Can RR Thrive as
an Alternative to AA?
by Jack Trimpey and Cliff Walker
The following e-mail discussion took place between Cliff Walker and RR
founder Jack Trimpey in early 1996:
Cliff Walker: Is RR is an alternative
Jack Trimpey: AA is an alternative
Cliff Walker: That's what I thought.
The AA Big Book even admits up front that AA is for those who were
not successful at quitting on their own. I think most people would be better
off trying to quit on their own first, using RR if necessary, and let those
who don't make it try something much more extreme and involved like AA
or psychology. However, so many non-Twelve Step or "alternative"
advocates have been talking about alternative methods, AA being the mainstream,
that I started getting used to calling RR the alternative.
Jack Trimpey: Alternative is
yet another steptalk expression, used to subtly establish AA's supremacy.
For a while, early on, we used the term, counterpoint to politely
avoid secondary status, but that has fallen into disuse. I think the most
direct idea is to point out that we aren't really part of the recovery
group movement, that our discussion groups are a way of stepping out of
the recovery group experience.
Here is a discussion group fragment ... which clarifies some points. I
thought you might like to read it.
Question: What do [you] see as the
major reason that alternate groups such as Rational Recovery, fail to thrive?
Is it because such groups are too difficult for most to understand? Is
it because these groups are geared to establishing individual independence
and hence success is measured by getting group members to become independent
of the support group (sort of a self-fulfilling group self-dissolution)?
Is it because this type of group needs well trained counselors to make
it work? Is more publicity needed?
Jack Trimpey's response: I think it
is inaccurate to give RR a failure to thrive diagnosis. Rational Recovery
is here to stay, and we are pioneering some very exciting concepts in the
addictions field. We continue to add several groups per month, but we are
growing more slowly than our explosive growth rate in the early '90s. RR
began as part of the recovery group movement but for some time has been
moving toward a more educational format. The core program has shifted away
from cognitive-behavioral psychology, toward simple instruction on
summarily quitting addictions without digressions into the spiritual and
psychological realms. Since moving away from psychological discussions,
the RR program has become extremely simple. Each meeting is an opportunity
for participants to quit their addictions for good, and we assume that
recovery groups are unnecessary for recovery. We have eliminated direct
involvement of professionals in the groups, and require facilitators to
be abstinent laypersons who self-recovered through planned lifetime
Planned abstinence is the common denominator of recovery from any non-AA
perspective. AA is the only religion, indeed, the only belief system ever
devised, which places the hand of God directly on the controls of voluntary
human behavior and insists that human beings must depend upon benevolent,
divine intervention in order to refuse the use of alcohol or other drugs.
Even the most fundamentalist sects stop short of asserting that one's hands
are directly controlled from above, because their entire concept of sin
and redemption would collapse.
The recovery group movement is a product of the 12-step program and its
value system, in which chemically dependent people gather, usually nocturnally,
into abject clots of humanity dependent upon ritual and external conditions
to quell their appetites for substance-induced pleasure. RR probably
erred initially by mimicking the form of AA while promoting a highly contrasting
approach to recovery. Evolution has been by trial-and-error,
because there was no template for an alternative solution to our country's
problem with mass addiction. Our format has changed to fit the character
of the concepts of recovery we represent. Ironically, the simple truth
about addiction recovery, that anyone can immediately quit a substance
addiction for good, is incompatible with the recovery group movement itself,
and negates its business arm, the addiction treatment industry.
The recovery group movement is a parochial phenomenon which mostly attracts
persons with dispositions and attitudes that are compatible with the style
and ethos of the recovery group milieu. Leadership in the recovery group
movement is by persons who, based on their own experience, believe in the
prime importance of the recovery group experience in solving addictions.
In other words, they are very often dependent, authoritarian personalities.
This attitude pervades our society so that most people associate addiction
recovery with sitting in circles, discussing personal problems, and learning
the fundamental error of their ways. This unfortunate error has created
conditions which are perfect for mass addiction.
Rational Recovery does not follow the keep-coming-back-and-share
tradition of the recovery group movement. We know that people will quit
if that is what they want, if they know it is possible, and if they understand
exactly how to do it. Because we make no attempt to retain participants
who become securely abstinent, we do not accumulate impressive numbers
of "members," even though a good number of people may pass through
meetings. We receive no public funding, and no money is collected from
groups to build a pool for promotion and publicity. Volunteers collect
money from participants to pay for the expenses of making RR meetings available.
They volunteer because they get a kick out of teaching AVRT to others and
because their understanding of AVRT is improved by teaching. Some gain
a feeling of contributing to their communities, and others simply want
to help people avoid entanglements in the recovery group movement they
themselves found painful.
Alternative programs to AA meet with considerable contention from AA, whose
members are led to believe that their articles of faith are exempt from
contradiction, as if by divine mandate. Whether or not this was intended
by AA's founders or by its present invisible leadership, it is very clearly
so. Because of inherent weaknesses in the logic and coherency of its guiding
tenets, a specialized form of rebuttal to opposing points of view has developed
which I call "steptalk." Most often steptalk aims at the messenger
of an opposing viewpoint rather than responding to the issue in question.
To the extent that an alternative program tolerates or resembles the 12-step
program, avoids criticism of central 12-step concepts, and overlooks its
glaring improprieties, it will be accepted by the recovery group movement
and the addiction treatment community. Then, it will be incorporated into
the 12-step process, digested with the enzymatic action of steptalk and
money, and eliminated as yet another proof that all knowledge feeds the
unity of AA. This has happened with the disciplines of psychoanalysis,
behavioral psychology, cognitive psychology, neurology, neurochemistry,
nursing, social work, primary care medicine, and, most alarmingly, the
world's great religions.
The parochialism of the recovery group movement should alert any objective
observer that something is seriously wrong. If money is the root of all
evil, it is possible that a the recovery group movement has been corrupted
by the presence of professions who have career and business interests in
the ostensibly altruistic recovery group movement. Rational Recovery, by
clearly identifying itself as a for-profit enterprise which offers
free discussion groups as a community service, hopes to avoid that conflict