The Code of Silence: Why does AA try  hide it's origins?

On February 3rd, 1990 I attended my first AA meeting. I was not to drink alcohol or do drugs from that day on, and I remain sober to this day.

I was in my mid-twenties and had never been to any 12-step program in my life. I was looking for help and just didn't know where to go. A friend suggested I go and check out this meeting. He had told me these people helped him with the same problems I described to him. I had no idea what I was walking into. Little did I know it would be a blessing and a curse.

Looking back, I guess it was the appearance of a bond within the group that attracted me. The people seemed very close and loving towards one another. As time went on, I attended the suggested 90 meetings in 90 days. I had made a fresh start in my life, and was achieving some progress. My first six months were a time of awakening and radical shifts in my life. I could sense a renewing of my mind and body.

I always love to poor myself into whatever I am doing in my life. I wish to know all I can about whatever things I participate in, and AA would be no different. I studied all the books and literature that were available. This was the beginning of the end.

As I studied the available literature, I learned a great deal about the founders and as well as the Christian history of AA. As I read and learned, I would share this newfound info and its impact in meetings. I had also met a woman in an Alano club and started dating her. I greatly enjoyed learning and thinking again. My reasoning was simple--if the founders of the program created it, they surely would reveal the goals and secrets of this 12-step magic. The flowing opinions and rumors roaming about were plentiful. So I studied and searched. During this time, I had received a very intense lack of support from within the fellowship. At times, I was warned that thinking could get me drunk. This concept confused and angered me. Thinking was bad, wrong and destructive? I quickly was forced to find a rebuttal for this attack. I would reply, all thinking can't be bad; I think the 12-steps helped me, so how can thought be bad?

At the same time, I was warned that a relationship with this woman would most likely end in my return to the alcohol or drugs. It seemed I was going against the grain and I just got started.

By this time, I had a year sober and was still moving on with my reading and my relationship with my girlfriend. I had started reading the Bible. I saw in some of the history texts that the founders read the Bible often as a source of inspiration. So why shouldn't I read it? I had never read it before, so I did. As time went on in my relationship, my girlfriend and I talked a lot about spiritual issues. Morality, honesty, dignity, willingness and commitment were always spoken about with high regard in meetings. However, as I shared my newfound source of inspiration--the Bible-- in the fellowship and meetings, I was met with hostility. On one hand, members of the fellowship would state whatever works, yet on the other hand many seemed angry at what worked for me. I now felt unwelcome, and was often challenged about my beliefs.

I took some college classes on philosophy, critical thinking and logic. I found that I really enjoyed learning and expanding my mind. But this opened Pandora's box as well. As time went on, and I began to utilize my new thinking and logic skills, I began to hear many self-defeating notions coming from within the fellowship. I was also the butt of much anger.

One man, who once helped me at my beginning of sobriety, now angrily attacked my way of thinking and spiritual foundation. The irony was that I had merely adopted the same Christian foundation as the founders. It was simple; God was the source for sobriety and change.

My girlfriend and I were getting closer and talked a lot about the insanity within the fellowship. Things such as doorknobs, the group and anything could be "termed" God. I was in love and happy with my life. When I did spend time around the fellowship, I saw that my lack of attendance of meetings was met with skepticism. I had a good job and was busy with school. Time was a rare commodity. Yet it was even suggested to me that I would drink again if my meeting attendance were kept so low. This confused me, for I was happy, in love, working and learning. I never stopped sharing hope with newly sober people and those in need of help. My girlfriend and I helped people whenever we could.

The longer I was sober and the more I listened, the more I saw that the fellowship had this groupthink type mentality. I no longer was stating meaningless phrases. I was giving thought to what I said.

I had stumbled onto a copy of the original manuscript of the Big Book and studied that. Since I was on the board of directors of this Alano club I frequented, I suggested that we print and distribute this manuscript, which was very direct and was not watered down. It also was not edited as the current edition was. My position was that we should have any literature for sale at our private club that might enhance knowledge and understanding of our fellowship. We agreed to think it over and meet the following week. Much to my surprise, when we met that following week, four representatives from AAWS (Alcoholics Anonymous World Services) corporate headquarters were there to speak. My girlfriend was downstairs and waited patiently.

This wasn't happening, this couldn't be happening. Right before my eyes these representatives were suggesting this information was harmful and not to be distributed. In logic, we call this form of argument ad misericordian. They were appealing to the sympathy of the newcomer to the board. I was still in shock that these trusted servants would attend a private meeting at a private club and use their status as a means to accomplish their task.

The other board members quickly were subdued by the assumed authoritative positions. But I was not. This was a private club under its own bylaws and private charter. This group of representatives had no authority in matters dealing with the activities and actions of this club. Nonetheless, before my eyes, they molded the minds of the members using fear of outcast from AAWS.

After the meeting, I confronted the group and told them they were in violation of their own traditions. After we debated some issues, when their arguments no longer held up, they asked me if I would consider becoming a representative. They said they needed people like me. To this day, I find this amusing.

At the same time all this conflict was going on, my relationship with my girlfriend was having some troubles. It seemed as if my world in AA was crashing down. I didn't have the desire to drink or use drugs; this was the furthest thing from my mind. But I started to see things I never had before. I started to see friends move from one woman to the next within the same circle of friends. It seemed very odd to me that they didn't sense a conflict on interest, that no one seemed to mind. In fact, this behavior was widely accepted amongst the group. It was type of "wife swapping" in a new way. One of my mentors termed it a form of "incest". This made sense to me, considering that relationships with people outside of this group were almost nonexistent. My girlfriend even commented on this immorality from time to time.

At one point, I saw myself as an outsider. I didn't think like the group, I didn't act like the group and I didn't share in the group-philosophy. It seemed everything they held as sacred was spoken from within the group itself. The literature contradicted what I was seeing and hearing in the fellowship. The only conclusion I was left with was that the fellowship was something other than what the literature spoke about. In my mind, there was no doubt this was a rumor driven fellowship, ignorant of its foundation. When I realized this, all hell broke loose.

I could no longer deny the fact that the more time I had under my belt sober, the more I saw unhealthy behavior and reasoning amongst my peers. I saw the notion of being powerless taken to the extreme. The claim that meetings were important was only coming from within the meetings. Types of circular reasoning based on superstition ran rampant. A radical anti-intellectual theme coupled with moral silence filled the fellowship. There was this silent agreement amongst the group, raised to an eerie level. No matter what the conduct of a member, no one ever spoke up. At four years sober, reality met me face to face.

In my relationship with my girlfriend I also noticed odds things happening. It wasn't until I started asking leading questions to others in the group that I came to the truth. We had troubles, but I assumed nothing abnormal or out of the ordinary for couples. But I learned she had engaged in two affairs with two men from the group. These two men not only were regular members of this group, but I knew them on a first name basis. This was not fatal in and of itself, what made matters worse was the fact that specific members knew this behavior was going on and said nothing to me. It was all placed under the notion It's none of my business. I also saw her being lovingly accepted as a good outstanding member of the group because she was an alcoholic. This is the great moral code of silence in the groups today.

The news of these affairs were painful, but I did not drink over it. But, while I sought compassion, all I received was concern about my possible return to alcohol, an assumption that I was incapable of feeling pain without drinking or using drugs. This was nothing short of mere lunacy.

It is commonplace in meetings to hear about how someone did a wrong, yet were celebrated because they didn't drink after doing that wrong. The phrase still angers me today: But I didn't drink. The I didn't drink over it mindset was applauded when my x-girlfriend shared about her emotional turmoil. The true irony was that she induced her own turmoil and was applauded for her abstinence.

I wish to assure you I have no anger towards AA or the fellowship; I write out of concern for those engulfed in the 12-step subculture. In all of my study and historical readings I have found one common theme. Early AA was about bringing you back to society and living life, not about creating a subculture and cult-like mentality to dwell in. So even today you will find some within AA that deny its current trends. It is akin to a civil war. No one seems to care. No one is listening. The 75k yearly incomes of AAWS representatives, the contradictory logic, the ignorance of history, the immorality, the self-defeating notions of God and the control superstition has on them is meaningless in the feeling-dominated culture they have created. They feel good and that's all that matters. The goal is to feel good at any cost, regardless of the reasoning and ramifications. Some in the fellowship truly believe without the fellowship or meetings they will not survive. Strange how it hasn't dawned on any of them that they heard that in a meeting or from the fellowship itself.

May God bless and help those who are seeking recovery to become healthy, moral and productive citizens once again.


Author's note: You are welcome to do as you wish with my article (that includes gso.org). It is a gift. We should never run from truth, but embrace it. If I can ever help an alcoholic, I will. This includes dignity, truth and honor.