The Voice‘s May 15 cover article, “AA Unmasked,” prompted an unusual amount of reader mail. Following are some of the more than 300 letters received. As in the the article by M.T., most are signed either with initials or first names and initials to protect writers’ anonymity. A response by M.T. appears at the end.
I’m wondering what M.T.’s motive for writing her AA hit piece actually is. I have been a sober member of AA for 13 years, eight of them in L.A., and I can’t imagine where she’s been going to meetings. Throughout my sobriety, which has included at least three meetings per week and plenty of outreach to newcomers, I have always been encouraged to listen for the similarities, rather than differences. My story, like those of most baby boomers, includes pot and pills, although alcohol was always my drug of choice. I’ve never been shown the door or shouted down, nor have I ever witnessed such behavior. AA isn’t for everyone: Some people, whose experience centers on a specific drug—say, cocaine or heroin—may be better off in Narcotics Anonymous, where their identification may be greater. It’s said in AA that it takes only a coffee pot and a resentment to start a new meeting. M.T. seems to have half that already.
Los Angeles, California
Excellent article by M.T. on AA’s official attitude about limiting addiction to alcohol in discussions at meetings. I couldn’t agree more with the author.
Here in the San Francisco Bay area there tends to be much more openness about many subjects. In travels across the country, I’ve found that women generally have been the leaders in welcoming the inclusion of other drugs in discussions. In earlier years this seemed to relate primarily to women’s frequent negative experiences with addictive prescription drugs. Men, on the other hand, were never prescribed antidepressants to the same extent as were women.
Too bad the AA leadership is still stuck in the past.
Palo Alto, California
The writer is the author, with her husband, David, of the recently published book A Biography of Mrs. Marty Mann: The First Lady of Alcoholics Anonymous (Hazelden).
KEEP COMING BACK
AA has no mask. If the author actually got clean and sober in New York in 1988 I’d like to know which meetings discouraged talk about drugs. At the same time, and for a good four years after that, I went to virtually every meeting below 125th Street in order to save my life, and was enveloped by unconditional love. I have remained sober and have reentered life.
Any group of people can run the gamut from angels to assholes, and 12-step groups are no exception. I was repeatedly told that if I liked everyone I met in an AA meeting, I wasn’t going to enough meetings. A fact that can sadden anyone is that a friend or loved one may not “take’ to the program. The truth is that AA is not for the people who need it; AA is for the people who want it.
I would say to M.T.: Keep coming back.
SKELETON IN THE CLOSET
I always think about that part of the AA “Big Book” where [cofounder] Bill W. says the steps are meant to be the skeleton of recovery, and that God will reveal other ways of recovering. It’s as though Bill knew that AA would have to evolve—that the fellowship, like the rest of humanity, would only survive by reinventing itself constantly. Hopefully, the AA rule-makers will catch on soon.
Malverne, Long Island
SHOP TILL YOU DROP
As a “pure” alcoholic, I am not interested in listening to drug addict stories. There is a psychological difference between drinking and taking illegal drugs. I went to my local grocery store to buy my poison. I didn’t go to a back alley, or sell my soul, to get drugs. There is always someone who thinks they know better than the people who helped get them sober.
Twenty-two years of sobriety,
San Francisco, California
DOCTOR AND ADDICT
Loved M.T.’s article. I relate to every word. When I came into AA as a heroin addict, it was difficult. Then I found NA. The current cruel rancor between NA and AA has cost both groups members—and some I know have died from not “coming back.” Has everyone forgotten that [AA cofounder] Dr. Bob was a drug addict? I don’t know what will happen with this problem, but I do know that a few meetings have to be open to all. One meeting I go to is for cocaine, alcohol, heroin, and pot users, and glue sniffers.
Clean since 5/11/96,
Thousand Oaks, California
In “AA Unmasked,” M.T. indicates that there is a flaw in AA’s overall philosophy and with members who take literally its Fifth Tradition, which dictates that each group’s primary purpose is to help the “alcoholic who still suffers.”
I am one of those individuals who, after having been “sober” for a year, was told I could not share about my obsession to abuse narcotic medication given to me after a uterine biopsy. Instead, I was quietly told there were other meetings I could attend to share about that issue.
I was one of the lucky ones. I walked into the rooms of Narcotics Anonymous and realized that I was finally in the right place. Unfortunately, AA’s obsession with alcohol impedes its ability to formulate a cohesive policy that would save lives and protect its membership in other ways.
I respect AA’s wish to protect its fellowship. However, I hope and pray that they find a more loving and spiritual way to deal with those individuals who, having barely summed up enough courage to walk into their meetings, then find themselves cut off from talking about the very thing that might kill them the next day.
DON’T TAKE THE AA TRAIN
As someone who has been involved in both AA and NA, I think M.T. missed the real reason AA resists talk of drugs. I got sober in Brooklyn Heights. These are very white meetings. It has always been common knowledge that the AA meetings where drug talk is OK can be found in black neighborhoods. The “old-timers” are most interested in saving the “complexions” of the meetings. The fear is that with talk of drugs will come more people of color. There is, of course, no way to prove any of this. However, one only needs to attend for a while, and the message becomes clear. I now attend NA, and have been clean and sober for four years.
Arizona State Prison Complex
TRUTH WILL OUT
I identify wholeheartedly with M.T. I’ve been a member of AA for 12 years. Being dually addicted, I have experienced the same discrimination and directives to limit my sharing to alcohol, which has always confused me, especially since many times these directives came from dually addicted members! Thank you, M.T., for putting into words the story and feelings that AA has tried to suppress for so many years. The AA General Services Office may deny it, but the truth will out. I salute M.T. and The Village Voice for allowing this to happen.
I’m glad there are still AA meetings where “crotchety old men” can go and not have to identify with sticking a needle in their arm, and I’m glad there are those who have the courage to be true to themselves and express their feelings. It’s important to be honest about your feelings, and if you work the Steps your opinions will change.
A small percentage of people who drink alcohol become alcoholics. How many people who try heroin become addicted? There is a difference.
Also, I was amazed when M.T., describing an AA meeting in Wilmington, North Carolina, wrote of a member who had attempted to share about drugs: “He wasn’t the only person in the room that night having an issue with prescription drugs, but after what happened to him, I decided to suffer in silence.”
So there were two. Here was a perfect opportunity to connect with someone. I don’t know what things are like in Wilmington, but in Saskatoon they taught me to put my hand out. I’ve learned to keep my eyes open to see not what needs to be changed as much as where I can be of service.
North Vancouver, Canada
SUBSTITUTES FOR HEROIN
I found the article by M.T. very revealing. As an NA member, I hear many stories from people who tried recovery in AA but became disillusioned with its singular focus and intolerance toward other drugs.
As the article states, NA focuses on addiction as a whole. It is with the feelings that accompany addiction that members find identification. And in order to recover from addiction, you must break the cycle of old behaviors and thinking. I know that as a recovering heroin addict, I can still use anything—sex, food, shopping—to substitute for the drugs and feed my addiction.
But despite all of AA’s faults, we do have them to thank for their revolutionary approach to recovery. Without them, we would not have the more liberal and varied fellowships that exist today.
I find your article about AA offensive. Do you have any idea what we alkies go through to stay sober? There are plenty of 12-step groups that cater to the drug addict. I don’t go to Cocaine Anonymous meetings and share about the fact that I drank Colt 45. I don’t go to Narcotics Anonymous and expect to be allowed to drone on and on about my use of Night Train Express. We must make our primary purpose alcohol. Do you have any idea what it is like to kick that shit? Do you know that alcohol warps the mind in a completely different way than drugs? That we use AA to learn to deal with our alcoholic minds? I smoked crack and did all sorts of other drugs, but I respect that AA is about alcohol, and while I may briefly mention drug use, I do not dwell on it.
Maybe the woman who wrote this article needs to work the steps, and stay sober, and stop complaining about this. Please go to NA or CA if you wanna talk about yer drug shit.
Sober since 10/10/90
Great job, M.T. I have 12 years in NA. I feel at home there, and it works for me. I came to NA through AA. They told me that I didn’t belong in their fellowship, and should go to NA. I carried a resentment for a long time, but now I am grateful to those old-timers who led me to my home. Thanks for the info. I never knew Bill W. did LSD. Wow!
Bill W. loved his LSD. In the mid-to-late ’50s, when he tripped regularly, Bill turned down a request from an unknown Harvard academic named Timothy Leary for a score of acid—this at a time when the conservative, white-bread Reader’s Digest ran a story praising a wonderful new substance that promised to unlock the doors to understanding mental illness. Bill quit LSD by the end of the decade when news of dangerous side effects of the drug started to emerge—people jumping out of windows thinking they could fly, etc.
Bill was always looking for a chemical solution for the ills of the world. At the time of his retirement from AA World Services, he was asked not to use AA stationery to promote his view that massive amounts of niacin might be the long sought answer to everything.
What’s the big deal? In 30 years in New York AA, I’ve never had a problem talking about other drugs.
Lower East Side
MEETING IN THE SKY
Hats off to M.T. As a younger member of AA, I know exactly what she is talking about. I have seen it in Virginia, Kansas, and Minnesota—all places that I have lived in my six years of sobriety. I understand the myopic self-righteousness that can exist, and know that a lot of addicts would rather be right than happy. I truly believe that as the “old guard” goes off to that big meeting in the sky, the issue of exactly what addiction is is will become obsolete.
St. Paul, Minnesota
I am a member of AA, and have been sober for over four years. I joined in Australia, then attended meetings in England, all over Europe, in South Africa, and in the U.S. Never have I heard anyone with drug addiction and alcohol problems stopped from sharing. Most members have had experience with drugs and many see drugs as their primary addiction—but the same solution works, so why quibble about the definition of the illness. Also, sobriety is defined by the vast majority in AA as being free of any mood-altering substance, and people who continue to smoke pot after they stop drinking are normally not considered sober by other members. If NA is growing faster than AA, that is great. But there are still a lot young people (I’m in my twenties) who loved boozing the most, so AA is by no means redundant.
The question is not “Is AA perfect?” It is “Does AA help people?” I am an NA member who was saved by AA until we could get our meetings off the ground. It is true that many AA meetings don’t permit sharing about drug use, and this can be a major turnoff for newcomers. However, NA is far from free of its own nuances. Just try to say the word “sober” in an NA meeting and you’ll know what I mean.
12 AND 12-
As a 12-year member of NA I would like to thank you most profoundly for this article. Through the years I have heard that 12-step programs are all the same; it doesn’t matter where you go. I go solely to NA because I don’t get any grief from anybody about which drug I used or didn’t use. In fact, “war stories” are discouraged and emphasis is placed on sharing recovery.
Most “purists” like myself give AA its due for our foundation, but realize that we don’t belong in a singularly focused program. In fact, we can’t afford to be so narrow-minded. For addicts, this can be life-threatening. Recovery can be found.
Prairie Grove, Arkansas
SHARING THE BLAME
I’m disappointed that the Voice would publish an article like “AA Unmasked.” I’ve been a member of AA for almost seven years. I’m a drug addict and an alcoholic and have never found any resistance to talking about drugs in an AA meeting. What I have found a resistance to is non-alcoholics participating in meetings. Why, when there is another program set up specifically for non-alcoholic drug addicts, would someone who doesn’t identify themselves as an alcoholic want to attend AA? For those of us who were dually addicted, the question becomes which program better suits our needs.
The problems posed by M.T. don’t exist in my home group. We have loads of people identifying as “addicts.” There is no crotchety old man rapping on the table, no signs telling people to talk only about alcohol. What there is is an environment where people can find freedom from alcohol and drugs in a fellowship that offers a new life.
The suggestion that in AA shooting dope is looked upon more favorably than drinking whiskey is absurd and journalistically irresponsible.
KEEP THEM SEPARATE
M.T.’s article talks about a declining AA membership. That should not be the point. AA is for the recovery of the alcoholic. I have smoked pot, taken pills, and never felt what I did with alcohol. I have friends who have done the opposite. This is a problem of individuals who need to look at themselves (which most will not do). The introduction to the AA “Big Book” states that we are “men and women who have recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body.” That is the key, and the Steps are the path to get to the key. Keep the programs separate, because the addict who goes to AA for help will end up doing drugs again.
San Jose, California
THE MEETING WHERE NOBODY GOES
My name is Artie and I’m an alcoholic. I moved to Florida recently from New York, where most meetings, other than “speaker meetings,” are closed. Here in West Palm, there are almost no closed meetings. When I hear about shooting ’em up, sniffing ’em up, eight balls, whatever they are, I have no identification. I didn’t get here because I drank too many ice cream sodas. I remember listening to a tape by a speaker who referred to one of the largest meetings in Manhattan, where they started to let people talk about other things. He noted that the meeting no longer exists. He coined a saying that the meeting where anything goes becomes the meeting where nobody goes.
West Palm Beach, Florida
SHOTS OF BOOZE
As I read “AA Unmasked,” I kept thinking, “It’s about time!” I’m a recovering alcoholic/addict, clean and sober since 1984. I primarily did drugs, but I am an alcoholic! And, yes, I did shoot whiskey! Thank God I got treatment where I was able to choose a program where I would feel comfortable.
Chagrin Falls, Ohio
Thank you for putting into words what I have witnessed for myself. As a recovering addict, I attend NA and AA. I must admit that NA gets most of my time for various reasons. One is that I felt uncomfortable at AA as an alcoholic and addict. At my very first AA meeting I was told to identify myself as cross-addicted. In the haze of not using for a few days, I had no clue, and and identified myself as an addict—and received many looks. I made that my home group, celebrated my first anniversary there, and finally identified myself as “alcoholic and addict.”
My sponsor is from AA. She has double-digit years of recovery. Her home group allows addicts to share and identify themselves as addicts. She refers to herself as an addict, and has helped me get over hang-ups I’ve encountered at AA meetings.
I was so excited when a friend sent me M.T.’s article! Thank you, and blessings for a job well done!
Sayville, Long Island
NA DOWN UNDER
M.T. exaggerates a lot. I have found that most AA members are very tolerant of addicts sharing in meetings. It is only when they talk for a long time about specific drug use that some members get restless. The answer is to let AA do its job with alcohol and alcoholics, however they define themselves, and start NA meetings for those who are not comfortable in AA and who have problems other than alcohol like food, sex, gambling, and other addictions.
I got sober in 1973, after my first AA meeting, but continued to use marijuana whenever it was a full moon or when I felt I should reward myself for not drinking. On Easter Sunday 1974, I called out to the God I was just coming to understand to please release me from my obsession with marijuana. My prayer was answered by the foundation of NA in Melbourne, Australia in 1976, and I was privileged to be one of the seven AA members who started it. Since then I have gone to both fellowships and often pondered the questions raised in this article.
If I had just been going to AA these 27 years, I would have used dope, and if I had only been going to NA I would have drunk again. I need both fellowships and there is no conflict in my mind.
I’ve gone to several thousand AA meetings since I stopped drinking in 1977, most of them on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Not once in the last 23 years do I recall someone being prevented or discouraged from sharing about drug use. A prevailing notion is that you can’t be high and sober at the same time, so it’s wacked for Terry R. to say that AA members wouldn’t care if someone shoots dope as long as they don’t drink. What bothers me is that someone who’s hit bottom and wants to get help might read this article and be put off from checking out AA. I guess presenting a balanced picture wouldn’t have fit M.T.’s agenda.
‘CLEAN AND SERENE’
I spent five years in AA and kept relapsing whenever the pot ran out. I did not hear that this is a disease and it was about my thinking and behavior. I heard that the problem was booze. I found NA and am working on my 16th year.
Keep up the great work.
QUALITY OF SOBRIETY
I’m a journalist and screenwriter who has been sober in AA 18 years. While alcohol was my drug of choice, I have known for years that it is a drug. I can think of perhaps two meetings in this area where anyone would try to prevent drug usage from being discussed. It would be like saying you can’t talk about your problem with bourbon in this meeting—just scotch. The saddest thing about those who try to stop all discussion of drugs is the quality of their sobriety. They’ve missed the point of recovery.
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
AA’s General Service Office is risking becoming irrelevant with its insistence that members stick to sharing about alcohol only. As M.T. points out, alcohol is a drug.
Fortunately, AA is also self-correcting, and the groups are autonomous. Most will do the right thing and accept discussion of drugs. Those that don’t will be populated mostly by “bleeding deacons” masquerading as elder statesmen, as members vote with their feet.
Clean and sober over 25 years,
San Diego, California
M.T. replies: I am gratified by the sheer number of responses, with their diversity, and that the piece received so many positive replies. With any controversial story there are always a majority of negative letters—most readers who like a story tell others to read it, and they don’t write. So the fact that my piece has gotten so much support indicates that there are many more out there who liked it and related. Even the critical letters reinforce one of my main points: that AA today is overwhelmingly filled with dually addicted members. For the dissenters who say this discrimination doesn’t exist in AA, I say: It has happened to me in New York City, Los Angeles, in 15 other U.S. cities, and on other continents (I have attended thousands of meetings since 1988). This has also been the experience of those quoted in my piece, and the many others I spoke to while researching the story and since it was published. And you only have to read the letters of those who confirm this prejudice, published here, to know that it is a real and current problem. More importantly, if even one addict has relapsed or died as a result of this kind of discrimination in AA meetings, it is one too many.