Years ago I never thought I would say that “I am a grateful alcoholic.”  I had heard this said at Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings on occasion when someone would choose to introduce themselves that way, but never really understood why or how being an alcoholic was something to be grateful for. After working the entire 12 steps of the program and a few 24 hours later (a saying we use in AA since the numbers of years someone’s been in the program really doesn’t matter), I then understood what it meant to be “a grateful alcoholic.”

The 12 steps enabled me to learn how to enjoy life, letting go of the unnecessary stressors and resentments that I was powerless over. I practice acceptance, honesty, willingness, love, and tolerance of others without judgment, feeling good and valuing my own self-worth, and learning to understand and patiently work on my “defects of character.”  Our program–as we say–is about “progress not perfection.”  Staying sober one day at a time, not stressing about yesterday or what tomorrow may bring, with spiritual guidance–it’s a great way to live!

Unfortunately, after almost 80 years of existence, AA is still misunderstood by so many, resulting in ignorant misinformed public attacks. With all the recent hype surrounding Toronto’s mayor and his admittance of addiction problems, there have been many articles in the news about addiction, with some attacking AA while claiming the success rate is almost zero percent.

How ignorant is that…to criticize a program that actually does have scientific studies backing its success? As argued by John Kelly and Gene Beresin, “the largest randomized controlled study of treatment for alcohol use disorder ever undertaken (Project MATCH)…fails to state that compared to the cognitive-behavioral and motivational-enhancement treatments included in that study, the 12-step treatment had more than double the number of patients who were continuously abstinent at one year after treatment and about one third more at three years after treatment” (“In Defense of 12 Steps…”)*.  More importantly, why would anyone publicly bash a program that helps people, not harms them? Why would someone choose to attack a community-based, “free” program that has saved countless numbers of lives and mended relations of so many families is beyond me.

AA gave my three children their mother back–they are also very grateful for AA.  If I miss a meeting, my children always notice and ask why. They understand that the meetings are their mother’s “medicine;” to be blunt, without them I will get sick and die.

It is gravely wrong and simply a form of stigma for others to judge and attack something that has been proven over and over again to be lifesaving and beneficial to so many suffering from the disease of addiction.  Unless the individuals writing these misinformed articles have experienced addiction and the suffering it brings along with it and have tried various ways to save their own lives and get sober, then they have absolutely no right to judge those that have. Shame on those people, and shame on those articles (which do not contain any scientific backing, might I add) that further stigmatize and discourage hope for others who suffer and may die without the guidance of a 12-step program. Another reason why AA and its members need to remain anonymous–for protection from others that still shame and criticize addicts even after they have become sober. Now that’s stigma! Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

I can only hope someday that Toronto’s mayor will also be able to say he is a “grateful alcoholic”. I know I am!

* Beresin, Gene, and John Kelly. “In Defense of 12 Steps: What Science Really Tells Us About Addiction.” Common Health. 7 April 2014. http://commonhealth.wbur.org/2014/04/defense-12-step-addiction

About Carole Eastman

Carole is an addiction counselor whose passion is to provide support to others suffering from the disease of addiction and mental health disorders. In recovery from alcoholism for over 6 years, Carole understands the barriers and challenges many face in order to achieve a better quality of life which we are all so deserving of. Carole has raised three children as a single mother and after many years of struggling now enjoys living life on life’s terms. You can connect with her on LinkedIn, and follow her story on HMC’s Supportive Minds Blog.

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