What’s the A.A. Attraction
What’s our attraction in A.A.? Think of all the things to which people are attracted–some good and some bad. They are attracted by the millions to sports events, airlines, theme parks, cars and bikes, diets, fitness and nutrition programs, movies, TV, videos, Costco, and their personal computers. For many, the attraction is simply to be entertained. For some, avoiding boredom and loneliness. For some, to feel better.
But that’s not A.A. as it was intended to be. For sure, many today do come to A.A. to be entertained by relationships, meetings, roundups, huge conferences, dances, camp-outs, and the like. I’ve certainly enjoyed most of these myself. For sure, some–often called rim-runners by old-timers–come in because they’re lonely, bored, or want a cup of java. Some are attracted only by the orders of a judge or a probation officer or the comfort of a treatment center van. Those attractions, however, were not what the early A.A. fellowship, its Big Book, or its Steps were really about. A.A. offered a spiritual recovery program. It was a Christian Fellowship program that sought and received help by turning to Almighty God,
Unfortunately, lots of us saddled up in A.A. at a time when its simple kit of spiritual tools seems to have become far less important to many than were its other attractions. Early A.A. had astonishing success rates. It had acceptable growth rates–some quite remarkable in places like Cleveland. Finally, A.A. in America hit the million mark. About a million members. About two million in the world. About forty million text books. Perhaps even millions of repeaters who just never clicked with the spiritual attraction though it was solidly underlined in the Big Book.
Early A.A. relied on the power of God Almighty. Bill Wilson correctly called Him our Creator, our Maker, and God–all words that were capitalized because Bill knew of Whom he was speaking. He wasn’t talking about just any god. He wasn’t telling people that A.A. was about not god. Dr. Bob kept it real simple and told AAs: Your Heavenly Father will never let you down! (Big Book, 3rd ed., p. 181). And I’ve never seen it recorded that Bill Wilson or Dr. Bob Smith told people our God–the Creator–was, or could be, a radiator. But such self-made nonsense gods hav become a standard part of today’s publication and meeting jargon. They tell us in all sincerity: Your (not necessarily ‘my’) ‘higher power’ can be anything you want ‘it’ to be. Then we frequently hear or are told that our higher power can be a lightbulb, a chair, a table, an It, Ralph, the Big Dipper, Gertrude, or, yes, even a radiator (Want to see the news article that quotes the radiator bit?). I’ve documented these absurd names for God (as Rev. Sam Shoemaker called them) many many times in my forty-six published books (See Dick B., titles, http://www.dickb.com/titles.shtml).
What’s the attraction of these man-made, self-help nonsense gods? Do you find any attraction in a radiator? Who wants to rely on Gertrude to beat alcoholism? Who would invite a group to pray to a lightbulb? Who would advocate that you turn your will and life over to the care of a chair or an it? Yet for at least thirty years–perhaps even since 1950–the revisionist writers, therapists, treatment people, and even many AAs themselves have created a new god. A god from whom no intelligent person would seek guidance, to whom no desperate alcoholic would go for healing, and through whom no one would expect to receive forgiveness, deliverance, power, or a solution to the myriad problems we face as we enter A.A.’s doors.
Someone in A.A. sent me an email saying he didn’t think many AAs had any significant interest in A.A. history. The millions of visits on my website don’t bear that out. But I said to him: If AAs don’t have an interest in their history, it’s because they’ve seen so little of it. Their meetings focus on sharing, whining, fear, gratitude, or discussions either of the Big Book or the Twelve and Twelve. None of which provide history in any informative way. People inside and outside of A.A. today are calling it a self-help movement. Some in the religious community label A.A. a spiritual program, but not a religious one, hoping perhaps to bring people to the church and religion. Others use the same language to make A.A. inclusive, not exclusive. Some think A.A. is so religious that it is offensive to atheists, agnostics, scientists, and those who believe in other religions or none at all. What’s the attraction in that situation?
The answer is that the attraction today is lessening. A.A. has stopped growing. A.A.’s success rate is far from astonishing today. But the most regrettable fact concerns the large numbers who are leaving A.A., avoiding A.A., or rejecting it in favor of secular or rational recovery or for counseling or for Christian groups or for religiously supported Twelve Step Groups. I’ve not yet seen statistics that convince me that any of these splinter activities is growing in geometric proportions or achieving the astonishing success rates that were produced by pioneer A.A.. In fact, our government agencies seem to be putting billions into drug wars and drug czars and scientific research of substance abuse for the precise reason that they don’t think any solution has been found. The relapse rates seem to confirm their views. Regrettably, however, most of these agencies haven’t a clue that A.A. doesn’t lend itself very well to scientific research. It’s anonymous today. Its attendance is vacilating. It is not homogenous. It’s one-on-one assistance. Success is often measured one to a customer, as the venerable Geraldine Delaney often said (See Dick B., Hope!: The Story of Geraldine Owen Delaney, Alina Lodge, and Recovery) And, as A.A. said in one of its earlier articles in the Grapevine: The AAs’ medicine is God and God alone (Volume II, Best of the Grapevine, pp. 202-03).
For me, that’s the attraction. You can read more in my title By the Power of God and find that title and other references on my website at http://www.dickb.com/powerofgod.shtml Meanwhile, there’ll be an article following that tells you how the revisionists ignored history and converted "as we understood Him," "power greater than ourselves," and "higher power" into new, unintended, any gods, expedient gods, not-gods, and radiators. They seem to have lost God our Creator–the One A.A.’s Big Book urged us all to find. Now! That’s the One mentioned on the dollar bill, our other currency, and our coins. They all say: In God we trust. Why not be attracted to that when nothing else works. Which was the case for most of us who have attained long-term sobriety.