Three Views of Recovery

Currently, there are three major conflicting views on the nature of recovery. One view states that recovery is the result of a religious conversion experience. Another holds that recovery is really the process of re-socializing oneself to a community of sober addicts. A third view maintains that recovery happens when addicts expose and treat the underlying psychological causes of addiction.

The Conversion Experience View

This view of recovery understands the Conversion Experience as a psychological process defined by philosopher and psychologist William James. In his The Varieties of Religious Experience, James stated that conversion is a process by which

“a self hitherto divided, and consciously wrong, inferior and unhappy, becomes unified and consciously right superior and happy, in consequence of its firmer hold on religious realities”

According to James, the conversion experience is a huge displacement and rearrangement of the convert’s personality. This internal reorganization is not just a passing experience, instead, a whole new and stable attitude is established.

“the new ideas that reach the center in the rearrangement seem now to be locked there, and the new structure remains permanent.”

For the addict, this means that the former center of his life—the obsession to use—is now discarded and replaced by a sense of personal spirituality. The Conversion Experience View of recovery believes that this kind of radical change in the personality is necessary for true recovery to take place. The Twelve Steps are seen as a tool for creating Conversion Experiences without the intrusion of organized religion. In the Steps, an addict can have a powerful experience, and interpret it however he or she pleases. Therefore, Conversion Experience is often referred to as a Spiritual Experience, and the program is called “spiritual not religious.”

While working the Twelve Steps in a Conversion Experience style, the addict will make a total surrender of both will and life to a Power that heals the addict’s mind. A moral inventory is taken to root out and expose the addict’s primary trouble—selfishness. Amends and Twelfth Step work are designed to relieve the addict of self-concern and encourage a compassion for others. In this compassion, the Conversionists find themselves guided by a real and living Spiritual Power.

Meetings, in the Conversion Experience View, are a chance for recovered addicts to give testimony to the Power of the Steps and invite newcomers to work the Steps with a sponsor. Meetings are not a time to “share” or “check-in.” Instead, they are a time for those who have had a Spiritual Awakening to offer their services to those who have not.

Outcomes anticipated for people in recovery are very high in the Conversion Experience View. People who work the Steps successfully, are expected to find emotional well-being, freedom from mental obsession, and a deep sense of peace that comes from having a spiritual purpose in life. As long as the recovered person continues to help others, his or her sense of well-being is expected to increase. The times of real pain and anguish that are to be expected in life (when a loved one dies for example) are expected to bring the recovered person deeper into dependence upon their Spiritual Source, and so, while painful, will improve the addict’s spiritual life.

The Conversion Experience View exists in many of the Twelve Step fellowships, but is most commonly seen as the View of Alcoholics Anonymous member who strongly advocate for the AA Big Book. Sometimes called “Book Thumpers” or “Program Nazis,” these AA members have a reputation for being conservative and intolerant in the way they express their View. From their own point of view however, the Big Book advocates are trying to save fellow addicts from the pain of self-centeredness. In this way, they believe that they are expressing the spiritual truth of the Steps.

When Conversionists tell their stories, they are most likely to speak of the mental aspects of their addictions and place a strong emphasis on the personality change that they have experienced due to their experience of surrender to God.

The Re-socialization View

This view of recovery is…

“…highly social and involves the use of informal community resources that provide a sobriety-based framework in which one can stop drinking and maintain sobriety.”

William L. White
Slaying the Dragon

In the Re-socialization View of recovery, the biggest problem of the addict is not a need for spiritual experience, nor is it underlying psychological stressors. Instead, the Re-socialization View believes that the addict’s biggest problem is using. When the using stops, the addict’s biggest problem becomes how to stay stopped. Solutions to these problems are fairly straightforward. “Don’t use, go to meetings, ask for help.” “Keep coming back.” “Meeting makers make it.” “90 meetings in 90 days.” These and other similar slogans outline the program of the Re-socialization view—just keep going to meetings.

At times, meetings are emphasized so heavily that many people who hold this View do not work the steps. However, those who do work the Steps, tend to see them as a way to increase involvement in the fellowship. “Higher Power” and “God” are often interpreted as meaning the fellowship, the meetings, and sometimes the Steps and Traditions. Turning one’s will and life over to the care of God, really means coming to meetings and becoming willing to share and listen to others. Moral inventory and Amends are designed to help the fellowship stay intact even when personality clashes occur.

For Re-Socializationists, sobriety is understood as a difficult process, especially because the sober addict is forced to deal with feelings that were once suppressed by using. When things get rough, an addict goes to a meeting and shares their pain. Other addicts at the meeting sympathize and support those suffering. Sometimes, if there is an addict present who has suffered through a similar hardship, there is a sharing of experience, strength and hope. This makes meetings a kind of mutual-aid group. Other activities that are important in the Re-socialization View are “meetings-after-the-meetings,” sober dances, camp-outs, and other non-meeting social gatherings for addicts.

Expectations for recovering people in the Re-Socialization View are moderate compared to the expectations for people recovering in the Conversion Experience View. It is anticipated that recovery will be a painful process that lasts a lifetime. One is not expected to find relief from mental obsession, nor a vital spiritual life. Instead, the Re-Socialization View expects that people who stick with going to meetings will eventually be able to manage the business of daily life. Recovering people can get jobs and relationships, and keep them for longer than they used to. Recovering people don’t have to sell their TVs to buy drugs, or do any of the other behaviors associated with addiction. Often, recovering people have more money and possessions than they did when they were using. All of this is expected to provide some value and relief in the addict’s life.

The stories of recovering people who hold this View focus on the physical aspects of addiction and the despair and hopelessness of addicted life. These stories are meant to be a reminder to the speaker, and to his or her audience of why not to use again. Some times, though less frequently, stories focus on the things that the speaker has gained by being sober. Generally, Re-Socialization stories end with gratitude for the program, the meeting, and for one more day of sobriety.

The Psychological View

This view of recovery states that addiction is only a symptom of an underlying psychological disorder. In the years since the development of psychoanalysis, many psychological theories have been formed and promoted, each with its own view of the nature of the psychological causes of addictions. The theories range from Freud’s assertion that the alcoholic is expressing latent homosexual tendencies, to the Family Systems Theory concept of the addict as an actor of a role in a dysfunctional family system. Many of these theories, as they have each come into fashion, have had some impact on the Twelve Steps.

Currently, the psychological agreement seems to be that the addict is someone who uses to cope with some kind of pain. This pain might be the result of early child hood trauma, sexual abuse, a dysfunctional family system, low self-esteem, etc. The pain could also be produced by an existing mental disorder, such as Post Traumatic Stress, Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, depression, etc. Addicts of this second kind are called “dual diagnosis,” because they are diagnosed with their mental disorder and addiction. Because addicts are seen as using to cope with pain, addiction is sometimes called “self-medicating.”

Recovery in the Psychological View is the process by which an addict learns appropriate methods of self-care. Treatment focuses on treating the source of the addict’s pain, and teaching the addict new ways to cope with pain. There is much talk about “feeling feelings,” and overcoming fears and shame. Sobriety is seen as a time of self-discovery, because feelings surface that were suppressed by using. Because most of these feelings are uncomfortable, the Psychological View attempts to help people in recovery to manage life while processing difficult emotions. Often, addicts are encouraged to use self-affirmations to build a positive self-image and increase self-esteem. Recovering people are instructed in the basics of self-care: hygiene, nutrition, sleep, and healthy social interaction. Sometimes, the word “H.A.L.T.” is used to remind people in recovery to stop and take care of themselves when they feel “Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired.” The Psychological View encourages proper medication for people who have a dual diagnosis, and regular talk therapy, with emphasis on processing the pain of childhood and difficult personal relationships.

Working the Twelve Steps is not central to the Psychological View of recovery. When the Steps are worked in this View, they tend to be an extension of the type of therapy mentioned above. One realizes one’s powerlessness and turns one’s life over to professional treatment. Inventory is usually “balanced,” meaning that for every negative aspect of self, there is a positive one as well. Inventory also tends to explore things like family dynamics, early child hood trauma, instances where the recovering person feels that he/she has been victimized, etc. Amends are not emphasized in the Psychological View. In fact, most Twelve-Step rehabs will only utilize the first five Steps. Twelfth Step work is almost non-existent in the Psychological View, as professional treatment is seen as filling the role of ‘sponsor.’

Meetings in this View are seen as important to the recovery process. The Psychological View understands meetings in nearly the same manner as does the Re-Socialization View. For the Psychological View, meetings are important not for mutual-aid as much as for group therapy. The emphasis is not on “we help one another out,” but “we each get our turn to process feelings.” Often, addicts exiting treatment will be instructed to attend “90 meetings in 90 days,” and meeting attendance is often part of the routine at rehab. However, in many cases, the Psychological View feels that meeting attendance is not enough for the recovering person. Regular visits to a councilor are encouraged.

The Psychological View’s expectations for recovering people are equal to or less than those of the Re-Socialization View. Addicts are expected to struggle greatly with mental obsession and difficult feelings for the rest of their lives. One figure in the Psychological View, Terrence Gorski, has defined what he calls Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome. PAWS predicts that people in recovery will not be able to get better through meeting attendance and Stepwork. Instead, the addict needs to see a PAWS trained therapist, or they will have severe symptoms of Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome that will likely cause them to relapse. These symptoms can never be eliminated, only managed.

Stories of people recovering in the Psychological View often reflect their experiences in therapy. They speak of learning to feel their feelings, coming to grips with early childhood trauma, becoming better at taking care of themselves, or similar topics. Sometimes stories will include mention of Stepwork, but it is usually clear that this is Psychological and not Conversion Experience style Stepwork. Stories include much Psychological language, and will often focus on the emotional accomplishments of the speaker. The process of self-discovery and learning to love oneself feature strongly in Psychological View stories.

Arguments between the Views

Each View of recovery has an argument with each of the other Views. These arguments help us to distinguish the Views from each other, and clarify the values of each View.

Conversion vs. Re-socialization

From the Conversion Experience perspective, Re-socializationists are diluting the meaning of the Twelve Steps by not emphasizing a spiritual interpretation of the program. Conversionists point to the fact that many people in recovery could benefit from a Conversion Experience, but are unwilling to make the effort as long as they can ‘get by’ on meeting attendance. The fact that Re-socialization allows people to ‘get by’ and suffer from the mental obsession is seen as a crime by Conversionists; it keeps suffering people from getting real help, and it turns the program into a place where people get by without getting better.

From the Re-socialization perspective, Conversionists are seen as narrow-minded and possibly dangerous. Re-socializationists point to the fact that plenty of people are staying sober in the program without having to get religion or work the Steps. The fact that Conversionists are pushing their nearly religious View of recovery means that some people, who might otherwise stay in meetings, get turned off and don’t come back. Some of these people probably go back to using and may even die as a result. For the Re-socializationists, anything that keeps alcoholics/addicts out of meetings is a bad influence on the program.

Re-socialization vs. Psychological

The Re-socializationists see the Psychological View of recovery as having a basic misunderstanding of the disease of addiction. Alcoholics drink because they are alcoholics, and drug addicts use drugs because they are drug addicts, not because they are trying to cope with pain. Addicts may be in pain, but this is probably the result of their disease, not the cause of it. Psychologists are also seen as having the wrong approach to dealing with addictions. While therapy might be helpful for many, real recovery depends on one addict helping another. This is because only someone with first-hand knowledge of the disease of addiction can really understand the condition of another addict.

People who hold the Psychological View of recovery see the practices of Re-socialization as insufficient to help people recover. Meetings are good for what they are, but meeting attendance alone is often not enough to help addicts deal with the underlying psychological causes of their using. People who have a dual diagnosis, who suffer from PTSD, who are severely depressed, or who have deep personal issues to work through will need more than meetings to successfully stay in recovery.

Psychological vs. Conversion

The Psychological View of recovery reacts strongly against the Conversionist idea that selfishness is the root of the addicts problems. The emphasis on selfishness is seen as bordering on abusive. According to the Psychological View, recovering people need to be affirmed and nurtured, not scolded or told that they are bad. In this View, addicts already have negative self-images, and focusing on selfishness can only serve to increase that negative self-image. For some in the Psychological View, the Conversion Experience View of recovery is seen as taking advantage of vulnerable people. People new to recovery are in an impressionable frame of mind, and Conversionists seem to be attempting to force newcomers into a religious point of view.

Conversionists see the Psychological View of recovery as causing more harm than good. In the Conversionist View, telling addicts to care for and think about themselves only increases their already high level of self-concern and selfishness. Furthermore, the Psychological emphasis on “feeling feelings” and “expressing pain” leads to a recovery environment dominated by narcissism and diseased thinking. In this View, an addict can never express his/herself enough to rid their psyches of the mental obsession to use. The Psychological View of tortures recovering people by forcing them to obsess over their symptoms without offering a real solution to the basic problem of addiction.

Agreement among the views

Our division of the recovery culture into three Views is somewhat artificial. In reality, there are many recovering people whose recovery philosophy represents a mix of two or more of the Views mentioned above. Recovery culture represents a wide spectrum of belief and experience, and there are many ways in which each of the Views can be adapted to match each of the others. For example, the Conversion Experience is a powerful mental experience, and can be understood in Psychological terms. Mutual support networks and Re-socialization clearly have a Psychological benefit as well. And Conversion Experience, in its need to be shared with others, has a strong social impulse and a clear desire to help others Re-socialize themselves. However, our depiction of the three Views of recovery should help our understanding of the Twelve Steps by revealing the major themes that are present within all Twelve Step recovery programs. By looking at each View in its purest form, we can get a clear picture of the kinds of programs and experiences that are available in recovery culture.

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The discussion of the “three” viewpoints carries the psychological views of those who wrote the items. The starting point as to “conversion” should be the real facts about what conversion to Christ is; and the definition doesn’t come from William James. It comes from John 3:1-28; John 3:16-17; Romans 10:9. As long as writers depart from the Biblical concept, they run with the idea that mention of God drives people from the rooms, that “conversionists” are some special brand of recovering people. I suggest there will not a an appropriate discussion until the whole picture of conversion, cure of alcoholism, and Bill’s comment on page 191 of the Big Book are incorporated. It is covered in my two recent titles about Bill and Bob. The first is The Conversion of Bill W.; and the second is Dr. Bob of Alcoholics Anonymous. Bill saw his grandfather cured of alcoholism by conversion. He heard from Dr. Silkworth that the Great Physician could cure him. He went to the altar at Calvary Rescue Mission, made a decision for Christ, and was born again. He so stated in his own autobiography. From there he staggered to Towns, decided to call on the Great Physician for help, and–on doing so–had a conversion experience almost identical to that which his grandfather had years before. Neither ever drank again. Until, therefore, people are willing to look at the facts about Bill, Bob, and the required decisions for Christ in the early fellowship, we will continue to be beset with the scholarly discussions of “spirituality” “psychic change” and the like. It’s the miraculous that the founders found, and it’s the miraculous that Bill and Bob embraced. Thus Dr. Bob concluded his story by saying: “Your Heavenly Father will never let you down!” It had nothing to do with meetings because there were no meetings of today’s kind–just one per week. It had nothing to do with Steps because there were no steps. It had everything to do with the basic ideas in the Bible that Dr. Bob pointed to in the Book of James, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and 1 Corinthians 13.
God Bless, Dick B.

Comment by Richard G. Burns, J.D.

Dick B- I agree wholeheartedly……22yrs sober and I couldn’t agree more.

Comment by Butch R

Thanks, Butch. It’s about historical fact, not opinions of writers.!

Comment by aahistorian

I have two questions about the Biblical Christian view of conversion.
First, does that mean that AA is limited to those who believe in the saving power of Jesus?
And, second, how important is the historical example?

(For example, Bill wrote a lot, including about the legitimacy of Buddhists having AA meetings that substituted “good” for God. And, for another example concerning the weight of historical precedents on the present, the US Constitution sanctions slavery, and Washington and Jefferson were slave owners. That does not mean that our reliance on the US Constitution today means our country should return to racial slavery in order to be true to the nation’s origins.)

Comment by David K.

Good question. Should A.A. be seen as purely Christian or not? If so, why didn’t they just have the balls to call God Jesus and be done with it? If not, where do we draw the line on God? Within the fellowship, the group, the individual? If we go on and try to get back to the “Christian roots” that some would claim is historical fact, will this bring the % of recovery back to the original 75%? IDK. It’s a topic that’s too hot to bring to a meeting. Maybe this is where the Group Conscience can be useful.

Comment by McGowdog

This excellent article “Three Views Of Recovery” helps make sense of what seems to be the contradictory messages we hear at some AA meetings. The author is unattributed – an old fashioned anonymity-loving member of our fellowship, I would guess. The insight is profound and very helpful as agreed by some others to whom I have shown it. Many thanks to the author for the useful label “conversionist”.
That’s what I am—a conversionist (having had a spiritual awakening as THE result of these steps). This paper just may be the catalyst for us conversionist to do some helpful revitalization of our precious fellowship by being better able to talk about these various aspects of the program and how we can more patiently explain the “hope” we have in us.
I did not see any particular bias in this piece except, I suspect an oversight, when it was said in the conversionist view that “Meetings…are a chance for recovered addicts to give testimony to the Power of the Steps.” It would be accurate, in my opinion of the conversionist view, that we actually give witness to the power GOD who shows us the steps.
And many thanks for the comments by our good friend Dick B. who has done diligent research on the Oxford Group roots of AA. I myself would not be making these comments but for access to the larger history of AA that Dick has been so faithful to bring forth for us. Through his histories I was led to the origins and methods of Keswick and a deeper inquiry into Frank Buchman’s experience at Keswick in 1908. (posted at and a different version on this site.)
I am convinced that it is Frank’s “experience” that we receive when we really grasp all that AA has to offer.
Our ‘spiritual awakening’ is the AA way of saying what some in the churches in the mid 1800’s were engaged in – a search for a way to impart the second blessing (filling of the Holy Spirit, Baptism of the Holy Spirit, second work of Grace or whatever it may be call.) Keswick had the message – the Cross. And it had a method. Frank got the message; he also attended the conferences from 1908 until the 1920’ with the men from Oxford while he developed his method of personal work – Soul Surgery (it is this precious way of doing personal work which is at the heart of our fellowship (conversionist view).(see this site-downloads for Soul Surgery)
Frank never got very far from the Cross, and was reported to always seeming to be listening”…for the voice of GOD. His great mistake was to say something to the effect that “wouldn’t it be great if a man like Hitler could be directed by God.” We AA’s would say today, “Wouldn’t be great if such and such a fellow could get our way of life.” But then we would not be saying it in public, and so we stay out of trouble .

Comment by George McLauchlin

[…] AA. Their view is, apparently, strongly oriented toward the “Resocialization” camp (see three views), but remains informed by psychological theory and […]

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I’m a conversionist. I believe that a Higher Power can restore me to sanity and I understand that self-centeredness, pride, etc. is the nature of my illness. I no longer have a “choice” about booze. This is my great exception to re-socialization and psychological: When I hear that I have a choice today I want to puke. If I thought that by attending AA I would earn a choice over something that I really have no choice over, one day I’d make the wrong choice. I also hear “Think the drink through” What’s to think about? I have an obsession with alcohol and drugs: I cannot not drink or use. But my main reaction to this excellent article has to do with the comments. While I am a conversionist I take strong exception to those who are enamored of the Oxford Groups. First of all, I’m not a Christian. I have no desire to have Jesus Christ as my Higher Power. Jesus, as the Big Book puts it, had “moral philosophy, most excellent “(sic.). I believe Jesus to be a great Prophet. But don’t tell me that Jesus has to be my Higher Power.
As for Buckmanism. It’s no small wonder that Bill was VERY smart to make the break. I’ve yet to meet a drunk that could do anything “absolutely”. And I’m not a fan of Hitler. Buckman tried hard, very hard, to convert Hitler, win him over as it were. Unfortunately Buckman didn’t understand (although I’ll grant he later did) that Hitler was a madman demon. Also, when the Oxford Groups became overtly political, I’d venture a guess that Bill remembered the Washontonians. So contrary to the thoughts of some conversionists, it was a real smart move to break away from the Oxford Groups. That being said, I wouldn’t deny anyone the right to get sober in any way they want to, in the context of the program of action in the first 164 pages of the Big Book. God Bless.

Comment by Art

This has really helped me see where i was going, what happened and which direction i take today. I feel strongly that for me, a combination of all three are crucial in todays modern society (I speak as a UK fellowship member). I attend CA which uses the Big Book and I work through the book & the steps. I also see the importance of re-socialization and when i was always going to NA I came to realize that i neede more (some conversion) and as a man who expeienced sexual abuse, mental abuse and a great deal of bullying, I had the seek professional help too and at one point my counsellor became mt Higher power. Today, I have all these valuable experiences and combination of these different styles wins for me hands down.

Comment by Kieron

Yes, but which program are you completely giving yourself to?

Comment by Ken C.

According to this article I guess I also am a conversionist; however, I like the term Spiritual Thug. Unfortunately, and in contrast to the very learned scholar Dick B., I do have misgivings of aligning with the Oxford Group and Buchmanism. I will not dispute the origins of AA nor question the beliefs of the first 40, yet I have to lean more with post-publication concensus of the BB that allows one to have faith and trust in God the Creator, be fulfilled with the Spirit, yet perhaps not a biblical christian God. OG seemed intolerant of non-christians. If being a conversionist requires that I also surrender to Christ then it requires me to have a religious conversion and not a spiritual conversion.

Comment by lewby

I hsve to wonder about the zealots for following the Oxford plan when it legacy failed Dr. Bob and Bill W. and hence some of the knowledge was used for the beginnings of AA. If the AA History site was more openminded about a spiritual life, rather than making money on books written about “AA History” to support the Christianity view it would be more in line with the principles of AA. AA is a world wide fellowship of which the larger world is more than likely not “Christians”. Peace out.

Comment by mikie

I wonder, does every 12 step program include someone on a higher power or a God or sorts?

Comment by dtssmithers

If you dont need a Higher Power, why do you need a 12 step program?

Comment by Marcus

I am a REAL agnostic, not an agnostic waiting to be converted into a believer as Bill W describes in the book. I believe strongly in a combination of resocialization and psychology.

Between 1985 and 1987, I tried to get “converted”
by doing everything possible in AA. I nearly died of alcoholism because I could not stop drinking. I went to treatment, where I received help with the underlying causes and conditions which made me want to run away from life into the bottle. I stopped drinking when I got the proper treament and have been sober for 22 years.

The problem with the conversion view is that it doesn’t work for people like me. Conversion AA tells the alcoholic that he can’t get sober unless he believes in God. If he can’t believe in God, he dies. I know because people tell me in meetings that I can expect that for myself.

Not for me! It puzzles them that I still don’t drink.

Comment by DallasAlice

I believe the Big Book says that we only need to be WILLING to believe. It does not actually require us to believe. Someone who is not willing will not have a conversion experience. It is just the open-mindedness to accept the possibility that I may not know everything. Among the things I don’t know could there exist a Power greater than myself?

Comment by Ken C

I wonder if I can ask your question. There are a lot of agnostics here in Japan. Even Buddhists do not think their God in general. What do you think about your HP in AA? Or you do not follow AA?

Comment by ninja7

Cool. You can call it whatever you want. I happen to call that God. There are many Agnostics out there that describe God all the time and just call it something else. Label it whatever you want. What some people call scientific reason, I call God. We’re talking ab out the same thing. We just have differences in definitions. I had lots of spiritual experiences years before I knew what one was. That doesn’t mean they didn’t happen. Glad you’re sober. Help someone else.

Comment by Travis

If they want to be atheist or agnostic, so be it. It’s better to be an integris atheist than a non-integris believer.

If going straight to God can get you sober, then do it. If not believing in God and going straight to enlightenment can get you sober (which it most certainly would), then do it.

Jesus didn’t speak of a path to enlightenment and cleaning your karma because it would be in bad taste to deny a person their suffering and animalistic instincts when they serve a purpose as well.

To remove the notion of a God transcendent and seek purely the God immanent is another path that some have done great with.

Then some religious bastard comes along and condemns you to hell and pisses in everybody’s wheaties.

Hey, it’s better to start a spiritual exercise with a question, not an answer. Maybe there is a God. Maybe there isn’t. God tis or taint. Choose one and act accordingly.

The goal is a useful life and sobriety is the result.

If you can do it without God, that’s fantastic! Do it!

Comment by mcgowdog

you are about as alcoholic as a bottle of O”douls

Comment by nolacurry

I loved this article! I’d love to Know who wrote it and if I could copy it for my sponsees? cmr

Comment by Chris Raymer

I hope this gets to chris: You told us once that when you get to A.A. you don’t have much time–presumably before something bad happens and you can’t change it. Time ran out for a friend of mine last week and an innocent kid was killed.
As for my friend, he watches the circle of people he hurt grow larger every day and the stain grow deeper. The on ly difference between me and him is that I read these words tonight–good for me, right?–before I go out and kill someone. My friend can only reread this stuff. We both were told.
His life is enough like mine to be a mirror. Right now I stay sober by sheer terror. I think I also remember you saying something about bopp till you drop. Thanks-andrew

Comment by andrew hobby

Put down the Ouija Board, dude.

Are you trying to guilt Chris into thinking he caused a suicide?

BTW, great article. It enables me to understand everybody better; AAers, DickB’s, anti/XAers… the whole S’ing kaboodle.

I’m a Conversionist, I guess… but I am personally tolerant to non-Christians in this deal. Hopefully A.A. as a whole is as well.

Comment by McGowdog

I agree this could be put to good use!
I would like to use it as well.
Chris did you ever get a response on your Post?

Comment by Larry Nevills

Please feel free to use this essay and anything else you find on You may copy and distribute freely, so long as you mention the site. Just don’t try to sell this stuff. Give it away for free. At some point I’ll get around to posting an official “creative commons” license on the page, which explains in more detail how the less restrictive copyright claim works.

Comment by James R.

I have read this on a few different occassions and I don’t think that my view has changed. I believe we need a bit of all these methods to acquire sobriety and then a bit more of all these methods to maintain the sobriety. In speaking of a Power greater than myself I caution people that it is only as they understand him (or don’t understand him however the case me be.) My understanding of my God today is far more superior than my understanding when I first got sober some 17-1/2 years ago. Does that mean that my God changed? I think not. But thank God that I have. I hope to come back here in 17-1/2 more years and tell you that my concept has still changed and evolved.

Comment by John O'Sullivan

Wow. I’ve been trying to recover for about 25 years. And I have been coming to meetings on and off for over 31 years. I seem to be the type of alcoholic/addict that the Big Book was written for as I have done much better with the conversion approach than with either the social or psych approaches. I am leaning toward the idea that all three in combination, perhaps in varying degrees, could ultimately be most successful. Heavier on the conversion, ample on the social, with maybe a touch, in my case, of the psych. For now though I am trying my best to give myself completely to the conversionist method – it’s had the best effect so far. I am once AGAIN sober 110 days. In AA and other fellowships I have been abstinate for periods of 4 months, 8 months, 25 months, 28 months, 61 months, 50 months and again currently 110 days. The two latter periods are with the conversion method. The prior mostly re-socialization with misguided attempts toward conversion. Reading this article however helps me toward being more open-minded about the social and psych methods than I had been since turning toward the conversion method. I have fallen victim at times of my own zealousness about it. A fellow named Joe H. used to like to ask: “how’s that workin’ for ya ?” Joe, I guess whatever works – works. I think I’ll go meditate now.

Comment by Robert Salafia

I assume you’re talking about Joe Hawk? God rest his soul. If so, then I suppose you also know of Mark Houston… RIP. Pain in the arses. They helped point me in a direction at times, but they didn’t keep me sober. Joe taught me a lot about step 1 and Mark taught me a lot about step 11, namely “Do it.” Get a prayer and meditation life, then we can rap about it.

But stop listening to tapes. Get your own experience. That’s what I say.

Comment by McGowdog

God eiher is, or He isn’t, wrote Bill Wilson. And Shoemaker before him. And Pascal before either of them. Is that conversionist or a challenge to believe.

Comment by Dick B.

As a woman with decades long sobriety I can testify to the fact that I and others have recovered and stayed sober by going through ahd using all these methods. Of course we work the steps, of course we go to meetings, of course we seek counselling, of course we connect, of couese we help others, of course we work through traumatic events and issues. Of course we use eveything AA has to offer. Of course we surrender to a higher power in whatever form. Explore and invite spirituality into our lives, avoid judlement, promote tolerance, kindness and service.

The division and arguments are to me only a typical aspect of alcholosm where black and white thinking reigns. Those who think they have the one and only truth and need to peddle it are still in the throes of their alcholic affliction.

The 12 traditions guide us and protect AA from collapsing from within as a result of all the disputes and egos, and sociopaths and potential cult leaders who would love to take it over. They cannot, have never been able to and never will.

Serenity, sanity and service.

Comment by Ada

lovely comments, Ada.
I am now in my 36th year as of Oct 28th and have been able to stay in AA and maintain a few on going relationships with those who are without knowing it in the re-social frame.
I was glad to see this article that reveals what is going on in our fellowship….at least now i know that the different tones i ve been hearing in the meeting werent just my imagination
Thanks for your comments
Dick B Atl, Ga

Comment by Dicky B

I’m impressed with your decades of sobriety Ada. I’m less impressed with you setting yourself up as a person of authority. I only have 6.5 years, so, you cannot hear what I say. See? If your ego has a sense of humor, you’ll laugh with me and not at me.

I don’t think of it as division. It really does describe the actual factual state of our fellowship now, does it not? We have a faction of anti/XAers out there bad mouthing us. Sometimes, these morons drink too much and get sent to A.A. I think that’s funny but, what if they don’t want our God? What if they don’t want our meeting? There’s always that pill. That professional type.

I agree that A.A. doesn’t put the lines in there. We do. I don’t, because I want to stay sober for good and all, like y’all.

Comment by McGowdog

That was a really interesting article, Im just under 2 years sober, as well as being dual-diagnosis. I guess in my short journey so far, re-socialisation was my first phase. I loved going to meetings and getting ‘identification’ from fellow addicts and alcoholics, unfortunatly I learned through numerous painful experiences that attending meetings and getting ‘identification’ and going for coffee was not going to keep me clean. I had to fully apply myself to the steps. I have a lot a gratitude for people from that phase of my recovery, who went out of there way to assist me. I guess I am a conversionist these days, however Im not a Big Book basher, or a step Nazi, I try to not take myself to seriously. I know I have had a spiritual experience, because Ive had a dramatic realignment of my values, as a result my thinking and behaviour have changed. The obsession to use and drink has been removed.The universe no longer revolves around me, if only people would do what I wanted them to etc etc. The psychological view is quite interesting, I self medicated my mental health problems for many years, sadly I reached the point where The drugs and the alcohol didnt work anymore. Counselling etc was in some ways valuable, but in the end it had to be an ‘inside job’ as they say.

Different strokes for different folks….


Comment by Matizm

I like this post… but I agree with the anti/XAers when they say “Don’t play doctor”.

If someone wants to try a conversion process to get past their mental illness, so be it. But who are we in A.A. to put someone off their meds? For one thing, what if we harm that person? Could it lead to legal action? Now… there’s a tradition rocking issue there. I’d like to bring that up as a topic. Then go run and hide. Ha!

Comment by McGowdog

Lewby- your post gives a perfect example why obstinate belief in a path of recovery only doubles back on the whole principle of “recovery”. The BB even addresses the issue of staunch religious zealots who through their myopic view of the world and the nether-world idealistically turn away alcoholics who need only believe in *something* greater than themselves. Anyone who cares to delve into the so called *roots* of AA and glean from that a purely Christian view is their own business, but espousing that belief and then forcing it on others is the basis for despotism. That is akin to believing that since the foundation of the United States was basically built on Christianity, that it is okay to have a state religion today, regardless of what the word *progress* means. Isn’t it obvious that the BB is based on all three approaches to recovery? Goodness, the BB addresses all of these facets- *Doctor’s Opinion* & *Chapter to the Agnostic* Anyways, thanks lewby for bringing up the hypocrasy in the religous zealot camps of AA. Good post sir.

Comment by Dod

This is what I’m open minded about.

David R. Hawkins enables me to be open-minded to and at least understand other schools of thought.

But in the end, the anti/XAers claim that I’m following another whacko cult and the “obstinate” AAers warn me that the guy is making money on the think and is full of psychobabble.

I do the steps. Call that Conversion if you will, but I’m better understanding the Meeting Makers Make It camp and the Take a Pill and See Your Therapist camp.

Comment by McGowdog

I have been in recovery for along time and have personally experienced each one of the three stages that haave been described. My question is, “who says one theory is superior over the other?” I feel that I have converted my life into a life full of a normal life that does not include alcohol or drugs. Yes, I struggle with life’s little challenges, however I do live life on life’s terms today. Isn’t it wonderful not having to deal with the obsession to drink or take a drug twenty four seven? I have converted my life and that conversion includes (my) idea and understanding of a higher power. No one elses! Who’s to say that one way is better than the other. Whatever works, is my motto. To each his own. As long as you can lay your head on your pillow at night and not taken a dring or a drug, then don’t you think that it’s been a good day? Of course that’s only paart of what recovery has to offer but to me that’s what it’s all about. Whatever works.

Comment by Matt

It’s absolutely ludicrous that one drunk would claim that he’s not drinking better than any other drunk. Also beyond pathetic that anyone would attempt to gain any notoriety within an anonymous fellowship.

Comment by Bill W.

Ha! I like this. “I’m not drinking better than anyone else in here!”

Comment by McGowdog

The book “Alcoholics Anonymous” lays out a very specific plan of action for recovery from alcoholism and the authors tell of their experience with that program. They never claim that their program is the only or best program for chronic alcoholics but they do express what some professionals in the field had to say about chronic alcoholism at that time and what they themselves witnessed.
The fellowship that sprung up around this program of action took the name of the book and the fellowship more or less was filled with people who had tried the program of action and who were then attempting to help others utilize the specific program of action and gain sobriety as well. It is true that the steps were not laid out in the form that we know today, but there were certainly SPECIFIC guiding principles which became the steps.
There are other methods of recovery just as there are myriad types of alcoholics and the AA program lays no claim to being the sole form of recovery but instead says “If you suffer the way we suffered, then try this here program which worked for us. If you have something different that works for you, our hats are off to you!”
The different views of recovery are fantastic but they do not describe three different views of the AA program of recovery. There is simply one AA program which was laid out in the book AA. Anything different than this is not AA.
I think that a lot of people take what they hear from people in meetings (I don’t consider all AA meetings “AA” anymore) and then claim that what they heard is an “AA” perspective. What is contained in the book Alcoholics Anonymous is the one and only AA program of recovery. Nothing more nothing less. Meetings of Alcoholic Anonymous should be solely based on the program of the same name. In fact, the book was written so that the AA program of recovery would not be lost, changed or misunderstood.
People who come to AA meetings and push a different idea of recovery are like people who go to an Italian restaurant and promote Chinese food. They sit in the Italian restaurant and make sure everyone knows that they got their stomach full at a Chinese restaurant, they complain about Italian food, tell everyone that Chinese food is better than Italian food and they will even tell you that Italian food is actually dangerous!
If you have a program other than AA that works for you, fantastic! But if you want to try the AA program of recovery, remember that it is outlined in the big book. What you hear at meetings is perhaps not AA. One line in the book describes the AA program of recovery specifically enough to let everyone know exactly what AA is.
Of the big book:
“Its main object is to enable you to find a Power greater than yourself which will solve your problem.”

Comment by Mike B. CZ


“The different views of recovery are fantastic but they do not describe three different views of the AA program of recovery. There is simply one AA program which was laid out in the book AA. Anything different than this is not AA.
I think that a lot of people take what they hear from people in meetings (I don’t consider all AA meetings “AA” anymore) and then claim that what they heard is an “AA” perspective. What is contained in the book Alcoholics Anonymous is the one and only AA program of recovery. Nothing more nothing less. Meetings of Alcoholic Anonymous should be solely based on the program of the same name. In fact, the book was written so that the AA program of recovery would not be lost, changed or misunderstood.

I agree with this. But guess what? A.A. HAS become these three. To find the A.A. you talk about… the one in the book, you have to go underground. Then you get called an A.A. Nazi.

How do you go find a newcomer who’s not ever been messed up by bad A.A. meetings? What’s done is done. We ought to clean up what’s left behind… The 3 views give us a starting point.

Comment by McGowdog

Its about time that someone wrote about this. Alot of arguing and fault finding going on in our fellowship , im sure to the new guy it is a turn off not to mention confusing. Congrats to who ever wrote this !!!!

Comment by Ben P

I can say that i have been influenced by all three views in my 18 years of continuous sobriety.

I can also say that I pray for His Grace to never let me slip so far away from the conversion view ever again.
He gave us free will and I slowly turned away from him and found myself suicidal and having daily panic attacks..
No thanks to re-socialization and no thanks to psychobabble fellowship..

Bring on the BB thumpers… they saved my ass and brought me to a relationship with the God I didn’t want to understand.


Ron H
London Ontario, Canada

Comment by Ron H

Beware of hard drinkers.

Comment by Bob S

The very definition of alcoholic/addict is one who cannot stop w/o a spiritual experience/awakening.

Comment by Ken C

This may be true. It also may be true that a lot of hard drinkers got kicked out of A.A.

They’ve now formed a group I call anti/XAers.

Are they all “un-alcoholics?” Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe they just don’t want/cannot have the spiritual solution. Maybe they, unlike us “real alcoholics” can be helped with psychotherapy. IDK.

Comment by McGowdog

I really appreciate the comments concerning meetings and “the program”. I absolutely, positively was “reborn”. Americans are notoriously lazy. (Easier softer way)I was as the book says, “violently anti religious”. But, because of continuous study of the big book, with a man who had this program as his life, I was convinced. We alcoholics must have invented loopholes and justification. They are all closed in that Book. As any who have “recovered” know, the Power, or “psychic change”, is truly what I call a miracle.

Comment by Carl B.

The problem with all this is simple. If you are ALCOHOLIC you may want to pocket your pride and do the work out of the BB, otherwise not doing so will more than likely eventually kill you. There are a lot of non alcoholics in AA saying you don’t have to do anything but “just don’t drink and go to meetings”. If I say I am a butcher, baker or candlestick-maker it does not make me one. Yet I can say I am an alcoholic. There are two things that make an alcoholic, a physical allergy coupled with the mental obsession. Just because I puked, blacked out, cracked up a car(s), lost a job(s), got diviorced(s), got arrested, etc., does not make me an alcoholic. The courts have funneled a lot on non-alcoholics into AA who have stayed and enjoyed the fellowship, fine, God Bless. But there is alot of blood on our seats from non alcoholics telling real alcoholics you don’t have to do the steps (out of the BB). Telling someone to do the steps won’t kill them, telling them they don’t have to, more than likley will. I was one of them, God Bless the man who stopped me from killing myself (14yrs sober) and told me what my problem was-ME, and what I was suffering from- untreated alcoholism. In hindsight, putting the plug in the jug was the easy part, doing the work changed who I was and saved me from myself. Thanks you AA
Bill M

Comment by bill m

There’s your conversionist.


But the re-socializationists and Psychological “professional” folks will cite that we “conversionists” aren’t getting sober anyway, we live in fear, and we like to kill ourselves, so that when one dies, we can sit back and say, “See? That’s what happens when you don’t do steps! But for the Grace of God go I?”

Running the non alkies out on guilt and scaring the “real alkies” in on fear ain’t working too good.

Comment by McGowdog

I got sober through “fellowship recovery” which I guess is the middle one, and then I picked up some of the psychological help along the way…I didn’t really learn about the spiritual aspect…meaning I didn’t know that there was an “original” way to do the program until recently. At my AA club, the Westside Club in DC, there’s a group of “Recovered” alcoholics who have a small meeting on Friday nights, and they don’t raise hands, they just discuss the steps, and they are not fans of the 12X12(which I understand Wilson wrote for income to support his mistress) or “Living Sober” I am much more interested in this way of recovery now, and I listen to Chris Raymer’s tapes regularly. What I learned from one of these guys today is, actually, the Big book doesn’t really mention sponsorship at all. You can have a sponsor, or not. Chuck C. author of “A New Pair of Glasses” didn’t…that’s interesting. I am quite attracted to the “Spiritual/Original” way, but I do enjoy my (sick) discussion meetings and the crazy fellowship as well.

Comment by justincbenedict

Good comments here! I hope you aren’t in the Midtown group. Heard of it?

Anti/XAers go right to it when they see D.C. I looked into the story and from what I see, it was a case of bad inbreading and adjacent groups had nutin’ ta do wit it.

Comment by McGowdog

“In all probability, we shall never be able to touch more than a fair fraction of the alcohol problem in all it’s ramifications. Upon therapy for the alcoholic himself, we surely have no monopoly.” Big Book forward pg. xi

In my opinion this appears to summarize the contents of this article!

Comment by JimGrinham

I really enjoyed this article. It really clarifies a lot of things. The one place it falls short is a failure to mention our Traditions. A Twelve Step fellowship only has one message: “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps…” It is the goal of our Program. The purpose of our fellowship should be to support each other and hold each other accountable in that goal.

Though the goals of psychology/psychiatry are noble, it is an outside issue to Twelve Step Fellowships. Though their methods are effective for many ailments, they are not effective in bringing about a spiritual awakening necessary for the recovery of true addicts/alcoholics.

By definition, if someone can stop by human power (including meetings and psychology) they are a hard drinker/user. A real addict/alcoholic can only stop by accessing a Power Greater than human power.

Comment by Ken C

I’d say you’re preaching to the choir but… we “real alcoholics” can’t even agree on the spiritual “experience” vs. “awakening” thing. We fight over the brand of coffee.

We can’t hold each other accountable. Why? Because of our own damned traditions. Autonomy, a resentment, and a new coffee pot and you got a new meeting.

Comment by McGowdog

Now you may wonder what I mean by an anti/XAer. So, here’s an example;

anti/XAer says,

“aa is the devil. aa did me more harm than good. REBT and CBT enabled me to solve my complex maladaptive behaviour without any “woo-woo”. yeah, i know i’m kinda mixing metaphors there, but what the hell, i’m not perfect, and i don’t need to be. y’all get my point.

drinking is a choice. aa would have me believe i’m diseased, or immoral, or in need of ego-deflation, or some such rot as read in the Rheumz from the Beeg Buk of St. Bill’s excretions. Glory be hallelujah! My H.P. Jeebuz be praised…i think not.

aa kept telling me that “your best thinking got you here”. uh…no. my worst thinking under the influence got me here. and i was told there was no alternative. no where else to go. had i known better, i never would have set foot into the rheumz. b*stards. they got me when i was weak and vulnerable and desperate. well, that says more about them than it does me, them taking advantage of desperate, confused souls. even if they mean well, like mr. *** said. remember, they are puppets being used to feed the machine of aa, and stuff it’s coffers with money by having an army of cult devotees work for free to sell the books.

regards, “

Comment by McGowdog

You are so wrong! & I pitty you for your thoughts. Good luck on staying sober. I’m not an AA person either but I have friends that are and they are lovely people & the program works. I personally am an addict and stick to NA. In the beginning of my recovery I did both programs. The program works if you work it….get some stepwork behind you & them make that statement…I’m sure your perception of the program will change by the time you finish understanding the truth in the program. The slogans are just that slogans….with a kick only a true alcoholic would understand the analoges.

Comment by MommaT

Hey Pill Momma, I’m pro-A.A. and sober 8+ years with A.A., which means with “doing steps”. I’m the Step-Effing Master.

But anyways, thanks for the pity.

Hey, since you’re just a druggie, how about having a drink on me? Oops. Now I think I need to add you to my 10th step. Crop report!

Now my thoughts on NA… anybody can be an addict. Anybody can also be a non-addict.

Comment by McGowdog

Sober 10+ years now, despite the snark. Thank God for Grace.

Comment by mcgowdog

Sober 18 + years now and still not thirsty for booze! This thread is about as dead as A.A. and those who bash it. 🙂 Carry on.

Comment by McGowdog

Once again it’s proven !
This is a simple program for complicated people. There is only 164 pages of direction in the Big Book.
A.A. taught me 2 things about GOD. One that there is a GOD and two, that even after 22yrs O.D.A.T. I know, I ain’t him !
Please utilize don’t analyze so that you can be FREE of Alcohol and, more importantly, Alcohol-ISM !
How does this A.A. work ? It works just fine IF you work it !

To Mc Dog:
I don’t work for A.A. ! I work for a GOD of my understanding and other sick, suffering Alcoholics who come to A.A. seeking the only proven long-term recovery program. You are not required to believe anything, to sell, buy or pay anything. All that is required is a desire to stop drinking. SIMPLE !
Remember resentment is the #1 offender !
You are sadly misinformed about A.A. and should get a sponsor and a group that can help you recover.

Comment by Jimimac

Having read the lenthy previous posts more closely, I think I may have misunderstood your last point. If so, I apologise.
Were you repeating an antiXAer, whatever that complicated BS is ?
Or do you believe AA takes advantage of sick impressionable drunks to sell Big Books ect. ? My statement applies to that thinking.

Comment by Jimimac

I’m sober in A.A. and I try to help the suffering alcoholic. That might be the new man who comes walking in the door or it may be the old bleeding deacon/elderstatesman who’s lost his faith. If there are folks suffering in your group, you need look no further for someone to offer help to.

In my group, we do steps yearly and that’s the way we do it. I don’t need no damned sponsor to brow beat me today. All I need is a path to God and an open enough mind to walk down it.

Comment by McGowdog

This article strikes me as a pretty good description, in broad terms, of the the three ways in AA today. Leaving aside the Psychological one, it strikes me that the Conversion one and the Resocialization both have strengths and weaknesses.
The Conversion one seems to tend toward producing “spiritual arrogance” and talking down to the alcoholic, as well in extreme forms, accepting only the BB or the first part of the BB (excluding even the Appendix on spiritual experience), which says the General Conference decisions are to be ignored. This violates traditions since General Conference approves literature other than the BB. But some sort of conversion is the core of the 12 step experience and it is right about that. The Resocialization party downplays or ignores the spiritual awakening and often the steps themselves. This is its weakness. But its strength is the everyday love and support of the fellowship and a sort of humility. I see no reason, in principle, why these can’t be combined, and the principles of God as you understand him and Live and Let Live seem to point to that. Combined without their weaknesses. Let me suggest, and it has been my experience, that working the steps and getting to know a Higher Power and sharing one’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities (not the same as complaining about everyday events)with others in and out of the rooms, in other words, honesty not spiritual arrogance or pretending everything is alright, is one way that works. HP can exist in that sharing, in the real love between members of AA, as well as in other ways.
One other personal point, the Conversion school seems to resemble certain types of fundamentalist Protestant Christianity in its tone and attitude, which as a Catholic I find problematic. My spirituality remains, at some level, a Catholic one, although I would never impose that on others in the fellowship.

Comment by DW

I belong to a group that does steps yearly. We only chair meetings on our current experience on the steps, so anything from pg 164 and prior is fair game. We recognize the 12 traditions in their long form. No 12 x 12, no stories in the back. Our trusted servants aren’t trusted anymore. Ef world-services. F the gso. F middle of the road A.A. If that’s what you want, good day and good luck.

Comment by McGowdog

i love this!

Comment by jamie

Ok. So this is a fantastic article. Lots to think about. I sure am glad the BB says we have no monopoly on this thing. I just know that as a thumper I found and carry the message wich retuned me to sanity.

Comment by Jeff Dakus

It’s good to know what sanity is.

I don’t want booze today and I don’t have to avoid temptation.

8 years and counting. Not going for the record here, but it’s been a pretty big deal for me given my past.

Comment by McGowdog

Congrats on another year sober McGowDog ! Keep coming, it gets better !

Comment by Jimimac

Thanks Jimimac. I hope it doesn’t get any better or I’m going to feel bad for those who are stuck feeling crappy and are more deserving. Let’s spread the wealth huh?

Comment by McGowdog

LOL ! You and I will get better by continueing to practice these principles and growing along AA’s spiritual lines ! Nobody is more deserving than us. It may get worse but with GOD in our lives we’ll be able to be “powers of sober example” and stoically handle life on LIFES terms thereby demonstating GOD’s LOVE, healing power, and mercy ! Show em how to do it, there’s enough people around AA telling em how to do it.

Comment by Jimimac

Thx Jimi. Stop by my blog sometime.

Comment by McGowdog

Here is my version: mainly psychological, plus support network:

Meetings: (i) Regular reminder or risk of gravity or relapse (ii) Learning from experience of many other alcoholics (iii) Somewhere to go for company instead of drinking (iv) Unconditional acceptance and friendship (lots of hugs).
Steps (i) Recognition of one’s inability to control drinking (ii) Acceptance of the need for help (iii) Encouragement of honesty and good behaviour, mandate to make amends to those we have harmed to deal with guilt, practice dealing with fear. (iii) Encouragement to develop a realistic view of oneself, avoiding the stress of a false image, allowing gratitude for desirable qualities (iv) Emotion processing: bring feelings to consciousness, recognize them share them with others: they dissipate, or, if not, we accept them as parts of our psyche, learn to live with them, become their friends (v) Mandate to provide service to others bolstering self-worth, alleviating low self-esteem. (vi) Meditation to alleviate stress. (v) Prayer (for theists), good for health.
Fellowship: a support network to call in case upon in case of crisis.
Sponsor: with whom to share, from whom to get advice, to call in upon in case of crisis.
Serenity: to accept the things we cannot, so that we don’t get wound up.
Courage: to change the things we can so we gain fulfillment from action instead of uselessness as the fruits of procrastination.

Comment by Gabriel Segal

Well if you were taking the time to respond to that on a St. Paddy’s Day and not embibing on the green beer, that’s got to count for something. Happy St. Me Day!

Comment by McGowdog

Fantastic article and it has helped me to understand the reason why AA only worked for me when I started working the program.

Comment by stevieramone

Our Traditions make it quite clear. As a 12 Step fellowship, the only program of recovery we are equipped to support is 12 Step. If there are people in our respective fellowships endorsing some other method of recovery (i.e.: re-socialization or therapeutic), then they are simply in the wrong fellowship. As responsible members of a 12 Step fellowship should encourage such folks to start a fellowship that supports their method of recovery. If a newcomer walks into our fellowship and balks at the program of recovery, I’d be more than happy to send them to these other fellowships. I am a veteran of re-socialization and therapy approaches. However, I had passed into the region from which there was no return through human aid – including other addicts and helping professionals. The Big Book makes it clear, that we are not ready until we have eliminated all our third options. We have not completed Step 1 until we know our only two options are to live by a spiritual solution or die in the disease. If the newcomer thinks he can do it some other way, then we give him and encouraging pat on the butt and say, “Go get ’em!”

God bless all,

Comment by Ken C. of SAA

Effing. A. Ditto what Ken C said.

Comment by McGowdog

The remarks by Ken C. and McGowdog fall graciously on my ears. If the discussion is to be about “step study,” then the discussion does not require label-pasting that talks about re-socializaton and therapy. A.A. and 12 Step recovery points are best analyzed by telling it like it was and like it is. Many know that the International Christian Recovery Coalition espouses reporting rather than analyzing or labeling. There is a wealth of information today about the role played by God, Jesus Christ, and the Bible in the origins, history, founding, original Christian Fellowship Program of A.A., and its successes. We believe that you start with A.A. Conference-approved literature and realize and share that the integrity of its language fully supports the learning and sharing of history–this, without denigrating the present status of A.A. which invites all to “come and see.”
God Bless, Dick B.

Comment by aahistorian

Real Agnostic! I love that. Thank you for your honesty and for staying far away from A.A. and saving that seat for the next real alcoholic who also is open-minded enough to want to do something about it.

Oh, and thanks for blaming A.A. for your life problems. We’ve now located your Higher Power.

Comment by McGowdog

Oops, I now see that I commented to someone who commented on a poster who posted way back in 2009, one DallasAlice.

See y’all in another 6+ months when someone responds to one of these comments again.

Comment by McGowdog

Regarding the “conversion” label: If you start erroneously with a concept and then build your argument, you have an argument based on shifting sand.

Some seem to think conversion is “spiritual but not religious.” This foggy concept has been rejected by the courts and by A.A. historians who point out the lack of understanding of the
phrase. Also the gibberish it amounts to..

Some seem to think conversion is linked to the Oxford Group. This detour appears to have been invented by those who don’t like the Oxford Group and; by those who fail to understand that early A.A. basic ideas came from the Bible. Not from the Oxford
Group’s “life changing” program Bill and Sam Shoemaker
fashioned 4 years after A.A. was founded.

Some like to quote a psychology scholar (William James) and his utterly irrelevant definition so often quoted by clergy and AAs alike.

Most wander through the maze of definitions–taken not from
the Bible and John 3:1; Romans 10:9; and the challenges to
build on the relationship with God that acceptance of Jesus Christ makes possible. Then they irgnore the original A.A. program succinctly summarized on page 131 of DR. BOB and the Good Goldtimers. And they miss the difference between the
Christian who walks by the spirit of God rather than by the
flesh. See Romans 8:1. Salvation is the beginning. Putting
on the new man and discarding the old man is growth.

The categorization on this site may be of interest to those who are tinkering still with the Minnesota Model, the Medical
Model, the Social Model, the Behavioral Model, and the Therapeutic Model. Unfortunately it does not focus on those
like the original AAs who followed a long-standing approach
to healing alcoholics: (1) Permanent abstinence from the use of alcohol. ( 2) Entrusting one’s healing and life to God through
accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. (3) Obeying God. (4) Growing in understanding and avoiding carnal Christianity through prayer, Bible study, Quiet Time, and reading Christian literature. (5) Fulfilling the need for helping others get well
by the same method.

A prescription on Dr. Bob’s prescription pad–written in his own hand–succinctly provides the solution for those who believe the
Prince of all Twelfth-Steppers had the real ingredients in the
right perspective: (1) Trust God. (2) Clean House. (3) Help
others. And Bill Wilson’s actual beliefs were no different.

God Bless, Dick B.

Comment by aahistorian

Thanks again Dick B. for your thoughtful facts on AA’s early history in relation to this essay and the writers opinions.
The first 100 described in edition #1 didn’t show up with The Big Book, as it eadnt written yet, they showed up with “The Big Big Book”, GODS HOLY BIBLE.
After 24 years of blessed recovery I always enjoy provocative discussion which returns us to the original solution, GOD !

Comment by Jimimac

I think this is a great article and pretty well balanced – thanks. Whatever camp we fall in to, I think that’s laid it out pretty well.

The book tells us to work with other professionals and be “quick to see where they’re right”, huh? Well, the man’s right :o)

Good job


Comment by paul

i think it is very clear in our text what we are supposed to. recovery is not about going to meetings. that is fellowship. it is all god, period. the modern fellowship is garbage and this meeting makers make it, and just dont drink is killing people. if i had the power to “just not drink” then i wouldn’t be alcoholic and i certainly wouldn’t need an awakening of my spirit to know how to live. it is so much bigger than just not drinking or using. that is but a small part. the true problem is loss of consciousness from the one true power, the steps are our path to enlightenment. inwardly god changes us thus our external world and out look on everything is changed. i have found in my own personal experience that once we have awoke it is very difficult to go back to sleep. for true relief you must have an experience and working relationship with god, don’t let anyone tell you different. it is what our literature tells us. read your book!

Comment by jamie

Welcome to the discussion Jamie. We recovered alcoholics are in the minority around here.

Comment by Mcgowdog

I’m grateful for this article: “The Three Views of Recovery.” It was one of the first writings I read years ago that gave voice to thoughts and feelings I had years ago and could find little or no room to explore.

I’m not at all surprised to see Dick B head the list of bible bangers who posit a christian belief as the defining necessity for sobriety. I’m not at all surprised to see many responses treating the Big Book as if it were yet another bible- sacrosanct and perfect- neither mistaken in any aspect nor worthy of expansion of any sort. These are hallmarks of fundamentalist, religious beliefs and excellent examples of the what these authors call “the conversion experience.” They help explain why state supreme courts and two district courts refer to AA as a religion. Any group which supports the statement “Everything you need to know is in the first 164 pages of the Big Book,” is a fundamentalist organization.

It’s interesting how far people need to “walk back” AA in order to avoid contradictory, fellowship-approved literature. Some even need to reject the Big Book, what with it’s insistence that we’re a member when we say we are, that a spiritual awakening can be educational as opposed to a spiritual conversion, that we’re free to come to our own understanding of a higher power and that we don’t have to accept or worship of Jesus A. Christ. I once had a narrow-minded, resentment-filled sponsor (for a few months before he moved to another country) who felt the 12 & 12 was absolute bullshit. The book “Living Sober,” is viewed with deep suspicion among many members.”

I am an atheist (no, not the erroneous description Bill included in the Big Book) and have had an active life of continuous sobriety for 22 years. I have worked with theists and non-theists. I helped start a mindfulness meeting. There’s a binder with alternative versions of steps we pass around for people who might be interested, and we open and close the meeting with a momentary silent meditation. If you want to talk about Muhammad or Bahá’u’lláh or any other manifestation of god, you are free to do so. We encourage people to talk about whatever their higher power(s) happen to be, especially as it relates to becoming more conscious and becoming better able to deal with life on life’s terms. Our group consists of quite a number of people with over 20 years and a few with over 30 years.

I am appreciative that in our area, we are not controlled by christians. I am appreciative of Tradition 3 which quite plainly allows membership based on criteria other than those who would play god and pronounce this personal alcoholic and that person not. I am hopeful that AA can continue (because it’s already happened and cannot possibly return to the mythic past of fundamentalists) to support all alcoholics seeking sobriety. I am also fearful, because fundamentalist continue to become more judgmental, more condemning and more insistent on denying any other view of recovery. If it wasn’t their experience, it cannot be true.

Comment by

You seem miffed that Bill W did not include the “real” atheist.

I don’t think it’s right for us in A.A. to cram Christianity down anyone’s throat, nor do I think it right to let members try to take God out of the program.

I have nothing against Christianity. I believe this though… if you got sober in a church, don’t give up your seat. If you got sober in A.A., don’t give up your seat.

My biggest problem with Christian-only-pie is the damning to hell of non-Christians. I just can’t bring my mind to believing this egoic concept. It’s almost as if I believe that only through Jesus can we get to the Father… but yet it’s still not confined to what we all call religious righteous folks who call themselves Christians.

Comment by mcgowdog

Hey mcgowdog, thanks for you comments. I’m actually more miffed that Bill couldn’t get the definition of an atheist right. We don’t believe you can “prove” the non-existence of anything. I do agree that whatever helps you get and stay sober should be part of your ongoing recovery. It would be a terrible waste if that’s as far as it went, but that’s another story.

Unlike you, I do have something against Christianity. I’m bisexual which has been condemned. My sister was denied the right to marry her second husband (her first beat her), because she had been previously married. Another sister had a FAS child because she was told abortion was a mortal sin.

It’s not a matter of wanting to take god(s) out of the program. It’s a matter of according people who don’t believe in those gods to pursue recovery with dignity and respect.

Comment by

If one was to use the Big Book as a means of Recovery as well as a fact of reference to what recovery is, meaning How to recover and if one has recovered then it renders this article useless and the spiritual conversion “View” as Fact.

To put it as plainly as possible, how can a person speak of 3 different views in regards to AA when in AA there is, has, and will only be 1 experience. A Spiritual Experience.

Articles like these promulgate the insanity that can be found within the fellow of the Spirit and in a world of Instant Internet where a lie can pass as the truth do irrepairable harm to the newcomer looking for a easier softer way.

Since we know that the Big Book is the 12 Step program of AA and the small Fellow that follows that program is the United Fellowship of AA lets see what the Programs says without opionion such as the one written on this page.

Dr’s. Opinion
Men and women drink essentially because they like the effect produced by alcohol. The sensation is so elusive that, while they admit it is injurious, they cannot after a time differentiate the true from the false.

To them, their alcoholic life seems the only normal one. They are restless, irritable and discontented, unless they can again experience the sense of ease and comfort which comes at once by taking a few drinks-drinks which they see others taking with impunity.

After they have succumbed to the desire again, as so many do, and the phenomenon of craving develops, they pass through the well-known stages of a spree, emerging remorseful, with a firm resolution not to drink again.

This is repeated over and over, and unless this person can experience an entire psychic change there is very little hope of his recovery.

On the other hand-and strange as this may seem to those who do not understand-once a psychic change has occurred, the very same person who seemed doomed, who had so many problems he despaired of ever solving them, suddenly finds himself easily able to control his desire for alcohol, the only effort necessary being that required to follow a few simple rules.

The Psychic Change mentioned here is a Spiritual Awakening or Spiritual Experience. There is no other type of way in which the Big Book states that we “May” recover.

I’m amazed at the “Scoffers” who write or come to AA and don’t realize that AA is not for them. AA is for those who DO IT!!!

There is no “Middle of the Road solution. The ignorance within the pages of this article can be liken to the ancient argument as to whether the Earth rotated around the Sun or the sun rotated around the Earth.

This fact was proven as we who have recovered have also proved that the program of AA works just as well as it did in it’s formative and outright successful years.

My suggestion to those who don’t like the program or want to change the program is to create your own program, write that program in a book using 100% of your own ideas and lets see where that gets you.

Big Book
Home Group

What’s so hard about doing this simple program.

Comment by thespiritualsoldier

as anyone can see from previous posts I’ve made, I’m at the other end of the spectrum- and I’m certainly nobody’s “soldier.” Good luck with that military metaphor, btw.

Obviously, there’s no talking to someone who believes that this program of recovery was only right at exactly one point in time: when the Big Book was written. It couldn’t grow, it couldn’t become clearer, there couldn’t be new discoveries or corrections to past errors. Millions of alcoholics’ experiences couldn’t add to the knowledge base. No, for the fundamentalist, it is the revealed word of god. In other words, a religion. While I don’t agree with Dick B., I refer people who believe in this way to his site- trust me, it’s where you want to be. He’s talking your language. And his research is extensive.

Out here in heathen land, you actually get people who disagree on these elements. And here is a wonderful article which describes three major experiences of recovery. There is one group which seeks to discredit and deny all other experiences. Nobody needs to guess what that group is- it’s the religious fundamentalists.

For my part, I’ve been actively involved in AA and sober for over two decades. We now have a meeting in our area which focuses less on anyone’s particular god or gods, and more on personal responsibility and mindfulness. Is it the only way to approach recovery? Of course not. Is it AA? Of course it is.

Comment by crescentdave

Thanks for the response. No, I just get and stay sober and hang out under a bridge… until the next A.A. meeting.

Yup, doctrine can be pretty hard core. Not sure what God thinks about sexuality, divorce, abortion, etc.

But I bet you money that I could guess what your opinion is on hillbillies, 223s, Copenhagen, and Wrangler jeans… and guys who date their sister.

Comment by mcgowdog

I’m a conversionist. I found this article really useful. And that’s because I understand what I’m dealing with now.

Where I am, 95% of AAs are resocialisationists. And they don’t even know it. But I know it now. I thought they just weren’t getting it. But this article – in conjunction with a meeting I have just gone to – has made me see that they actually think that the strength of the Group is the most important thing.

So when people like me turn up and talk about the Steps, they hate it. They really do. Because it’s rocking the boat. And the boat, with them all in it, is all they’ve got.

The unfortunate result of this group therapy is that, after the meeting, everybody’s ego is up. They feel good. And the problem with that – the abomination from my point of view! – is that the ego, the monstrous inflation of the ego which is tackled in Steps 4 to 9, is the vessel for the disease that we’re at a meeting to tackle. It’s ironic. It’s distressing. Group work appears to reinforce the problem, not deal with it; I can see the disease in the set of peoples’ faces, in the look in their eyes – and, although I’m not a Christian, it’s like a demon taunting me, saying, “look, this person thinks they’re well – but you can see, from the difference in them when they are in a meeting and when they are out, that I have got ’em good.”

Thanks very much for the article, like I say. It’s clear as day to me now – I understand the landscape I’ve been parachuted into.

As a conversionist, I recognise that my thinking is always going to be circular, in that I think that if they only did the steps, they’d see it from my point of view that the steps are the only thing! Circular thinking is infuriating, I accept that. But I’ve got to do my step 12, I’ve got to carry “the” message – and mine is live from 1938 when the manuscript of the Big Book was first put together:

It’s a spiritual programme, whether we like it or not.

Comment by Jules B

Wow. A non-atheist from across the pond. I didn’t think there were any left.

Comment by McGowdog

Thee are many people who do step work without being “conversionists.” It’s a program that allows differing approaches to achieving a good life, “whether we like it or not.” You see, the data is there. The numbers are there.

The only part about many conversionists that strikes me as odious and counterproductive is there well-documented insistence that other people “think and do as they do.” It’s a far bigger tent now than it was in 1935. There are, for example, non-whites and women and (thankfully) non-christians.

Comment by Dave Johnson

The three views of recovery are imo, but views or a model. They are not concrete descriptions of truth.

If you can get and stay sober without God, do it.

If you can get and stay sober without A.A, do it. “By all means, do it.” – r.i.p. Frank McKibben

I think you’re onto something. A.A. should split up into factions;

A.A. for the righteous Male Caucasian

A.A. for the woman.

A.A. for AAs.

A.A. for the …

Comment by McGowdog

You’re quite right, people can take from the Steps exactly what they want. And are welcome to do so.

It’s fantastic that “differing approaches” under a “far bigger tent” are “achieving a good life” for fellow AAs. Anything’s better than the misery we all went through.

No argument there.

But why is that people think conversionists are insistent that “other people think and do as they do”?

This conversionist is just bearing witness to the power of the machinery, the “spiritual toolkit”, which – after all – accounts for everybody sitting in an AA meeting in the first place.

Comment by Jules B

it must be very difficult to be you: ” I can see the disease in the set of peoples’ faces, in the look in their eyes – and, although I’m not a Christian, it’s like a demon taunting me, saying, ‘look, this person thinks they’re well – but you can see, from the difference in them when they are in a meeting and when they are out, that I have got ’em good.’”

You should probably pay more attention to your recovery. I believe you will be happier and won’t be seeing “demons” in every meeting you go to. It’s a big tent in AA … as the article describes, there are different approaches. The only “circular” thinking I observe in AA is conversionists insisting that their way is the only way, despite massive evidence to the contrary.

I hope you find peace. It’s a diverse program, “whether we like it or not.”

Comment by crescentdave360

Where does this idea come from that conversionists are “insisting that their way is the only way”?

The only thing this conversionist is insistent about is the right to bear witness to the power of the Steps in the context of meetings which wouldn’t exist without the Steps having been written in the first place.

That’s not for my benefit. That’s not either to insist that anybody else does anything they don’t want to.

That’s to ensure that the newcomer – and we were all newcomers – know that, in the “big tent”, there is actually a “spiritual toolkit”, some empirical machinery, to set them free to an extent that they might not see in the faces of those who choose to ignore it.

I was in meetings for 3 years before being shown the actual program and how it works. During this time nobody could tell me why I would want to exchange a dependence on a substance for a dependence on a group of people I don’t know who meet occasionally.

People are different. And I know a Book message often comes across as infuriating to those who don’t want to know. But it’s not about forcing it down someone’s neck. It’s about making it available to other people like me for whom the modern “takes” on the program simply don’t work.

Comment by Jules B

having said all that, you’re absolutely right, and I am very grateful for you pointing it out to me: If I was all that well, I wouldn’t be getting on my high horse!

I apologise unreservedly, I really do. You’ve really helped me get over a hump, so that’s fantastic and my gratitude is absolutely sincere.

No more posting for me on the internet, that’s for certain, I end up getting sucked into my own head.

Either I’ve given up fighting everything and everybody, or I haven’t. And you’ve helped me move towards that.

Regards, J

Comment by Jules B

You’re dead right, (sorry if this reposts again and again) – if I were as well as I think I am, I wouldn’t be on my high horse. You’ve genuinely really helped me out here, and I’m sincerely grateful.

Comment by Jules B

I found this discussion very interesting. I was a pretty low bottom alcoholic and was blessed with recovery before death. I got sober in young peoples AA in Northern Virginia in 1979 and I have been sober in AA for 37 years, sometimes more active than others. I have experienced recovery in a combination of all three forms and each have been necessary for me. I am still recovering, maturing and growing with God (I hope Lol). I am still often immature, self-centered and subject to destruction by self. I needed all the above forms of recovery and still do. I needed and need re-socialization, psychological exploration and healing, and continued spiritual awakenings. Sounds very much like the 10th, 11th and 12th steps. Looking back on my journey I would say the order has been surrender, spiritual awakening, re-socialization, psychological exploration over and over again. Each round healing me more and deepening my relationship with God and others. All growth prompted by my character being less than what was required for the situation or inversely the situation being provided because God loves me and wants my character to grow. The illusion of thinking I have arrived or know something is delusional. I am grateful that God’s principles (Word) is true if I believe it or not and his grace is available to those who did not know him like me. I would say I almost know nothing of God, but know more than i ever have.

Comment by Joe

Thank you, well written, interesting. I think it more effective to present opinions as insights rather than conflicts. Three views with boundaries is exclusionary. Psyche means soul, so psychological and spiritual are our attempt to put into words the same thing from different schools. Socialization, to love and be loved is also a spiritual priciple, phycological (Maslof) need, again semantics. There is no conflict, it is all One.

Comment by Louise

Still sober, 14 years, 10 months, and 20 some days, but haven’t been to A.A. but once in over two years and still don’t want to drink. I’ve found a sufficient substitute but probably not much help to the new man. I enjoy my freedom and being useful to the people about me, believe it or not.

Comment by McGowdog

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