I just finished reading a book by A.J. Adams titled “Undrunk – A Skeptics Guide to AA.”
I thought I would review the book here so people might decide if they would like to read it as well.
Here are some of the highlights:
Chapter 1 – Here, Adams makes one point that really resonated with me: you have to surrender to something. At this point in the book he is presenting things in a very open-minded sort of way, and I agree with him about this critical point of surrender.
Any alcoholic or addict who is struggling for control needs to reach a breaking point and let go.
Personally, I experienced this when I agreed to go to a treatment center. An extension of this was when I agreed to go to long term treatment. These 2 decisions made up the bulk of my surrender.
Chapter 2 – Here, Adams points out 3 things that had to happen for him to make the real decision to change and sober up:
1) He had to feel genuine pain.
2) He had to accept that he could not moderate his drinking.
3) He had to accept that alcohol was his biggest problem.
I agree with most of this, and all of these ideas were true for me. However, I worry about such a philosophy in regards to point number 3 above because I have seen many addicts and alcoholics who had problems other than addiction, some of which were more serious than their addiction. For example, in a small number of individuals, I have seen mental illness that was a bigger problem than addiction. Clearly this points to the need for a different path to recovery–something that this author is not really endorsing with his message.
Chapter 3 – Adams points out that he got four major benefits in his life due to the spirituality he found in AA:
1) Obsession for drugs and alcohol was lifted.
2) Fear and anxiety left him.
3) Found purpose in his life about what is really important (and this had proven elusive in his past).
4) Life became different – new approaches to problems, more optimism, focus on gratitude.
All good points, but I would argue that these are products of recovery, not of AA. What can we learn by uncovering the processes that lead us to these spiritual rewards in recovery? For being a skeptic’s guide to AA, Adams hands the credit over to AA awfully quickly in my opinion. More useful would be to explore how and why we come by these spiritual benefits in our recovery, and what actions we can take to get us there on a consistent basis.
It is obvious by now that AA does not work for everyone. What, then, are the universal recovery principles that can lead us to a spiritual experience? What is the path to true holistic growth in recovery? These are the kinds of questions that I imagined a true skeptic would explore….
Chapter 4 – In this chapter, Adams talks about a number of AA topics, such as sponsorship and “the promises,” but he also mentions that some people eventually leave meetings for a while or for good, citing “complacency” as their main problem.
This I take issue with. I personally left 12 step meetings because I was becoming complacent….and I could see the same complacency in 90 percent of the addicts and alcoholics who attended the meetings with me.
Chapter 5 – This is Adams personal take on the 12 steps and 12 traditions of AA. All I could think was been there, done that. I’ve read a number of summaries like this already. Admittedly, I thumbed through this section pretty quickly.
Chapter 6 – Here Adam’s offers his personal take and commentary on all of the AA slogans and lingo that has infected 12 step meetings everywhere. Cliches are useful because they have truth and wisdom in them, but at the same time, they get old quickly and can misdirect people as much as they can give guidance when they are accepted blindly as dogma. I have always been against heavy use of the cliches and 12 step lingo because it leads to “groupthink,” always stifling the individual and creativity on some level.
When you borrow one of these cliches you are taking a shortcut. You are refusing to think for yourself. To be honest, the “internal language” of 12 step recovery is part of what drove me to find a more individualized path. I just got sick of the broken record. I think the language itself becomes a kind of complacency.
Chapter 7 – Here, Adams gives us a one year progress report (he was sober a little over a year when he wrote the book), and gives us concrete examples of how he is now dealing better with various issues in his life–such as resentment, anger, and so on. Fair enough, with some useful insights as well.
Chapter 8 – This chapter just quickly touches on relationships, and Adams talks about how things changed when he got sober with his family, his friends, his coworkers, and so on. Really the last two chapters were sort of an introduction to how an alcoholic’s life can change once they are living sober and in AA.
I do give Adams credit for being so forward in describing some of these life changes. But I am somewhat disappointed that this skeptic’s guide to AA became more of an endorsement of AA and less of a critical analysis. It is not that I am against AA, but only that I wanted to learn some new things. As such, I took very little away from this book. But that does not mean that no one can benefit from reading Undrunk. I think some people can definitely benefit.
Who should read this book – Probably anyone who is seriously thinking about going to AA as their solution for a drinking problem. It might also be an icebreaker read for the person in your life who is hesitating to take the plunge into sobriety. Just know that it is essentially a sales pitch for traditional recovery, and you won’t find many ideas here that push the envelope of creative recovery.
You can purchase the book here if you want a reliable online seller who gives a good discount.