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Let’s look at the dogmatism in Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous and how the sober meeting participants are affected…


Does DOGMA have a place in the 12-step fellowships? 

Isn’t it Ironic: I’m compelled to be dogmatic in being against dogma in the rooms of AA/NA? It’s become a real concern in the last couple of years because it possibly does more harm than good. The podium throttling and pedantic tirades do work for some, but what about the others? The people with their arms belted around themselves in defiance, who walk-out with their eyes rolling and may never come back because the fire and brimstone message is a bit too much. Am I telling people how to share? No. I’m writing insomuch for the person(s) that are turned off and are on the brink of tuning out completely; they are pondering whether or not to come back to the rooms and currently the “zooms” of the twelve-step program. I understand that some cannot be reached no matter how sincere, loving, and therapeutic the environment, and there are innumerable factors that contribute to that reality. That’s an article for another day. 

Sure, it’s how we listen too. The filter in my head needs a cleansing now and then. WHAT’S the cleanser? Slow deep breaths; recognize close-mindedness; judgment, reflexive thinking, and emotions; the auto-suggestions compare, where I’m either superior or inferior. Growing tired of the repetition?

Conversely, repetition is one significant reason how and why the “program” works. Ears wide-open for what you identify with; as the old cliche goes, “listen for the similarities, not the differences.” No one person nor one group speak for the whole magical design that is the 12-step program. Please don’t glom onto one message or a messenger that you perceive as adversarial; some unfortunate event; a cross-talking heated debate to shove you out of the rooms. Personally, in retrospect, what’s been shared from love resonates today far more impactfully than what was said from the ego. Look and listen for the latter. 

Neither AA nor NA is a cult, though I do think some members wish it were. 

Where AA/NA is concerned is like a Social-psychological experiment. There are natural leaders, gifted orators, vibrant personalities; clicks develop that beget a “show-circuit.” You have people on the periphery, the more quiet, introverted, and modest alike. People naturally want to impress and leave their mark, particularly in a general society that teaches performance matters most. The principles of unity, autonomy, anonymity, fellowship, humility, and comity keep the 12-step fellowship from being corrupted and controlled by individuals and outside influences. 

The first meeting I ever attended was in 1988; I was eighteen. My recovery date is April 19th, 1998…so, I gave ten years in receiving my Ph.D. in bad decisions. 

I experienced approximately seven relapses in ten years. That’s me being dragged in and moshing out of jail, detoxes, recovery houses, many twelve step-meetings, going through three different sponsors (those poor guys)…, and all the family support anyone in my position could ask for. I had my own particular form of *education,* aided by an undeveloped ego that had me acting like a “ghetto snob.” I read (with the attention span of a flea having bit someone on crack) a sentence here, a *whole* paragraph there, some AA and NA literature…So then I knew it all. 

If I was to playback all the statements that I’ve made sharing, speaking in the rooms to my peers in recovery where I became a person? I’d likely scold, raise my hand and instead wag a finger at myself with embarrassment, but I would finish by hugging myself with that of compassion and (of course) empathy; I can do that when it’s me; so, WE must do the same for others. In a way, I can expel my not-so-tasteful public displays of the past. Namely: I took myself and my story too seriously, and you had to know what I was about even though I didn’t fully understand myself at the time! When I discovered something philosophically about life or clinically about addiction, I would bloviate with perfunctory bologna in a vain attempt to model myself after perceived-luminaries that were my seniors in sobriety/recovery years. “The greater the ignorance, the greater the dogmatism” is a quote by Canadian Scientist William Osler. That statement best described me as “growing up” in recovery. 

Most of us grew up with a form of dogmatism, whether by religion, school, politics, method parenting, environment, and culture. When I was a newcomer in meetings, I was not averse to the dogma in the rooms. My head was cloudy. I didn’t have much conviction; unless it was about music. Other than that, I was clueless. My ignorance was not blissful, and it was painful. I knew I didn’t know much, and I was impressionable; notably, a certain amount of ideology worked for me, and evidently, a significant amount of other people. They’re a set of spiritual principles, “an ingredient,” and *steps* that serve individuals as suggested guidelines, and finding/creating a Higher Power, in other words, a GOD of your understanding to care for you, these are the fundamentals in the twelve-step program; AND I Love it!  My Umbridge is how some people deliver (though maybe well-intentioned) a message that is black n’ white, absolute, and “preachy.” If nothing else, some recovering addicts are guilty of taking their story and applying it as the official doctrine to all that come in after themselves.

Avail it to Mark Twain’s quote: “All generalizations are false, including this one.” The senior members’ responsibility is to honor our story’s facts (both past and present) and allow the newcomer to personalize the program for themselves, with guidance and suggestions by the old-timer. However, some people respond to the proverbial “kick in the butt” approach. No uniform approach works for all, specifically when recovering from a brain disease like addiction, and all is its underlying causes and co-occurring/co-morbidities. 

When I was once lecturing, ugh, I meant sharing “my experience strength and hope” at a meeting. A Bertrand Russell’s quote best comes to mind: “Dogmatism is the greatest of mental obstacles to happiness.” Suffice to share: I was such a blowhard, a preachy mess. I felt ugly inside, and I assuredly made some others in that room feel the same, if but for a short time. Whatever sort of joy I had was overridden by Self-Righteousness and arrogance; that propagates, “I have something to say” attitude. In contemporary nomenclature? “I had to break it off.” Pfft. 

“The world is so full of possibilities that dogmatism is simply indecent,” ~ Albert Einstien. Reliable old Albert happened to be right about a lot… In a world where we are acquiring information rapidly, we can know so much at the click of a button and the old-fashioned way of sitting still? is tranquil, where the power of listening, sharing, connecting, and quieting the noise is unmatched. With this information about ourselves and our condition, we (I) can be so much more creative with our recovery. It may take one book, one message, which leads to many messages and books that add color to life. 

This piece is just a piece of my story, an empirical and anecdotal purging if you will. Some will agree, some will disagree; one thing is sure, this opinion is based on my experience.

When engaging in DOGMA, I’m saying (I) “AMGOD.”

I’ll leave you with this: “Those who preach with joy preach without preaching.” Mother Teresa.

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Written by Billy Schreurs

Addiction Intervention and Recovery Coaches


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