The 12-step fight – it’s not about the money

You might not be aware, but there are many websites dedicated to “deprogramming” people who have participated in 12-step recovery.

In this website you can read:

The shocking truth is that AA is NOT a recovery group or treatment program for alcoholism. The actual objective of AA is to bring alcoholics under God control, or AA control. Only one of the infamous 12 steps concerns drinking. The rest are dogmatic rituals and merely a process of indoctrination into a cultish religion. The Alcoholics Anonymous text unequivocally states:

“Our real purpose is to fit ourselves to be of maximum service to God and the people about us”. ~ p. 77

Another popular anti-12-step website is called the Orange Papers. This site is very passionate about the lack of success in AA. It can be summed up here:

The A.A. failure rate ranges from 95% to 100%. Sometimes, the A.A. success rate is actually less than zero, which means that A.A. indoctrination is positively harmful to people, and prevents recovery. Some tests have shown that even receiving no treatment at all for alcoholism is much better than receiving A.A. treatment:

What do I say?

I say — if you are dying from a hopeless condition (like substance abuse or mental illness) and you find a solution that has gives you a second chance on life — good for you. I am happy for anyone who has experienced recovery, regardless of how they did it. And frankly, I am so grateful, not to be suffering from alcoholism, addiction and/or mental illness, I could care less what think of “my” recovery program.  I never want to feel that way again. The bottom line – if you are going to hate something, I want to hear a solution (at the end of your rant) otherwise it’s just a waste of time.


Regardless of what treatment you love or hate, I would be remiss not to point out that 12-step programs are:

1. Very popular and found in every city and country around the world

2. Free

What does free mean?

That means – there is no cost to attend a 12-step meeting. Typically, a hat or a basket is passed during the meeting. If you want to put in a dollar or two — go ahead. If you can’t afford to, or you simply don’t want to contribute, you don’t have to.

Even if you are super wealthy and want to send a check in for $10,000 – you can’t. The maximum amount anyone can contribute is $3,000 per year. I find that oddly particular and completely unrealistic. But, it goes back to the founding of the program.

Bill W., A.A.’s co-founder, and some of the early A.A. members initially felt the only way for the Fellowship to survive was to solicit financial support from philanthropic institutions or individuals outside A.A. These “high rollers” could then supply the funds the Fellowship would need to carry out the vital Twelfth Step work the early A.A.s envisioned — to bankroll the army of paid missionaries, the chain of A.A. hospitals, and the library of books they were certain to write.

One potential A.A. patron, however, when approached by the pioneering members for money, instead helped to lay the groundwork for A.A.’s Tradition of self-support: “I am afraid that money will spoil this thing,” said John D. Rockefeller Jr., while at the same time endorsing the work of the fledgling Fellowship.

This marked a turning point in A.A. history and, as the reality of Mr. Rockefeller’s statement sank in and A.A. members began to see the truth in the old cliché, “Who pays the piper calls the tune,” the seed of the Seventh Tradition took root.

With the realization that A.A. must steer clear of outside contributions in order to maintain its autonomy and independence came the understanding that the money necessary for A.A.’s survival would have to come from individual A.A. members and groups. As Bill W. put it in 1957, “Our spiritual way of life is safe for future generations if, as a Society, we resist the temptation to receive money from the outside world. But this leaves us with a responsibility — one that every member ought to understand. We cannot skimp when the treasurer of our group passes the hat. Our groups, our are as, and A.A. as a whole will not function unless our services are sufficient and their bills are paid.

Back in 1940. Bill Wilson (one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous) had a dinner with John D. Rockefeller. Time Magazine published an article on the event.

Alcoholics Anonymous
Medicine Column

Last week one of the best-known teetotalers in the U.S., John D. Rockefeller, had 60 people to dinner. No cocktails were served, for several of Mr. Rockefeller’s guests were members of “Alcoholics Anonymous,” a widespread, publicity-shy group of one-time guzzlers who have cured themselves.

Psychiatrists now generally consider alcoholism a disease, specifically a psychoneurosis. Alcoholics generally drink, not just because they like liquor, but to escape from something–a mother fixation, inferiority feelings, an intolerable domestic situation, social or economic maladjustment. They may suffer the torments of the damned, even while drinking themselves into a stupor, and especially in the brief period between waking up with a remorseful, clattering hangover and getting down the first drink of the day. Psychiatrists try to help them by discovering the hidden reason for drinking and showing how it can be removed. But cynics in sanatoriums, watching a sober man walk out the door full of good intentions, often bet on how many days or weeks will elapse before he is back. Nagging by families usually makes things worse.

About five years ago a traveling sales-man named Bill, after repeated alcoholic relapses, was pronounced hopeless by his doctors. Bill was an agnostic, but someone asked him if he couldn’t believe that there was some power bigger than himself–call it God or whatever he liked–that would help him not to drink. The idea was that though Bill was always willing to let himself down, he might be more reluctant to let God down. Bill tried it, found that he had no trouble resisting the desire to drink. He was cured. He told his discovery to others, and the cure spread. These reformed drunkards called themselves “Alcoholics Anonymous,” now number over 400 in towns all over the U.S. – They do their missionary work on their own time, as an avocation.

Aware of this interest in liquor control, some of the group wrote to John D. Rockefeller two years ago–asking not for money but for advice. Mr. Rockefeller asked a representative to look into their doings, grew so interested that he helped to publish a book, Alcoholics Anonymous (Works Publishing Co.; $3.50), in which some members described their battles with the demon and how they won.

Professional opinion on the usefulness of Alcoholics Anonymous is divided. Some psychiatrists think the group is making a mistake in not leaning more heavily on medical guidance. Others feel that it gives something that psychiatry does not, should be encouraged to the fullest extent.

(Source: Time, February 19, 1940)

I love recovery that is for fun and for free. There are lots of ways I participate in recovery aiding activities that cost “zero per hour”. Things like walking outside, helping someone besides myself, sending a thank you note, or eating something healthy are just a few. What do you have to add, that is healthy, fun and free?

4 thoughts on “The 12-step fight – it’s not about the money

  1. 12 Step Programs are easy targets because their philosophy is “We have no opinion on outside controversy…our hats are off to you if…” 12 Step Recovery is not for you and “we have no argument…” with religion, medicine or ” whatever works.”

    I liked that you pointed out how 12 Step Programs are fully self supporting and I would like to emphasize that Treament Centers, even 12 Step Based facilities, are not affiliated with the 12 Step Programs they endorse. Nor do these programs receive any residual income from the treatment center’s incorporation of the 12 Step process into their therapy.

    Finally, 12 Step Recovery Philosophy encourages a members to examine any criticism of the tenants of 12 Step Recovery with an open mind in order to determine which critiques are valid.

    AA history, for sure, is filled with stories of people being open minded and willing to compromise for the greater good, “our common welfare.”

    Liked by 2 people

  2. i dont understand the undermining of AA as a process for recovery – the god thing is never forced – i have not experienced any pressure to subscribe to any formal religion, but i have been encouraged to tap into an exploration of my own spirituality and that takes as many forms as their are individuals in the group. i am being taught tolerance and openness to others – and i have been given a whole group of people who are willing to support me in my recovery in a totally non judgemental way. I just feel so lucky that this group is available to those who want it – its not as though we are forced to attend AA if we have addictions and mental problems. In my culture spirituality has been lost and there is an emptiness that shopping malls cannot fill. For me actively participating in community is a form of spirituality and it is fun, people need people! Volunteering is free and fun, bushcare, working at your local charity shop, walking your neighbours dog if they cant, picking flowers for the table, singing songs. These things dont require money or alcohol! Thanks for your post! xx

    Liked by 3 people

  3. As someone who has worked the steps and known people here is what i think: the steps are great for people who do believe in a higher power, I believe in God and working steps that helped me reconnect to him definitely helped my recovery path. I know some others who feel the same way. I know people who aren’t overtly spiritual and had great success with the steps because of the support that the group offers. But, like any other thing, recovery is an individual journey. What works for one person does not work for another. Those of us in recovery do not judge programs, we should just be thrilled that someone is seeking help and wanting to live a life better for them and their love ones. And sometimes in support groups or other forms of recovery the do certain steps and not know it. For example, you talked about volunteering and such that is a step within the 12 steps, we are to serve others. And nature is a great tool too, especially when you need to get centered. Stay strong!

    Liked by 3 people

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