My sponsor asked me if I was praying. So, initially, I accepted music — something that seemed accessible to me — as my higher power. Then, more specifically, the Beatles became my deity.
Eventually, I accepted God myself. From that point onwards, I was a step evangelist. I prayed every day for 14 years. And I was also sober.
NONFICTION | BIOGRAPHY
Sometimes, in the more doctrinaire pockets of AA, methods other than the 12 steps are frowned upon. This has its pros and cons. There was an intense feeling of camaraderie, which is something I truly needed at the time. These were people who understood this very strange and contradictory thing about alcoholism.
That is, when you have a drinking problem, you feel like the drink is the only thing holding you together. I now realise that the rush I felt from being in a room full of people in the same boat as me — the sensation of peace, of God entering in through the ceiling — was simply oxytocin the human bonding hormone triggered by the familiar rituals of the meeting.
I was mistaking a chemical experience for a religious one. Then again, I was sober, I felt spiritually awakened and I was spending time in the company of loving people who understood and cared about me. Eventually, probably inevitably, I hit a brick wall in recovery.
AA was founded off the back of a s Christian revivalist movement in the United States. The AA programme makes absolutely no distinction between thoughts and feelings — a key factor in cognitive behavioural therapy , which is arguably a more up-to-date form of mental health technology. You have no control over your life, but the higher power does.
AA is still the default treatment for alcoholism in the UK, the US and many other parts of the world. Thousands of people struggle every day with this condition, tragically some even die, without ever hearing about the alternatives. To most people the idea that you could have one drink and remain relatively sober is completely reasonable. After all, in most countries you can still legally drink a small amount before you drive.
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The majority of alcoholics, those who may never be able to give up the booze entirely, desperately need to be made aware of the other options now available. In the mids, an American doctor, David Sinclair, began using an opiate blocker called naltrexone to treat alcoholics. Naltrexone inhibits the euphoria alcoholics get from drinking and allows them to drink normally. It means that, eventually, the drinker no longer associates alcohol with a high.
According to AA, that association is never lost. What became known as the Sinclair Method has now been used to treat thousands of alcoholics in Finland, where he worked. In the rest of the world, naltrexone is largely unheard of although nalmefene , a similar treatment, is available on prescription in Britain.
Sadly Sinclair died earlier this year, without the international recognition he deserved.
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This in a nation where church and state are constitutionally separated, yet the overwhelming majority of rehabs use step methods. This is usually, though not exclusively, practised by men who take advantage of their immediate access to vulnerable women. Consequently an innocent young women trying to come to terms with a drink problem can find herself sitting in AA next to a man with a serious criminal history, whose record might include violent or sexual offences, and who has in some cases even been court ordered to attend meetings.
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