Alcohol Dependence, I believe I am in Sustained Full Remission from a different Substance Dependence. Since I did not seek medical assistance there was no formal diagnosis, but I did meet four of the criterions for 304.00 Opiad Dependence. While undergoing treatment for a herniated spinal disk, I was prescribed large quantities of Vicodin by multiple doctors. I was instructed to use the medication as needed to make my pain manageable and unconsciously started using Vicodin to combat stress as well. I quickly began to need the Vicodin to cope with daily life. I had been prescribed enough Vicodin that I could take 500mg every four hours with no fear of running out. When I was not medicated, I would become verbally and borderline physically abusive. It was after three months of this, my wife made it clear that I was damaging the family and challenged me to stop taking the Vicodin. With her help I stopped needing the Vicodin to function and underwent physical therapy to control the physical symptoms stemming from my spinal hernia. What did disturb me was having my craving for Vicodin return while listening to her story. In the days since the meeting my craving has not increased, but I do notice it more often when stressed than before.


1720 901 Intro to Psych D. Schaeffer

While AA has been attributed with helping many people maintain sobriety, I feel that it has many inherent flaws. The strong religious emphasis could alienate many people who could benefit from the social supports. At the meeting I attended, a handful of members walked out prior to the recitation of the Lord¶s Prayer. This appears to be a large issue within the AA community. In an attempt to help, one fifty year AA veteran wrote the ³Study Guide for AA´ on how each new member could reach spirituality on their own terms and comfortably attend meetings. Another flaw I see involves having untrained, recovering members counseling newer members. This situation is a recipe for codependence, or emotional/sexual exploitation. With the newer member consistently looking to their sponsor for guidance, they could easily fall prey to craving approval. Meanwhile the sponsor could become addicted to the control over and attention from their sponsee. If there was a mutual physical attraction between members, the relationship could become sexual. Within AA a person is called a ³thirteenth stepper´ when they pursue new members for physical relationships. These flaws would make me only recommend AA in conjunction with counseling from a professional psychologist.