One common complaint I hear from people who tried AA and stopped is that “it’s a cult — brainwashing.”
I understand their conclusions. It does seem sometimes everyone is repeating the same lines and applying recovery in the same way. However, I offer you below some facts that challenge those assumptions.
It is easy to find fault with something if you’re already itching to exit, but I recommend you honestly ask yourself what you see.
- No membership dues or fees
- No “Holier than thou” attitude or seniority
- No central leader, President, or board dictating everyone else
- No requirement to believe in a specific religion or deity
- Open for everyone
- No “hazing” or violence for initiation
- No banishment if you decide to leave or try another method
- Freedom to work the program how you want and with the people you want
No membership dues or fees
It’s hard to beat free. Usually, most cults ask you to pay a hefty fee for membership (if not give up all of your possessions for the commune!).
The chairperson passes a basket as a way to gather voluntary contributions, and no one shuns you if you skip it. Stick around and have some coffee regardless. That’s how free it is. As the saying goes, “We’ll gladly refund your misery!” but it’s hard to refund a program that is free to use.
No “Holier than thou” attitude or seniority
Members don’t get an advantage over others just by getting started earlier. Everyone is on the same playing field. During the business meetings, a member with 20 years sober receives a single vote the same as someone with a few months.
Sure, you usually choose a sponsor because they have sober time than you and appear content in life, but sponsors are by your choosing, not forced on you. “Old-timers” pass on the message but aren’t given any extra powers besides what they have to share with others.
Ponzi or pyramid-type groups usually give extra profits or power to members early in on the scam. But that’s not the case in 12 step programs.
In essence, long-term members usually have seen a lot more in sober life and have more experience with newcomers, which they do for free as part of their recovery and not for a fee or commitment.
No central leader, President, or board dictating everyone else
Members decide on how meetings operate in a “ground-up” democratic style. Each member at the business meetings gets to vote on measures. Members elect service positions such as treasurer or secretary. Service positions also have strict rules around rotation frequency (no member stays in a role for more than a few years).
You won’t see a single ruling face or name who directs every decision by themselves. I can’t name a single cult where a larger-than-life personality (usually the founder) wasn’t quick to get in the spotlight and show who they were to get famous.
No requirement to believe in a specific religion or deity
You don’t have to believe in any particular religion or higher power. No one forces you to accept a Christian or Jewish God. You can keep the faith you came in with and might find that the program helps you see your religion in a whole new light and participate in it with more enthusiasm than before.
Nobody asks you to believe in their variety of religions or non-religion. It is up to the individual.
Open for everyone
The meetings aren’t just for specific professions or ethnicity or political leaning. It is open to all.
Conversely, if you study histories of cults, you find that they tend to target specific groups (usually for money or for being easy prey).
No “hazing” or violence for initiation
To join, you only need to say you’re a member. It’s that easy.
No one comes out and flogs you with an old paddle before it “takes.” No one lays hands on you. No one blindfolds you and makes you run naked in the rain on a golf course.
Hazing is not a part of the program or initiation.
No banishment if you decide to leave or try another method
Let’s say you find something better for you, and you tap out of attending for a while. That’s perfectly ok. You will always be welcomed back. You don’t need to sign some “book of shame” to mark that you left.
The program’s openness allows you to search for alternative solutions, even if they don’t allow you to attend as often. But you’ll find the doors are open whenever you need them.
Freedom to work the program how you want and with the people you want
No one forces you to rearrange your lifestyle into a strict schedule or regimen for you to recover. You pick a sponsor you want to work with if you wish to, and you can change sponsors at will. You go at the pace that works for you and have the freedom to change course.
Alternately, many cults or communes schedule every hour of your waking life in a way that the leaders see fit. They often completely take over your life in a way where you have no time for yourself and your needs.