In our book, The Freedom Model for Addictions we call the treatment industry, 12 step community, and the idea that recovery is needed in a certain class of people called addicts or alcoholics, the “recovery society.” We can use a simple catch-all phrase like this because everything I just listed is the same thing. That’s not hyperbole; I mean it’s literally the same damn thing; 12 step meetings, rehab programs, recovery therapies, recovery “processes” and lifestyles are all based on one very damaging and misleading myth at their core – that substances have powers and you don’t. This idea is so profoundly wrong and ill-conceived that it has killed millions needlessly over the last 8 decades when the myth was originally cast onto the public for the first time. The addiction disease lore began in earnest in 1935 when a drunken stockbroker named Bill Wilson made it his life’s mission to mainstream his damaging fantasy. Bill was the co-founder of the cult, Alcoholics Anonymous and unfortunately, the one skill Mr. Wilson possessed above all others, was marketing his dangerous theories.
Marginalizing the Mind to Take Power
Inappropriately teaching people they don’t have the power or the ability to change their lives for the better is nothing new. We see this unfortunate power-play used by politicians and people everywhere for as long as humans have existed and struggled for supremacy. Heck, the age-old tussle is even laid out as one of the first stories in the Bible. Making sure the individual loses him or herself to groupthink, any group think or disempowering ethos, is an easy way for the masses to eventually volunteer their own thoughts and drives for the comfort of servitude to the “powers in the know”. The tyranny of experts is alive and well in world society today and always has been. And nowhere is this more prevalent than in the recovery society where the human mind – an individual’s ability to decide their fate and actions from within – is completely left out of the decision-making equation regarding their substance use. In recovery circles, it’s not even discussed as an option.
With a single phrase that gets repeated before every AA meeting worldwide, “Alcohol is cunning, baffling, and powerful. Without help, it is too much for us,” Bill Wilson changed the world. By removing people’s self-evident understanding that they are self-determined, self-efficacious beings that are autonomous and naturally endowed with the power of free will, he created the substitute – a personified image of alcohol and drugs. He made substances come alive, and you should fear them! By using the words “cunning, baffling, and powerful,” he made a lifeless thing something that is now living, with a mind of its own, bent on your personal destruction. But Bill didn’t stop there. Once he mainstreamed the personified beast of drugs and alcohol, he made sure everyone knew he was the only man on earth with the answer on how to control these evil forces. For a cult to take hold, the masses must believe through the lens of fear. Once established, the fear will drive a need for a solution to the agent of that fear – and Bill’s cult manual became the answer, and he entitled the piece Alcoholics Anonymous. The published book coupled with a donation-funded millions-strong membership became the financial model Bill had sought throughout his entire, greedy lifetime. Bill died a multi-millionaire in 1971 with a wake of tragedy behind him.
Enter the Knight
Once you are convinced that substances rule the roost and that you no longer can have confidence in your own decision-making, the stage is set. Bill carefully crafted the words of his cult manual to become the now terrified individual’s salvation. In this view, AA meetings became the ONLY sacred place where the “addiction disease” (a relatively new concept at the time) and evil powers of substances couldn’t, and wouldn’t dare penetrate. Like a stake and hammer to the vampire, the magical basement AA and NA meeting rooms became the exclusive arena where booze and drugs supposedly couldn’t do their damage. In AA, these magical meetings are often just referred to by members as “the rooms.” Weird stuff here. (I know because I went to more than 3,000 AA meetings both as an early member and later as a skeptical human behavior researcher.)
When Bill realized that treatment centers were cashing in on his mythology parade in the early ’60s, he decided to officially join forces with the treatment industry. By aligning his now mainstreamed AA folklore to the “therapeutic version” being peddled in rehabs across the world, AA became big business. By the 1970s his viral cult spread to probation departments, the creation of an alternative to incarceration programs, drug courts, prison systems, religious organizations, government agencies, the Hollywood elite, and even the higher-ups in the actors guild became minions to the AA cult (and still are). The list of influences in society became pervasive and fully entrenched, hence our term, the recovery society. Today, in the US alone, the recovery society is a 40 billion dollar industry. And yes Alcoholics Anonymous makes a lot of money. A dollar in the basket from every member, (2 million strong) every day, along with an Alcoholics Anonymous cult manual on every rehab bed across America and now abroad, goes a long way when it hits the AA World Services, Inc. bank account. Bill’s goals of financial windfalls were achieved and continue to this day.
The Inconvenient Truth
But here’s the problem with the 12 steps – no one’s getting well. No one with any first-hand knowledge and understanding of AA and its cultish ways is saying, “Hey, telling people that don’t have a disease or disorder, that they have one, is ethical and right.” Nope, those with common sense and the ability to look past fear and platitudes can see the 12 step model and its offshoots, treatment and recovery, for the farce they are. At best, they are an active placebo being given credit for a change being made by each individual’s power of choice. But even this placebo only works 5% of the time – 95% of those who go to AA have stopped going by the end of one year. The cult is just too strange and disempowering for the masses. Being told you are powerless over an imaginary force is just a bridge too far for most folks. This is why AA has plateaued at around 2 million members worldwide for decades now.
So Let us go Full Circle Back to the Truth
So what’s the truth? The truth is the human mind is the answer to reversing heavy substance use habits. Decision-making is the answer. Choice-making is the answer. Self-knowledge is the answer. Challenging the perceived benefits of your personal preference for heavy intoxication is the answer. Letting go completely of the addict or alcoholic self-image is the answer. Knowing substances aren’t alive, don’t have motives, and cannot help you relieve stress, anxiety or any other mental struggle is the answer. The list goes on and on, but one thing remains true regardless of the lies being promoted in the recovery society today; the answer to any habit lies directly within the mind of the individual and nowhere else. Read that line again if you must. Even those who “get well” in the cult of AA do it by making the internal decision that they are happier to go to meetings than to go to the bar. The 5% that “makes it in AA,” might give credit to “the rooms” but that’s a simple logical error. They “made it” like everyone else – they decided to change. After all, since substances don’t have a mind, the only one at home in your head is you. So let go of the myth that there is some nebulous force called addiction at work, and take responsibility for your self-created preference. And then do what all successful changes do – make the change and move on.