A Freethinker in Alcoholics Anonymous
Reviewed by Thomas B.
AA Agnostica, 21 May 2014
a gratifying little book John Lauritsen has written about his 46 years
of continuous sobriety in Alcoholics Anonymous! I spent a wonderful day
this week sitting outside in bright sunshine on the usual rainy coast
of Oregon, delighting in his experience, strength and hope. He
forthrightly shares his stable recovery through A.A. that is not based
upon any religious or spiritual influence. Rather, as a freethinker, he
effectively relates how he found in the Fellowship of A.A.
unconditional support and the tools he needed to cease his addiction to
alcohol. He has thereby been enabled to live a sober, healthy,
productive life ever since his first meeting at New York City’s Perry
Street workshop in early January of 1968.
disclosure here: I remember John from my earliest days in recovery,
which included meetings at the Perry Street as well as my initial home
group, the Midnight Meeting. What John describes as “True A.A.: the
24-Hour Plan and the Fellowship”, I also consider as the essence of my
continuous recovery process since I attended my first meeting October
he readily attributes that he owes his life to the A.A. Fellowship, he
also advocates for a radical reformation away from what he terms is
A.A. is one of dogmatism, cultic behavior, conformity, intolerance,
anti-intellectualism and helpless-without-God religiosity.”
agree with him that this False A.A. ultimately kills because it drives
away nonbelievers. It even alienates believers who are offended by
meetings that sometimes take on more the characteristics of a tent
revival meeting than that of the big tent arena where all are welcomed
and supported to find their own path of recovery that has characterized
most of A.A.’s history and tradition for the past 79 years.
chapter is a proposal he made in 1976 to eliminate ending A.A. meetings
with the Lord’s Prayer. As he correctly points out this violates the
spirit of Unity and is counter to both the 3rd Tradition, “The only
requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking,” as well as
A.A.’s Preamble, which states that “A.A. is not allied with any sect,
denomination, politics, or institution.”
our regular morning meeting recently, my wife Jill and I chose to step
outside the circle and not chant the verses from the Christian New
Testament, when the Chairperson chose to ignore the suggested format
determined by our group conscience to end with the Serenity Prayer.
Unfortunately, this remains a common practice throughout much of the US
and Canada. The 2010 San Antonio International Conference ended with
the Lord’s Prayer, as do business meetings of Oregon Area 58.
of the most informative chapters is the one entitled “Physical
Recovery” in which John relates that his recovery program includes
regular exercise, good diet and not smoking. He describes the work of
James R. Milam and Katherine Ketcham, who attest that many alcoholics
in addition to being addicted to alcohol are also hypoglycemic,
suffering from chronic low blood sugar. As Milam and Ketcham suggest,
“Sober alcoholics, therefore, must learn to control their sugar intake
in order to avoid mood fluctuations, anxiety, and depression, and
recurring impulses to drink.”
the 1980s I took the 5-hour glucose tolerance test, experiencing the
typical spike in blood sugar level after intake of sugar followed by a
rapid plunge. Of late, I again notice aberrant reactions whenever I
“binge” on sugar. Thank you,John — I recommit to being more constantly
vigilant about my intake of sugar and to back it up, I have ordered a
copy of Milam and Ketcham’s book, Under the Influence: A Guide to the
Myths and Realities About Alcoholism.
the chapter about Perry Street Workshop — through which I thoroughly
enjoined taking a trip down a cherished, old memory lane — John points
out a fact that I had never previously contemplated, but that upon
reflection I agree is also true in my experience: The hand painted
version of the 12 Steps above is the only one I’ve ever seen in any AA
meeting that includes “Suggested” as is mentioned in the Big Book.
Perhaps the most important chapters are the two that describe the essence of “True A.A.”, the 24-hour Plan and the Fellowship.
absolute essential prerequisite for continued recovery is to not pick
up the first drink. a day at a time, the 24-hour Plan. Like John, I
experienced in Manhattan meetings over and over multitudinous
variations upon the theme of “No matter what, don’t pick up the first
drink, whether your ass falls off or turns to gold.” In both the
chapter on “The 24-Hour Plan” and a chapter describing the 19th Century
successful Washingtonian movement, John elucidates this essential
principle of not drinking for 24 hours. John points out that this
essential requirement for recovery was given somewhat short shrift in
the Big Book, which instead mostly advocates and delineates the need
for some kind of mythical divine intervention.
further quotes from the 1940 pamphlet, “A Manual for Alcoholics
Anonymous” published a year after Clarence Snyder started the first
Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in Cleveland:
constantly in mind that you are only one drink away from trouble.
Whether you have been sober for a day, a month, a year, a decade, one
single drink is a certain way to go off on a binge, or a series of
binges. It is the first drink — not the second, fifth or twentieth —
that causes the trouble.”
accepts today, just as he did in his early recovery, that he is still
physically addicted to alcohol. Drinking at a young age nearly caused
an early death, when he experienced severe DTs. He knows this addiction
can only be arrested, never cured. Therefore, a day at a time, he does
not pick up a drink — nor does he use any other mood altering drugs,
including those prescribed by physicians.
the chapter on the Fellowship, John takes AA to task for undermining
the Fellowship “by a growing and stultifying orthodoxy.” This includes
formalized readings from the Big Book, which discourages and limits
authentic sharing of experience strength and hope. He effectively
argues that a list of 44 suggested topics from GSO endeavors to control
spontaneous discussion so it doesn’t stray too far afield from the
orthodox path. He describes poignantly free-wheeling discussions at
Perry Street and other meetings, where people shared their victories —
getting an expensive haircut, a new job, another relationship — as well
as their losses of loved ones, pets, jobs, apartments, etc. All
throughout the meetings, people related to each other, identifying with
and supporting what’s going on here and now in member’s actual lives,
not just intellectually, but perhaps even more importantly
I am, he’s perturbed when Christniks — my term for Big Book/Bible
Thumpers — denigrate what qualifies us as alcoholics in a qualification
as mere “drunkalogs”. I still consider myself a newcomer, who needs to
experience the therapeutic benefit, as John describes it, of “a
catharsis in reliving the horrors of drinking.” So-called
“solution-based” discussions are archly described by John as when
“speakers often just parrot phrases from the Big Book, or babble about
their Higher Power and ‘spirituality’, telling nothing about lives,
past or present.” I totally agree, what kind of experience, strength
and hope is that?
have long held that the essential dynamic of recovery is one alcoholic
speaking face to face with another alcoholic. It was this way when
Oxford Group alcoholics talked to Ebby in Vermont, who talked to Bill,
who talked to Bob, and so-on ad infinitum down to the present day. When
I got sober, it wasn’t the steps, or the readings, or the literature,
or a sponsor, or any god that got me sober. It was going to meetings
and hearing the stories of other alcoholics who like me were not
drinking and with whom I experienced support that I too could live a
sober life. At the regular morning meeting I attend, which is also
attended by many newcomers from a nearby treatment center, a consistent
theme is their gratitude for hearing our stories about how better life
is sober. This is the Fellowship in action, and like John I am
immensely grateful that I got sober in New York City during the 70s,
where I could become firmly engaged within the Fellowship. AA was, and
remains for me today, a safe place to describe how I don’t drink,
whether my ass falls off or turns to gold.
other chapters, John critiques the Steps, and discusses opponents as
well as alternatives to A.A. I especially resonate with his final
chapter, “Conclusion” in which he encourages other non-believers — once
a solid base in recovery has been attained, “at least a year” — to feel
free to help in bringing about the needed reformation to make A.A.
relevant in the 21st Century to all alcoholics who meet the only
requirement for membership, a desire to stop drinking.
also heartily support his recommendation that A.A. needs to reexamine
its deification of Bill W. and Dr. Bob as the only founders of AA. Many
voices and a variety of views besides the Oxford Group went into the
brew — pun intended — that has resulted in the most widespread method
of recovery from alcoholism throughout the world.
supplement the chapters narrating his recovery in A.A. as a freethinker
who advocates for a reformation of A.A., John includes three appendices:
• “Only with God’s Help”, a 1975 article by British writer R.L. Wild
published in The New Humanist in London, which contends that A.A. in
Britain would be more helpful if it stopped preaching.
• A short essay explicating a picture on the back cover of the statute
of Giordano Bruno, one of the greatest minds of the 16th Century, who
was kidnapped by the Inquisition in 1593 and burned at the stake for
• A Freethinker’s Twelve Suggested Steps For Recovery from Alcoholism.
he has a selected bibliography of resource materials about alcoholism,
both in print and online, which includes the link to us here at AA
closing I suppose I really should mention something that I didn’t like
about John’s book — it’s a stretch, but while John rightly salutes
Clarence Snyder in liberating A.A. in Akron from the Oxford Group,
further suggesting that perhaps he is a more appropriate founder of
A.A. than Bill W. and Dr. Bob, he nevertheless fails to mention that in
the same biography he cites, How It Worked by Mitchell K., Clarence
also became by the end of his life the prototype for today’s rabid
followers of evangelical, pietistic Back-to-Basics A.A., replicating
early Oxford Group ideology in Akron. These are folks who are so
woefully misinformed to ardently believe and proselytize throughout
contemporary A.A. that the only way for “real alcoholics” to become
cured, i.e., permanently “recovered”, is for them to surrender on their
knees in prayer to and guidance from Jesus Christ, their Lord and
didn’t need this egregious myth in my first year of recovery — I need
it considerably less so in my 42nd year of continuous recovery.
I am incredibly grateful that throughout my recovery I continue to find
in A.A. like-minded individuals, such as John. I am also grateful we
can gather here on AA Agnostica to share our experience, strength and
hope, thereby continuing to experience the 24-hour gift of a “daily”
reprieve from alcohol addiction.