Thursday, December 26, 2013

2045- A Christian perspective on AA/NA.

I debated about doing one final post on my experience with AA/NA [Alcoholics anonymous- Narcotics anonymous].


I want to do an honest critique- not only from personal experience- but from the experiences of others.

Yesterday I saw a new resident at our halfway house- I wanted to meet him- a mutual friend had told me this new addition to the house used to be his sponsor- and he relapsed- again.

As a matter of fact- my friend told me that all 5 of his sponsors- over the past 5 years- have relapsed.

The friend who was telling me this- has an addiction to prescription pills- buys- sells- spends whole days in his addiction.

Yet- he too is a sponsor- and does not consider himself an addict- because he has not had ‘one beer in 5 years’.

I tell these stories for the benefit of those who might be saying ‘Gee John- that’s me too!’

Over the years of Pastoral ministry- I of course was familiar with AA.

I spoke about AA in a positive way- most pastors did not.

Many had trouble with the ‘higher power’ concept- not me- till this day most of my friends have found God and refer to God when they use this language.

Yes- many good people have found God and have become clean thru the program.

But- the above scenario has been repeated many times- in just my short year in AA.

I asked the sponsor who relapsed- let’s call him Chuck.

‘Chuck- I was looking forward to meeting you- I have heard lots of great things about you- how long were you clean [this last time] before you relapsed’.

3 years.

‘Ok- what’s the longest clean time you have had- since you have been in AA’?


‘How long have you been in AA’?

25 years.

Chuck is 58 years old.

‘Chuck’ was standing in the same room- at our halfway house- as another resident of the house was just a day or 2 before.

Let’s call him ‘Paul’.

Paul has the same story.

Knows the Big Book- quotes it- has been in AA for 30 years.

And is now 5 months clean- after multiple years of clean stints- and relapses.

 Then- one of our newest residents came in- high as a kite [He did not know I was there- or he would not have come in. If you get high- you get kicked out of the Halfway House].

Just about a week before- I had a talk with him about why I feel the AA meetings are not for me.

[Though all the guys at the house are very involved with AA- and I will still take them to meetings- and in no way try to hinder them from what they feel they need to do].

I have tried to be very nice- and honest- about this.

I told this kid ‘son- you keep referring to yourself as someone with a disease that others just don’t have’.

I went on and told him that sin- in its essence- is sort of like a disease.

But all people suffer from it to one degree or another.

And for the past 2 thousands years- many people have overcome addictive lifestyles thru the grace of God.

I told him that when we do overcome these addictions- it would be better to simply view ourselves as yes- sinners- but sinners who have accessed God’s grace- and are the same as all other sinners.

I found the mindset of ‘I have a disease that makes me different than others’ to be counterproductive in some cases.

One friend says ‘John- we are INSANE- the book says we are insane. Why else would someone go back out and drink after many years of being sober- see- we must be insane’!

Well actually- people go out and chose to sin- because they are sinners.

And yes- some might describe this as insanity.

But my friend used this argument in a way that said ‘see- WE ARE in another group of people- who are different- both mentally and physically than normal people’.

[As a side note- I hope to get to this very point in this study. But- Alcoholism does not fit the category of a disease- like other diseases. Now- to be sure- the EFFECTS of putting substances into your body- whatever they be- do indeed CAUSE diseases- but the actual addiction to a substance- apart from babies being born from mothers who used during pregnancy- is not a disease in the classic sense. Many believe because the medical associations did indeed accept it as a disease- that this makes it one. Many doctors do not embrace this idea at all- and if you simply compare the normal idea of disease- with an addict- they are not the same].

So- as someone who never took a negative view of AA- and still does not- I began to see inherent- if you will- structural problems inside the system.

I also found too many defenders of the movement- who were actively in relapse- to some degree- and yet did not want to admit it- because they took a view of AA like some Christians have about their particular church/denomination.

And they hid their relapse because they wanted to defend their movement.

[Note- when people find their identity by having a particular ‘clean date’- and when so much rides upon that date- 2-3- 10 year celebrations- if they relapse- there is a very real sense that ‘all is lost’. I think the ‘identity of addiction/non addiction’ a term I have coined- is counterproductive. Too much emphasis is placed on the DON’T EVER USE command. While I believe- and practice total abstinence- by God’s grace- yet I do not see it thru a legalistic mentality- a LAW mentality. Over the years I have taught about the difference between law and grace. And I think focusing so much on a person’s clean date can lead to a terrible fall- depression- because many who relapse then try and come back and work twice as hard then before- which can be legalistic].

Some have said ‘for the FIRST TIME in man’s history a way has been given…’

[If I remember- I think this is read at the meetings?]

Now- once again- I know this statement means well- but it’s simply not true.

And if you begin believing this [that God has given- for the FIRST TIME- a plan that will work] then you become a defender of a movement [though good] in a way that certain cultic members defend their movements.

‘God has- for the first time- restored the true church’- etc. etc.

So- I have read up this last year on the entire Addiction/Recovery industry- and I want to share more up to date info.

Historically- more people have achieved recovery thru the Church- thru not only ‘attending church’ [which is not ‘church’ to the full degree of being a practicing Christian] but thru either the participation of the sacramental life of the High Church denominations [Catholics- Orthodox, etc] or thru the usual means of the dispensation of Grace from a Protestant perspective [Altar Call- Baptism- witnessing- etc].

What I mean is- more addicts have become clean thru the practice of the Christian faith- than in AA- period.

I don’t say this as a ‘shot’ at AA.

Some have said ‘I tried church- it didn’t work’.

I asked ‘what do you mean- you tried church’.

‘Well- I went to church on Sunday- watched religious shows- etc.’

I would then respond ‘no- that’s not CHURCH’.

I responded ‘no- Jesus- and Christianity teach -you must give it away to keep it’ [a main theme in AA].

I told him ‘what you tried was simply going to a Christian church meeting without practicing the ‘whole program’.

Which includes many [if not all] of the steps that you would follow in AA.

Which indeed is where Bill and the founders based their movement on, it was at one time called THE JAMES GROUP- named after the letter of James in the New Testament.

The point I was making was- I have had more than one well intending person simply write off THE CHURCH- not realizing that they never really tried THE CHURCH.

That is- they never really implemented the teachings of Christ fully- and many others- over a 2 thousand year history- had.

So- once again- this is not to say that God is not working in AA/NA.

No- without a doubt he is.

But because I have had many experiences this past year- of people- who after 30 years or so- continue to relapse.

[Note- these people- without an exception- when I asked them what happened. They simply believed that it was their fault. Now- maybe so. But to the point of ‘no- this program has BEEN PROVEN to have never failed- for those who do it fully’ is taught in the Big Book. But there are many- I’m sure- that might have failed because of other reasons. Like I’m explaining today. See- if after multiple stories of relapse- and if you are reading the words in The Big book- that says ‘up to now- all who failed- did so because of ..’ some fault of their own- then this can become a self-defeating cycle. There might be- and indeed are- other reasons that some of these people continue to relapse. Some have developed such a defeatist view of themselves- and at times an irresponsible one ‘I have a disease- that’s why this happens to me’. See- some have embraced wrong- false ideas. And it is possible that this minority [or majority?] of cases- they are relapsing because they need better- more up to date help with their addictions].

If you hold to this outdated view [that all who have followed this system have never been known to fail- up to now] - penned by good men about 80 years ago.

Then you need to be updated on the latest data.

[Maybe at the time that Bill wrote this- it was true- but not now. And to continue to tell people that all who followed the plan never relapsed- is simply not true].

 Updating these mistaken concepts would help the movement- in my view.

For their sake- those who have a history of relapse after many years in the program- over the next few days I want to give you a balanced approach.

Though I am clean for a year- I really don’t see this as some ‘rare’ thing.

Nor do I want to use my example as the basis for this study.

No- the actual data show us that more people over the past 2 thousand years- have become free from addictions- thru the practicing of Christianity [and to be fair- other religious disciplines as well- Islam- etc.- which teach biblical principles of self-discipline- prayer- fasting- etc] then following any other program.

 The bible does indeed tell us that we can chose to ‘sin not’.

That’s really not such a surprise- to have to go thru all types of other things- then to simply seek God- apply the teachings of your church- and yeah- many get clean.

Ok- I don’t want this final post on AA to be negative.

Those in the movement that have found freedom- I bless you.

If you were to ask me a percentage number on the ‘good versus bad’.

Geez - I would say 90% is good- maybe 10 % needs a correction- a structural change within the movement.

The problem is- because AA is truly a movement- and yes- a God given movement [but not THE FIRST- or only].

Run by what we call ‘laymen’ [the biblical principle of the actual followers running the show- this is very biblical in nature- and because the meetings are founded this way- with no single Pastor type person- the meetings are in my view run in a more biblical way than many churches].

But at the same time- I don’t know how the movement can make the adjustments that in needs to make.

There are many examples I can give- from well-meaning people in the program- who simply do not realize that their view of AA/NA in general has become ‘cultic’.

Just one example- out of many.

One friend was giving me the NA book- and of course as a reader- who has also read many more up to date materials on addiction- I received the book graciously- and told him I would start reading.

Which I of course did- like I did with the Big Book.

But he told me that all the other books I read- they were ABOUT  addiction- no- this one was different than all others [once again- the same cultic approach you see in various Christian cults- who are also very good people- but have a sort of higher view of the writings of their movement- sort of like scripture].

My friend simply believed that the NA book he was giving me was one of a kind.

That every other book on drug addiction fell into the category of ‘about addiction’

But that this one- this was the only one that saved you from addiction.

Once again- all well-meaning people- but these signs are danger signs- at least to me.

They come too close to the more extreme Christian churches- who also hold to these types of views about their writings.

I also found that many appealed to their own example [though as of now- every one that has discussed this with me- has seemed to have relapsed]

I would say ‘don’t just look at me- or any other person- no- the data show [data- other books- studies] show that many are getting clean thru these other approaches’.

[Note- in my discussions- some friends openly admit this- they say that the Book says there are other programs that work. But yet later- they will also still hold to the concept that FOR THE FIRST TIME God gave a program that frees people. These 2 ideas are contrary. I think some simple changes to the language would help].

One friend- a leader in the local movement- would tell me outright that reading the other literature was sort of being unfaithful to the Big Book.

I gave him my other books on addiction- he did not read them.

But then when we got into these discussions.

Maybe he would say ‘No- this is the first time a God given program has been shown to man…’

I would simply quote the latest data- which shows this belief to be false.

He would say ‘I never heard that’.

I would respond ‘if you don’t read anything else on addiction- but simply keep re-reading the 154 pages [which seems to be a sort of Fundamentalist approach within the movement itself- I have heard some Old Timers say the 154 are the key] over and over again- then you will never broaden your perspective about anything- including addiction recovery!’


Note- when I post these types of post on Facebook- my intent is not to ‘preach’ to my friends who are living in various situations [I have gay friends- friends in different situations]. No- these types of posts are for those who are in these types of groups- AA- etc. and seem to be wanting a lifestyle change to some degree. So- for those who keep seeking some difference- and keep stumbling over stuff- for those- I thought this type of post might help- ok- trust me- I don’t wish to offend anyone.

I want to cover Sponsors in one post- but first let’s get to what I think might be the most important aspect of why some- in AA/NA- might still be struggling- with continual relapse- after an entire lifetime in the program.

This past year as I did read the Big Book- and attended meetings- I noticed- and was told- that many in AA/NA have ‘traded one addiction for another’.

Actually one of our first Halfway House residents told me how- in his view- many have traded the substance addiction for ‘sex addiction’.

That is- a lot of the people are ‘picking up’ people for sex- to put in bluntly.

[Ill post the rest tomorrow]

No comments:

Post a Comment