When Will Alcoholics Anonymous Meetings Resume
When Will Alcoholics Anonymous Meetings Resume – Jon Stewart spent 14 years attending AA meetings. They sobered him up, but at a price. He questions why so few alcoholics are offered alternative treatments
“My sponsor asked me if I was praying. He told me that AA didn’t expect me to find God right away”: Jon Stewart. Photo: Alex Lake/The Observer
When Will Alcoholics Anonymous Meetings Resume
My first day of sobriety was the first day I prayed. I have always been a staunch atheist; I grew up in Yorkshire during the miners’ strike and I grew up towards left-wing politics. When I went to my first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting 15 years ago, God was and always has been the opium of the people. But AA’s 12-step program required, or at least strongly suggested, that I surrender to a higher power. It doesn’t have to be God per se, but I was assured that if I didn’t find something, I would probably drink myself to death. I was about 30 years old. I spent the previous decade as the guitarist in the successful band Sleeper, touring, partying and of course drinking. In the early 2000s, I was so desperate to get sober that “something” could have been anything. I would have prayed to Lord Xenu if I had to.
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I was just your regular drinker. In AA they call it “supplementation”. I started when I was a teenager. It was nothing special – I discovered booze, started going to parties, had fun. Although I always seemed to have it a little better than everyone else. Now I know it has to do with how my brain reacts to reward chemicals. It is estimated that about 10% of drinkers are hypersensitive to the pleasure stimuli of alcohol, and I am one of them.
Generally, though quite simply, it is understood that you need to hit rock bottom before starting AA. Most people with a drinking problem have moments when they wake up and think to themselves, “I’ll never do that again.” I had hundreds of them.
But if I were to pinpoint my absolute low, it would be 2000. summer My band broke up and I was living in Los Angeles playing with other bands and doing session work. It was around this time that I realized I needed and really wanted to stop drinking. However, in my mind I still had it and acted like it. I attended a few AA meetings in the area, but I could not reconcile myself to God’s cause. Agreed. At the same time, I was hanging out with people who were just like me and are now 10 years sober. And it was tempting. Or maybe just inspiring.
Eventually my American work visa ran out and I returned to the UK. I couldn’t seem to organize where to live. I had money, but my whole life seemed to have stopped. I ran out of options and decided to give AA another try on my doctor’s advice.
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The Mall: Writing group Sleeper filmed the video for their single ‘Inbetweener’ in 1995 with host Dale Winton. From left: Stewart, Winton, Did Osman, Louise Wener and Andy Maclure. Photo: Andy Willsher/Redferns
At first I went every day for a month, but I still couldn’t stop drinking. Then I met a guy at a meeting who had been sober for five years. I asked him to help me and he agreed to be my sponsor. AA has an informal “sponsorship” system where newer members befriend older members who care for them. My sponsor asked me if I was praying. Of course I wasn’t. He assured me that AA doesn’t expect you to find God right away and that I should just keep an open mind. So at first I embraced music—what seemed accessible to me—as my higher power. Then, more specifically, the Beatles became my deity. When I heard that Ringo Starr had “found God” in his struggle with addiction, I began to explore more structured forms of faith. Finally, I accepted God myself.
I have been a 12-step evangelist ever since. I prayed every day for 14 years. And I was sober too. I’d be lying if I said that AA didn’t save my life, but it also – by the end – left me in a state of massive cognitive dissonance. When you’re a die-hard AA believer like I am, it’s very easy to block out other possible solutions to your problems. Meetings encourage seeking outside help when needed, but often this is another spiritual method, such as mindfulness or reiki. Sometimes in more doctrinaire pockets of AA, methods other than the 12-step are frowned upon.
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In AA I met many other people who, like me, could not cope with life without chemical support. This has its pros and cons. There was a strong sense of camaraderie, which I really needed at that time. These were the people who understood this very strange and controversial thing about alcoholism. That is, when you have a drinking problem, you feel like drinking is the only thing holding you together. I realize now that the rush I felt when I was in a room full of people in the same boat as me—the sense of peace, God walking through the ceiling—was simply oxytocin (the human bonding hormone) triggered by familiar rituals. meeting. I mixed a chemical experience with a religious one.
Again, I was sober, feeling spiritually awake, and spending time in the company of loving people who understood and cared for me. In the end, I probably inevitably hit a brick wall.
AA was founded by the Christian revival movement of the 1930s in the United States. Her doctrine has not changed since then, which means that her approach to mental health is, in my opinion, now very outdated. The AA program makes absolutely no distinction between thoughts and feelings, a key factor in cognitive behavioral therapy, which is arguably a newer form of mental health technology. Instead, AA alcoholism is caused by “character defects” that can only be removed by surrendering to a higher authority. So in many ways it’s a movement based on emotional subjugation. The first of the 12 steps insists on admitting that you are “powerless against alcohol and your life is out of control.” So whatever you achieve in AA is God’s will, not your own. You are not in control of your life, but a higher power is.
The Circle of Trust: The Encounter and the Big Book, AA’s Core Text. Photo: John Van Hasselt/Corbis
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AA is still the default treatment for alcoholism in the UK, US and many other countries around the world. Thousands of people struggle with this disease every day, tragically some even die without ever hearing about alternatives. In my 14 years in AA, I’ve seen people come and go mainly for two reasons: either they “couldn’t catch God’s bite” or they couldn’t sustain abstinence. It is well known that the 12 steps are not about teaching moderate drinking; they want to never drink again, one day at a time. In fact, AA has hijacked the word “sober” a bit. For many people, the idea that you can have one drink and remain relatively sober is completely reasonable. After all, in most countries you can still legally drink a small amount before driving. But to AA members, “sober” really means “completely abstinent.” In fact, the only requirement for membership is a desire to quit drinking. For most alcoholics, those who may never be able to give up drinking completely, there is a great need to be introduced to the other options now available.
(A Core Text of AA) says, “There is no such thing as turning an alcoholic into a normal drinker. Science may one day do this, but it hasn’t yet. Well, actually you have. In the mid-1990s, American physician David Sinclair began using an opiate blocker called naltrexone to treat alcoholics. Naltrexone suppresses the euphoria of drinking in alcoholics and allows them to drink normally. This is called “pharmacologic extinction.” This means that in the long run the drinker no longer associates alcohol with strong alcohol. (According to AA, this association is never lost.) What became known as the Sinclair method was now being used on thousands of alcoholics in Finland, where he worked. Naltrexone is almost unheard of in the rest of the world (although nalmefene, a similar treatment, is available on prescription in Britain). It’s also off-patent, which means it’s unattractive to pharmaceutical companies that can no longer turn a profit
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