Bill: Here’s part two of the interview with my brother, Stan, as we discuss the structure of the Recovery and Discovery Podcast.
Stan: When you talk about the 100% versus 5% versus 95%, what you’re talking about are 100 people in the room finding permanent sobriety somehow. Of that 100, the best statistics that you have say that 5% found the true Alcoholics Anonymous.
Bill: No, that’s not the numbers.
Stan: Okay, what are the numbers? I’m so confused.
Bill: One hundred people come to Alcoholics Anonymous. That sounds like the beginning of a joke, doesn’t it. One hundred people come to Alcoholics Anonymous. Five of them stay sober more than two years.
Stan: Okay. But not necessarily find sobriety or help in that hundred.
Bill: Oh, they do. They have sobriety for over two years; five of them do.
Stan: But the other ninety-five not necessarily.
Bill: Right. They might stay sober for a year, a year and a half. They might stay sober for a day, but they don’t get long term recovery.
Stan: So, it’s binary. They either find two or more years of sobriety or they don’t.
Stan: I was making much it too complicated. Because we don’t get to know what happens to the people that leave Alcoholics Anonymous.
Bill: They stop reporting. Any efforts at all to try to track what happens then to those people that don’t make it…we can’t capture enough information because they quit reporting.
Stan: That’s true. And so if we shouldn’t play with percentages when we’re talking about that crowd, but I think that crowd is very important.
Bill: The people that don’t make it in AA?
Stan: The people that find sobriety, permanent sobriety, but not through AA.
Bill: Yes. I think they’re part of that ninety-five.
Stan: But we don’t know what that percentage would be.
Bill: Right. And I’m not trying to answer that question. The question I’m trying to answer is: what are the common denominators? To form a question is the second part of the scientific method. My questions is: what are the common denominators among people who recover for two years or longer?
Bill: Alright, so then what would the hypothesis be? Well, I guess it would be what I think that answer to that question is.
Stan: So you have to look at some of those common denominators, I think. Like for example, a complete change of playpens and playmates.
Bill: So, environment?
Stan: Yes. A complete change of environment has to be a common denominator.
Bill: You would think so.
Stan: So the hypothesis from there would be: if somebody is able to completely change their playpens and playmates, and engulf themselves in a recovery environment; if they’re able to do that successfully, then that’s probably something that all the people that found two years or more of sobriety in AA can share, “Yes, we all did that.”
Bill: Okay. Well, it’s a question right now. That’s a hypothesis right now. And what other denominators would you expect that are going to show up which may or may not be found?
Stan: Some would say that up until the time they got sober, they had no guidance, no higher power.
Bill: So, higher power?
Stan: Or guidance. Either one. Some people find it easy to call their guiders a spiritual being, a higher power of some sort. Other people say, “No, my guidance came from a really trusted friend, or relative, or preacher, or rabbi, and that guidance was enough to keep me on track.” So not necessarily a higher power, a power greater than themselves certainly.
Bill: Now, if I were to just ask somebody that’s got two plus years of recovery from their addiction, because we’re not just talking about alcoholism now, we’re talking about…
Stan: Any of the 12-Step programs.
Bill: Well, I’m interested in talking to anybody that has recovered from any addiction.
Stan: See, that’s a different set of questions, I think, and a different hypothesis. Because when we started the conversation, you were talking about the five percent that come to Alcoholics Anonymous and find two years or more of sobriety.
Bill: Yes, that’s right. You’re right. You’re absolutely right. So, thanks for bringing me back. So the question, the observation I made was AA doesn’t work for everyone, but a lot of people recovery with and without AA. The question I have is: what are the common denominators in recovery from alcoholism?
Stan: And I would guess that the first one that we talked about is still going to be common – a complete change of environment. I think one that we don’t talk enough about in the Alcoholics Anonymous, but I think it’s true, is change in nutrition. And as young people we don’t put enough emphasis on that, but boy, when you get to be sixty, you realize how important that was.
Bill: So again, environment, higher power or guidance, change in nutrition.
Stan: Now, if you look at all three of those, if you believe in holistic health, then yes, if you’re impoverished in a spiritual way, but you’re eating fine, you’re still going to be sick. If you’re not eating well, but you’re empowered spiritually, you’re still going to be sick. So I think of it as a triangle; the spiritual, mental and physical all have to be in harmony. I think that’s a common denominator – when that equilateral triangle is in harmony.
Bill: So, say it again, when spiritual, physical and mental are in harmony.
Stan: Right. Balanced. And that takes nutrition, that takes guidance, it takes spiritual nutrition…
Bill: Well, and exercise?
Bill: Alright. What I think that we’re going to hear a lot about people who have gone to therapy and counseling…
Stan: Guidance is what I call it.
Bill: Yes, okay. Then we better take guidance out of the higher power, because that’s different.
Stan: Not always.
Bill: Not always, but…
Stan: No, in fact, if you go to the Mormon church, they also offer therapy and counseling, but it’s all around their beliefs and a higher power. Same as the Catholic church.
Bill: Yes, but you go to therapy and counseling, and unless you go to Lutheran Services, or Catholic or Mormon or wherever you go that’s religiously associated…
Stan: Which is, for the generation before us, exactly where you went. You went to a Catholic hospital, you sought a priest or a nun. Yes, that’s exactly what you did. You didn’t go to some Jewish Freud guy…you didn’t trust him. You would go to a priest that you trusted.
Bill: Well, we can’t do anything about them. I’m looking for common denominators…
Stan: I’m just saying that the thoughts are still out there. If you’re going to go outside of Alcoholics Anonymous, you gotta’ expect that the Mormons are as powerful now as the Catholics were back then.
Bill: Okay, here’s the point I’m trying to make; that higher power and guidance are not the same thing; that they shouldn’t be coupled together. In fact, I think guidance would fit better with therapy and counseling than it would for higher power.
Stan: Are you positive?
Bill: We can edit anything out.
Stan: I think you have a real block when it comes to a higher power. You, at times give it a special elevation it doesn’t deserve, and other times you dig a hole for it, but you never look at it straight on.
Bill: And you’re getting that from something I’m saying now?
Stan: No…something you’ve said for years, things that you’ve said for years. It has baffled you forever, the concept of a god, that God actually helping you, a god that can actually guide you into a better way of life.
Bill: I’ll acknowledge and agree that I’ve struggled with concept of higher power, but who hasn’t?
Stan: Don’t ask me, I’m an agnostic…at best.
Bill: So, what I’m asking is what’s the relevance, what’s the point you’re making here?
Stan: Because it’s difficult for you to talk about a higher power and look at it objectively, scientifically, as if it is another way of seeking guidance. You’re really resisting that, and I’m just wondering why.
Bill: What I’m resisting is that guidance be tied to higher power.
Stan: I’m just saying that your guidance…
Bill: Can I finish?
Bill: …that guidance be tied to higher power and not to therapy and counseling. And therapy and counseling aren’t higher power.
Stan: Would you admit that sometimes, especially for newcomers, counseling can be a power greater than themselves?
Stan: Well, that’s what we mean by “higher power”. And you’re hearing “God.”
Bill: Yes, you’re right. I wonder if we lined up a hundred people, and we had this conversation – we used the word “higher power,” how many would hear counseling…
Stan: If they’re AA folks, they’d all hear “God.”
Bill: I wonder if any of them besides you would think of higher power as anything other than God or the implication of it.
Stan: I am so lucky to be in this activist stuff that I’m in because I have all these young, bright, atheist friends, and they all think like that. And they look at everything scientifically and objectively and they don’t get confused about God. They weren’t raised with any religion, any confusion. They were never given the guilt trip of all that stuff, and it’s just so wonderful and refreshing to listen to them because they talk as if they’re talking to Albert Einstein. “Well, what do you think about quantum physics?” Not once does God come up.
Bill: Well, if you said to Albert Einstein, “What do you think of higher power?” Do you think he wouldn’t go to “God?”
Stan: He wouldn’t. He actually turned down being prime minister of Israel because he was an atheist.
Bill: Well, I get it. I didn’t know that, but that doesn’t have anything…
Stan: He spoke German anyway, so I doubt he would even know our common use of “higher power.”
Bill: Let’s assume, let’s just make up that Albert Einstein spoke English and he understood our words, “higher power.” What does he make that mean? You don’t think he’d going to make it mean “God?”
Stan: Okay. When I say “higher power” I mean a power bigger than myself.
Bill: And you’ve done enough work to get clear that for you that doesn’t mean God?
Stan: It doesn’t necessarily mean God. For a lot of people, it does. And maybe you’re right. Maybe most people, it does.
Bill: You’re absolutely correct that I’ve had a thorn around the presence of God and religion and spirituality in Alcoholics Anonymous. The problem that I have, always had with it…it seems to be… What is it…jammed down my fucking throat, how’s that?
Stan: I was going to say hammerhead…used as a hammerhead.
Bill: Yes. Right.
Stan: And that’s bullying and very much a Christian concept. One of the reasons I was so attracted all those years ago to Judaism is because we don’t have that God. We don’t have that constant God. You would never know it by reading the Old Testament, because that’s where the egotistical and thin-skinned God comes from was out of the Old Testament. But that’s not our evolved…Jewish think the thought of the Creator is who we refer to.
Bill: This has been so fun, Stan. Alright, can I bring us back to where we were at, what we’re trying to establish here?
Stan: Common denominators. I said guidance, and where I’m resisting your reaction is unfortunately, because most of us in Alcoholics Anonymous bring a tortured religious experience with us into the program. It really discolors our view of the use of religions that actually work out there. Religion is a word that’s put together more of a medical term than anything else, from the Latin, ligio, which means the same as ligament: that which binds together. And so the whole purpose of religion was to bind people with a common philosophy together so that as speaking as a group voice, they’re stronger than speaking alone. And it’s worked for thousands and thousands of years. Unfortunately, some charismatic asshole always takes that power and decides to kill people with it. Or fuck young girls with it or young boys with it. That’s where religion gets corrupted. But all in all, most priests don’t do that. Most ministers, most rabbis don’t do that. For the most part, religion for most people is a very positive experience and it’s very useful in their lives. So, I’ve come to recognize that the Jewish faith, for example, is a very powerful faith and it’s a very ancient faith, and I love the history of it. I love how good the people that I’ve met that are Jews are; how generous and prosperous they are, and intelligent and funny. Jews are funny people. So, when I see a fellow alcoholic, not just a brother, but a fellow alcoholic, still resisting…
Bill: Billy Crystal is Jewish, right? Funny guy.
Stan: Funny guy. Rodney Dangerfield – Jewish. Funny guy.
Bill: Oh yeah, funny guy. When you see a fellow alcoholic…
Stan: …it concerns me because it tells me that you still don’t trust any religion for anybody. And maybe that’s not true, but that’s the impression I get. Like, it isn’t some place you’d send your daughter because you love her and want to protect her. But I would, I’d send Alma in a heartbeat if I trusted it.