Click here

Friday, 30 April 2010

Our Greatest Danger: Rigidity


“Bob P

Bob P (1917-2008) was General Manager of the General Service Office from 1974 to 1984, and then served as Senior Advisor to the G.S.O. from 1985 until his retirement. His story is in the Big Book as "AA Taught Him to Handle Sobriety," 3rd edit. (1976) pp. 554-561, 4th edit. (2001) pp. 553-559.

(During the 1986 General Service Conference, Bob gave a powerful and inspiring closing talk to the conference at the closing brunch on Saturday morning, April 26. It was an especially significant occasion, because he knew that he was going to retire early the next year, and that this would be his last General Service Conference. The following excerpts are taken from that farewell speech, as published in the Conference's final report: The Thirty-Sixth Annual Meeting of the General Service Conference of Alcoholics Anonymous 1986 (Roosevelt Hotel, New York City, April 20-26, 1986), Final Report).

"This is my 18th General Service Conference -- the first two as a director of the Grapevine and A.A.W.S., followed by four as a general service trustee. In 1972, I rotated out completely, only to be called back two years later as general manager of G.S.O., the service job I held until late 1984. Since the 1985 International Convention, of course, I have been senior adviser. This is also my last Conference, so this is an emotionally charged experience.

I wish I had time to express my thanks to everyone to whom I am indebted for my sobriety and for the joyous life with which I have been blessed for the past nearly 25 years. But since this is obviously impossible, I will fall back on the Arab saying that Bill quoted in his last message, "I thank you for your lives." For without your lives, I most certainly would have no life at all, much less the incredibly rich life I have enjoyed.

Let me offer my thoughts about A.A.'s future. I have no truck with those bleeding deacons who decry every change and view the state of the Fellowship with pessimism and alarm. On the contrary, from my nearly quarter-century's perspective, I see A.A. as larger, healthier, more dynamic, faster growing, more global, more service-minded, more back-to-basics, and more spiritual -- by far -- than when I came through the doors of my first meeting in Greenwich, Connecticut, just one year after the famous [July 1960] Long Beach Convention. A.A. has flourished beyond the wildest dreams of founding members, though perhaps not of Bill himself, for he was truly visionary.

I echo those who feel that if this Fellowship ever falters or fails, it will not be because of any outside cause. No, it will not be because of treatment centers or professionals in the field, or non-Conference-approved literature, or young people, or the dually-addicted, or even the "druggies" trying to come to our closed meetings. If we stick close to our Traditions, Concepts, and Warranties, and if we keep an open mind and an open heart, we can deal with these and any other problems that we have or ever will have. If we ever falter and fail, it will be simply because of us. It will be because we can't control our own egos or get along well enough with each other. It will be because we have too much fear and rigidity and not enough trust and common sense.

If you were to ask me what is the greatest danger facing A.A. today, I would have to answer: the growing rigidity -- the increasing demand for absolute answers to nit-picking questions; pressure for G.S.O. to "enforce" our Traditions; screening alcoholics at closed meetings; prohibiting non-Conference-approved literature, i.e., "banning books"; laying more and more rules on groups and members. And in this trend toward rigidity, we are drifting farther and farther away from our co- founders. Bill, in particular, must be spinning in his grave, for he was perhaps the most permissive person I ever met. One of his favorite sayings was, "Every group has the right to be wrong." He was maddeningly tolerant of his critics, and he had absolute faith that faults in A.A. were self-correcting.

And I believe this, too, so in the final analysis we're not going to fall apart. We won't falter or fail. At the 1970 International Convention in Miami, I was in the audience on that Sunday morning when Bill made his brief last public appearance. He was too ill to take his scheduled part in any other convention event, but now, unannounced, on Sunday morning, he was wheeled up from the back of the stage in a wheelchair, attached with tubes to an oxygen tank. Wearing a ridiculous bright-orange, host committee blazer, he heaved his angular body to his feet and grasped the podium -- and all pandemonium broke loose. I thought the thunderous applause and cheering would never stop, tears streaming down every cheek. Finally, in a firm voice, like his old self, Bill spoke a few gracious sentences about the huge crowd, the outpouring of love, and the many overseas members there, ending (as I remember) with these words: "As I look over this crowd, I know that Alcoholics Anonymous will live a thousand years -- if it is God's will.""

The article above represents an interesting set of observations, and as is usually the case we can discern things with which we agree, and disagree, these being simply a reflection of the partiality of the author, and then further compounded by his readers. Having acknowledged the bias we shall now go on to consider those comments we support, and those that we do not. Firstly we must say that change of itself should neither be opposed nor supported simply for its own sake. The assumption that mankind marches only towards a better future can easily be challenged by reviewing the evidence both of our own direct experience and then observation, for change brings with it both desired and undesired consequences. In either case it will happen, and there is nothing that can oppose it, for it is an inherent part of our reality. We can however "influence" its direction, and here we emphasise the word, because it is quite beyond the scope of "direct" human power to determine generally the precise course of events. We live in a web of causes and conditions, one so complex that it is quite impossible to determine precisely how matters will unfold, or the extent to which a single factor or even set of factors may shift the balance. But this said, we too are a part of that network of conditions, both individually and collectively, and therefore can make also an inevitable contribution to these trends, even if we cannot predict their future shape. Therefore it has to be acknowledged that even that poor lost tribe, "the bleeding deacons", who are forever predicting the imminent demise of AA (this under all sorts of guises, and some of which are indicated in the article above), nevertheless play an important role within the structure of AA, and this in the following fashion. Although they may embody the pessimistic tendency they oblige those of us who are not of a similar temperament to respond to their challenge. They act as an "irritant" which may from time to time serve to bestir the Fellowship from its periodic complacency, and thereby propel it into a reaction, and therefore action. We believe that the "healthier" condition of AA referred to in the article is not simply the result of us "get[ting] along well enough with each other". Indeed, and on occasion, it is absolutely necessary that we don't "get along" at all, and that this conflict is played out to the full, and then to its natural conclusion. In our more humane moments we may well decry war and all its destructive consequences, yet as a species we seem to favour considerably this rather forceful mode of reconciliation. Conflict, it would seem, is built into our natures, and forms in part not only our relationships with ourselves but also those with others. There has been, and in all probability always will be within AA the customary momenta of action and reaction. One side will claim a golden hued past, and moreover one in which only the “real” AA, and the “true” recovery programme ever existed; the "good old days" no less. The other party will insist that it is solely the future which holds the key, and that all must modernise, this injunction accompanied frequently by that much favoured manipulative device, that we shall become "outdated", or get "left behind". Neither side, however, truly represents things as they were, or are, or might be, and each simply exemplifies one or other extreme, that is two equally absurd versions of the same basic tendency, to oversimplify, and then present us with our choices as if they might all be reduced to these two polar positions. However it is by cause of these (largely delusional) tensions that AA actually evolves, and thus transforms to meet the ever changing circumstances. Therefore, whereas we would applaud the notions of flexibility, open-mindedness etc these are unlikely to be preserved unless pursued actively. The position ascribed to Bill Wilson, that "faults in A.A. were self-correcting", immediately begs the question - by what mechanism(s) are these corrections likely to be implemented? In some quarters the view seems to be held that such amendments will occur quite spontaneously, and this without the lifting of a solitary finger. On the other side, that somebody (GSO? Intergroup? Region? AAWS?) will step in and sort the whole thing out (which by the way they won't - because they can't), and come up with a whole set of prohibitions (or rules, or guidelines however these may be framed) all of which are equally and entirely unenforceable. Again the statement attributed to Bill Wilson, that "Every group has the right to be wrong" is sometimes interpreted as being a "permissive" mandate, that any such group may simply continue upon its ill-conceived course, and this regardless of the wrongs it may be doing to its members, and then perhaps to other AA groups (in clear breach of Tradition Four), and this without suffering the least criticism or adverse comment, let alone one iota of corrective action. We would argue rather that this statement simply acknowledges the fact that we are all capable of making mistakes, but does not in itself constitute a licence to persevere within this condition, or that such foolishness should be further indulged, and this beyond the point where the error is fully recognised. It might be said that the getting of wisdom is in part based upon learning from our mistakes. Therefore it would seem to us that to continue to act in such a perverse fashion, and despite the contraindication, would suggest either a form of insanity (and one with which many an alcoholic is easily familiar), or an obtuseness which closely approaches such a malaise - or then again perhaps simple vanity! Finally, and although greatly moved by the writer's description of Bill Wilson's address to the convention, we think it unlikely that this aspiration will be fulfilled other than through the rather more prosaic efforts of certain people. And who might these people be? Fortunately, or unfortunately (and this depending rather upon your own perspective), it's YOU! It will not be GSO, or Intergroup, or Region, or good old Dave over there who's been around for years now, who's going to step in and make it all right! The buck actually stops with you! It is only through the efforts of AA members and their group consciences that the trend towards dogmatism, sponsor-driven dictatorship, authoritarianism, prejudice, discrimination, pseudo-religiosity (and all the other virtues practised by cult members and groups, for we cannot even begin to contemplate here their vices!) may be reversed, and it is by these sole means that we may safeguard those converse principles – of flexibility, open-mindedness, and indeed open-heartedness.

To sum up: such matters are NOT indeed SELF-correcting, but entirely the reverse - that is, to be corrected by oneself, but then in conjunction with OTHERS!


The Fellas

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Bexleyheath Road to Recovery - no more, no more, know more??

We were sent the following by a member:

"Just thought I'd point out that the Monday Bexleyheath Road to Recovery meeting has closed down ...... if you have a look in the back of March 2010's Share magazine this should confirm it."

We haven't got a copy of the relevant Share to hand but there's no mention of the meeting in the online AA Where to Find. It's always worth bearing in mind that when one of their little hoedowns (ie. a fiddle tune - geddit!!) closes another one usually springs up somewhere in the vicinity - just a little rebranding and Bob's your uncle!!!

.... which reminds us, and just to let you know - it's only 55 days (or 0 years 1 months 24 days) before Bob D (sponsored by the Purley Brigade) will give us (for a modest fee) the benefit of his thoughts on "accessing the power, spiritual principles in relationships, our primary purpose as the [sic] the way to freedom, how to survive the battle between ego and spirit, making amends and the mending of our separation". Well stone the crows! That's got to be worth a few Bob - geddit!! ... No? OK we give up!!

And finally the discussion's hotting up (well warming up a bit....) on the aacultwatch forum. Click here and join the debate


The Fellas

Friday, 16 April 2010

Primary Purpose - Bromley

We received the following email recently informing us of the closure of the following meeting - an extract:

"....Primary Purpose Big Book Study. Monday 19.45, Family Church, The Green, Downham Way, as this has now closed, due to a lack of enthusiasm or indeed interest."

We are awaiting confirmation of this, and that the meeting that has replaced it is not simply a "rebranding" exercise, a technique frequently employed by the cult to cover their tracks. Apart from our delight (at hearing of the demise of yet another meeting masquerading as AA, and one which forms part of a network devoted entirely to misrepresenting the AA recovery programme) we would point out that the problem has not gone away - not yet!!


The Fellas

Friday, 9 April 2010


An interesting article (click here to download pdf file) on the role played by AA (US) within sentencing policy (in relation to drink related offences), and whether 'referral' to AA by the judiciary constitutes a breach of that individual's constitutionally guaranteed right to religious freedom (which itself raises the question as to whether AA constitutes a "religious" organisation).

Moreover the article points to the impact of AA (and similar 12 Step based support groups) on the religious culture (US). There is some indication (certainly in the UK, and this from direct observation) that the Primary Purpose movement (and other cult groups) contain elements of an overt religiosity (with a clear bias towards the Judaeo-Christian traditions), not only evolving its own "brand" (and forms) but in some instances displaying an evident hostility to other religious (and more traditional) systems, again in clear breach of AA Traditions. According to Tradition 10 - "No AA group or member should ever, in such a way as to implicate AA, express any opinion on outside controversial issues - particular those of politics, alcohol reform, or sectarian religion. The Alcoholics Anonymous groups oppose no one. Concerning such matters they can express no views whatever."

(Certainly, and in a somewhat tangential connection to the above, it is our view that AA's participation in the "chit" system both here in the UK, and in the US, goes way beyond "cooperation" with an outside agency, and shifts the Fellowship into an administrative role thereby providing the mechanisms by which these agencies can monitor their referalls' attendance at AA meetings; the “chit” system has been devised solely to implement this process. On the part of AA itself there is no requirement for registration either as a member or for attendance at meetings. The "chit" system serves a purely external function, and moreover has the effect of creating a two class membership system, one "voluntary", the other "compulsory", and we believe this to be, in the latter case, to the detriment of the Fellowship, and a clear breach of our Traditions).

Enjoy the read!

The Fellas

Friday, 2 April 2010

Grievance procedure

We are currently running a campaign to bring to the attention of AA members and the wider community some of the current abuses which are being perpetrated within Alcoholics Anonymous. Although AA as such (that is as an organisational entity) has neither the power nor the administrative mechanisms to deal directly with such complaints we do not believe that this removes from us - as AA members or AA groups - the responsibility (both moral and legal) for taking action to counter such conduct, and (where appropriate) involving the relevant law enforcement agencies. We have identified a number of areas of particular concern and these have been listed below. We would welcome any information relating to those specific issues (although we do not exclude any others that you may wish to bring to our attention), this preferably on the basis of first hand knowledge, and as far as possible with any corroborating information which can be provided. We appreciate that this is sometimes difficult but the more specific the complaint (dates, AA group, named individuals) the more likely action can be taken. None of the above excludes making representations on your own behalf and we would recommend the following:

Make the complaint in writing (recorded delivery) or by email (and asking for confirmation of receipt of mail):

Attn: The General Service Board of Alcoholics Anonymous (Great Britain) Ltd
Alcoholics Anonymous,
PO Box 1,
10 Toft Green,
York YO1 7ND


Attn: The General Service Board of Alcoholics Anonymous (Great Britain) Ltd

There will then exist a documented record (both in your possession and in the hands of the General Service Board) for future reference.

Additionally, and where the person concerned has been referred to AA by another agency, a complaint may also be lodged with them. e.g. GP, probation officer, treatment centre, detox unit, counsellor etc. This will have the affect of alerting these agencies to matters which should be of concern to them.

In any instance where the complaint may include reference to conduct of a criminal nature then the matter should be reported to the police in the usual way.

The above measures, although they may not elicit a direct response from AA (for the reasons already stated), will serve to place additional pressure on the Fellowship to put its house in order.

The areas that we have identified to be of particular concern are as follows (though not necessarily in order of importance):

1) pressure placed upon an individual to desist from using medication prescribed by a health care professional
2) discriminatory behaviour against people with dual diagnosis
3) pressure placed upon an individual to desist from receiving counselling, or other forms of psychotherapy
4) pressure placed upon people to adopt a particular “religious” point of view, or engage in specific religious practices eg. attendance at church, praying in certain ways etc
5) pressure placed upon an individual to get an AA sponsor, and to take “directions” from that individual exclusively
6) pressure placed upon a person to attend only certain meetings, and associate only with certain prescribed individuals
7) sexually exploitative conduct eg. predatory behaviour
8) pressure to make financial contributions of a certain level to a specific group (or groups)
9) attempts to direct an individual to disengage from social contacts with friends, family etc
10) pressure placed upon an individual to embark on the 12 Step programme where they indicate an unwillingness to proceed
11) pressure placed upon an individual to attend events where an entrance fee is charged eg. so-called “workshops”, circuit speaker events etc

The “pressure” we refer to above may take many forms ranging from explicit and direct threats, to more subtle and implicit attempts to coerce the individual. In either case the key test is whether the individual feels they are being “bullied” ie. their perception is paramount.

We will endeavour to respond to all email enquiries individually and as quickly as possible. Please send these to the email addresses indicated on the home page of our site: www.aacultwatch.co.uk

For our part, (and where we are satisfied that the complaint is legitimate) we will endeavour to rectify this situation, both as an individual issue and as a general principle of conduct.

At the moment our efforts are primarily concentrated upon AA in Great Britain and can therefore deal only with that geographical region (we do not exclude widening that scope at a later date).

We cannot deal with grievances directed generally at AA (e.g. issues relating to the principles upon which AA is based etc). We accept that the AA approach does not suit everybody, and that moreover there are other means by which people may wish to deal with their alcohol problem.

We hope that the strategy indicated above will serve to give individuals with a grievance some sense that their concerns are being taken seriously by some members of Alcoholics Anonymous. We do not believe that such complaints can simply be dismissed as merely an outpouring of resentment by those for whom AA has not “worked”. We believe that AA members and groups need to understand that they operate in a wider social context and that they are accountable to the society in which they operate, and that anonymity cannot operate as a “mask” for unacceptable behaviour.

The Fellas