I've answered a couple Formspring questions on AA and 12 Step groups recently, and I've talked about why I think they are cults. What I haven't talked about in any depth is my own experience with these groups. This will be a series of posts, mixing in current research and data and my own memories of my two years in Al-Anon. I will try to show why I believe they are a cult, and provide evidence to back up my claim.
I knew Roni's drinking and drug abuse was a primary cause of our marital strife. I thought if I could just get him to quit drinking, then we could work on everything else. I could hold my marriage together through sheer effort and force of will. I picked up a book on "Seven Keys to Sobriety." Apparently, if I just spent a few hundred dollars on vitamin supplements and kept my husband locked up somewhere for a week, I could detox him through the healing powers of alternative medicine and make him a brand new man. Unfortunately, I didn't have the couple thousand bucks it would have cost to do such a thing, before even looking at the expense of an inpatient addiction recovery center. We were going to have to do this on the cheap.
So I looked at Alcoholics Anonymous. I'd only ever heard good things about the group, and I'd even recommended on a vague sense of their good reputation that a high school boyfriend attend Ala-Teen meetings, to get help coping with his dad's excessive drinking and the violence that went on in their home.
I decided to attend an Al-Anon meeting. I'd heard it was a support group for the family and friends of alcoholics, and I sure needed some support. I had, after all, just gotten married, had a baby, and separated from my husband to go live with my disapproving mother. I had also just undergone unanesthetized surgery at a walk-in clinic to remove a staph infection that was killing me, and I had a broken ankle I couldn't afford to have looked at by a doctor.
I had my mom go with me and the baby, since I couldn't exactly drive with my broken right ankle. We got to the Methodist church and school about a mile down the road and looked for the meeting. It was in one of the classrooms -upstairs. I had brought my son's stroller, because I thought that would make it easy for my mom to keep him placated while I listened, but I hadn't counted on stairs. Two AA guys, meeting in the room next door, were kind enough to hoist the stroller up the stairs while my mom carried my son, and I hobbled up the stairs with my crutches, in a too-large borrowed walking cast.
My first impression was that the people in the meeting were off somehow. I told my mom as we left that they seemed like cult members. Some things stood out as "not quite right" like the part one lady read aloud about "only conference approved Al-Anon literature may be read." I was reading everything I could on addiction and alcoholism, and it seemed weird to limit myself to just one possible course of action. But, the women assured me, there really was no other way my husband would get sober. He needed AA and he needed it now.
Well, it was worth a shot. They themselves advised that I attend six meetings before deciding whether or not Al-Anon was right for me. So, it wasn't like I had to make up my mind right away. I could just check it out for a few more weeks, and I could always leave if I didn't like it, right?