Not long ago, as I was trying to find reruns of "Cops Reloaded," by far my favorite TV show except for "Jimmy Kimmel Live" and anything with Neil Cavuto, I came across a panel show on MSNBC (where I often watch another great show, "Lockup").
On the panel, a woman named Gabrielle Glaser was promoting an article by her in The Atlantic. Her thesis was, as far as I could tell, that the program of Alcoholics Anonymous is not particularly effective in helping alcoholics stop drinking. Furthermore, said she, if I made her out right, there were many other programs that were just as good as AA to stop excessive drinking and help people control their alcohol intake.
I quickly retrieved her article from the Internet and read it with great interest. She deserves respect for her hard work on the article. Moreover, one of the key points she makes is that in many if not most rehab centers, the staff is simply not trained in any meaningful or helpful way. This is a point I believe to be thoroughly valid and much in need of correction.
That said, based on decades of observation of people with alcohol and drug problems going into AA and staying in AA, I will say that I have never seen any kind of organization or entity more powerful or effective in any activity as Alcoholics Anonymous. It is a genuine, God-given miracle.
Glaser starts her analysis of AA with a fundamental mistake. She believes that the sole goal of AA is the keep men and women from drinking. I don’t blame her at all for this error, since it is stated over and over in AA documents that the main purpose of AA is to help people recover from alcoholism. But in fact, AA is so much bigger than helping people to recover from alcoholism that it’s like the difference between discovering a bathtub for a swim and discovering the Pacific Ocean.
AA is about stopping people from getting drunk or high to a debilitating effect by a basic change in who they are. There are many ways to make people stop drinking: You could bribe them or give them electroshock or hold their families hostage or make them stick their heads in sacks of their own vomit after they get sick from drunkenness. Some of those ways probably work.
But AA is incomparably larger than these projects: AA is about transforming human beings so that they no longer suffer from the terrors and fears and self-tormenting thoughts that make them want to numb themselves into oblivion. AA is about taking people who have an obsessive fear of many if not all aspects of life, take alcohol and/or drugs to make that fear go away, and then find they cannot live without those chemicals, and then find their lives ruined.
AA, as far as I can tell, and I know a legion of men and women in the program, is about teaching people through precept and example that there is a better way to live. There are, as far as I have been able to tell from observing persons in the program up close and personal for three decades now, several key aspects to this instruction: The leading one is the firm conviction that alcoholism and drug addiction are powerful, but that God’s love for the alcoholic and/or drug addict is far more powerful and can overcome the power of chemicals.
The second key aspect is the provision of a fellowship of men and women who believe in God’s love and power, believe in helping one another to remain sober, and offer a daily example of a community where status is measured at least in part by sobriety and surrender to God’s will.
The third key aspect, very closely aligned with the item just mentioned, is providing friends and comrades in a worldwide cause. This fights the devastating loneliness that humans vulnerable to booze and drugs formerly could confront only with more delirium.
There is a great deal more that is appealing and even compelling in the program: the absence of a fee of any kind. The truth that meetings are held in basements and attics and not in cathedrals. The absence of any kind of formal hierarchy. The astonishing good humor at almost every meeting I have ever attended. All of these are dwarfed by the observation of hundreds of people whose lives have been changed from back-alley homeless ruins to happiness through the program.
I am sure that Gabrielle Glaser means well and only wants to help. But her warnings against AA are dangerous. The program is about so much more than not taking a drink or drug because of some kind of trick or other drug that it beggars the imagination. The program, as I have seen it, literally gives people their lives back, gives the soulless their souls back, saves marriages, keeps people alive.
As one particularly eloquent AA member said at a meeting I attended decades ago, “AA is not about keeping the drink out of my mouth. It’s about keeping the gun out of my mouth.”
This is powerful stuff.
Ben Stein is a writer, actor, and lawyer, who served as a speechwriter in the Nixon administration as the Watergate scandal unfolded. He began his unlikely road to stardom when director John Hughes cast him as the numbingly dull economics teacher in the urban comedy, "Ferris Bueller's Day Off." Read more reports from Ben Stein — Click Here Now.
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