47 years ago I was in a cult. It was 1975; I was 5 years old at the time. You might ask how that’s possible. My mom was a member of AA at the time, and as her youngest son, I was brought to her AA meetings in tow. I didn’t have a choice. I can remember the strangeness of it; the weird speak, the slogans, the stories (many of which, I’ve come to realize, were highly inappropriate for a young boy to hear), and the tension in my father’s voice when he was asked “where mom was” by me or any of my eleven siblings. The fact that it was extremely boring and strange didn’t add any appeal to the experience I can tell you. But like so many thousands of kids who grew up in AA 12 step households, I got used to it and passively took in all the misinformation they were peddling. 

By the time I was 8, I’d been smuggled into my mom’s workplace dozens of weekends – an inner city halfway house for women. This too was an odd experience, and between my AA attendance with my mother and siblings, and the weekends at the halfway house and other rehabs visiting siblings, I was becoming quite versed in the addiction treatment cult. Strangely, this world was becoming normalized to me and by 12 years old I knew enough to run an AA meeting and knew that someday I might “need” to get help from my own addiction struggles (mind you, I hadn’t even had my first drink and I was preparing myself for the “inevitable”). The fear tactics of the 12 step cult were in full effect.

On my twelfth birthday I got drunk for the first time and enjoyed it. But unlike my friend Joe who drank with me I had the AA and rehab voices speaking to me. I felt guilty for liking the buzz, and knew that I was “in trouble.” Now think about that; first time getting buzzed and I’m wondering if I’d turn into an “alcoholic”. Make no mistake, this wasn’t normal. All my buddies were doing the same things, but they didn’t have the AA lingo running through their minds, nor did they have the slightest guilt or shame in their fun and experimentations. I was jealous of them and their naiveté. But I was also judgmental as well; I was taking on that awful moral high ground of being a person who was “more aware” than others. This was just another earmark of being immersed in a cult. In reality I was more brainwashed and lost than those who lived in reality; the reality that experimenting with drugs and alcohol was relatively normal, and could be a fun experience devoid of guilt. But in my case the ghosts of the treatment effect and fear-based 12 step rhetoric haunted me every time I got drunk or high for the next 6 years, until I, like thousands before me, took on the label of “alcoholic.” I succumbed to the pressure applied by years of quiet indoctrination.

The sad part was that AA was never beneficial to me, my mom, or the siblings that went into therapeutic communities and rehabs. My parents’ marriage ended in divorce, my mother became a 12 step zealot, putting AA members before her children’s needs, and my brothers and sisters involved in the treatment world continued to struggle. As the years passed by, the further each family member got from treatment, the 12 steps, meetings, AA sponsors and therapy, the better they got. In my own experience, my rehab stay ended in disaster, and I eventually rejected the entire cult and got on with my life. I’m grateful the rehab was so poorly run, and was so transparent in its controlling, money hungry agenda. It showed me the truth, and while the truth was extremely painful initially, it also gave me a direction away from the cult of 12 steps.

Eventually I figured it out; that is the ruse of addiction “treatment” and the cult of 12 steps. I became a researcher and developed the original non-12 step model, The Freedom Model.

While your path may not be the same as mine was, if you are questioning your experience in AA and/or treatment, that’s a good thing! Keep asking the hard questions until you get the answers that make sense and bring freedom and peace. In the meantime you can read The Freedom Model for Addictions, Escape the Treatment and Recovery Trap to get the fast line to the facts. In the end, it’s only the truth that can set one free!

We did a podcast on this topic this week as well on The Addiction Solution Podcast titled How do You Know Alcoholics Anonymous is a Cult?  You can Check it out below and don’t forget to subscribe to our podcast on your favorite streaming service.

If you want to learn more about how to move past an addiction for good, and do it without meetings, painful deprivation, or the endless trappings of a recovery lifestyle of 12 Steps and Alcoholics Anonymous,  call 888-424-2626.