Powerless Over Alcohol

Step One: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.

"When they tell you that you are powerless, that just means that someone else gets the power."
— Remark of a cynic.

The A.A. First Step, where people are supposed to "admit" that they are "powerless over alcohol", is a hoax.

People are not "powerless" over their desires to drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, or take drugs. Being sick, and having a messed-up life from too much drinking, is just that — being sick. It isn't "powerlessness." Having difficulties quitting is not "powerlessness", it's having difficulties quitting. Saying that your drinking has really gotten out of control doesn't mean that you are powerless over it.

Quitting can be hard, extremely difficult and painful, but that doesn't mean that it's impossible, or that you can't do it. Remember: When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

The "powerless" doctrine of Alcoholics Anonymous is one of their most central religious beliefs. It is one of those points where A.A. radically departs from Christianity or any other mainstream religion of the world, and enters the bizarre realm of cult religion. A.A. teaches that people are incapable of running their own lives and must surrender control of their lives to the A.A. group and a "Higher Power" who will control them, and do the quitting for them. Thus the real purpose of Step One is to prepare the new members for Steps Two and Three, where they will confess that they are insane, and then surrender their wills and their lives to "the care of God" and the Alcoholics Anonymous group.

One of the biggest problems with the Twelve-Step program is the learned helplessness caused by the First Step, where people are taught to confess that they are "powerless over alcohol." This leads many people to believe that once they have a drink, that a full-blown relapse and total loss of self-control is inevitable and unavoidable.4

The other half of Step One, which says that "our lives had become unmanageable", leads some people to believe that they shouldn't even try to manage their lives. Step Two is just as bad: it teaches people that they are insane, and that only a Supernatural Being can restore them to sanity — which means that they are helpless, and cannot heal themselves. Then Step Three teaches a lifestyle of passive dependency, where A.A. members turn control of their wills and their lives over to "the care of God as we understood Him", and they expect God to run their lives and solve all their problems for them from then on...

The doctrine that alcoholics are "powerless over alcohol" came from the Oxford Group, Dr. Frank Nathan Daniel Buchman's cult religion. Dr. Buchman declared that people were "defeated by sin", and powerless over it, and unable to refrain from sinning, and only by surrendering to his cult religion could people escape from a life of sin. William Griffith Wilson, Dr. Robert Holbrook Smith, and Clarence Snyder were all members of this cult. They adapted Buchman's cult religion to a "program for alcoholism", and simply copied the entire cult religion and renamed it to "Alcoholics Anonymous". Bill Wilson just changed the word "sin" to "alcohol", and declared that alcoholics were "powerless over alcohol", and only by surrender to his cult religion could alcoholics escape from a lifetime of excessive drinking.

Bill Wilson routinely tried to cite the "powerless" idea and the disease theory of alcoholism to explain away his previous poor behavior. The official A.A. history book, "PASS IT ON", tells how Bill Wilson happily discovered that the disease theory of alcoholism relieved him of his feelings of guilt — it wasn't really his fault after all, because he was powerless over alcoholism:

      Bill listened, entranced, as Silkworth explained his theory. For the first time in his life, Bill was hearing about alcoholism not as a lack of willpower, not as a moral defect, but as a legitimate illness. It was Dr. Silkworth's theory — unique at the time — that alcoholism was the combination of this mysterious pysical "allergy" and the compulsion to drink; that alcoholism could no more be "defeated" by willpower than could tuberculosis. Bill's relief was immense.
'PASS IT ON': The story of Bill Wilson and how the A.A. message reached the world, Authorship credited to 'anonymous', actually written by A.A.W.S. staff, page 102.

By the way, that story is apocryphal, just another one of Bill's gross exaggerations and historical fabrications. The idea that alcoholism was a disease was already commonplace and popular, and had been for more than a century. Dr. Benjamin Rush advanced the idea of alcoholism as a disease in 1784 in his Inquiry into the Effects of Ardent Spirits on the Human Mind and Body. There was a counterpart in Britain: the Edinburgh physician Thomas Trotter wrote in his doctoral dissertation, An essay, medical, philosophical and chemical on drunkenness, submitted in 1788 and published version in 1804, that "In medical language, I consider drunkennes to be a disease..." He also wrote that "the habit of drunkennes is a disease of the mind". The Salvation Army had been teaching that alcoholism was a disease since 1890. The Oxford Group taught the same thing in the nineteen-twenties and -thirties, and Bill Wilson was a member of the Oxford Group cult religion.

Beverly Nichols, who was a member of the Oxford Group for a while, and then criticized it, described how the proper Oxford Group wife who is "Absolutely Unselfish" must tolerate the behavior of an alcoholic husband:

Absolute Unselfishness
      ...an absolutely unselfish wife must endure, year in and year out, the persecution of a drunkard. She must never assert herself, never speak harshly to him, never protest when he revolts her sensibilities, terrifies her children, turns her house into a lunatic asylum, gambles away her money. 'It is not him,' she must say. 'It is a disease.'
All I Could Never Be, Beverly Nichols, pages 262-266.

So, in the Big Book, Bill Wilson wrote,

It relieved me somewhat to learn that in alcoholics the will is amazingly weakened when it comes to combating liquor, though it often remains strong in other respects. My incredible behavior in the face of a desperate desire to stop was explained. Understanding myself now, I fared forth in high hope. For three or four months the goose hung high. I went to town regularly and even made a little money. Surely this was the answer — self-knowledge.
      But it was not, for the frightful day came when I drank once more.
The Big Book, 3rd Edition, William G. Wilson, Chapter 1, "Bill's Story", page 7.

Why does he behave like this? If hundreds of experiences have shown him that one drink means another debacle with all its attendant suffering and humiliation, why is it he takes that one drink? Why can't he stay on the water wagon? What has become of the common sense and will power that he still sometimes displays with respect to other matters?
The Big Book, 3rd Edition, William G. Wilson, Chapter 2, "There Is A Solution", page 22.

Notice how Bill Wilson tried to equate unclear thinking and goofy behavior with proof of "powerlessness". That is the propaganda trick of False Equality — just imply that two very different things are the same thing. The fact that someone is behaving in an unwise manner — even in a suicidally stupid manner — does not prove that he is "powerless over alcohol". Nor does it prove that he is "powerless" over his desire to drink alcohol and get high. Nor does it prove that he has a "disease". It just means that he is being stupid and making poor choices, like choosing short-term pleasure over long-term health.

By the way, what Bill Wilson called "self-knowledge" was not self-knowledge. Bill Wilson was just using more buzz-words and high-falitin' language. Bill Wilson never knew himself. He never analyzed his clinical depression or Narcissistic Personality Disorder or Delusions of Grandeur. His jabber about "self-knowledge" is just more meaningless slogan-slinging.

Other stories in the Big Book declare:

It helped me a lot to become convinced that alcoholism was a disease, not a moral issue; that I had been drinking as a result of a compulsion, even though I had not been aware of the compulsion at the time; and that sobriety was not a matter of will power.
The Big Book, 3rd Edition, page 448.

On the contrary, sobriety is most assuredly a matter of will power and self-control.
Nobody else is going to do the quitting for you.
Nobody else CAN do the quitting for you.
Nobody else is going to hold your hand every Saturday night.

I now remembered what my alcoholic friends had told me, how they had prophesied that if I had an alcoholic mind, the time and place would come — I would drink again. They had said that though I did raise a defense, it would one day give way before some trivial reason for having a drink. Well, just that did happen and more, for what I had learned of alcoholism did not occur to me at all. I knew from that moment that I had an alcoholic mind. I saw that will power and self-knowledge would not help in those strange mental blank spots. I had never been able to understand people who said that a problem had them hopelessly defeated. I knew then. It was a crushing blow.
The Big Book, 3rd Edition, William G. Wilson, Chapter 3, More About Alcoholism, pages 41-42.

Those "friends" (actually, Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith) "prophesied" that alcoholics would suffer from "strange mental blank spots", where the alcoholism would seize control of their minds and "will power and self-knowledge would not help," and they would be drunk before they even realized what was happening. That is a great excuse for relapsing whenever someone craves a drink, but it is totally untrue. It is ridiculous pseudo-science.


People may rationalize their actions, or minimize the danger for a few minutes, or make up all kinds of stupid excuses for why it's okay to take that first drink, why it's okay to have just one (or two, or three...); they may sometimes even just refuse to think about the negative consequences of drinking because they really, really want that drink, but there is no blank spot where the alcoholic is unable to see that he is deliberately lifting a drink to his mouth, choosing to drink, and that he is voluntarily swallowing it. There is no blank spot where he doesn't have a choice, and can't control his hands or his mouth.

But Bill Wilson insisted that there was, and that he just couldn't help but take a drink whenever he got some cravings. Bill was nuts.

Bill Wilson declared that he was "powerless" over just about every urge or craving that he ever had, no matter whether it was a thirst for alcohol, cravings for cigarettes, greed for money, the desire for self-aggrandizement, the temptation to lie, or the urge to cheat on his wife Lois by having sex with all of the pretty young women who came to the A.A. meetings seeking help. That's an interesting excuse for cheating on your wife, one of the more novel ones, but it doesn't wash.3

Bill Wilson was habitually unfaithful to the wife who was working to support him, both before and after sobriety. He invented the A.A. tradition of "thirteenth stepping" the attractive young women who came to A.A. looking for help. Bill was such an outrageous philanderer that the other elder A.A. members had to form a "Founder's Watch Committee", whose job it was to follow Bill Wilson around, and watch him, and break up budding sexual relationships with the pretty young things before he publicly embarrassed A.A. yet again.3 When other early A.A. members, like Tom Powers, who helped Bill to write his second book, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, told Bill Wilson to quit the philandering, Bill whined that he couldn't give it up.

So just how was Bill's behavior an example of a life "lived on a spiritual basis"? Besides the fact that he held séances and played with Ouija boards, and constantly hypocritically yammered words like "God", "working selflessly", and "absolute purity", just what was "spiritual" about William G. Wilson?

In addition, Bill was just echoing the religious doctrine of Dr. Frank Nathan Daniel Buchman, who preached that everyone in the world had been defeated by sin, and was powerless over it, and could only be saved by surrendering his will and life to God and coming under "God-control" (which really meant, coming under "Frank-control").

Bill Wilson just substituted the word "alcohol" for the word "sin". Bill wanted all of the alcoholics to feel hopeless and powerless over alcohol so that they would despair and surrender to "the care of God as we understood Him", which really meant, "Surrender to the control of your sponsor and the Alcoholics Anonymous group."

Bill's recruiting manual, chapter 7 of the Big Book, teaches how to induce feelings of hopelessness in a prospective recruit:

If you are satisfied that he is a real alcoholic, begin to dwell on the hopeless feature of the malady. Show him, from your own experience, how the queer mental condition surrounding that first drink prevents normal functioning of the will power.
The Big Book, 3rd Edition, William G. Wilson, page 92.

Maybe you have disturbed him about the question of alcoholism. This is all to the good. The more hopeless he feels, the better. He will be more likely to follow your suggestions.
The Big Book, 3rd Edition, William G. Wilson, chapter 7, "Working With Others", page 94.

Bill continued:

Once more: The alcoholic at certain times has no effective mental defense against the first drink. Except in a few rare cases, neither he nor any other human being can provide such a defense. His defense must come from a Higher Power.
The Big Book, Chapter 3, William G. Wilson, More About Alcoholism, page 43.

No effective mental defense? You have to just hope that some Spirit or ghost or Higher Power will keep you from drinking? And this is the program whose members claim is the best alcoholism recovery program in the world?

Well, Bill Wilson thought so:

We think this account of our experiences will help everyone to better understand the alcoholic. Many do not comprehend that the alcoholic is a very sick person. And besides, we are sure that our way of living has its advantages for all.
The Big Book, William G. Wilson, the Foreword to the First Edition, page xiii of the 3rd edition.

Aha! There it is:
And besides, the real goal of our program is to get everyone in the world living according to the Buchman-and-Bill religious program, "our way of living."

Bill Wilson also wrote that A.A. members will all testify:

"I simply couldn't stop drinking, and no human being could seem to do the job for me. But when I became willing to clean house and then asked a Higher Power, God as I understood Him, to give me release, my obsession to drink vanished. It was lifted right out of me..."
Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, William G. Wilson, pages 63-64.

Notice the really bizarre complaint:
"I simply couldn't stop drinking, and no human being could seem to do the job for me."
Bill Wilson didn't seem to understand that when you quit drinking, smoking, or drugging, you do it yourself.
No other human being can do the quitting for you.
It's really ridiculous to think that someone else could magically do the quitting for you. It's insane. But that's what Bill Wilson wanted: an easier, softer way where Somebody Else, like God, did all of the hard work for him, where somebody else did the quitting for him:

We will seldom be interested in liquor.
We will see that our new attitude toward liquor has been given to us without any thought or effort on our part. It just comes! That is the miracle of it.
We have not even sworn off. Instead, the problem has been removed. It does not exist for us.
The Big Book, 3rd Edition, William G. Wilson, pages 84-85.

Now that is really a delusional cure for alcoholism. Without any thought or effort on our part, God just makes the problem disappear. Poof!

The crazy idea of "God" quitting drinking for somebody leads to all kinds of wacky thoughts:
  • Can overweight people in Overeaters Anonymous declare that God is going to quit eating chocolate cakes for them?
  • Will God's quitting smoking for Nicotine Anonymous members somehow prevent the smoke from entering the N.A. members' lungs?
  • And I really want to hear how God is going to quit screwing women in Sex Addicts Anonymous...

In his next book, Bill Wilson wrote:

We had approached A.A. expecting to be taught self-confidence. Then we had been told that so far as alcohol is concerned, self-confidence was no good whatever; in fact, it was a total liability. Our sponsors declared that we were the victims of a mental obsession so subtly powerful that no amount of human willpower could break it. There was, they said, no such thing as the personal conquest of this compulsion by the unaided will.
Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, William G. Wilson, page 22.

  • Self-confidence is a total liability?
  • No amount of human willpower can break the grip of alcoholism on a person?
  • There is no such thing as the personal conquest of this compulsion by the unaided will?

That is ridiculous and pathetic. Everyone who successfully quits drinking uses his or her own will power. Everyone who stays quit uses his or her own will power every day and every night.

The Harvard Mental Health Letter, from The Harvard Medical School, stated quite plainly:

On their own
There is a high rate of recovery among alcoholics and addicts, treated and untreated. According to one estimate, heroin addicts break the habit in an average of 11 years. Another estimate is that at least 50% of alcoholics eventually free themselves although only 10% are ever treated. One recent study found that 80% of all alcoholics who recover for a year or more do so on their own, some after being unsuccessfully treated. When a group of these self-treated alcoholics was interviewed, 57% said they simply decided that alcohol was bad for them. Twenty-nine percent said health problems, frightening experiences, accidents, or blackouts persuaded them to quit. Others used such phrases as "Things were building up" or "I was sick and tired of it." Support from a husband or wife was important in sustaining the resolution.
Treatment of Drug Abuse and Addiction — Part III, The Harvard Mental Health Letter, Volume 12, Number 4, October 1995, page 3.
(See Aug. (Part I), Sept. (Part II), Oct. 1995 (Part III).)

The NIAAA's (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism) 2001-2002 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions interviewed over 43,000 people. Using the criteria for alcohol dependence found in the DSM-IV, they found:

      "About 75 percent of persons who recover from alcohol dependence do so without seeking any kind of help, including specialty alcohol (rehab) programs and AA. Only 13 percent of people with alcohol dependence ever receive specialty alcohol treatment."

So much for the sayings that
"Everybody needs a support group."
"Nobody can do it alone."
Most successful people do.

And note that the Harvard Medical School said that the support of a good spouse is more important than that of a 12-Step group. But A.A. says just the opposite:
"Dump your spouse and marry the A.A. group, because A.A. is The Only Way."

Other stories in the Big Book say:

I saw that it was my life that was unmanageable — not just my drinking.
The Big Book, 3rd Edition, page 471.

I did not know that I had no power over alcohol, that I, alone and unaided, could not stop; that I was on a downgrade, tearing along at full speed with all my brakes gone, and that the end would be a total smash-up, death or insanity.
The Big Book, 3rd Edition, page 471.

Other A.A.-booster literature tells stories like:

I said to my sponsor, "I really can't do this."
He said, "Good."
I said, "No, I mean, I really can't do this, all of the quitting and staying quit, and total abstinence. I just don't have it in me to succeed in a program like that."
He said, "Now you've getting it! That's what the program is all about. You must admit that you are powerless over alcohol."

That is surrender to an attitude of helplessness.

An A.A. true believer wrote in a newsgroup that alcoholics are pretty much mental midgets who freak out at the thought of quitting drinking:

I'd say that few alkies, especially while still drinking, can handle the concept of quitting, even if they've tried to do just that a hundred times. Stopping... or putting it on hold for today or right now... is something we can grasp. There is always tomorrow if I want it and so make that decision when I consider it again at that point.

A Cocaine Anonymous book of stories tells us that:

Today I know that I am powerless over the outcome of everything and that my life is still unmanageable by me.
Hope, Faith, and Courage; Stories from the Fellowship of Cocaine Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous World Services, Inc., page 38.

That is more surrender to an attitude of helplessness.

Other A.A.-booster literature tells us that,

All members who actively work the program readily admit that they are powerless over alcohol.
Alcoholic Thinking: Language, Culture, and Belief in Alcoholics Anonymous, Danny M. Wilcox, page 88.

Why shouldn't I be able to handle this crisis? After all, I had willpower.
      Some time later Dr. Anderson was to make me think about the latter. "If alcoholism is a disease," he observed, "and I believe it is, what does willpower have to do with it? A cardiac victim can't say, 'I will not have another heart attack,' and will it so; the cancer patient can't say, 'I have willpower and I will rid myself of it, I won't let it get worse.' There is something about alcoholism that is organic — physical and psychological in the the mind — and willpower doesn't matter. When the alcoholic, after much suffering, vows he'll never take another drink, he really means it at the time. When he winds up drunk a month later, he wonders what happened; he doesn't realize that willpower has nothing to do with it."
Where Did Everybody Go?, Paul Molloy, page 88.

Now that is a twisty game of logic, isn't it? And very bad logic too. Regardless of whether alcoholism is a "disease", alcoholism is mainly determined by whether you use your hand to lift an alcoholic beverage to your mouth and drink it. So of course you have control over it. Drinking beer is not like having a heart attack.

Notice how the alleged 'doctor' said, "If alcoholism is a disease..."
But since alcoholism is not a disease like having a heart attack, will power has everything to do with quitting and staying quit.
(That is a good example of the propaganda trick of Sly Suggestions. First, the 'doctor' suggested that alcoholism might be a disease — "If alcoholism is a disease..." — and then he started dispensing critical life-or-death medical advice based on the unquestioned belief that alcoholism really was a disease over which the patient had no control.)

Obviously, alcoholism is not a disease like cancer or cardiac disease. Alcoholism is not a disease at all. It is habitual, compulsive behavior.

  • They don't build bars and pubs to dispense heart attacks, but they do for alcoholism.
  • You cannot just stop having cancer merely by changing your diet, and perhaps abstaining from eating something like white sugar or fats, but you can stop suffering from alcoholism just by abstaining from drinking ethyl alcohol. That is not a disease; that is behavior.

    (And I'm sure that some astute readers will immediately notice that occasionally, you can prevent heart attacks — by changing your diet, quitting smoking, getting more exercise, and living a healthier life-style — so you aren't 100% powerless over heart attacks, either.)

    When alcoholics wake up sick and hung over the morning after, and ask, "What happened?", the answer is simple. They took a drink and rationalized that it would be okay. That first drink tasted so okay that they then had a second one, and that was okay too, and so was a third one, etc... After 4 or 5 drinks, they stopped counting... When they wake up the next morning, feeling sick, they find that they drank far more than they had originally intended. But that's just how compulsive drinking and getting drunk works. That isn't "powerlessness".

    People relapse because they think that they can just nibble a little and get away with it. They imagine that they can do just a few without getting hooked again. They are wrong. See The Lizard-Brain Addiction Monster for more on that.

    Now there is a genetic factor that changes how alcoholics feel, and how they react to alcohol, but those genes do not force people to drink to excess, and those genes do not make people powerless over alcohol. Those genes just make managing alcohol much more difficult.

    While the A.A. preachers are busy making you feel guilty about everything, they will tell you that you were extremely selfish because you chose the bottle over family, friends, career, or anything else. If that is true, then you had the power to choose, which means that you weren't powerless over alcohol at all, which means that the First Step is wrong.

    For that matter, the whole blame game is a bait-and-switch stunt. They will start off by telling you that it isn't your fault, alcoholism is not a moral stigma because it's a disease and you are powerless over it.

    " I was a sick person. I was suffering from an actual disease that had a name and symptoms like diabetes or cancer or TB — and a disease was respectable, not a moral stigma!"
    The Big Book, Marty Mann, Women Suffer Too, 3rd Edition page 227 and 4th Edition page 205.

    But after you have joined Alcoholics Anonymous and become a committed member, then they will tell you that you are guilty and personally responsible for everything.

    The First Step showed me that I was powerless over alcohol and anything else that threatened my sobriety or muddled my thinking. Alcohol was only a symptom of much deeper problems of dishonesty and denial.
    Listening to the Wind, A.A. Grapevine, December 2001, page 34.

    What is this double-talk? That is contradictory. In the first sentence, you are supposedly powerless over everything. In the second sentence you are guilty of being dishonest and in denial, which means that you are in control of your behavior, and not powerless.

    It's all just a mind game designed to get you to surrender to the cult.

    A.A. says that alcoholism is a disease, not a moral shortcoming.
    That's why you must list and confess all of your sins and moral shortcomings and wrongs in Steps 4 through 7.

    A.A. evangelists and talking heads like Jillian Sandell (U. of California at Berkeley) actually teach that personal control and personal accomplishment are myths.1 She says that the Abraham Lincoln "log cabin to the White House" story is just another "popular American myth" and that such myths "allow individuals to believe that certain goals can be realized through hard work, merit, or just being a nice person..." Ms. Sandell says that such beliefs are all wrong, and that change is only possible by "turning our lives over to god as we understand him/her", and by working the Twelve Steps, of course:

          A central premise of Twelve step programs (and the first 'Step') is to acknowledge the futility of the illusion of individual control. This is a key difference from self-help books and therapy, both of which rest upon the belief in individual power to change situations. Indeed, it is worth just briefly elaborating here some of the premises upon which individual therapeutic practices are based since Twelve Step programs are so different. Self-help books and individual therapy both aim to give the individual a feeling of personal control. They tap into the popular American myth that if we just try hard enough we can be or do anything. This myth has taken on many forms, Cinderella's 'rags to riches' version is one, Abraham Lincoln's 'log cabin to White House' is another, and Marty McFly's 'if you put your mind to it you can achieve anything' (in Spielberg's Back to the Future) is another; but all have the same aim. They allow individuals to believe that certain goals can be realized though hard work, merit or just being a nice person, thereby ignoring the larger societal structures. Issues around class, race, sex, etc. become irrelevant and transcendable. Both self-help books and therapy place all the responsibility of change in the hands of individuals.
          It is not that Twelve Steppers think change is impossible, only that it can not be achieved alone. Steps Two and Three go on to say that we need to believe that a 'higher power' can restore us to health and that we need to commit to turning our lives over to god as we understand him/her. This last point is crucial since for many in the program 'god' is simply 'the program' itself.
    Jillian Sandell, "Working the Program", Bad Subjects, Issue #10, December 1993.

    That is passive dependency as a lifestyle and a religion.
    It's a total cop-out. It's refusing to really live.
    It's making excuses for failure before you even try.
    It's refusing to try because you might fail.

    "Trying is the first step towards failure."
    — Homer Simpson

    It's a cowardly retreat from life that tries to cover its tracks by proclaiming that admitting powerlessness and dependency is really wonderful "rigorous honesty."
    It is surrender to the cult, "turning our lives over to god as we understand him/her."

    Note that Jillian Sandell's lower-case "god" isn't really "God" — it is whatever you make it, and "for many in the program 'god' is simply 'the program' itself."
    So, your personal "G.O.D." is simply a "Group Of Drunks". Theologians can really have fun with that one. (Such a statement is totally heretical. It is a wonder that the Catholic Church has not banned Alcoholics Anonymous.)

    So you "commit to turning your life over to" the cult. You surrender to the cult, which sounds a little bit like selling your soul to the Devil in trade for sobriety.

    If I had to give a name to such a philosophy, I would call it "Loser-ism". It's the church where you proudly brag about what a helpless loser you are. The Beatles' song I'm a Loser is the standard church music. Competence, strength, intelligence, self-reliance, and self-confidence are terrible vices and sins, immoral mistakes to be avoided at all costs, while incompetence, stupidity, ignorance, irrationalty, superstition, blind faith, dependency, weakness, powerlessness, and insanity are virtues to be proudly "admitted" at church get-togethers.
    "You are powerless over everything,"
    "You can't do it without your support group,"
    "You can't handle life without having keepers to tell you what to do",
    are the sacred teachings of the church.

    Jillian Sandell's description of the A.A. version of recovery is inaccurate, and a downright reversal of reality in many of her statements:

    • It is Alcoholics Anonymous that ignores all "larger societal structures" like class, race, sex, environment, poverty, child abuse, and family life. A.A. says that those things are irrelevant. A.A. says that you drank too much because you have nasty personal defects ("defects of character"): you are sinful, willful, and selfish, you have numerous moral shortcomings, and you have a huge ego that thinks it is the center of the Universe and too big and too good to need God. And A.A.'s answer is to give you the one-size-fits-all Twelve Step cure. It doesn't matter what your personal history is, or what your race, creed, sex, religion, socio-economic status, or anything else is; it doesn't matter whether you were an abused child, or whether you have physical or mental illnesses, you will get prescribed the same "simple" 12-Step fix as everybody else. That is really ignoring all of the "larger societal structures."

    • And Step Two most assuredly does not "say that we need to believe that a 'higher power' can restore us to health", like Ms. Sandell says.
      Step Two says that we "Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity." Sanity, not health. We must confess that we are insane and incapable of thinking for ourselves (and thus incapable of managing our own lives).

    • Likewise, Step Three says that we must turn our will and our lives over to the care of God or Alcoholics Anonymous, not "that we need to commit to turning our lives over to god as we understand him/her." We must surrender our will to "god", or our "Group Of Drunks", and let A.A. do our thinking for us, and let our sponsors boss us around and tell us what to do with our lives.

      Ms. Sandell blithely glosses over all of those gory little details. (Perhaps she wishes to "avoid arousing any prejudices" that we may have against cult religions...)

    • Abraham Lincoln's life story is hardly a myth. Ms. Sandell would do well to actually read a good biography of Abraham Lincoln. He really did accomplish many things through his own efforts, perseverence, and hard work, like teaching himself to read and write, and becoming a lawyer just by studying three law books and then passing the bar examination (which, admittedly, must have been less complex in those days...) Lincoln ran for Congress and the Senate, and sometimes won and sometimes lost, but he persevered, and ended up becoming the President. That is real United States of America history, not a popular myth. And it is also a very inspiring story.

    • And Ms. Sandell actually tells us that Marty McFly's 'if you put your mind to it you can achieve anything' attitude is all wrong? Just out of wild curiosity, how did the Australian woman Jillian Sandell graduate from college and become a Berkeley university professor?2 By eschewing self-reliance and hard work? By having her support group take her exams for her? I don't think so... Does Ms. Sandell recommend the Church of Loserism for us recovering alcoholics, while reserving the Right to Excel for herself?

    • All of the world's great religions teach just the opposite of the A.A. doctrine of powerlessness. And I do mean ALL of them: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Original American religious teachings, Confucianism, Taoism, Bahai-ism, the I Ching, you name it. They teach that personal morality consists of controlling one's own actions, and actively doing good, and refraining from doing wrong. They teach self-discipline, self-control, individual responsibility, and personal accomplishment through perseverance and hard work.

      Perseverance furthers:

      The inferior man, fearful of failure, says that it cannot be done, and never starts the work.

      The average man sets to work, but quits when he finds his way blocked by great difficulties.

      The superior man perseveres in his work until he reaches his goal, even though difficulties and obstacles rise up and tower ten-thousand-fold before him.

      — Old Confucian and Zen saying

      Personal morality does not consist of screaming that one is helpless and powerless, and despairing and throwing up one's hands and saying that one cannot ever do it right, so don't even bother trying.

    Nobody is powerless over urges, cravings, or temptations. Just because you feel an urge or a craving doesn't mean that you have to give in to it, and feed it. The way to quit drinking is not to expect God to just magically remove all desire for drink. The way to quit is to just not give in to the cravings that will inevitably come. And that is just how the vast majority of people quit. Eighty percent of all of the alcoholics who successfully quit drinking do it alone, without A.A., the Twelve Steps, or "admitting" that they are powerless over alcohol.

    You really can handle cravings and feelings of ecstatic recall.
    You are not powerless over your feelings.
    You are not the slave of your feelings.
    You do not have to relapse just because you get some cravings or feelings of ecstatic recall.
    Feelings are just feelings, after all.

    You don't really need a sponsor to hold your hand every night for the rest of your life to keep you from drinking, smoking, or drugging, which is good, because you really aren't going to get such a free full-time baby-sitter, anyway. So you're still on your own.

    In fact, if you are really going to quit, then you really have to quit. That is, you really have to do the quitting yourself, and you have to stay quit, by yourself. Nobody else is going to do the quitting for you, not God, not Cinderella's Fairy Godmother, not Santa Claus, not the Tooth Fairy, and not your "support group."

    Also see Jeff Jay's declarations that alcoholics choose addiction over recovery, in his Hazelden book on interventions. Throughout his book, he repeats the standard A.A. party line about alcoholism being a disease, and the alcoholic not having any control over it, and then he faults the alcoholics who will not "voluntarily choose" to get sent to an expensive residential treatment center like Hazelden ($30,000 for 28 days). Someone who can voluntarily choose or refuse treatment is not powerless. He has control over the situation.

    And don't miss the Al-Anon declarations that even wives and children of alcoholics should surrender their minds and live lives that are "truly powerless".


    1) Jillian Sandell, Working the Program, Bad Subjects, Issue #10, December 1993.

    2) Jillian Sandell is a member of the Bad Subjects Collective. She is a graduate of the Australian National University, and her degree is in Women's Studies and Philosophy. She can be reached at the following Internet address: [email protected].

    3) See: Bill W. A Biography of Alcoholics Anonymous Cofounder Bill Wilson, by Francis Hartigan
    This biography was written by Lois Wilson's private secretary, Francis Hartigan. If anybody should be privy to the insider secrets about Bill's infidelities, it would be Francis. And he says that Bill was about as faithful as a horny alley cat, all of his life, both before and after sobriety.
    Bill Wilson was habitually unfaithful to the wife who was working in a department store to support him. Bill invented the A.A. tradition of "thirteenth stepping" the attractive young women who came to A.A. looking for help. Bill was such an outrageous philanderer that the other elder A.A. members had to form a "Founder's Watch Committee", whose job it was to follow Bill Wilson around, and watch him at A.A. meetings and conventions, and break up budding sexual relationships with the pretty young things before he publicly embarrassed A.A. yet again.
    When other early A.A. members, like Tom Powers, who helped Bill to write his second book, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, told Bill to quit the womanizing, Bill whined that he couldn't give it up.
    See chapter 25, The Other Woman, page 192, for the description of the Founder's Watch Committee.
    Also see page 170 for the interview with Tom Powers (Tom P.).

    4) Relapse Prevention with Substance Abusers: Clinical Issues and Myths", by Dennis Daley. Social Work, March-April 1987, page 140.


    Hope for Today     Al-Anon Family Groups
    Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc., Virginia Beach, VA, 2002.
    ISBN: 0-910034-39-7
    LCCN: 2002100375
    A book of daily meditations. Some of the worst mind-bending drivel around. On average, even worse than Alcoholics Anonymous propaganda. This is the religion that is dedicated to the insane proposition that you should spend the rest of your life grovelling and wallowing in guilt and powerlessness and confessing your sins because Daddy drank too much alcohol.
    Quotes: here.

    Bill W. A Biography of Alcoholics Anonymous Cofounder Bill Wilson     Francis Hartigan
    Thomas Dunne Books, An imprint of St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010, 2000.
    ISBN: 0-312-20056-0
    Dewey: B W11h 2000
    This biography was written by Lois Wilson's private secretary, Francis Hartigan. See footnote 3 above.

    All I Could Never Be     Beverly Nichols
    E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1950.
    Dewey: 828 N61a
    A book of memoirs. Includes a chapter on his experiences with Buchman's Oxford Groups cult, and also experiences at a Nuremberg Nazi Party rally.
    Quotes: here, and here, and here, and here, and related quote here.

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    Last updated 19 December 2014.
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