10 Rebuttals to 12-Step Naysayers


So here we are, mid-January.  For those of us who made resolutions, this is right about the time the wheels fall off the wagon.  If your resolution was to stop drinking,  and you have made it this far, you are surely having some of the following thoughts:

“Well, I made it two weeks, so I’m sure it will be okay to just have one now and again.”

“I made it two weeks, so clearly I am not an alcoholic.”

“I made it two weeks, and there is no way in hell I’m doing this for the rest of my life!”

If you are going it alone, the journey can be quite a bit tougher than for those who choose a fellowship of some sort.  If you have read my blog for any period of time, you know that I am a regular participant in a 12-step program, and that is has helped me tremendously, not only in helping me to get and stay sober, but also in improving most areas of my life.  However, I am aware of many who are against meeting attendance, and the reasons are varied.  Today I am going to tackle some of the most common ones I’ve heard or read, and give my perspective on each:


1.  I cannot attend meetings because I don’t believe in God

At no point in the 12-step program is a belief in God a requirement.  However, in the long-term, if you wish to work the steps of the 12-step program, a belief in a power greater than yourself is required.  For many people, that power is the power of the Fellowship, but there are endless variations on what people choose to call their Higher Power.

Having said all of that, the idea in the beginning is to get connected with a group of people who are trying, or have gotten, sober.  There are no requirements at all for this, except for you to find a meeting, drive to it, sit down and listen.

2.  I won’t participate in a group whose doctrine forces me to admit powerlessness

I can relate to this one somewhat, it was hard for me to understand the concept of being powerless over alcohol.  I would argue, “Alcohol is an inanimate object, how I can I be powerless over an inanimate object?”  Powerlessness was then explained to me like this, which better resonated with me:  powerless over the effect alcohol has on me once I take that first drink.

The bottom line for me with this debate, and, frankly, quite a few of the others, is that arguing over semantics is a waste of time.  If I’ve considered the idea of attending a recovery meeting at all, then I am clearly dissatisfied, on some level, with my relationship with alcohol.  Until I’ve given it a real shot, I won’t really know if it can work for me.  I only know that what I have done so far to address the problem is not working.

3.  I experience too much anxiety to sit in a room full of strangers

Anxiety is a real issue; I’ve experienced my fair share of it (large crowds, not meetings, but I get it).  Of course, if you worry about experiencing anxiety in a meeting, surely you’ve experienced it elsewhere.  How have you dealt with it then?  Can you apply those same solutions here?  Can you sit in the very back of the room?  Can you negotiate with yourself that you will walk in and try it for 5 minutes?  There are probably loads more solutions to explore, but the idea is that you acknowledge what’s holding you back, and attempt to find a solution.

4.  I do want to stop drinking, but I don’t really think I’m like those people, so there’s nothing for me to gain by attending

Well, obviously I don’t know you, so I don’t know how our addiction stories compare.  But let’s leave the addiction story out of it for a minute.  I am a middle-aged, stay-at-home mom of 2 reasonably well-adjusted children.  I am 15 years married to my husband, and I am also a member of a large, close-knit, Irish Catholic family.  I hold a Master’s degree, and I have the same circle of friends that I did in college.  I run a weekly 12-step meeting, whose regular attendees include men and women, some retired, some white-collar, some blue-collar, some stay-at-home like myself.  There is a priest, there is a professor of english, there is a music instructor, there is a yoga instructor, there is an auto mechanic.  Some are married, some are divorced, some are widowed, and some are gay.  I would know none of them if I were not a 12-step meeting attendee, but I count each of them among my friends.  The group I just described is a small one; others that I attend with 50 or more people have still more occupations, and cultural backgrounds, and personalities.  Still think there is no one like you in a recovery meeting?

5.  AA is a cult

This one is tough for me to refute, as someone who believes this also believes that I’ve already “drunk the Kool-Aid.”  I will debate using Google’s definition:

  1. a system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object.
  2. a relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister

So, by definition, AA (or any 12-step program) is not religious, there is certainly no leader (or any governing body whatsoever), it is by no means a small group, and I can’t think of one practice that would be considered strange or sinister.  Pretty much everything you hear, every piece of instruction or advice you receive at a 12-step meeting, is a suggestion.

6.  12-step people think EVERYBODY is an alcoholic; I don’t want to turn into that kind of extremist

In the spirit of honesty, I will acknowledge that sure, I have run into some right-leaning personality types within the Fellowship (or would it be left-leaning?  I’m not sure, but you get the idea).  But for every one extremist, I have found literally a dozen or more quality, salt-of-the-earth people who are just looking to stay sober and increase the peace and serenity in their lives.  When I do run into that stray extremist, I simply walk away, or I attend a different meeting.  The absolute beauty of the 12-step Fellowship is the quantity and variety of meetings available.  There are gay meetings, there are atheist meetings, there are young people’s meetings, there are women’s meeting, men’s meetings, and probably a bunch more that I’m not seen myself.

7.  I don’t think I’m bad enough to qualify

This again goes back to the comparison of each other’s drinking stories.  I had very similar thoughts after I attended my first meeting.  The people there were talking about these crazy extreme things that happened to them as a result of their alcoholism, and nothing even close to that had happened to me.  Then, as my disease progressed, I came back, and now I had the same issue in reverse:  these people don’t understand me, they don’t have the specific issues I’m having, so these meetings can’t possibly help me.

Both trains of thought kept me in active addiction.  Here’s the bottom line:  deep down, are you concerned/uncomfortable/fearful of your relationship with alcohol, and do you desire that relationship to end?  Then you possess the sole requirement of attending a 12-step meeting.  The specifics of the individual stories are irrelevant, how we feel about alcohol is the only thing that matters.

8.  I don’t want people telling me what to do, telling me how I’m wrong, insisting I change my life around

Again, to keep things real here, there are certainly going to be individuals who, though well-intentioned, come off with a dictator-like attitude.  I remember my very first week, maybe my 4th meeting, this woman giving me a laundry list of things I “needed to do.”  I could barely get myself to the meeting, and now here’s this stranger giving me an impossible to-do list 4 days into recovery!  She meant well, as probably most do, but I was in no way ready for the things she was throwing at me.  I have since learned the phrase, “take what you want, and leave the rest” really applies.  If the idea of sponsorship scares you, again, we are only talking about giving recovery meetings a shot, and seeking out some group support.  Things like sponsors, and practicing the steps, all come at your own pace.

9.  I am an introvert, and I am terrified that people will hound me the second I’m in the door

I see introverts all the time, and I recognize them, because I was one in the early days.  I would say the majority of newcomers are shy; after all, the idea of sitting down with a group of strangers and admitting something that feels shameful would make almost anyone feel a bit nervous!  The truth is that every one of us has been there, in the seat of the newcomer, and every one of us empathizes.  You will in all likelihood have people come up to you and say hello, but if you make it clear (either verbally or non-verbally) that you wish to keep to yourself, it is my experience that the group will leave you alone to sit, listen and absorb.  If you choose to reach out and ask questions, more power to you, but if you want to simply observe, you are welcome to do so.

10.  But then I’ll have to stop drinking… forever

This may sound like a ridiculous statement for someone considering a 12-step meeting, but for those of us who struggled with the idea of “forever,” it makes perfect sense.  Attending meetings only means you are exploring the idea of sobriety.  There are no Breathalyzers, no contracts to sign, and you can change your mind about sobriety anytime you want (and we will cheerfully refund your misery is how that AA-ism ends!).  Technically speaking, you can be drinking and still attend meetings; as I mentioned earlier, “the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking,” so there’s nothing stopping you from leaving the meeting and hitting the closest bar (though I surely hope no one decides to do that if you’re attempting to get sober!).


What arguments have I missed?  What are the other stumbling blocks to checking out the group support of a recovery meeting?


Today’s Miracle:

Writing posts like this one, and reminding myself of where I’ve been mentally, and the progress I’ve made, is a miracle that I hope all who are struggling get to experience for themselves!



Posted on January 15, 2015, in Recovery and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 37 Comments.

  1. This is great, Josie. You did a wonderful job breaking down some of the fears about AA. The point I agree with the most is that there are definitely salt of the earth, quality people just looking for a little peace and support staying sober. These are the same people who really helped me when I went to meetings. You can get as involved as you want and take what you need and leave the rest. Truly.

    The fears I had in the beginning were all basically fear of the unknown. I remember saying to someone “what if I see someone I know at a meeting?” and they said “wouldn’t they be there for the same reason?” When I finally did bump into someone I knew – months later – it was actually a cool moment. It was like recognizing a kindred soul and it made me feel more connected and less alone.

    Liked by 1 person

    • OMG, Kristen, that is a great one that I forgot! AND I have a story that relates (of course):

      The summer before I hit my bottom I was attending meetings, trying and failing to stay sober. Anyway, I was at a meeting which happened to be held in the church part of the church (rather than the more typical meeting room part of the church). So I’m sitting in the pew, glancing around, and I spy the grandmother of my daughter’s very close friend, at the meeting but on the other side of the main aisle of the church.

      I do not think, I simply react: I slide, as though I’m boneless, down to the kneeler of the pew, I crawl out of the pew, and then slink out the back of the church.

      I’m thinking about it now and laughing myself silly… imagine what the people behind me were thinking as I did this 🙂

      Later, when I realized (DUH!) the logic your friend gave (that she was there for the same reason I was), I went back to that meeting, and she became a great friend in recovery for me. She has over 40 years of sobriety (can you imagine?!?), and never broke my anonymity. She wound up being a blessing in disguise!

      Thanks for adding this point, Kristen!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love this. I think there is a lot of power in attending your first meeting. It is a true act of acknowledgement that there is a problem, and a concrete step towards recovery.

    I am going to share this on my blog. Your words are so wise.



  3. Reblogged this on ainsobriety and commented:
    Are you thinking about trying a meeting? Here is some excellent advice to help you decide.

    Sometimes the things that scare us the most are exactly what we need.



  4. I went to a few meetings in another town a couple of years ago when I was feeling so desperate for help. It took all the courage and bravery I could muster up to walk in those doors. I really felt a sense of community and acceptance there. I would consider more meetings closer to me but my biggest fear is seeing someone I know that would somehow break my anonymity. This fear, if it happened, could have several negative effects on my life I am not yet able to face. I want so badly to be part of a group in real life, but I have so many fears about it as well.
    I think I’m closer to trying it again, b/c I do feel very lonely and isolated sometimes. Thank you for this post:)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I really appreciate you sharing this story in the comments, boy did I miss the boat on a major reason that keeps people away! I have so much empathy for what you are describing, and your pain must feel even deeper because you have experienced the community, so you understand what you are missing.

      Only you can be the judge in weighing the negative effects of being “discovered” in the rooms of a 12-step fellowship versus the gains of the power and support of a like-minded community. Given that our common goal, i.e improving our lives through sobriety, is such a noble one, it is a shame that anyone should have to worry about negative effects.

      I hope you can figure out a way to connect with others while protecting your anonymity, and, if you do, I hope to read about it soon! Thanks so much for the comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. 🙂 My personal one now is: ‘I don’t fit into groups’ and also ‘Groups scare me.’ I am pretty strong in the reason 2 on the power (lessness) issue. I guess it matches my power issue. 😀
    But what troubles me most is the idea that I have of the people ‘there’ and in my mind ‘they’ have the same nasty, pointing finger as the duck in the cartoon. :-/ No, I know that is not true. Some day I’ll have finished with my issues and get there. Or would that be another reason? 😉
    I am doing fine as I am, without AA so far. I do guess some day I go to meetings. AA is my last resort – don’t want to use it all up now. (reason 523) Ooh, and what about this one: when I break my leg I don’t go to meetings either. 🙂
    One I am not very proud of: I do not want to associate myself with ‘those’ people (being alcoholics). Hmmm, now THAT is an issue I need to work on first and foremost. Not nice. :-/

    Josie, did I give you enough to continue? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • You absolutely validate my entire post, so I appreciate the comment greatly! I hope that, should you find yourself struggling and in need of support, you could possibly re-read this and consider the alternative suggestions I’ve offered as a different perspective.

      On the other hand, if whatever path you choose is bringing the outcome you are seeking, then by all means I celebrate that path! My post is targeted to those who struggle with their addiction, yet feel unwilling to give the 12-step community a try. From what I’ve read in your blog you are doing splendidly, so I think you should absolutely continue your amazing success!

      Thanks for the comment, and…

      Liked by 2 people

      • I am celebrating my path yes and thank you for acknowloging my path – I had not realised that I have longed to hear that.
        I am learning shit loads, sometimes more than I think I can handle. I think by the time I start feeling that this might stop I will continue with AA. Apart from the nutritional stuff I did I think that knowledge on addiction is very important but what makes it fun (litterally) to me is the personal development that I am noticing.


  6. Ooh my! Reading my post back and it sounds like an addict in denial! Wow. Pfffff. Sigh. Not again.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. You’re asking for “stumbling blocks” that keep people from attending meetings. While I understand wanting to correct misconceptions, I think it’s important to honor people’s individual preferences. Besides, isn’t AA supposed to work through attraction, not promotion (or persuasion)?

    The primary reason I don’t attend meetings is for the same reason I don’t go to lots of activities in my community. They simply don’t interest me.

    A second reason is because AA, while not being a cult, is indeed religious in nature, at least according to the Supreme Court. I’m not into religion or really even anything spiritual.

    And a third reason – yes – is the doctrine of powerlessness. Because while people may *feel* powerless, the research shows that alcohol-dependent people actually have far more control over their drinking behaviors – even after they’ve taken their first drink – than they think they do.

    For me, I prefer a science- and research-based approach to problem-solving, rather than a folk-movement from the 1930’s. That being said, I don’t begrudge people who choose AA, any more than I begrudge people who find Jesus or practice yoga. Everyone should do what works best for them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment, SC, and I appreciate you listing your reasons for your disinterest in attending meetings. I will have to check out the research you described.

      I could not agree with you more that it is an entirely individual choice what path of recovery one chooses to take, and I’m glad you understand my post is simply about my take on certain misconceptions. I have neither the right nor the desire to speak on behalf of any fellowship, I am merely offering my opinion on a subject near and dear to my heart. Of course, that’s the fun of getting to write your own blog, right? 🙂

      I have many blogging friends who have found a beautiful and peaceful sober life without a 12-step program, and I respect their sobriety immensely. It is one of the reasons I cherish the blogosphere, being able to connect with so many different ways of achieving the same goal! My post was more or less directed to the reader who is struggling with sobriety, but feels like he or she “can’t” go to a meeting for one reason or another. I wanted to debunk some of the myths associated with meetings so that a struggling individual could at least give one more avenue a try.

      In any event, I am glad you could provide another perspective to consider, and I appreciate you taking the time to read my blog!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Great post, Josie. I think there is a line between those who are afraid to enter the rooms and those who want to bash it. Contempt prior to investigation comes to mind, and clearly you are leaning on the gentler side of coaxing those who may be on the border of coming to AA rather than those who have already set in their mind that it’s a cult and all that nonsense. So I am VERY happy you are taking this soft approach – attraction not promotion. (As to SC’s point on this, we are discussing 12 step in a recovery blog, so the setting is there. Also, we can own our recovery and speaking about it isn’t the promotion – our actions as recovering / recovered alcoholics is the attraction. Saying that AA is the only way and step right up here is promotion. If promotion was that limited then 12 step wouldn’t have pamphlets and other informations available. Info is different than promotion.)

    I had some of these concerns – namely the social ones. I am introverted and really have a hard time introducing myself to a stranger. The only exception is when I see they are a newcomer. Then it’s prety much automatic for me. But for the three or four people in the corner laughing and smiling? I skip them over to get a cookie…lol. But that’s my deal and nothing about the groups – I know that if I DID introduce myself, I would be welcomed.

    Anyway, I am babbling! Fantastic piece, Josie – lots of newcomers and wanna-be-newcomers should have a read at this. Wonderful.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Wait, you have cookies at your meetings? Can I come? 😉

      Thanks for this comment, Paul. I think it helps to highlight some of the difficulties we face as individuals, and how in overcoming them we’ve been able to reap the benefits of fellowship and community.

      And I really appreciate your explanation of the attraction/promotion debate, I doubt I could have articulated it nearly as clearly, nor as eloquently. Many thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Paul, I would add one more class of people to your categories. There are the people who are interested but afraid; there are the bashers; but there are also the simply uninterested. To use an analogy, there are some people who want to do MMA but are afraid, there are some people who think MMA is barbaric because they watched it once on TV, and there are some people who would just rather do Aikido.

    I freely admit that I’m not a member of AA, so the intricacies of attraction vs. promotion and the other principles might have escaped me. But just like any other organization, there are a few jerk-asses who get all the attention and give it a bad name, and lots of great people who fly under the radar. The same thing often happens in organized religion.

    I know at least three people (myself included) who have been put off by what I think are derisively called “Program Nazis” by AA members themselves. In one instance, I went to a meeting as moral support for a friend who was trying to kick a pill habit and was afraid to go by herself. After the meeting, some hard-ass woman came up to us and belittled her for not being brave enough to come alone. It’s stories like that, I think, that turn people off.

    On the flip side, I’ve had two coworkers who proudly identified as AA members and they were absolutely wonderful human beings. If I ever decided to change my mind and hit up a meeting, I’d go with one of them.


  10. Josie, I wanted to say thanks so much for writing this. I used to think AA was terrible, in part because of my own prejudices, and in part for some of the reasons you mention above. A couple of years ago, I went to a couple of meetings and had mixed feelings, but I wasn’t committed to not drinking again and I didn’t go back. Now that it’s been just over a year since I really have quit drinking, it might seem strange that I have been thinking about going to a meeting. But it’s people like you, who sound so sane and reasonable and make meetings sound like such a great thing, that have made me think that I might really benefit from the in-person support from like-minded people. (It would be great to know some real live sober people, too, and it seems like an obvious place to find them!) Anyway, thanks for the great post! xo

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Thirsty, for the lovely comment! I can tell you that several of my “real life” 12-step friends came into the Fellowship for the very same reason… they were able to get sober, but found that simply removing alcohol from their lives was not the answer. For them, the support and empathy that can only come from like-minded people provided that extra “something” that made sobriety meaningful. I think the key to the magic of 12-step meetings is two-fold: the proper frame of mind, and finding a group that works for you. I look forward to hearing if you give it another shot!


  11. Great piece. Will definitely save this one to pass around!


  12. Reblogged this on Process Not An Event and commented:
    A great piece by Josie at Miracles Around the Corner, on 12-step naysayers . . .


  13. I think this is brilliant!!! I used all of these and have heard all of these and your responses are wonderful. They are kind and thoughtful and right on target.

    I attended AA for about 6 months and often say it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. It showed me that while I had been sober prior to walking through those doors, I had not been in recovery. I worked the steps with a sponsor and came out so much better on the other side.

    But then, I was done. I knew in my heart of hearts that it was not the path for me and I stopped going. No regrets, no shame just a heart filled with gratitude. There was never any pressure to keep going, no ultimatums, no Jesus Jamming, just heartfelt love and understanding.

    We all have our own paths to follow and races to run but I’m going to use a phrase my dad used quite a lot, “Don’t knock it til you’ve tried it.”



    • Thanks for the kind words, Sherry. More importantly, thanks so much for sharing this perspective, it’s such an important piece to this post! You are part of a demographic that. in my opinion, is not heard from a lot: the people who enjoy the 12-step program for a time, then move on to other sober paths. Its good for people to hear that you can take what you need from the 12 steps, and then successfully move on. I hope reading the post reads this comment as well!


  14. You did a great job on this article Josie. I am open minded about different paths to recovery but Moderation Management eludes me. I have never drank moderately EVER. I got drunk the first time and every time after that.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I really enjoyed this post. I have not been to AA for many of the reasons listed here. I’m still not convinced that I want to go but I really like the way this was written because these are the things I’ve been thinking. I’ll re-read this for sure. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are the person to whom I am writing this post then, so glad you enjoyed it 🙂

      Here’s what I hope you will do: If what you’re doing is working, keep on doing it. If, at some point, you find yourself struggling with sobriety, and you feel like you’ve tried everything on you own, re-read this piece, and reconsider. Either way, I wish you the best of luck, and I truly appreciate the comment!


  16. Reblogged this on club east: indianapolis and commented:
    Awesome post from Josie at themiracleisjustaroundthecorner on 10 healthy responses to those who have heard from someone else what AA is all about…or they read about it on the Internet.


  17. This is great Josie! I have a love of AA much like you do. I wholeheartedly believe that were it not for AA and the people in the fellowship, I would not be here today. Thanks so much for breaking down some of the common things that I hear from those that are anit-AA. Now perhaps I will have something more intelligent to say when someone wants to debate about the program. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Love this post! I came in by the court order, so i was definitely in the wrong place! Lol! Unfortunately Or rather fortunately, after many detoxes, rehabs, and other programs completely failing me, this was the lost stop. So it took me a while! But i am so glad i made it, i now have a road map to life that i can use virtually in any situation. Lately, it has turned out to be a great parenting tool too.

    I was also thinking, and i am pretty sure that no one has ever just gotten up one morning and said, oh i think i’ll just go to an AA meeting, i think it had to grow on all of us a bit, right? I know that I questioned many things in the beginning! 😀


  1. Pingback: repost: 10 rebuttals to 12-step naysayers | club east: indianapolis

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