The Twelve Steps were, right from the very start, intended to start a new religion, to give the followers "vital spiritual experiences" and to turn the followers into religious fanatics — "religiomaniacs". Bill Wilson believed that religious fanaticism was the only answer for alcoholism. Bill often misquoted, "The only radical remedy for dipsomania is religiomania," (Bill attributed that quote to Carl Jung, but Jung never said it. It came from page 263 of William James' book, "The Varieties of Religious Experience".)
But what if you disagree with that message? What if you would prefer to keep the religious beliefs you already have? What if you choose to not believe in the Twelve Steps, and, since they are supposedly only a suggestion, you freely choose to not do the "suggestions"? What if you just want to quit drinking, without becoming a religious convert?
Well, you can still join A.A., because the only official requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking, but you won't really be a full-fledged member. The hard-core true believers have a deprecating name for such members: "One-steppers". People who only practice the first step, admitting that they have lost control of their drinking. People who want to quit drinking, and regain control of their lives, but without all of the neurotic wallowing in guilt and grovelling before God that the other eleven steps entail. The true believers will tell you that you can't do that: you have to practice all twelve steps all of the time, or you will relapse.
When people do quit without the Twelve Steps, and without even attending A.A. meetings, the A.A. true believers will say that those people are not really "in recovery"; they are only "abstaining." What's the difference? Some counselors have lists of such differences, like:
But the A.A. true believers don't even ask about such differences, they just automatically proclaim that anyone who doesn't drink, and who also doesn't attend A.A. meetings, is "only abstaining", while someone who is attending A.A. meetings and "doing the Steps" is of course "in recovery," whether they are actually working on any other issues or not.
And the dogmatic believers will proclaim that the "abstainer"
is not really enjoying a period of "sobriety", he is
To accomplish this twist in logic, they bombastically redefine
the word "sobriety" as:
SOBRIETY: A special state of Grace gained by working the Steps and maintaining absolute abstinence. It is characterized by feelings of Serenity and Gratitude. It is a state of living according to God's will, not one's own. It is sanity.
Even the word "sanity" is redefined there, as Frank Buchman's sin-free, "surrendered-to-God" (or surrendered-to-Frank), state of living — spending one's life "doing the will of God", as defined by the cult, rather than "doing one's own will."
Likewise, the true believers will say that the "abstainer" is a "dry drunk." "Dry drunk" is yet another imaginary disease invented by Alcoholics Anonymous. The term originally referred to a rather rare condition that some people have during the first months of recovery from alcohol abuse — they stumble around in an uncoordinated manner as if they are drunk, even though they are 100% sober. But A.A. has turned it into a slur, which is supposed to mean that someone is thinking and acting like a drunk man, displaying all of the objectionable characteristics of an obnoxious drunk, even though he is sober. And supposedly, all sober men who won't do the Twelve Steps will suffer from that condition, and will also become bitterly unhappy as well...
If an addict drops out of the Twelve Step system but remains totally abstinate from chemicals, he is said to be a "dry drunk." He is not sober because sobriety requires the ongoing practice of Twelve Stepping. Some also refer to the state of being a dry drunk as "white knuckle sobriety" and believe that such a person is a veritable walking time bomb, ready to descend with no warning precipitously into orgies of drunken oblivion unless he returns to practicing Twelve Stepdom.
On the other hand, Paul Roasberry wrote in his essay The Cult Called A.A.:
Of course, all cults have this in common: they reject and label as untouchables any who do not embrace their particular version of "Truth." To dyed-in-the-wool communists, non-believers are "bootlickers of the capitalists," or "counter-revolutionary hooligans." To the born again fundamentalist Christian, non-believers are "agents of Satan." To Moslems, Christians are "devils," and to Nazis, Jews are "swine." To the Alcoholics Anonymous membership, anyone who stops drinking without chanting the mantras of cult founder Bill W. are "dry drunks," pure and simple. You don't even need to know anything more about the self-quitters — the fact that they quit drinking without A.A. makes them dry drunks, a priori.
And, unfortunately, 12-Step true believers seem very reluctant to do a reality check there, and compare their theories to actual results: If the A.A. member relapses, while the so-called "abstainer" or "dry drunk" doesn't, the A.A. fanatics will just blame their fellow A.A. member for "defects of character", and "constitutional incapability to be honest with himself", and for not practicing the Twelve Steps properly — for not "working a strong program", and perhaps for "holding something back in the Fifth Step" — while they simply ignore the nonmember abstainer, or proclaim that "He'll still relapse, it's just a matter of time." Under no conditions will the A.A. fanatics question the effectiveness of the A.A. Twelve Step program for actually quitting drinking and staying quit.
Confronted with the problems and concerns of "living sober," aware from often tragic experience of the special danger to alcoholics of such personality pitfalls as grandiosity, resentments, and the tendencies to dominance over or excessive dependence upon others, old-time members began to formulate a significant three-faceted distinction. "Active alcoholism" was the condition of the obsessive-compulsive drinker who continued to imbibe alcohol. From this situation, two others were to be distinguished. The first was that of the "merely dry" former obsessive-compulsive drinker who "put a cork in the bottle" yet continued to "think alcoholically"; i.e., to entertain grandiose plans and expectations, to nurse feelings of resentment, etc. In "true sobriety" or "serenity," one embraced a new "way of life"; i.e., abandoned grandiosity, resentments, and other claims to be "special," and became aware that one's only true dependence was on the "Higher Power" — that the whole program of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous was to be utilized in all aspects of daily life.
What nonsense. Such absolute, sweeping, grandiose statements,
like that we must
only be dependent on a Higher Power and that we must practice
the Twelve Steps in all aspects of daily life, reinforce the
very type of grandiose thinking that they are denouncing.
They say that we are supposed to "practice these principles [the Twelve Steps] in all our affairs." (That is Step Twelve.) Are we supposed to practice the Twelve Steps while shopping for groceries at the supermarket? Maybe I should list all of my sins while in the bread aisle? Confess all of my sins to whomever is in the meat section? Make amends to the vegetables? Do my Twelfth Step work by recruiting the check-out girl and the bag boy as new pigeons and babies for Alcoholics Anonymous or Al-Anon?
Heaven forbid, I'd better not do my First Step and Admit That I'm Powerless Over Alcohol while I'm in the beer and wine aisle or I might start grabbing bottles and 6-packs.
Note that Kurtz is again giving us a mystical or superstitious definition of alcoholism — it's a "spiritual disease". According to A.A. theology, alcoholism is not actually caused by drinking alcohol. Strange but true. Bill Wilson wrote in the Big Book that "Bottles were only a symbol" (BB, p. 103.) and "Our liquor was but a symptom." (BB, p. 64.). Wilson and A.A. say that alcoholism has all kinds of causes, ranging from resentments to sins to defects of character to moral shortcomings to instincts run wild and self-will run riot, and "desires that far exceed their intended purpose", but drinking alcohol isn't one of the causes of alcoholism. As you might have guessed, Bill Wilson wasn't a doctor.
Now it is true that many alcoholics have underlying medical or mental problems. More than 50% are overtly disturbed. About 40% of alcoholics have suffered from child abuse, and others suffer from physical illnesses. And many women alcoholics were raped as teenagers. Often, alcoholics drink to relieve the symptoms of mental problems like clinical depression, PTSD, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, or pain that is caused by some other illness. But such people are better treated with Paxil, Zoloft, Prozac, or a good painkiller than with the voodoo faith-healing medicine of the Twelve Steps. And note that we are talking about underlying medical problems, while the A.A. pundits like to claim that all of our troubles are due to underlying sin problems (like "selfishness", and not doing the Twelve Steps, and not doing the Will of God).
Lastly, the Twelve Steps of Bill Wilson are still nothing but a formula for building up a cult religion, not a therapy program for alcoholism. Frank Buchman developed the cult practices that are embodied in the Twelve Steps for the purpose of recruiting and indoctrinating new members for his Oxford Groups cult. Those practices had nothing to do with quitting drinking.
Ernest Kurtz continued with his explanation of dry drunks, and it became quite religious (religious, not "spiritual"):
The "merely dry" or "dry drunk" state was precarious, whether as an intermediate stage between "active alcoholism" and "true sobriety," or as simply a falling away from "true sobriety." A person in this dry but alcoholic condition suffered from much or all of the torment formerly soothed in some way by alcohol, but the accustomed painkiller was no longer an available option, and the fact that "active alcoholism" had been overcome inhibited any perception of "bottom" that could lead to the "surrender" required for "conversion" to "true sobriety." It was a purgatory worse than hell, for one suffered the torment under the illusion that this was heaven; further, from this alcoholic limbo one passed more usually to the hell of active alcoholism than to the heaven of true sobriety.
Kurtz says that our underlying problems will become more apparent when we quit drinking, because we will no longer have the anaesthetic effect of alcohol to mask our pain. There is some truth to that. But then Kurtz tries to shove a big, veiled, assumption past us: that alcoholism is essentially caused by sin, and that the Twelve Steps are the cure for sin. Remember that he had defined "true sobriety" as a serene state of mind, free from resentments and other bad things — a state of mind that could allegedly only be achieved by doing Bill's Twelve Steps, including listing and confessing all of your sins for the rest of your life. Their idea of "alcoholic" really means that someone is a sinner, not that someone actually drinks alcohol. (They even accuse children who have never drunk alcohol in their lives of "behaving alcoholically" if the children just act, well, childishly.)
And note the phrase, "dry but alcoholic condition". That is a dead give-away that they define alcoholism as something separate from alcohol. According to Kurtz and A.A., you can be in an "alcoholic condition" without drinking any alcohol at all, and you won't have "true sobriety", they say, if you don't practice Bill Wilson's religion.
So, according to Kurtz, we will get a Serene Heaven on Earth if we do Bill's Twelve Steps, and we will go to Hell if we don't.
Look at the fear-mongering: Kurtz says that people who only quit drinking,
without becoming religious fanatics, are in danger:
The Harvard Medical School says just the opposite of what Kurtz is telling us: They say that 80% of those alcoholics who successfully quit and stay quit for a year or more do it on their own, without Alcoholics Anonymous and its Twelve Steps, or any other "therapy program" or "support group".
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism of the National Institutes of Health,
performed the 2001-2002 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related
Conditions. For it, they 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 was Kurtz just making stuff up? Or just parroting the standard A.A. dogma and misinformation?
Some recognized experts on the problem, like Vernon Johnson, are convinced that the only difference between the alcoholic and his nonalcoholic loved ones is that one is physically affected by the chemical; otherwise, all have all the other symptoms. The "dry" are as sick as the drunk, except that the bodily damage is not there. With every drunk there is a sick "dry" who is almost a mirror image.
So, according to Paul Molloy, Carrie Nation was infected with the dreaded spiritual disease of "codependency" by her first husband, and she never recovered from it. She was allegedly "a dry drunk" for the rest of her life, without ever having drunk a single drop of alcohol in her entire life.
Molloy offered us no evidence that Carry Nation wasn't already crazy before marriage, and Molloy gave us no diagnosis of her extreme behavior and apparent obsessive mental problems other than that she had "a non-drinking booze problem" — that she was a dry drunk. That is absurd. And that is worse than amateur pop psychology.
Neither the American Medical Association nor The American Psychiatric Association recognize the existence of any such disease as "a non-drinking booze problem", or "dry drunk", or "codependency".
And once again, we see that Alcoholics Anonymous redefines alcoholism as a vague "spiritual" disease that actually has nothing to do with drinking alcohol.
I was about nine months into continuous abstinence and going through a particularly difficult period. This was because even though I had gone more than nine months without a drug, including alcohol, I had little real recovery yet, and that was due to the fact that I was still trying to hold onto my old ideas. I was in what's called a dry drunk. I was very angry most of the time and had no idea why. Nobody was doing anything to me, and things were going better than they had been in a long time. I was just angry, with a bad attitude, most of the time.
This 12-Stepper actually declares that "recovery" is not really caused by abstaining from drugs and alcohol — not even by nine months of abstinence — which is nonsense. Of course the guy is recovering, and getting some "real recovery". For nine months now, his brain, liver, and kidneys have been healing and rebuilding themselves, his head is getting clearer, and his over-all health is improving.
Similary, a Cocaine Anonymous book quoted a former heroin addict, who had by then been clean and sober for twelve years, but who still complained that:
"...I was still suffering from untreated drug addiction, even when I was dry."
Obviously, he was not. After a week or two of withdrawal, he was no longer addicted to heroin, so he was not suffering from "untreated addiction". (What is that, anyway? Isn't the usual "treatment" for heroin addiction either to shoot more heroin, or to quit and go through withdrawal? That fellow had done both.) Now, the former addict may have had some lingering emotional or psychiatric problems, perhaps an anxiety disorder or PTSD, or lingering hostility, anger, and grief issues, but that is not "untreated drug addiction". And it sure isn't the next condition that book described, where another "recovering" addict declared that:
"...I am powerless over the outcome of everything and that my life is still unmanageable by me."
That's quite some "recovery".
When an A.A. member who was also a famous baseball player, Rollie Hemsley, broke his anonymity in 1940, and declared to the press that he was a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, recovering from alcoholism, Bill went ballistic. Bill couldn't stand the idea that someone else was getting more publicity than him, speaking about "his" A.A..
So Bill Wilson broke his anonymity, too.1 Then Bill went on long cross-country speaking tours for several years. He was on the road, promoting A.A., for much of the nineteen-forties. Bill Wilson so routinely broke his anonymity and had his picture published in newspapers that by 1944 he had become the most famous "anonymous" person in the USA. Bill's biographers called his period of publicity-hound narcissistic megalomania a many-years-long "dry drunk":2
"Soon I was on the road," Bill recalled in 1955, "happily handing out personal interviews and pictures."
Within a matter of weeks Bill was on the road, giving out interviews and pictures. A group would ask him to speak, he'd get in touch with the chairman, who'd tip off a local reporter, then after the meeting, they'd talk, and the next morning — if the war news didn't preempt him — he would find his picture splashed across page one, often with a rousing account of the number of hopeless drunks he had saved. It was work that Bill W. thoroughly enjoyed, and in the beginning a great many groups went along with him. But only in the beginning.
So "dry drunk" can mean anything from someone who won't do the Twelve Steps to someone who is acting like a publicity-hound megalomaniac. Actually, I guess the phrase "dry drunk" can also mean someone who is acting like Bill Wilson. And "dry drunk" can also mean Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
Note that if the term "dry drunk" means all things to all people, then it really does not have any meaning at all. It is just some sort of generic put-down which spares the speaker from having to think very deeply about precisely what it is that the speaker does not like about the other guy...
When a recovering alcoholic begins to engage in what AA calls "stinking thinking," he or she begins to exhibit the old attitudes and pathologies of their drinking years. These include an increase in anxiety, mild tremors, mild depression, disturbed sleep patterns, inability to think clearly, craving for junk food, irritability, sudden bursts of anger and unpredictable mood swings. According to AA literature, "Boredom and listlessness may alternate with intense feelings of resentment against family and friends, and explosive outbursts of violence."
Note that no superstitious or moralistic explanation for this phenomenon is necessary. It's very simple. Alcohol kills brain cells and makes major changes to the nervous system. (And so does 20 years of whiskey and cocaine, as G. W. Bush learned...) It can take many years for the brain to heal the damage and overcome those effects. Many people report feeling lots of emotional turmoil for the first few years after quitting drinking — to the point of sometimes feeling like seething cauldrons of anger, hostility, resentments, and pent-up frustration.
Sin is most assuredly not the cause of those neurological problems,
and Bill Wilson's Twelve Steps are not the cure. The only real
cure is time. Just hang in there and ride out the storm.
Francis Hartigan, Bill W. A Biography of Alcoholics Anonymous Cofounder Bill Wilson, page 134.
Matthew J. Raphael, Bill W. and Mr. Wilson — The Legend and Life of A.A.'s Cofounder, pages 138-140.
2) Matthew J. Raphael, op. cit., page 139.
Bill W. A Biography of Alcoholics Anonymous Cofounder Bill Wilson
"... I consider the AA people to be the most charming in the world. ...
Bush said he was a "heavy drinker." But let's not be coy here. Anyone who has ever imbibed heavily over a long period of time knows that "heavy drinker" is the rich man's (or the politician's) code for alcoholic.
Last updated 17 October 2015.