Practicing Fraud – AA Style

I have been thinking about the issues in this newsletter for some time and only recently has the topic “gelled” for me.

For many years now, I have noticed what I would consider an “epidemic” of people who are “working” a twelve-step program and yet are, what I consider to be, pre-step one. In fact, I can almost predict that when people are “having serious trouble” with their lives it is usually because they do not really understand and practice powerlessness. When I think of the stuck group (people stuck in their recovery who are meeting together to try to get “un-stuck”), the issues that seem the most obvious are that they are trying to control something or everything. And, yet, they really have no acceptance of the basic powerlessness that is what, I think appropriately, is set as the foundation and first step of the program.

It is not that I think that one “gets” an aspect of the program (like powerlessness) – and then it is there set in concrete forever. It is not. Life is a process and instead of getting powerless once and for all, we keep re-learning it. Hopefully, we keep getting deeper and deeper in our learning, awareness and sophistication of the real meaning of these issues and can work out of our base of “getting” it, at least the first time at some level.

Yet, again and again I do not see this happening with “powerlessness.” I would guess that 95% of the problems and stuckness I see in those working a program are not because they have had a “slip” in getting powerlessness. It is because they and their sponsors (and those around them who keep silent) are perpetuating a fraud about having ever “gotten” it in the first place.

A friend of mine helped me get started on this issue. Last year, I was around when I heard her sponsoring someone. I have no idea who and it doesn’t matter. From my experience of living with her at that point, she was a mess and going through some very rough times. All of us were very loving and supportive of her at that time in our house and eager to help her “get” and “get” for ourselves what was really going on.

When I heard her on the phone with a sponsee, she sounded great. She sounded like she knew exactly what she was talking about in the twelve-step program and was spewing out experience, strength and hope by the barrelful. She was very versed in the twelve steps and was impressive and convincing.

Yet, from my perspective, she had no idea of what powerlessness meant in terms of a grounded way. She sounded great and, from what I perceived, that was the end of it. It was like she had some of the “ideas” and they ended at her neck. She did not live out of powerlessness or even value it from what I could see. She was pre, pre-step one.

She was practicing what I now call twelve-step fraud. She talked a good talk and could not possibly walk a good (or any) walk because she had not taken in, chewed it and incorporated powerlessness in her bone morrow and cells.

Pete and I then sat down and talked with her and our suggestion was that she release her, at that time, many sponsees because she was living pre-step one and “talking knowledgably” about further steps as if she had digested and done step one. I did not have the words at that time and, at this point, I would now call it Fraudulent AA behavior.

To her credit, she listened to us and this also released her from what I now see is another prevalent AA fraud, that she could be helpful to others while not living what she was “teaching” and using others to delude herself. Therefore she was using her sponsees and when she released them she gave up one “crutch” that was perpetuating her disease.

Yesterday, we went through a similar process with another friend. She is anxious almost all the time and having debilitating panic attacks that nothing seems to help. Her solution is to work the steps harder and get in touch with her sponsors.

I told her that from my perspective, panic attacks are completely based on the illusion of control and they and her less intense “worries and concerns” about – – – almost everything, leave her in a constant state of anxiety and are also ultimately based on her being pre-step one.

As we talked, I realized that so many people come to mind that shared this “state,” and, to me, all of them seemed pre-step one or not getting powerlessness.

My next question to this friend was “Who are your sponsors, what steps are you working on and why are they letting you get away with this?”

Then, being incredulous before I asked the question and not surprised with the answers when I received them – which was a variety between step four and step nine, internally I shrieked as I quietly said, “Well, then they too are participating in AA Fraud.”

With trepidation, I put out my next question – “Do you have sponsees?” almost not wanting to hear the answer.

“Yes, I do,” she said.

At that point tears came to my eyes because I believe that the twelve-step program can and does “work when you work it.”

“How can you have sponsees if you have yet to work the twelve-step program and sponsor people if you are so solidly pre-step one that you are having panic attacks which are built on the illusion of control?”

I had tears in my eyes and felt a bit sick to my stomach as I felt somewhat complicit in this fraud which was, in essence, using people to feel good about ourselves and misrepresenting who “we” are (perhaps a good Al-Anon gut response). And, I do wish I had picked up on this earlier.

“Let me tell you about my experience with the first step,” I said.

When I first learned about the twelve-step program of AA, I thought since I was not an alcoholic, I only needed to know and learn it in an abstract way.

Very soon, I learned that it can’t be “learned” abstractly (which is what, I now understand, some others may do).

This “awareness” that it had to be experienced and not abstractly “learned” was an important and extremely significant shift in my life. I had come face-to-face with what I now believe was a crucial learning and foundation for the need for participation and experience. That is, to truly learn or “get” something, we have to participate. Abstract learning will not work and is a fraud with respect to the important things. Real learning requires participation – over a period of time. Head learning of concepts and abstractions are of limited use in living.

So, to get back to my own story, I plunged in and “worked” the program, as I am prone to do when something is important to me and intuitively I knew that this learning experience was of crucial importance to me.

The first thing I did was to sit down by myself in a quiet place to read, just read, the first step. “We are powerless” – –

I was furious! I could get no further – (as some of you know, I never do anything half way).

I was willing to “do this thing” and, as a woman who was involved full stop in the women’s movement and all of us regaining the power which had been stripped away from us or never was there for us, I said to myself, “NO! NEVER! I WILL NEVER BE POWERLESS AGAIN!!!”

And I did want to participate and “do” the twelve-step program to “understand” inside and out why it works.

Being the kind of person I am, I did not quit. I kept working with it, while refusing to relinquish one inch of my personal integrity (I fear this may be the place where some of you “compromise” because isn’t being an addict already compromising one’s integrity?). I, however, was unwilling to take the easy way out so I struggled for two years over the phrase “I am powerless.” – – I was stuck on this phrase and honored my “stuckness” as being important to me. AND IT WAS!!!

Then one day, as having integrity with oneself and one’s creator works, I read the first step differently. “I am powerless over alcohol.” Wow! What a difference. (Since I am not an alcoholic – I read it as “I am powerless over the addictive process.”) Of course I am, isn’t addiction (the addictive process) something that has you in its grip? Isn’t the addictive process something that controls me against my will and best efforts? That’s what addiction is. This is not saying anything about my personal power. I am given my personal power by the creator. It is a given and it has nothing to do with power over anything or control. It is something that is in me like a life force. Only my addictive thinking and process would try to turn that into power over and control. That’s sick indeed.


Then, I saw that there was more. As I look back, I believe the second part of that first step tapped into my Al-Anon issues (which, I think we all have) – – “And my life has become unmanageable.”

Chaotic, dysfunctional, unhappy, not working well – yes. “Unmanageable?” – No! “I am managing, aren’t I?”

It only took six months to a year to “get” the second part of step one into my being.

What I like about myself is that I had the integrity to stay with myself until I clearly and honestly “got it” in my being and soul.

I do not believe that most people “get” the first step in their being and do not have this baseline to return to if they stray from or slip from this total knowing in their being. Therefore they think – or convince themselves or their sponsor (who is “convincible” because they have never really “done” it) that they have done this step and bumble on. Also, I believe that their “sponsors” are in the same boat and therefore are of no help to them.

Concepts, abstractions and head living do not work with the twelve-step program because it is a process that requires integrity and is a shift from the paradigm in which we are living.

If you have really incorporated the reality of powerlessness over and control, when you start to move into your old illusionary world, you have something to go back to that will “return you to sanity.”

If you have been a fraud and conning yourself and others – the illusion of power over (ourselves, people, places and things) and control can be an easy option to slip back to or not even “back” to if you never got it in the first place.

My experience is that after I really “did” the first step, I know the old illusions are there, they are just not the option I choose to choose – – for any reason, because they are an insult to my personal power and my connection with my creator. So, when we build our new lives on an old fraud, it turns out to be the same old, same old. And, we wonder why.

Remember, we are pre-step one until we get to the powerless that emerges from our integrity.

Our integrity is too precious to squander. As our knowing and believing in all parts of our being that we are powerless over our disease, our illusion of having to have power over or control over anyone or anything including ourselves begins to subside.

If we do not have integrity with step one before moving on, how can we possibly hope to recover?

If we are practicing dishonesty and fraud with step one, how can we be helpful to others?

We really must learn to approach the steps with a deep integrity within ourselves and not pretend that we or others “get it” when we/they don’t.

Fraud is easy for addicts to practice. We are, after all, addicts.

The process is always more powerful than the content. The concept is easy. How we approach and do the steps is extremely important. We compromise our integrity by participating willingly in others’ fraud.

4 thoughts on “Practicing Fraud – AA Style

  1. I was greatly encouraged today by this AWS “seeing”. For, this is where I am: pre-pre.
    God is so patient to stand by, arms crossed, feet tapping while I stiff-arm my recovery to little, if any, avail. God wants to use me, the disease wants me dead, I’m older, and my health— all conspire. I feel afraid and more willing than ever.
    Anne, I’m so glad to be learning from you in this format. It’s not like sitting in the group room , and for this technology and the chance to continue as a recipient of your wisdom is a real gift. Thanks!

  2. Anne, I’m so glad to have checked. Your blog especially about aa fraud..I can identify with pre-step one and my need to understand powerlessness again and at a deeper level. My story is long and I wont go into it here.My disease has progressed to the point of almost total isolation avoiding people not going to meetings and feeling suicidal.I have a sponsor and speak to him a couple times a week.I am not using but I did smoke some pot in seattle.visiting my brother in August I still have pretty severe manic episodes and was on one.There.I sunk very quickly into a depression after returning to Provo. I have never felt comfortable here or liked it.I liked reading thid because of the clarity and depth of your explanation of step 1. And it reminds me of learnings I had when I first met you in my early days of training. How everything was so fresh new and exciting. I would like to get that back.It feels to me AA in Utah county is prestep one and stale or maybe its just me.I do need some help. I look forward to getting you new book and future blogs Love Patrick Barnes

  3. Your blog on AA Fraud was like a warm bath. Ah…..yes!

    It was you and Pete who caught me and taught me about this best. Pete shared with me about my food addiction recovery, “Phil, you have great self-will abstinence.” Soon after, you shared with me, “Phil, I admire how hard you work your 12 Step program, and you are massively self-centered.” I was so hungry and open to praise, I let both comments sink in. (They are still sinking in.) So, what was I to DO!? I was stuck on that for several months. Now I gradually keep seeing that self-centeredness, i.e., my distorted will, is at the core of my addictive disease. Yes, I am powerless over food; yes, I am am powerless over adrenalized work: AND, under this all, is the real spiritual disease, and I am powerless here, too. Thank you for seeing this and sharing with me what you saw so lovingly.

    This AA Fraud blog – like your notion of conning through life – is a gift. Is it appropriate to share it with others or just to send them to your website?

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