An Alcoholics Anonymous Meeting Gone Cultic?

A former SLO Assembly member posted this link to a Newsweek article about an AA group in Washington, D. C., that has become controlling and abusive. Some Mental Health professionals in the area are treating people who have been seriously messed up by this "recovery" group and are issuing warnings.

Interestingly, this is one of the largest and oldest AA meetings in the D. C. area, but it is now known for attracting alcoholics in their teens and 20's for reasons not entirely connected to addiction - young people having a felt need, and open to authoritative answers. Sound familiar? Below, Dave Mauldin, older and wiser now after his years in the Assembly, shares his recent experience with an Al-Anon meeting in Irvine.

Comments from readers...

May 3, 2007 - Dave Mauldin:  I started attending an Al-Anon meeting in Irvine last year. Al-Anon is for the children of alcoholics. For the most part the people were fine, except one guy who talked a lot like brother George.

He kept telling me how great he was, “People come up to me all the time and ask me to be their sponsor.” A sponsor is your accountability person. You are supposing to call this person when you are having problems with stress or temptation.

One night he told me, “Right now I am sponsoring three people, one of them is working the program the other two are flakes.” This guy kept bothering me. He kept bringing up the topic of “sponsorship” during the meetings. He didn’t come right out and tell me, but his point was obvious. I had a problem and HE was the answer. I just ignored him.

Finally one night he interrupted me while I was sharing a coping skill I use for stress - “That’s not Al-Anon!” He totally tried to embarrass me in front of everyone else. He then took over the meeting and told the same “testimony” he told us 15 times before.

My take is these groups do a lot of good, but they are also places where people get into power trips. Had I not learned from my Assembly experience, I might of just caved in to this guy’s ego. As it is I just stopped going. I have decided that I am not going to give up myself to “find myself“.

May 3, 2007 - Dave Sable:  I think you have to be very careful about generalizing AA as being cultic based upon one group and a sampling of a few meetings. I know too many people who have found sanity and sobriety through AA and similar type of groups to write them off as a cult based upon someone's bad experience.

Many recovery groups such as AA have strong guidelines about conduct in the meetings. In Celebrate Recover, we use the twelve-steps and many of the formats of AA but we are explicitly Christian. We read at every open-share meeting, "There is no cross-talk. We are here to support one another, not fix one another". This is enforced. We are not allowed to comment on what someone else shares in our open-share groups. Many AA groups do something similar.

One thing to keep in mind is that those of us who have struggled with compulsive behavior (of which alcoholism is only one example) can sometimes exchange one addiction for another. It sounds like this sponsor may have licked his alcoholism but is displaying the same unhealthy behavior and thinking that drove him to the bottle. The only difference is his drug of choice changed.

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