EP #37

What's Wrong with AA?

alcoholic minimalist podcast

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In this episode of “Breaking the Bottle Legacy,” Molly delves into the topic of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and its impact on societal perceptions of alcoholism. Molly announces the release of her book, “Breaking the Bottle Legacy: How to Change Your Drinking Habits and Create a Peaceful Relationship with Alcohol,” which combines her personal story with tools and resources for transforming one’s relationship with alcohol. She criticizes AA for its lack of scientific evidence, its three-fold disease model, and its insistence on lifelong abstinence as the only solution. Molly highlights the black-and-white thinking ingrained by AA, emphasizing the negative impact on individuals seeking help and promoting shame. She explores the steps of AA, discussing their implications and the societal influence of the program. Molly encourages listeners to challenge the ingrained beliefs surrounding alcohol and shares her journey of breaking free from the mindset propagated by AA, advocating for a more nuanced and individualized approach to changing drinking habits.

You’re listening to breaking the bottle legacy with Molly watts, Episode 37. Hi, I’m Molly, after a lifetime living under the influence of family alcohol abuse, spending more than 30 years worrying about alcohol and my own drinking, believing I had an unbreakable daily drinking habit, I changed my relationship with alcohol forever. If you want to change your drinking habits than breaking the bottle legacy is for you. My goal is to help you create a peaceful relationship with alcohol, past, present, and future. Each week all focus on real science and using your own brain to change your relationship with alcohol. Nothing has gone wrong, you’re not broken, you’re not sick. It’s not your genes. And creating peace is possible. I’m here to help you do it. Let’s start now. Well, hello, and welcome or welcome back to breaking the bottle legacy with me your host, Molly watts, coming to you from a fairly splendid Oregon today, I gotta say, it’s a sunny morning. Well, now it’s afternoon now, I started this, I started recording in the morning, but now evidently, it’s past the noon hour, we’re on our way to a pleasant, sunny, mid 80s. And for September, I am just going to have to take that. So if you’re new to the podcast, you’ll be soon familiar with the fact that I do share the weather here in the Pacific Northwest at the top of every podcast. And I always invite you to come visit now is a lovely time to do it. So if you’re listening to this on it’s published date, which is September 8 2021, then I want to let you know that my book breaking the bottle legacy, how to change your drinking habits and create a peaceful relationship with alcohol has just gone live on Amazon, I will put direct links in the show notes. And you know, it’s kind of just amazing to be able to say it out loud. I wrote a book like a real book. The book is a combination of sharing my story, as well as providing tools and resources that you can use to change your own relationship with alcohol. I’ve already received great feedback from my launch team, those early readers who are helping me spread the word. And I’m just excited to say that it’s officially here. So please check it out. And if you get anything worthwhile out of it, I’d love for you to share a review on Amazon as well. I will put a link to the review page in the show notes because it helps people with the whole Amazon algorithm to discover it who might really benefit from it. All right. One other housekeeping note, if you haven’t joined my private Facebook group, this is a great time to do it. This month, I’m going to be hosting a book club meeting, where I’ll be going into the group and talking about chapters in the book, answering questions and basically doing some live coaching. It’s completely free. And it’s totally private. None of your posts can be seen by your families or friends. They don’t have to know you’re in there. But you can search for it in Facebook groups alcohol minimalists, change your drinking habits. That’s what we are the alcohol minimalists. And I see the group as just a way to take this work on this habit a little deeper. And it’s a place to connect with like minded people who want to understand the science of alcohol. They want to learn how their brain works and how they can change their relationship with alcohol without needing to be 100% alcohol free, and without having to use the word sober or recovered. But they want peace with alcohol because they no longer are using alcohol to try to change how they’re feeling. And they’re drinking to low risk drinking limits. There’s always a link in the show notes. So I hope to see you there. Lastly, on the housekeeping front, if you have any questions you’d like answered on the podcast, please shoot me an email Molly at Molly watts.com. That’s Molly with a Y and watts with an S. I’d love to hear from you. And I always answer all emails myself. So please let me know how I can best help. Thank you so much for being here. Thanks for sharing your time with me. I truly appreciate it. And now for today’s episode. So I thought a lot about this and what I wanted this episode to be about. It seemed like because it was dropping in tandem with the book release, that it should be somehow more special or talking about a really big topic. And I landed on what’s wrong with a after a lot of contemplation Now I know this can be a loaded topic. And from the very beginning, I want to acknowledge that Alcoholics Anonymous is not bad, they are wrong. And I’m not here to talk down about AAA, there are many people who have found true help from Alcoholics Anonymous, people’s lives have been changed for the positive because of AAA. And so I will just say that if you are someone or for that, for who that is true, then I am absolutely grateful. Again, so I’m not here to trash A. And if it’s working for you, or working for someone you know, then that’s great. I will also quickly add that this podcast is not meant for people who are physically dependent on alcohol. And I am not an addiction expert or a doctor. So while I’m going to be talking about Alcoholics Anonymous a bit today, it’s really from a historical perspective, and as a thought leader for alcohol use, and why I see that as problematic for habit drinkers. It’s also important to me, because for those of you that have listened to this podcast for a while, you know that I’m an adult child of an alcoholic. And my mother went through multiple different rehab recovery programs, all of them based on the 12 steps, and including a nine month stay in a long term recovery program at the age of 77. She drank three weeks after she came out. I want to be clear, though, again, that my mother’s an ability to succeed with a doesn’t mean that I have an automatic negative association of AAA, it does mean that I wanted to understand and learn more about it, and explore why it hadn’t worked for her, and for so many others. So that’s kind of why this topic is coming today. Because this book that I wrote, is really the culmination of years and years and years of me researching alcohol, trying to understand first my mother’s addiction and then trying to understand my own illogical drinking habits. So and AAA was a big part of all of that research. And it’s a big part of the collective mindset that we have about alcohol. We have to explore why that is, and whether or not it should be. And that’s really what I want to talk about today. addiction specialist site success rates for AAA at between eight and 12%. Now Alcoholics Anonymous says those numbers are different. They tout a 50% success rate in the big book. And they say that another 25% remain sober after some relapses. And a study in 2014 conducted by AAA showed that 27% Of the more than 6000 members who participated in the study, were sober for less than a year. So I don’t know what that means. That means so anyways, less than a year 24% were sober for one to five years, 13 for five to 10 years, 14% for 10 to 20 years and 22% were sober for 20 or more years. So when you add all that up, it’s got to be close to 100%, I guess I don’t know. But anyways, I’m really not here to, to decide whether or not and and focus on how successful AAA AAA is or is not. But more over I want to talk about the image and perceptions of alcohol and alcoholism, that have become part of the collective consciousness consciousness because of AAA is prevalence. Because AAA has been the historic default of recovery programs since the 1950s. And regardless of the fact that the 12 steps lack any scientific evidence or strategy, it’s largely responsible for creating the paradigm of alcohol misuse in this country and across the world, really, and it really doesn’t address many people who would benefit from changing their drinking habits. Here’s the thing, even if you’ve never been to an AAA meeting, maybe you know enough about them to never want to go to an AAA meeting. That was kind of my thought process. But regardless, AAA has been and still is impacting your relationship with alcohol. The ideas and concepts that formed the foundation of AAA are so ingrained in our culture, that you don’t need to read the big book to be familiar with them. You may or may not be aware that a is behind your thinking about alcohol but In many situations, it absolutely is. So here are some of just some of the ideas that are really prevalent in a doctrine that I think have become part of that collective consciousness. So number one is the very first of the 12 steps and that is you are powerless over alcohol. You are forced to admit that alcohol has the power and you have none. So, we’ll talk about that in a minute. Number two, you have to wear the label of alcoholic. Pretty sure everyone has heard of the ritual at AAA meetings where new participants stand up and introduce themselves this way. Hello, my name is Molly and I’m an alcoholic. I won’t go into the explanation for why they do this because there is some logical rationale behind it at this point, but historically, I don’t think it’s why it started in the first place. Number three, they present the alcoholism is a disease mindset. And I say mindset because believing that alcoholism is a disease is what society and cold culture have grasped onto. And it’s certainly what my mother believed about herself. If you explore AAA or the big book in depth, you will realize that although they use the words illness and Malady, throughout the big book, Alcoholics Anonymous focuses not on the idea of disease, but a three fold disease, the realization that the alcoholic has problems in the physical, the mental and the spiritual realms. Alcoholism is as described on page 44 of Alcoholics Anonymous, big book, and illness which only a spiritual experience will conquer. So it’s essentially a disease of the body, mind and spirit, which only a spiritual experience will fix. That sounds more like religious doctrine to me, and clearly not very scientific. And lastly, and fundamentally, the most pervasive idea from AAA is that there’s only one solution to an alcohol problem, and that is abstaining from it forever, full stop. Abstinence is the only answer for AAA members. It’s why they count days. It’s why they collect chips, everything is focused on never drinking again. The problem is that these ideas have become a part of our collective narrative on alcohol. And without realizing it, even though you might not identify as someone with severe alcohol use disorder. It’s our new way of saying alcoholic, the black and white thinking behind a unconsciously may be fueling your own daily drinking habits. In my book, I share some of the history of how a came to be so powerful in the United States. Here’s what I wrote, AAA had become a cultural monopoly. And although the organization lacked any scientific backing, research or clinical experience to sport its methods, AAA had spread like wildfire through a country desperate for hope at the end of prohibition, and in the midst of the Great Depression. It became immaterial whether AAA worked well or worked at all, it had claimed its place as the last best hope for beating the mighty specter of addiction. It had become the indispensable treatment, the sin Quan non of addiction recovery in the United States, and science looked away. The reason A’s definition of alcoholism and Maxim’s for treatment are so important isn’t because they are true, or because the program works. It’s because AAA was embraced by society, and adopted into policy almost blindly. Proof of AAS success wasn’t scientific, but largely based on members self reporting. In 1951, AAA was awarded the Lasker Award from the American Public Health Association for outstanding achievement in the fields of medical research or Public Health Administration. The citation makes no mention of any scientific study that might prove or disprove the organization’s efficacy, simply declaring its recognition of a unique and highly successful approach to alcoholism. According to Lance Dodes, who wrote the sober truth which I reference in the book, by the 1960s, judges regularly mandated AAA attendance for drug and alcohol offenders. And AAA won a landmark decision in 1966 When two decisions from a federal appeals court upheld the disease concept of alcoholism and the court use of it, despite the fact that there was a scant precedent for a US court of law to assign itself the power Hour of medical diagnosis. It’s important to recognize how influential AAA has been in shaping popular belief about alcoholism. Despite its lack of proven success or research based findings, a perpetuated thinking about drinking problems in binary terms, you either had control or you didn’t, you were an alcoholic, or you weren’t. This excerpt actually comes from the chapter titled losing the alcoholic label. And it underscores for me, the biggest thing that kept me from addressing my daily drinking habit for decades, I wasn’t an alcoholic, like my mom, I wasn’t physically dependent on alcohol. And therefore, even though there wasn’t a day that I didn’t worry about my drinking, I wasn’t ready to stop drinking altogether. And I believed that the that was the only real solution available to me. If I admitted that my relationship with alcohol was a problem for me, then the only solution to that problem was to stop drinking. And because I didn’t want to never drink again, or I feared that it would mean what it would mean, if I couldn’t manage to abstain. I just kept living with the anxiety and kept on drinking way past the levels of low risk drinking for years, living in a constant state of anxiety that I accepted as normal and a natural consequence of being an adult child of an alcoholic who drank more alcohol than I should. I’ve talked about some of my other beliefs that fueled that drinking habit, because there were certainly others. But I want you to hear the black and white thinking that I had that either I could or couldn’t, I was or wasn’t. And the fact that having to declare yourself as an alcoholic was not something that I believe applied to me. And so I have stayed stuck in an unhealthy relationship with alcohol for decades. Another reason I believe AAA is problematic is because it’s 12 Steps definitely create a framework that the person seeking help is broken. I’ve already told you that the very first step is to admit that you are powerless, which I don’t know about you, but sounds immediately weak and broken to me. Now, I’m not gonna go into every step. But I want you to notice and hear that the majority of the steps approach the solution by basically beating the person down, the emphasis to me is definitely on shame, and telling followers, they are wrong or broken. The second step came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. Number four, made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. Now, I don’t know about you, but if I’m doing a moral inventory, I have to think that uh hum I’m looking for right or wrong, good or bad. And in fact, the number five step admitted to God to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. So in four, we did a moral inventory, and then five, we’re making our wrongs. Kind of like we’re looking for it right. Number six, we’re entire, we were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character. defects. Broken, right. Number seven, humbly asked him to remove our shortcomings. So shortcomings, we’ve got wrongs, defects of character, moral inventory, shortcomings. Number eight, made a list of all the persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all. Number 10, continued to take personal inventory. And when we were wrong, promptly admitted it. And lastly, number 12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of the steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs. So lots of, in my opinion, shame based rationale and reasoning that goes into these 12 steps that basically if you become so ashamed of your behavior, you’ll turn to AAA to help you change your habit, right, change your drinking. And the last step about spreading the message is one of the reasons why you and everybody else believes that these these two things, the rest of those 12 steps are true, and it’s why a doctrine is so much a part of our collective consciousness about alcohol. because they’ve they’ve been out spreading the message. It’s how you’ve been socialized to believe some of this messaging is simply because of the historical presence of AAA. And how long and the fact that people who follow a are out being apostles of the program, you don’t also have to go too far into TV shows, movies, books, or even music to hear messages about a, again, it’s just become part of the societal collective consciousness around alcohol. What I want you to consider is how some of this messaging might be keeping you from changing your relationship with alcohol. When I realized that my drinking was not the result of my genetics, was not the result of an inherited stronger desire than other people to drink. It was not because I was broken or lacked self discipline. But because I had created a habit system for drinking, that was 100%, the result of my own thinking that that’s when I realized that I could change it. I simply had never learned how my brain worked before and how my drinking habit was something that I had complete power over by retraining my brain and figuring out how to feel better, by changing my thoughts. And want you to get really honest with yourself, and ask yourself some questions that might help you uncover some of your own unconscious thinking about alcohol, possibly, and probably that have been there, you know, from AAA, and what having a problem with alcohol might mean to you? Number one, do you see your inability to change your drinking habits as a sign that you’re weak, broken or bad? Where do you think that came from? Do you believe that the right answer to changing your relationship with alcohol is abstinence? Where do you suppose that might have come from? Do you believe that you are powerless over alcohol? Because you’ve tried to change and it hasn’t worked? Lastly, does it seem like you are drinking against your will, wanting to drink less and illogically not being able to cut back or quit? You need to question all of your stories, you need to question the stories you believe about people who drink about people who drink too much about people who don’t drink at all. Question at all. Do you believe that people who drink too much or are weak? Do you believe that people who don’t drink at all are virtuous? These are stories this black and white thinking that AAA has really planted into our subconscious into the collective into the societal view of alcohol. And it’s not because it’s they were bad or you know that AAA was some demon. It’s just that that’s what was there. And it’s we it was embraced, even though there wasn’t any science behind it. The government and society accepted it, and has perpetuated the thinking over decades and decades. When you think thoughts like I’ve tried to cut back before, and I’ve never been able to do it? How does that thought make you feel hopeless, defeated? uninspired? I have to tell you, that was me for many, many years. And so I totally understand. What I didn’t realize is that feeling hopeless, was part of the story that AAA has helped build around drinking. I didn’t realize that feeling hopeless, did not mean that I was a hopeless case, I did not realize that I had the most powerful tool for change with me all along my own unique human brain, I simply had never had the information and understanding on how to use it. Now again, if you or someone you know has been successful with Alcoholics Anonymous, I am nothing but grateful. I’m not suggesting that a spiritual solution is wrong in any way. And if it resonates with you, then that is wonderful. For me, I needed science, I needed to learn neuroscience and how habits work in the brain. I needed to learn the different parts of my brain, and how to separate them and use the different parts of my uniquely human brain to create my peaceful relationship with alcohol. When I did that, when I began to really work with and use the behavior map and result cycle in my life, if you don’t know what I’m talking about, go back to episode number 11, which I will link in the show notes. But when I did that, it was really the beginning of true change and real peace. Now there has been a lot of great work done in the last few years in terms of change. In the narrative on drinking, I think of Annie Grace’s this naked mind, who’s really a thought leader, I think in this space. But there’s still work to be done. Hashtag mindful drinking, hashtag intuitive drinking, hashtag sober, curious. These are all newer and positive ways for allowing us to examine our drinking habits. But we have a long way to go. And it’s simply because again, it’s not because AAA is so is wrong. It’s simply because it’s been around for so long. And because it’s really become a part of this narrative that we’ve learned around alcohol, the things that I think are wrong I’ve talked about in this podcast, and that doesn’t mean that there aren’t right things about Alcoholics Anonymous as well. Okay, my friends, that is all I have for you this week, if you would like to go grab a copy of breaking the bottle legacy, how to change your drinking habits and create a peaceful relationship with alcohol. You can find it on Amazon. And there will be links, of course, as I’ve mentioned before, until next time, I hope you have a great week. I hope you’ve had a great Labor Day weekend for those of you in the US. And until next time, choose peace. Thank you for listening to breaking the bottle legacy. This podcast is dedicated to helping you change your drinking habits and to create a peaceful relationship with alcohol. Take something that you learned in today’s episode and apply it to your life this week. Transformation is possible. You have the power to change your relationship with alcohol. Now, for more information, please visit me at www dot Molly watts.com