How Alcoholics Anonymous lost its way

How Alcoholics Anonymous lost its way. By Ben Appel.

Even people who have never had a drinking problem know that Alcoholics Anonymous has 12 steps. You admit you’re powerless over alcohol (Step One), for instance, and apologise to people who’ve been harmed by your drinking (Step Nine). But fewer people know about AA’s 12 Traditions, the glue that holds a motley crew of recovering drunks together. The 12 steps keep your life in order; the 12 traditions keep the group in order — or so it is said in AA.

Arguably the most important tradition is Tradition 10: “Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the AA name ought never be drawn into public controversy.”

The Washingtonians, a group of recovering alcoholics that preceded AA by about a century, disbanded due to infighting over its involvement in social reforms like prohibition, religion and slavery abolition. AA’s founders, William Wilson and Dr Robert Smith (Bill and Dr Bob), didn’t want AA to suffer the same fate. Best their organisation remain neutral, they thought, so as to be welcoming for alcoholics from every walk of life. For nearly 88 years, AA has never weighed in on foreign or domestic policies, nor has it endorsed political candidates or legislative proposals. And so desperate drunks of every race, colour and creed have kept on coming and — together — got sober. …

But woke obeys no boundaries:

In AA, alcoholics are free to share about anything they like, so long as it pertains to alcoholism; politics and the culture wars, they can leave at the door. And yet, a lot of recovering alcoholics can’t resist hot takes when they’ve been handed a mic.

I noticed this particularly after Donald Trump was elected, and especially in New York City. Members started sharing about a fight they’d had that day with their idiotic, MAGA-hat-wearing uncle on Facebook — apparently unaware of newcomers, desperate to get sober, who might now feel unwelcome because they had voted for the wrong guy.

In 2020, violations of Tradition 10 reached a fever pitch. After George Floyd’s murder, institutions across the nation absorbed progressive ideals into their mission statements.

Like university:

I was finishing my last year of study at Columbia University. … During my last semester, which was moved online due to the pandemic, I’d sign on to virtual AA meetings after class, and immediately be struck by how similar the two spaces had become. Pronouns lit up the screen. Whereas opening readings once consisted of the AA preamble, the 12 Steps and 12 traditions, and details about the meeting, now some groups chose to add a thinly veiled threat: “We will not tolerate racist, homophobic, sexist or transphobic rhetoric in this space.” …

Recovering alcoholics’ lives depend on their ability to share honestly, and to feel like they will be accepted by AA no matter their histories or their personal views. Increasingly, certain opinions — although you could never be totally sure which ones — were no longer worthy of respect in a democratic society. Meetings were not unlike my university classes, where the silence during discussions would extend for what felt like an eternity, as so many students stayed quiet rather than risk transgressing.

Insinuating woke values everywhere:

Perhaps most disconcertingly, the language of one of AA’s best-known readings changed. The preamble has always read: “Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other.” On the last day of the 71st General Service Conference for the US and Canada, held virtually in April 2021, a vote was held on whether to change the wording of the Preamble from “a fellowship of men and women” to “a fellowship of people”. The motion passed. Many members were shocked. Alcoholics Anonymous is famous for its stubborn resistance to change: the first 164 pages of the Big Book have barely been amended since they were written nearly a century ago. The literature has saved thousands, maybe millions, of lives. “Don’t fix what isn’t broken” is one of AA’s unofficial mottos. Why risk changing something that works?

Another member, Justin D., says that another reason changes should rarely occur is that they are hard to reverse. At an LGBTQ meeting he attends in Baltimore, which began as a meeting for gays and lesbians, a young woman joined the group and began demanding changes to the opening literature because people were being misgendered. She called for a directive stating that only gender-neutral language should be used when calling on members to share. Group members reluctantly acquiesced to the woman’s demands. Not long afterwards, she stopped attending. Now, if members wanted to return the readings to their original form, they would have to propose it to the group and initiate a vote — which could result in accusations that they are trying to reintroduce trans-exclusionary language. …

Another institution corrupted by the left:

And yet it has long been a principle in AA that it doesn’t matter who you are, what you believe, or what wrongs you’ve committed — AA says “You belong here.” The only requirement for membership is “a desire to stop drinking” (Tradition Three). Critical social justice ideology, which scoffs at the idea of redemption for those who may have transgressed, is inimical to AA’s core mission.