Is Coronavirus the Death of AA?

AA may be among the victims of the modern plague. At least if musician Laurie Wright is any example.

For Wright, “AA meetings were my saving grace, by going to them every day.” And now?

“We do the meetings on Zoom, but it’s not the same. Everyone’s mic has to be muted, you can’t hug each other, you can’t see everyone at once.”

Why is AA’s appeal so reduced for Wright? AA is an identity. It seems to be Wright’s essence, as he says, his “Grace.”

But can you grab your essence through a Zoom lens?  It’s as though Wright is being deprived of his new addiction, like an addict deprived of drugs (Wright’s main problem) or an alcoholic deprived of booze, as it were. But is it healthy to form a new addiction to replace an old one?

Shouldn’t the goal be to help a person to be free of any dependency?

That’s how we approach addictions of all kind in the Life Process Program: to help build your inner and outer selves to a point where you are your own “Grace”.

And meeting your coach online, while living your life and carrying out real-world relationships is your therapy, not meeting with others whose only connection to you is that they share your addiction. We do offer group meetings on the Internet, led by a coach. But their purpose is to share information and review issues for moving forward in life — school, work, values, family, intimacy, community, responsibility — and not to remind each other of mantras like AA’s first three steps:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.

  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

As for Wright, perhaps the lockdown will allow him to turn to himself and other people in his life he counts on for support. That is, to work on real relationships, like his parents and girlfriend, both of whom had kicked him out. Wright seems to be getting an early view on this key question: is it possible to have real intimacy with people you only know at an AA meeting, whether in person or online?

“I have two service posts a week where I make the tea and greet people, which forces me to be there early. Service is a huge part of early recovery because it forces you into a meeting because everyone is relying on you.“

Perhaps the lockdown Is a chance to repair the relationships he has lost. Can he do Zoom calls with his parents? It’s true that being deprived of work — like Wright’s gigs — is a challenge to anyone and everyone. Will he need to reach rapprochement with his parents or his girlfriend, confronting the issues between them? Even if he doesn’t move in with them, they are going to form the basis for his future life.

You can’t move in with an AA group. In places where people have tried to making recovery groups their permanent home base, like Delray Beach, Florida, disaster has followed:

In a nation awash in opioids, there are few, if any, places where this kind of scene plays out more often than this artsy beach town of 15 square miles. Here, heroin overdoses long ago elbowed out car crashes and routine health issues as the most common medical emergencies. Last year, Delray paramedics responded to 748 overdose calls; 65 ended in fatalities. In all, Palm Beach County dealt with 5,000 overdose calls.

Unlike other places in the United States that have been clobbered by the opioid crisis, most of the young people who overdose in Delray Beach are not from here. They are visitors, mostly from the Northeast and Midwest, and they come for opioid addiction treatment and recovery help to a town that has long been hailed as a lifeline for substance abusers. But what many of these addicts find here today is a crippled and dangerous system, fueled in the past three years by insurance fraud, abuse, minimal oversight and lax laws. The result in Palm Beach County has been the rapid proliferation of troubled treatment centers, labs and group homes where unknowing addicts, exploited for insurance money, fall deeper into addiction.

Is this the ultimate result of “finding grace” — and your primary life connections — in 12-step groups?

Wright may be getting a preview of that experience. And that may be the preview he needs to find a way to live his real existence, the only one he’s going to ultimately have.

Hopefully, he can benefit from this preview.

 

Stanton Peele

Dr. Stanton Peele, recognized as one of the world's leading addiction experts, developed the Life Process Program after decades of research, writing, and treatment about and for people with addictions. Dr. Peele is the author of 14 books. His work has been published in leading professional journals and popular publications around the globe.

Comments

  • Susan Jones says:

    Stanton, you and I have sparred for years over AA. For me, it was an opportunity to have a changed life. We become restored citizens of the world and use the tools of AA in our every day lives with the people we encounter. Coronavirus is not going to be the end of AA. Despite that AA has been online since 1985, the recent surge in online participation is fabulous! Now many of the problems you have argued that are associated with the fellowship can be abated. The single mother who can’t get to a meeting because of childcare issues can still attend. No kids in the meetings over hearing what truly are adult oriented conversations. People with transportation difficulties can still participate. No one has to have people in their own personal space. The benefits are endless.

    • websiteni-admin says:

      Susan,

      I welcome your active use of AA. You seem to me to be a model of the way to incorporate AA into active, real-life changes.

      I want to point out that my writing about AA in response to coronavirus was based on a BBC article by someone who felt that the absence of face-to-face meetings seriously devalued the experience for him.

      Using AA in an online basis is, obviously, a whole different way to employ that experience. By definition, participating in this way causes people to integrate what they learn from others and the group into their ongoing lives. I think that is an enormous, essential benefit.

      But as the BBC writer emphasizes, this is a whole different thing from what Bill Wilson and Bob Smith invented and anything they could imagine. Perhaps the changes wrought by the epidemic will be beneficial. (Do you think so?)

      Nonetheless, that the 12 steps and AA, which have been the go-to treatment and support group for alcoholism and addiction in the U.S.
      for fifty years, is failing to have an overall positive impact on society is simply undeniable. The 2017 Global Burden of Disease study found that, of 196 nations worldwide, the U.S. had the greatest number of years lost due to disability and death from cocaine, 2nd highest years lost due to opioids, and 3rd highest years lost due to amphetamines. The 2019 World Happiness Report notes that there is an epidemic of both substance and non-substance addictions in America, while drugs and alcohol are present in a majority of suicides, an epdiemic of which the U.S. is also undergoing.

      What are your feelings, beyond your fortunate use of AA, about these large, disastrous developments around substances and addiction in society? Do you not see them taking place (for example, in the much noted deaths of despair among the American working class)? Do you feel any need to address these, beyond your personal experiences with AA? Do you think that the best answer is to spend more money on and force more people into 12-step treatment and AA groups?

      I don’t. I think doing those things has already failed, and will only make our addiction/drug deaths epidemic worse.

      Do you think my ideas should be given a wide hearing in order to offer alternatives to what is obviously failing in our society?

      Thanks for thinking about these things.

      Yours truly,
      Stanton

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