Tag Archive | "alcoholics anonymous"

Five Years Sober-Figuring Out What Matters

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Five Years Sober-Figuring Out What Matters

I was going to head to my local 12-Step group the other day to celebrate hitting five years sobriety and pick up a chip.  It totally slipped my mind.  I guess it was not that important to me to go through that ritual. Not sure what that means. Getting lazy in my sobriety?  My priorities of what’s important to me in my sobriety have certainly changed since day one.  I’ve gone from chaos to basically whittling my life down to very fundamental aspects that do not vary much one way or another day to day.  This helps  eliminate drama potential unless it occurs within those parameters.  I’ve seen too many recovering addicts living in a constant state of drama because they never got control over their surroundings. My family, my girlfriend ,my pets and a few very close friends that I have had for many years are part of that equation.  Is that sustainable with a productive and overall happy life in the long term?

I often wonder how I will react when things really spike outside the norm.  Will the thoughts of Jim Beam and cocaine cross my mind to even out the drama?  Is my program as off the 12-step beam as it is providing me with the balance for the bad times?  I got a little taste of that recently when my dog Peanut was diagnosed with Cushings disease.  Before I found out it was treatable,  I thought I was going to lose her.  I was immobilized with grief.  Drinking or drugs never crossed my mind.  What I thought about was seeking out the people in the fundamental circle I had created.  That’s my program.  Won’t say that it’s always sunny skies and margaritas(pardon the joke).  It’s a constantly evolving cycle of the peaks and valleys of life.  Just like anyone else.  It works for me.   That is what matters.

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Alcoholics Anonymous And The Laws Of Attraction

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Alcoholics Anonymous And The Laws Of Attraction

The 11th tradition of Alcoholics Anonymous states as follows:

“Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films.”

What does this mean in a nutshell? We in the program are asked not to speak or write in media of any form about the fact that we are in AA. We are asked to only talk about it with other members and those who approach us for help. While blogs and the internet were not around when the 11th tradition was conceived, I suspect that AA as an organization would take the position that they constitute “media”. What is the rationale behind this? The powers that be decided over 70 years ago that to “promote yourself” as an AA member and then fail in your sobriety, you are putting the sobriety of others at risk. The logic being that the knowledge of a failure in the program will discourage those who want help from seeking it. For example, I talk publicly about how great AA is on my blog. I then relapse, drive drunk and wipe out a family. Would knowledge that I had failed discourage others from seeking help? I don’t know. I don’t think anyone in AA really knows either. They are, in my opinion, regurgitating years of accepted dogma not founded in any accepted studies or statistical probabilities.

Alcoholics Anonymous is no stranger to celebrities and people of note “outing” themselves through the media.

Tatum O’Neal is a celebrity with a documented history of drug and alcohol struggles. On June 1, 2008, she was arrested for buying crack in Central Park. O’Neal was later photographed on her way to an AA Meeting. How do we know she was going there? When asked how she was doing she said, ” I am doing very well. I’m going to an AA meeting”

Lindsay Lohan is no stranger to insobriety. Who can forget her infamous alcohol detecting ankle monitor (see photo). In her case, Lindsay didn’t break the 11 tradition; her publicist did. She put out a press release that Lindsay was attending AA. It is a logical assumption this was at Lindsay’s direction.

Mel Gibson’s antisemitic drunken rant after a DUI stop will go down in the annals of “the stupid things drunks do.” His drinking issues have been long the subject of tabloid fodder. Mel must have read the 11th tradition. He has not publicly spoken of his attendance at his court ordered AA meetings. Mel suffered the Hollywood fate of being outed by every Hollywood rag and celebrity blog on the face of the earth. (I guess no one sent them copies of the 11th tradition.)

Fox News Anchor Mort Kondracke while not as well known as the above is very well known in the political Washington D.C Beltway. He is a well known newspaper columnist, Washington bureau chief, magazine editor. He was one of the original panelists on the syndicated McLaughlin Group and now co-host of Fox TV’s Beltway Boys. We also know that he was an attendee of Alcoholics Anonymous. We know this because he outed himself in his bestselling book Saving Milly. In the book he states:

“That night I attended my first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. I have not had a drink since” (Saving Milly, Love Politics and Parkinson’s Disease by Morton Kondracke, pg 65)

Actor Michael J. Fox in his autobiography Lucky Man, discusses his struggles with alcohol in a manner consistent with the 11th tradition, simply stating:

” I met my friend on that Monday and over the following days, months and years, she along with an ever widening circle of new friends, all of whom prefer to remain anonymous, showed me it was possible to live a life without alcohol” ( Lucky Man, Michael J. Fox, p. 162)

Britney Spears is no fan of the 11th tradition. Neither was her boyfriend at the time John Sundahl who, back in 2007, happily told the National Enquirer that he met Britney at an AA meeting in Los Angeles. You would think John was very up to speed on the 11th tradition since he allegedly was an “AA counselor”

Martin Sheen just recently “shredded” the 11th tradition when he gave an interview to AARP magazine discussing his own and his son Charlie Sheen’s struggles with drug and alcohol abuse. He talks openly and extensively about his involvement with AA. In the interview Martin states:

“……..and then he suggested that I join AA, and I did. I was astonished when I got into AA, because I didn’t know how spiritual the program was. I said, ‘You guys use the word God.’ ‘Oh, we do. If you believe it. If you don’t, then it’s a higher power”

Is it safe to say that AARP magazine has significantly higher readership than my blog? If you are to believe all the people touting the 11th tradition, Martin Sheen has single handedly doomed countless alcoholics to a life of drunkenness.

Then there is Brian Cuban. I am not on the same planet of notoriety as the above individuals. I am a simple “fame by last name” kind of guy. I’m not in movies or television. I don’t own a sports franchise. I write a blog. The only “A list” I am on is the list kept by my family, girlfriend, dog and cat. I have also made the personal choice to talk about to talk about my own Alcoholics Anonymous experiences on my blog. I am “breaking the rules” as many members of AA have told me. In reality the only “rule” in AA is that you have a desire to stop drinking if you attend a meeting. The rest of the rhetoric constitutes guidelines only. They are simple suggestions to be followed or not followed based on individual choice. Remaining anonymous is NOT a rule/requirement of membership in AA. While it is the exception rather than the rule, there are people who give their full names in AA meetings. In my personal experience, it drives the other members crazy who tend to view those people as having very large egos. They may or may not have large egos. I am not going to dissect a person’s motives and personality based on his (or her) giving a last name in a meeting. For all I know the act of that person giving his full name is the one thing that keeps him sober every day.

Many would argue that celebrities such as Tatum O’Neal and Lindsay Lohan are so new in sobriety as to not know any better than to talk about AA. As they learn the program they will learn to use restraint. This very well may be true based on whatever personal choice they make about their anonymity or lack thereof. We have not heard much from Lindsay since her initial proclamation about her involvement in the program. We do know that she relapsed after she made that announcement. We do not know what the statistics are on how many people decided not to seek help in AA because Lindsay Lohan relapsed.

For anyone who doubts this is a emotional and polarizing issue within the AA ranks, check out some of the comments I received in response to my blog, “My Year In Alcoholics Anonymous

“Brian Cuban, as far as your inclusion of statements about your involvement with AA goes, you should shut your GD mouth. Have you no sense of responsibility to people in recovery, or to people who might one day need recovery at all? Try reading the book. It’s anonymous for good reason, so that people like you are not able to damage AA’s value.”

“………I do not know if I commend your use of AA as fodder for blog posts. The 10th(sic) Tradition of AA states “Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the A.A. name ought never be drawn into public controversy.” You are breaking the traditions for your own gain. You are intelligent, articulate, and thought provoking – and I encourage you to be so, but not on the back of AA. Furthermore, as a member of AA who only has 1 year sobriety, do you feel that you should be the represented voice of AA? I think your sponsor would disagree.”

These are some of the gentler comments. I welcome them all. I read them all. I never assume that I can not learn something from someone know matter how emotional the comment is or whether I agree with it.

I do agree with one aspect of the 11th tradition. It is certainly not appropriate to “out” others in the program. I have not and would never do that. Why would I not do that? I would not do it for the same reason I put no credibility in others who pretend to know what is in my best interests. Anonymity is a personal choice that should be respected on a personal level. It is no ones business but the individual’s how they want to work their AA program including expressing themselves with regards to that program. I am not answerable to “AA” as an organization or anyone in it. I am answerable on a personal level to my own conscience, the loved ones in my life and my two pets. I know from personal experience that it riles some AA members to no end that AA does not have the “cult like” rule of kicking out people who do not endorse the AA philosophy word for word. Hypocrites at their absolute best. I have no problem with their “riling”. Whatever keeps them sober and improves the quality of their life is a good thing in my book. Trying to impose your will on others is a bad thing in my book.

Why did I choose to out myself? What were my motives? Was it selfishness, ego, the seven deadly sins? This is the only explanation I will ever give. People can take it or leave it. It goes against everything I am as a person to accept any “dogma” or philosophy that endorses a static, non learning point of view.

I decided to get an opinion from the substance abuse arena. Winthrop W. Gilman, chairman of The Mychal Institute, had this to say:

“The eleventh step I believe is a great step and was written for the people who wanted personal protection from the shame associated with addiction. I think this shame is the biggest barrier to entry to treatment for any addicted person or their family. The shame associated addiction, and the misinterpreting of this tradition has done more to interfere and hinder the treatment of addiction than could ever be realized.

Requiring anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films is a dark age component, scripted early on as the founders were afraid that a vocal spokes person might have a slip and publicly show that AA dose not work.

This anonymity is a personal choice, and as educational and awareness programs have developed the 11th tradition has been breached by the daring. The results of these breaches, such as magazine articles, though far and few, have spontaneously created great advancements in the acceptance of treatment options.

The cloud of darkness found in the 11th tradition is embraced by ardent followers and not progressive thinkers. I do not know who updates these ground rules or when they do. I know that revisions and amendments are needed if we plan to attack the addiction problem in broad daylight.

To solve a problem it must be properly identified. Once this happens solutions become evident. We have the privilege to talk openly and show the world that we are in remission. We have the privilege to organize supporters and get proper medical attention. We have the ability to reverse the huge costs of addiction to our health care systems. We literally have the ability to change the world as this is a universal problem. Activism through education works. This past week Andrew Weber, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Health stated, “In the past employers have led the way doing more for the people with chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease. It is time for people to do the same for people with alcohol problems.”

Addiction related costs have destroyed our health care budgets, and we can with a grass roots approach do something about it. We have a politically hot potato in our hands. The 11th tradition has kept any effective effort to address these problems in the closet.”

Should I and others in AA keep our “GD” mouths shut? I will not but I understand the arguments of opinion, however outdated, for such a philosophy. It is a personal choice for me that will not be reversed unless someone shows me hard empirical evidence that people talking publicly about AA reduces its success rate or is instrumental in those with problems choosing not to enter the program. Many choose to simply take it all on faith. I think it is great if they want to do that and it helps them. I want to see the studies. If you can not produce this, then anything you have to say is only unsubstantiated opinion of which everyone is entitled including me.

©2008 Brian Cuban

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Does Every 15 Minutes Scare Kids “To Death”?

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Does Every 15 Minutes Scare Kids “To Death”?

Can you be scared straight into sobriety? If not that, can you be scared into refraining from driving drunk ?

Many high schools are experimenting with these questions.

One such “scared sober” experiment was conducted at El Camino High School in the beach town of Oceanside, CA. One morning, students at El Camino High School were suddenly told by police and school officials that several of their classmates had just died in a drunk driving accident. The students were allowed to grieve and share their grief with their classmates for two hours. They were then taken to the auditorium where officials played a video which they claimed was an actual video of the accident aftermath. After watching the video, the stunned students and teachers were told that the entire accident was a hoax. The mock scenario was staged as part of the program entitled, “Every 15 Minutes.”

Every 15 Minutes” is a widely accepted method of exposing high school students across the nation to the real life loss, grieving and ultimate consequences of drunk driving. The web site for the program states:

Every 15 Minutes offers real-life experiences without the real-life risks. This emotionally charged program is an event designed to dramatically instill teenagers with the potentially dangerous consequences of drinking alcohol. This powerful program will challenge students to think about drinking, personal safety, and the responsibility of making mature decisions when lives are involved.

This sounds like a great program. I looked at the lesson plan on their web site. This plan is more in the nature of guided education. The program outlines very specific steps that are to be taken in the notification and disclosure process to ensure no one goes off the emotional deep end. It bears little resemblance to the “shock and awe” tactics used by the El Camino School District. There is no doubt that what El Camino High School did was emotionally charged and dramatic, but at what cost? California certainly leads the nation in putting a liberal spin on issues. Where do we draw the line between liberal and “reckless cruelty”? Did they review the medical histories of these kids to ensure none of them would suffer medical or psychological problems as a result of this trauma? If this had happened in Texas, the plaintiff’s bar would be circling like vultures to sue the school district on behalf of the traumatized students.

There are certainly some compelling arguments and statistics for the use of such scare tactics. The stats on teen drunk driving are enough alone to scare you . According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration(NTSA) almost 28 percent of teens 15-20 killed in accidents in 2005 had a been drinking. Teen drivers are responsible for twelve percent of all road-related deaths, yet only consist of less than ten percent of the population as a whole according to the Insurance Institute for Health and Safety.

When you process the above statistics, little doubt is left that programs like Every 15 Minutes may be a good thing overall. You would think they certainly can not hurt anything. How long they deter teen drinking or lifetime drunk driving is unknown. There are no solid stats. Is it a safe assumption that none of the El Camino teens drove drunk the day/night they were traumatized? Should we all applaud that goal achieved?

Win the war, don’t even plan for the battle.

What about the mutated version used by the El Camino School District? Sobriety at any cost? The kids are traumatized. Do the majority leave campus talking about how they were traumatized? Are they now more aware of the problem though the alcohol awareness education? Are they more skeptical and angry as a result of the deception? Is that what they will remember a week from now, a year from now, ten years from now. In the short term, some of them may turn to alcohol just to deal with the stress of the hoax.

I have a uniquely personal viewpoint since I am a current member of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). I have listened to hundreds of tragic stories relating to drinking. Many of these stories relate to drunken driving accidents and arrests. Some of these stories are from teenagers. Everyone in AA has been “scared” into the program for one reason or another. In all the terrible stories I have heard, not once has someone said they were attending AA because someone else’s tragedy caused them to question their own choices. What does that tell you? It tells me that alcohol awareness education is not a “scared straight” issue or even an “Every Fifteen Minutes” issue. For it to be effective, alcohol awareness education must focus on the long term.

In order to get an insider opinion as to the effectiveness of such “scared straight” type programs, I contacted Paul Nagy, director of the Duke Addictions Program at the Department of Psychiatry in the Duke University Medical Center. He had this to say:

I am familiar with similar approaches to “scaring kids straight.” My comments are as follows;

1) Unless a clinical study is conducted to evaluate this program’s efficacy, it would not be accurate to call the program “effective” even if there are anecdotes to suggest it is so. Without such scientific studies, interventions are not considered “evidenced based” by State and Federal Agencies such as the National Institute on Drug Abuse(NIDA) and the Subtance Abuse and Mental Health Services Agency (SAMHSA).

2) I am familiar with research that uses similar approaches (e.g. DARE) which shows consistent evidence that scare tactics such as those used in the 15 Minutes program have little sustained effectiveness.

3) There is some science informed perspectives that suggest that these approaches actually have unintended detrimental effects. For example, Nora Volkow the Director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse, talks publicly about how adolescents are “hard wired” to be risk takers and has suggested that these kinds of scare approaches actually entice some kids to test the veracity of the information.

4) My own perspective is that if kids react at all, the effect is fairly short lived. My experience is also that many adolescents will see this and express an omnipotent “it can’t happen to me” attitude in response.

5) I might also worry that this approach has the potential to activate a post traumatic response in some cases. This type of intervention could result in chemical changes in the brain that establishes a very powerful emotional memory which could prove potentially damaging. For example vulnerable kids can show a regressive pattern of behavior in response to strong emotional stimuli. Further, as a parent of a teen, I would likely raise an objection to the school if my kid were exposed to this kind of experience without his or our informed consent.

Winthrop W. Gilman, chairman of The Mychal Institute, had this to say:

“My immediate reaction as someone who has studied the use and abuse of alcohol for more than sixty years is this. Adolescents are very impressionistic. They will immediately recognize that if hoax is needed to make a drastic impression, it can not be of any real importance. The shock and scare tactics used by these programs are more associative with the adrenaline rush at Halloween time in a haunted house environment. If the experience is not real, it is of no real value. When smokers are exposed to the diseased lung tissue of a deceased smoker, they are regularly seen lighting up a cigarette as they leave the autopsy room.”

So there you have it. While programs such as Every 15 Minutes have the right intent, do they achieve anything in the long term? Do they risk doing more harm than good to the child? Is anyone even using sample groups to monitor children throughout their lives to see who lives, who dies, who becomes and alcoholic, etc. If this is not done, all we will ever be able to do is say is that it sounds good for the papers and parents. All else will be pure speculation

What do you think?

BLOG UPDATE(6-12-08): You can read today’s CNN article in which the School District defends itself here.

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Is Alcoholics Anonymous A Cult

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Is Alcoholics Anonymous A Cult

What comes to your mind when you hear the word cult? Jim Jones Kool Aid? David Koresh? Charles Manson? The Texas Polygamist Compound? Maybe even Scientology. Do the words Alcoholic’s Anonymous come to mind? I certainly have never thought of Alcoholics Anonymous as a cult and I am a member. As many people know from my recent blog post, I have been in AA for over a year.

I received many emails and comments in response to that post. Many of those commenting believed that Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a cult. I frankly take those comments with a grain of salt. All of them were from former AA members. When you are at a low point in your life and counting on something to help you turn that life around but that something does not work, what do you do? You don’t look to yourself because you know you cannot change by yourself. You blame everyone else. You blame the program. You dismiss, you denigrate, you destroy. You do anything except take personal responsibility for your failure. I know this because I have been at that low point. Turning to AA for assistance in moving past that point does not make AA a cult; it makes you human.

Let us start with the premise that AA as an overall organization cannot possibly qualify as a cult because it has no central authority structure. No one is handing down edicts from the top saying you must do this or that to stay in the group. This is because there is no top. To be a cult, an organization, as a whole, must have a “top” in terms of its authority structure.

This leaves us with the question of whether the AA philosophy encourages “cult- like behavior” in its thousands of chapters. Perhaps the personality makeup of the specific chapter can cause the group to function like a cult. I believe, however, that it is the very rare exception rather than the rule.

The other day someone who read my blog, sent me an article about an AA chapter in Washington D.C that was accused of being a cult. The members of this chapter of AA basically encouraged younger female members to have sex with older male members and encouraged members in general to discontinue all ties with anyone who was not a member of this AA chapter. Does that ring the “cult bell” in your head? It certainly does in mine. You can read that article here.

Yes, I agree that this particular chapter probably qualified as a cult, but to say that the actions of an isolated group within a larger organization classifies that larger group as a cult is ludicrous. When these allegations were made public, this group was, in fact, disbanded as an AA sanctioned group.

What else would classify AA as a cult? The biggest book on this subject is AA: Cult or Cure by Charles Bufe who delineates a litany of conditions that qualify AA as a cult. I am not going to debate his criteria. Why? Words are like statistics—you form your opinion, then you make them fit the point you want to make… I frankly could take Bufe’s points and make a good argument that the Boy Scouts of America is a cult .

Any time you have people coming together in a group of any kind, you are going to have formal and informal criteria for membership even at the lowest level. You are going to have a common purpose. You are going to have strong personalities and weak personalities. You are going to have strong personalties that overwhelm and dominate weaker personalities. You are going to have weaker personalities who have to adopt the essence of the stronger ones to excel in the group. Does that happen in AA? Of course it does. Does that happen in the Boy Scouts? Of course it does. Did that happen in my law school study group? You bet. That happened in my weekly poker game. Those attributes do not transform each of the aforementioned organizations into a cult. They are simply the attributes of group dynamics.

These personality issues can be much more pronounced in self-help groups like AA. No one is walking into an AA meeting because they are at a high point in their life. They are defeated, they are weak, they have lost their sense of self, their self-respect, their family, their independent life, etc. They are open to almost every and any suggestion that will put them on a new track of self-respect and sobriety. This certainly lends itself to the danger of domination by strong personalities with amoral motives in the group without checks and balances. AA groups have checks and balances. These checks and balances are the members themselves who are different, diverse, and compassionate, looking out for each other and not trying to reform each other.

So, is AA a cult? I don’t think so, but since each person has to make it work for them as an individual, I can see how some people who fail at it would take solace in viewing it that way. Of course, those who think it is a cult would argue that I am a “cult member” and cult members never think they are in a cult. I have not read Catch-22 in many years, but it sounds as if I am certainly not going out to fly that next mission so I can get out of the army.

I can also see how people with personalities that are just not compatible with a core philosophy would not succeed in AA and view it as a cult. Is there any group out there that does not have a core philosophy? These people, however, probably have issues in any group setting in which conformity to certain standards is an element of reaching a common goal. Is there any group out there where some level of conformity is not needed to reach a common goal?

AA does offer a program of conformity, but AA is not about conformity. AA is not about submission to others in the group. I will not dispute that AA is about submitting to the fact that you have a problem and want help. Seeking help from people who have experienced similar circumstances, but remaining free to choose and make your own decisions indicates the individual is exercising free will. Cults do not allow the existence of free will because some manner of mind-control is practiced to create the cult I sought help from an organized group when I studied for the Texas Bar Exam. Is the legal profession a cult? I know some who would say yes, but the truth is we seek comfort and strength in groups of people who have similar experiences, problems, or goals.

AA is not about shunning those who do not conform or submit. AA is about people with a desire to stop drinking and helping other people with a desire to stop drinking.

If that is a cult, pass me the Kool Aid…….

Below are two diametrically opposed videos on AA One is by Bill W., one of the founders of AA and the other is an interview with author James Stanton Peele who argues that AA is a cult. A fascinating comparison in viewpoints.

Copyright 2009

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Bill W.

    Dr. Stanton Peele

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