Life married to an alcoholic

September 2, 2008

What I don’t like about AA and Al-anon

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — tiredwife @ 5:11 pm

I’ve been thinking about why I constantly put off going to Al-anon, or why I make excuses not to go, and I think I’ve discovered a large part of it. It is a religious based organization. I am not of a “main stream” religion, and I don’t want to “release my problems to God”

I know they SAY that you can pick whatever higher power you prefer, but it is still largely Christian based, and when they speak of a God, they are using Christian rationale and Christian beliefs. Which is fine. If you are of that religion. And what of my husband who waivers between agnosticism and atheism? What would his higher power be?

I’m not saying it’s not a good program. I’m not saying that it hasn’t helped TONS of people. I (somewhat hypocritically) recommend it here. I even link to it in the side bar over there.

Anyway, here is a list of the 12 steps. They are the same for AA and Al-anon, you just apply them differently.

1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable. This, I can relate to

2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Not so much this one. I have the power to let go. I have the power to make my choices. I don’t leave this up to a higher power

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

I practice free will. I believe we are responsible for our own lives, and own wills. I don’t turn that over to a higher power.

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

This I can get on board with. I think all of us living with an addict need to do this. Less of a moral inventory and more of a “this is why” inventory. We need to search ourselves and find out WHY we married addicts, why we are staying and what we need to do about it.

5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

This, again, I can get on board with. Again though, not all of us believe we have to confess our sins to a higher power.

6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

This, I don’t like. I don’t believe that a higher power “fixes” our character defect. I believe that only WE have that power. And that it is something you do for yourself. This entire phrase or step grates on my nerves. To me, it implies that it isn’t your fault you’re an addict. It’s God’s fault for making you defective.

7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

Still believe you do this yourself. You have to work on it, and it isn’t easy, but it’s not something that God will magically fix for you.

8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

No problems here

9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

Still doing well

10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

I like this one. Makes you take responsibility for your actions.

11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

This has nothing to do with alcoholism or living with an alcoholic. This is purely religious in nature.

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

No real issues here. It does sound a lot like the witnessing that some religions do, however.

Let me make it clear now, I have no issues with whatever religion you choose to be. I am not knocking Christianity or any other religions out there. They just aren’t mine. You will notice, I did not mention what my religion is. It doesn’t really matter what it is. It’s different enough that I am uncomfortable with the a lot of the points in the 12 steps.

Really, what does religion have to do with addiction at all? Why blame God? Why expect God to fix you? I don’t see where religion (any religion) has to enter the equation at all.

Sadly Al-anon is pretty much the only support group for those of us associated with alcoholics that I know about. It might be nice to meet others going through this as well.’

I also tend to use this blog as therapy. The anonymous factor seems to help. The brutal honesty that I’m trying to convey seems to help as well.



  1. If it is brutal honesty that you want, alcoholism is a personal affliction.

    Avoiding treatment by focusing on the basis of Faith is not accepting treatment if in fact you are seeking treatment.

    If you are not seeking treatment, why not just let people heal themselves how they want to.

    Religion is tied to Faith. Faith is what you need to stop drinking. faith in yourself first and foremost and when it gets too tough for you to go it alone, then that higher power is there for your support.

    That Greater Power doesn’t have to be God you know. It could be your own conviction to make a choice that you have never been able to make on your own. That is Faith.

    I wish you well. I should note that I have never felt I needed to go into treatment. My Higher Power as it turns out is my family. Two boys 10 and 13 and a third to be born any day now.

    That higher power can be pretty much anything that you want it to be but you do need to Your Choice.

    Your choice to stop drinking.
    Your choice to accept help.
    Your choice.

    Again, I wish you well.

    Comment by E_Dragon — September 2, 2008 @ 6:06 pm

    • Alcoholism is a disease, not a choice. Please study the subject before making uninformed statements like this.

      Comment by smorss2011 — May 5, 2014 @ 7:16 pm

    “There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which can not fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance-that principle is contempt prior to investigation.”

    That’s from the Big Book. Try it, if you don’t like it, they will refund your misery. You have nothing to lose and a world of serenity to gain. You are in my thoughts.

    Comment by Lydia — September 2, 2008 @ 7:47 pm

  3. People are free to seek treatment in any way they wish. My husband, if he so chooses, is free to go to AA if he wishes.

    I am saying that I believe I am putting off going to al-anon because of what I’ve read and heard first hand of the religious aspect. If it were just a “higher power” it wouldn’t specifically mention “God” numerous times.

    Again, I am not saying who should or should not seek treatment, nor am I saying who should or should not go to al-anon. I am saying that I don’t believe it is correct FOR ME.

    Comment by tiredwife — September 3, 2008 @ 6:47 am

  4. I agree with you totally. I dont believe AA or Alanon is for me either. I would much rather have a support group were we can vent and get suggestions and support from one another.

    Comment by Dina — September 4, 2008 @ 1:55 pm

  5. As a powerfully agnostic spiritual seeker I would humbly just put out there that Al-Anon is not about God or religion. The whole surrender to a higher power thing (as I understand it) has mostly to do with releasing control, blame and responsibility, not just with regards to alcoholism, but with relationships in general. The higher power thing can be approached as an exercise in surrender. (You didn’t cause it; you can’t control it; you can’t cure it.)

    I regularly attended meetings for 7 years (up until a year ago), and I’ll tell you that I can relate; the God thing was the biggest hurdle that I had to overcome before I could relax into the benefits of the program in my first year. I resolved it in my own way, in my own heart, and I’m grateful beyond words for the well being I have in my life today that would very likely not have been possible had I not spent the time in program.

    Best of health and luck in whatever path you ultimately follow.


    Comment by Katie Starlets — September 10, 2008 @ 1:00 pm

    • I just attended my first and only Al-Anon meeting and I don’t know what you folks are reading/hearing when you say the literature isn’t directly Christian or that it can be about whatever your personal higher power is. Because, they end with the Lord’s Prayer for goodness sakes! That’s not Hindu, sure ain’t Buddhist and all the literature in the many pamphlets I reluctantly took at the meeting refer to God and “one” (monotheistic) and “Him”. Of course you folks that think there’s one god and he’s male are down with this and want the rest of us to just focus on the positive. But what if your next meeting was moderated by a Hindu and they mingled in “many Gods” and “Her” into the literature when referring to god. Would you be able to look past it if they closed with a bit of prayer to Allah taken from the Koran. That’s what you’re expecting the rest of us to do. I realize people like me will look for reasons not to attend and open up because this stuff is scary and uncomfortable, but there are certain things that add to a feeling of peer pressure and “go along so you don’t stand out” that have no business in a meeting like Al-Anon. We’re already opening our hearts and feeling vulnerable and trying to trust strangers and ourselves…it’s just not the time to weasel particular views into discussion. I agree that this journey needs to be spiritual, I believe in a Creator, I just don’t want an Al-Anon group to directly or indirectly support one kind of god. Everyone says “it doesn’t matter what you believe in…it’s not about a religion, just a higher power- whatever your higher power is” but then monotheistic, male god is mentioned and a lengthy prayer from the Bible is performed as we all join hands and bow our heads. I won’t let this keep me from progressing. I will continue to work with my therapist and perhaps I’ll start my own group of folks who can do this work together, even sharing spiritual ideas that have helped them, but without mingling one way of thinking into the literature and practice of the group. This is supposed to be a group that won’t judge but worming little ideas about god (that the majority accepts) into the group completely destroys open-forum and the trust of those like me. That’s unfortunate and pretty tacky.

      Comment by Kristy — April 23, 2010 @ 11:13 am

  6. To be honest, this is the same reason that I avoided Al Anon for the years I was married to my x-husband. That marriage ended bitterly, and he is still very active in his addiction. I never had a sense of peace when we shared a household, and eventually my love for him turned into resentment, and I had to leave.

    After that I was cautious to enter a relationship, and did so with a man who was completely sober. I found out later (when I already had strong feelings) that he had 5, going on 6, years of sobriety after nearly 20 years of abuse and addiction. I never really expected him to relapse, so when he did, I felt so devastated. He is so much to me – the best man I have ever loved.

    So now I have become desperate to save myself from myself and to find peace of mind. The Al Anon group I found is a literature group. The group takes turns reading and then whoever wants to comment after a section may at will. The experience so far has been one of sharing and compassion.

    I have had a hard time defining my higher power, but recently blogged about it. My HP is not “God” – although I was raised in the Christian tradition (nauseates me now to think of it!) I see my HP as an extension of myself – as the great soul that is me – like I am just a part of this consciousness – that is both my creator and myself. It is almost hard to put into words (which is odd for me) but my higher power is my higher self – the me that I am meant to become. So I turn everything over to that great potential and believe that I have the power to move forward.

    Nothing in the Al Anon literature that I have heard or read is directly Christian. Of course, I live in Seattle… and everyone knows we’re a bunch of godless liberals up here!

    Comment by poetreearborist — September 26, 2008 @ 11:42 am

  7. I decided not to join al-anon because it focuses too much on the alcoholic being the victim with a “disease” and it doesn’t focus on the real victims. Al-anon I feel puts blame on the family, not those damned alcoholics that deserve it. Sorry, they don’t have a disease. Cancer is a disease. My depression from dealing with an alcohlic is a disease.

    Comment by Girl — October 6, 2008 @ 6:46 am

    • I understand and agree

      Comment by Audrey Matson — November 1, 2013 @ 4:11 pm

    • Sorry to break it to you, but it IS a disease. The brain rewires, and the disease is progressive. It might feel good to blame, but it is no different than blaming someone for having cancer.

      Comment by smorss2011 — May 5, 2014 @ 7:19 pm

  8. The mistake many people make relating to the “Higher Power” concept in AA and Al-Anon is that it is about religion or God, as in Christian God. While it is true that the majority of attendees will happen to believe in a christian God, there is no judgment based on the “Higher Power” of choice. The idea is that I am no longer required to suffer alone – how wonderful and freeing is that? What a relief! You are completely missing the point and the wonderful support available to you in these life saving programs. God bless.

    Comment by Adoc — October 7, 2008 @ 12:56 pm

  9. AA and Alanon are not Religions they are a form of recovery Group theropy if you will. Because people talk about “GOD” doesn’t make it a religion. The 12 steps says plainly “A Higher Power AS YOU UNDERSTAND IT”

    That doesn’t make it Jesus,or Satin just what you believe. The AA Big book has a section on the Agnostic please take the time to read it. There are more Christians in the US tan any other Religion so why wouldn’t you expect most members of AA and Alanon to speak of there Higher Power as a Christian God?
    It says from a Meeting you should “TAKE WHAT YOU NEED AND LEAVE THE REST” This most usefull when religion comes up if they are talking about god use what they are saying and aply it to your higher Power.

    Comment by STLALANON — November 25, 2008 @ 8:42 am

  10. Just for one example of how an atheist fits into 12-stepping, I am an atheist and an AA member with 19 months and change sober. My form of spirituality is philisophical Taoism. I don’t believe in any deity, creative force, guiding intelligence, deterministic fate, plan, or purpose in the universe. But I do believe that things work a certain way, and that the web of cause and effect is so large and complex that I can only understand a small portion of it.

    The steps involving the higher power taking this away and restoring that, I relate to them by addressing it like this: ‘I do not fully understand this, nor do I need to. I need to understand that there is a problem here and that it causes chaos in my life and the lives of those around me. When I allow myself to act in these destructive ways, I am acting against the Tao, which is the simple flow of cause and effect around me. I need to open my eyes, identify how to act in harmony with those around me rather than in discord, and choose the simple actions available to me right now to reach that harmony. I need to do it over and over again, like steps along a path, and as I make the choice to take each step, my goal must be constant: the step now that will fit with a sober and happy life rather than my old life of hiding from reality in a bottle while things go to hell around me, unaddressed.’

    (or words/thoughts to that effect)

    and, yeppers, there are a LOT of christians and christianity in AA. Some of them give me funny looks when I speak about my higher power in a meeting. That’s their choice. Most of them listen to what I say and mentally cast it in terms of their own higher power, though… in other words, they take what works for them and leave the rest, which is one of the minor principles of the program.

    I used to bristle when christian members talked about god or Jesus… now I do the same thing I just detailed. They say, for example, “everything happens for a reason”. I agree with them, but they mean god is guiding events and taking action on their behalf, and I mean that cause and effect is a simple and universal law, actions have consequences, I am responsible for what happens in my life, and I need to act accordingly.

    There are other atheists and agnostics here and there in the rooms. And others. My sponsor is a deist… subscribes to no religion, yet believes that there is some divine guiding force in the universe.

    For the most part, there is a lot of tolerance in the rooms. In some there may not be; when there is religious lockstep, the best thing to do is find a different meeting, that’s all.

    Does my HP ‘fix’ things for me? Not in the sense of taking an active role; that is flatly impossible. But it still does. I just accept that there are things at play in the universe that I cannot control, and I take the actions that I can. Letting go of anger and fear and the feeling of being impotent over some things is pretty powerful.

    Before AA, I would run up against something I couldn’t fix, get angry, stay angry, go over and over how unfair it was in my mind, and drive myself so nuts that I’d drink just to get some oblivion so I wouldn’t have to think about it any more.

    Now I go, ‘damn, I can’t do anything about this,’ and find something productive to do.

    Not bad for a godless dude, huh?

    Comment by Stuart B — December 19, 2008 @ 11:33 am

  11. Some people definitely need to stay off the booze, cos they do so much damage to themselves and others when they do drink. These types, like I am, cannot drink moderately or safely. WE need to stay off it ALTOGETHER. Putting the booze down is relatively easy. Staying away from it for good is not easy. Unless one’s character and reasoning and whole outlook on life changes, one will, for sure drink again, and the whole cycle repeats itself. AA is one program, of many available that helps the individual change his/her character so that the destructive drinking cycle is broken. It is semantically spiritual in nature, and its methodology maps easily and readily onto similar cognitive programs that choose not to mention God. If you are desperate to stop drinking cos your life is tragically f****d up, you will grab at anything which has a track record of having worked for others and not question or analyse to much. A drowning man does not criticise the colour and shape of the life raft that is sent to rescue him.

    Comment by Simon — January 21, 2009 @ 10:51 am

  12. I totally get where you’re coming from and for years I’ve struggled with this same issue. I’ve tried Al-anon several times over the years, but the religious overtones have always made me feel uncomfortable. I know I “should” be able to translate it into something meaningful to me, but I have not been very successful at doing that. Yet, I do sometimes feel like I’m missing something by not being able to get over it. To make matters worse, since I’ve moved to the south, I’ve actually attended meetings where they say the “Our Father”! Now tell me that’s not religious. It actually creates a knot in my stomach and makes me feel like I can’t relate to the people there if their group conscience has told them that it’s ok to use a standard, obvious Christian prayer in their meetings without any regard or concern for the possibility that there may be non-Christians in the group. Religion is more pervasive around here than in most northern cities, and as a result it seems to intensify my deep-seated feelings of being an “outsider,” which is ostensibly one of the big issues support groups are supposed to help. “You are not alone” — yet in groups like this, I tend to feel more alone than ever.

    Comment by Jf — January 29, 2009 @ 9:02 am

  13. I share(d) many of your concerns, but found Alanon a life-changing experience. First, you need to find a good meeting, not just a meeting. Second, ignore the hocus/pocus aspect and just assume that it helps other people to find comfort. The important part is being in a place where you find that you are not alone in your problems, fears, or problems. For me, the Higher Power is the power of the guys in my home meeting, which has grown to over 100 guys. Guys who share their feelings, cry, hug, and profess their love for each other. The Steps work for some as a magic talisman, or a rabbit’s foot. As for me, I believe they work because of logical principles.
    If you give up trying to be in control, you will find peace, as will your partner. If you have faith that things will work out, you will be more relaxed, and better able to give up the fight for control. Next, comes serious introspection, and the willingness to change your part in your interaction with the world. Suddenly, you will find yourself with more friends and less conflict. Then, comes an inventory of the wrongs you have committed, and a commitment not to do them anymore. In sum, we give up trying to control other people’s behavior, we take responsibility for our own, we try to change our behavior, we apologize for our transgressions. We hang out with a group of like-minded people, working to be better (but not perfect). It’s no mystery why our lives improve. Sometimes our “qualifier” (your husband) improves as well. Sometimes, we leave them behind. Sometimes, we just accept that they are seriously flawed, but choose to remain with them. (I don’t think I would, but others do, for some period).
    Good luck. Shop around for a really good meeting. It may be co-ed, maybe a women’s meeting.

    Comment by Denny Crane — February 21, 2009 @ 8:06 pm

    • Your qualifier is YOU… you are qualified to attend Al-Anon because you are affected by alcoholism. End of story. The use of the word “qualifier” NEVER appears in Al-Anon’s Conference-Approved Literature because it comes from rehab centers, not Al-Anon.

      Comment by Sarah — April 3, 2013 @ 6:57 am

  14. “3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”

    I tried AA, I really did, but I couldn’t get past the third step because I believe in free will, and whether there is a God or not, he doesn’t control our will.

    Comment by Blue — May 13, 2009 @ 11:59 am

    • of course He doesn’t control your will….that’s why you drink, silly… that’s why I make mistakes…. envoking some guidance to help me make better choices is what the HP is all about… our BEST THINKING got us to where we are now… so how’s that working for ya?

      Comment by Sarah — April 3, 2013 @ 6:53 am

  15. How would one progress through the steps if they are truly Taoist?

    I am reading more material about taoism in modern life to try to figure out how to use it approppriately within the context of the 12 steps.

    I would love to hear any incite from someone who knows a lot about taoism or who has actually used the Tao to go through these steps.

    Thank you very much. I have had moderate success on four different attempts in the past 13 years but always seem to get hung up because no one can officially advise me at the meetings in my area and they (sponsors and other long-timers) all try to tell me just use God–thus I have not had success

    Comment by Nick — August 24, 2009 @ 11:16 pm

    • I have been going through the same thing. I got involved with my alcohol teacher in college and he has been horrible to me for the last 10 months. I finally checked him into a detox center after i couldn’t take it anymore now he comes out and is so busy with aa meetings and making himself the victim it’s crazy. I went to one aa meeting, and being raised in a pentecostal family part of my childhood, I saw it right away! It is a very flawed group and I agree completely with this post. Why should there be prayer and a money cup passed around at all. They also have the social “clicks” as do most churches and preach you will always be bad so you must stay with us to be good. How is this healing a person. It’s like a doctor keeping you sick just to keep you coming back. I’m so mad about this I am ready to leave him…I just have the whole school thing. I found out he did this to another student while drunk but he married her and it lasted for 2 weeks and she dropped out. I know this will hurt me in school and he says its my fault like aa preaches. Where is the cure for the lies they tell and the people they hurt?? He was so drunk when I first went into his office and I had no clue what an alcoholic even was before this. What about the abuse. Is the abuse person now able to call their anger, hurt and depression a disease??? Not according to aa!!!

      Comment by AGF — January 28, 2011 @ 6:25 pm

    • ‘nuf said. it don’t work without letting go of the ego-driven idea that you have some sorta influence over crap that ain’t yours to begin with….

      Comment by Sarah — April 3, 2013 @ 6:49 am

  16. Perhaps you are not interested, but Al-Anon is not –in fact — a “religious” organization, but a spiritual fellowship. Atheism and any other kind of “ism” are welcomed. Many in Al-Anon believe GOD to be Good Orderly Direction. (As simple-minded as that may seem, imagine how bad off you would be without anything like good orderly direction.) Frankly, Al-Anon is not for everyone, but wholesale rejecting religion cuts me off from a lot of people’s experience that I could benefit me. I have learned that other’s religious beliefs are not mine and really do not concern me. Their success, however, can be of great importance. [Religion concerns the rules, roles, rituals, and stories, to achieve “enlightenment.” Al-Anon takes great pains to keep those religious things out.]

    Comment by hank — May 3, 2010 @ 11:18 am

  17. I’m struggling with this now. Fiance went into a rehab and I’m expected to follow along with their family program which is al-anon and 12 steps. I don’t like the 12 steps, mostly for the reasons you have listed. I also find it absurd that a treatment facility, with medical and psychological staff still use such an outdated method for treatment. Bill W had a “vision” to start AA during a hallucination. We’re taking advice from a man who was not in his right mind. No thanks.

    Comment by mary — December 22, 2010 @ 11:21 am

  18. God gives free will to do anything, think what you want, believe what you want. Only those who look and are choosen will find God’s son and be saved. So dont feel under pressure from anyone about this issue. It is your choice due to your free will. But if you dont look for him you will be lost for ever. Our souls are everlasting so that is a long time. Many diffrent sources have proved this. Given the world stage and the abuses going on throughout everywhere. It makes many people looking to find something or someone to help them to cope with life. Usually it easier to choie Drugs, drinks, anger, fear etc,, Then they end up at Al-anon or rehab and end up mixing up ideas until they figure out to cope.

    Comment by kimberly — October 7, 2013 @ 2:05 am

  19. I would like to find a faith based support group, stygma says christians dont have these issues , we are the worst! I want to handle it from s biblical perspective, not of Self! Not how the world would handle it, but how Jesus would, thank you if you know of any organization

    Comment by julie zehendner — January 14, 2016 @ 9:18 am

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