They Tried to Make Me Go to Rehab

Amy Winehouse famously opened her hit song Rehab with the line: “They tried to make me go to rehab but I said, ‘No, no, no.’” The song’s mind-set is the attitude of many who have had to go to “rehab.” Sometimes people just don’t want to stop using drugs or drinking alcohol. And they REALLY don’t like hearing from someone else that they should stop. I work part time as a therapist for a drug and alcohol partial hospitalization program and could see Rehab being the treatment program’s theme song if we ever became a reality TV show.

A yearly survey done by the federal government, The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) estimated in 2007 that of the 19.3 million people who needed treatment for an alcohol use problem, 17.7 million (92%) did not receive it. I’m simply noting here that the vast majority of people who would say “No, no, no” to a rehab recommendation can and do avoid it.  But what about that 8%, those 1.6 million individuals who get to “go, go, go” to rehab?

Reluctant rehabbers through the legal system can be quite resentful when they are court ordered to attend A.A. (Alcoholics Anonymous) meetings. One such person who had a bad experience is Juliet Abram, writing in The Fix’s blog section. Her post has the provocative title: “Activists or AA Bashers?” She has her own blog, A.A.R.M.E.D. with Facts (Against Abuse in Recovery Meetings & Eliminating the Danger) and a Facebook page. Clearly, she doesn’t like A.A. and seems to have made her critique of it part of her lifestyle changes (I don’t know if she’d want the term “recovery” used). I want to share some of my thoughts on her post, “Activists or AA Bashers?” here.

She objected to the spirituality of A.A., saying it made her uncomfortable to talk about it. With a year left on probation, she started an S.O.S. (Secular Organization for Sobriety) meeting and was told by her probation officer that refusing to go to A.A. could lead to jail time. She also said: “I believe it is beyond the government’s scope of power to prescribe prayer under threat of imprisonment.”

First, it appears she was “court ordered” to 12-Step meetings for the third time, meaning three OVIs (operating a vehicle under the influence). DrivingLaws.org indicated that in Ohio, with a 3rd offense, she faced 30 days to 1 year in jail, a 1 to 10 year license suspension, and $350 to $1,500 in fines and penalties. The higher the BAC level and the more frequent the OVI offenses, the greater the consequences. I’d be mad too. But was going to A.A. meetings and probation initially offered to her instead of jail time? If it was, that’s not a bad deal, even for an atheist.

The threat by her probation officer doesn’t sit right with me unless part of her probation requirements was that she had to attend A.A. or other 12 Step meetings. Then she could potentially face jail time for a probation violation. Her S.O.S. meeting should count for at least one weekly meeting. Maybe she was expected to go to more and didn’t have easy access to alternatives to the A.A. meetings she despised. She also could have had a “hard ass” probation officer. She could have been resistant and challenging to him, which drew the threat of jail time.

Her rhetoric about the government proscribing prayer under threat of imprisonment is over the top. I’ve not heard of forced prayer at A.A. meetings; even those in the Cleveland area. The Cleveland area is historically “hard core.” Dr. Bob lived just south in Akron. But forced prayer is not what happens at an A.A. meeting.

In the A.A. published book, Pass It On, is the story of how the A.A. message reached the world. There, Bill Wilson described how changes like the phrase “God as we understand Him” in the Third Step were suggested as a concession “to those of little or no faith.” These changes were “the great contribution of our atheists and agnostics. They widened our gateway so that all who suffer might pass through, regardless of their belief or lack of belief.” (emphasis in the original)

In 1961, Bill Wilson wrote in the AA Grapevine, “Our concepts of a Higher Power and God—as we understand Him—afford everyone a nearly unlimited choice of spiritual belief and action.”  He suggested that this was perhaps the most important expression in be found in the entire vocabulary of A.A. Every kind and degree of faith, together with the assurance that each person could choose his or her own version of it opened a door “over whose threshold the unbeliever can take his first easy step into . . . the realm of faith.”

The spiritual aspects of A.A. aren’t forced upon anyone. And if there are individuals or a group who sees it as their mission for a newcomer to “get the spiritual angle,” there are plenty of others who aren’t like that. Try an experiment. Pay for access to the A.A. journal, The Grapevine. Then do a search on atheist or atheism and read some of the articles that go back to the 1940s. They seemed to have worked through the spiritual angle to be able to take what they needed for recovery, despite the “God stuff.”


Do you think that mandated attendance to A.A. meetings is akin to “the government proscribing prayer”?