My name is Slag, and I'm an alcoholic...
Alcoholics Anonymous is currently helping more than 2,000,000 people around the world in their struggle with alcoholism. No one knows the exact number of members; AA has no formal command structure, and thrives on anonymity. But it's safe to say that AA makes a major positive impact on the lives of millions, and on the world at large.
Alcoholism is one of the biggest problems of modern industrialized societies, all over the world. Maybe some of you sociologists can figure out some reasons why it's such a problem. But nearly everyone has a family member, friend, or co-worker who is an alcoholic, so nearly everyone is aware of alcoholism's potential to destroy lives.
Decades ago, doctors thought severe alcoholism was basically incurable. Alcoholics went into hospitals, recovered and sobered up, and went back out to drink again. Then, in 1935, a salesman from New York met a doctor in Akron, Ohio. History has recorded their names, but A.A. members, keeping with their tradition of anonymity, still refer to them as Bill W. and Dr. Bob. Bill W. and Dr. Bob met regularly to discuss their common problem of alcoholism, and they both noticed that their temptation to drink lessened when they spoke to each other about their problem. They personally invited other alcoholics to join their meetings, and the movement began to grow. Groups started in Cleveland, New York, and other cities.
Four years later, the movement named itself Alcoholics Anonymous and published the Big Book, a guide to the organization's recovery program. Today, A.A. meetings happen nearly every hour of every day, all over the world.
Meetings vary a little in form and content, but the basic premise is always the same. The goal of each meeting, according to A.A. tradition, is for alcoholics to share the "experience, strength, and hope" they have found in their lives. Several people speak during each meeting. Usually, people don't respond to others' statements; each person's perspective is respected as both unique and applicable to all.
New A.A. members find a sponsor, someone who has been in the program for at least six months. With his or her sponsor, the new member works through A.A.'s 12 steps to recovery (I'll post more about those later). The A.A. program is definitely a spiritual program, relying on a "Higher Power" throughout the program. But - and this is the beautiful thing that separates A.A. from the many programs that are secretly religious recruiting tools - A.A. won't tell you what the Higher Power is. A.A. has helped Christians, Jews, Buddhists, agnostics, and atheists conquer alcoholism. A prominent A.A. brochure features a message from an atheist alcoholic whose life changed when he joined A.A., and who encourages other atheists to consider A.A. for what it is - an organization open to all, committed to helping people struggle with and overcome the problem of alcoholism.
I'll be posting about Alcoholics Anonymous in four parts. This is part one. Part two comes next Monday. I'll talk more about the 12 steps, and describe how millions of individual alcoholics have found recovery through the steps. Next Wednesday, in part three, I'll talk about A.A.'s "12 Traditions," and how A.A. groups and A.A. as a whole function. Next Friday, in part four, I'll give some of my own reflections about why I think A.A. is such a great organization, and such a positive influence on the world.
I'd love to hear your thoughts as well.