Alcoholics Anonymous, Mr. Spock and the Lighthouse

03/20/2015 04:34 pm ET | Updated May 19, 2015

There's a new brouhaha about Alcoholics Anonymous in the media in an article in The Atlantic and recent book about "The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous." Yes, I agree! It's totally irrational. How is it possible that a million people meet every day in rooms all over the world without a national infrastructure or a corporate umbrella or secured financing? How is it that someone who absolutely cannot stop drinking can suddenly, inexplicably enter a room and stop? What would Mr. Spock say? THAT IS HIGHLY ILLOGICAL!

I know something about AA. If I were to tell you I was a member, that would be breaking with the tradition of anonymity. So let me say this, I know someone who's sober because of AA. In fact, I know a few people.

Two chronic alcoholics named Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith founded Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935 in Akron, Ohio. They discovered some unquantifiable magic seemed to happen when two alcoholics got together. Both stayed sober their entire lives after meeting and forming AA. The purpose of the organization was to help other alcoholics stay sober. There are no dues or fees, just donations. There's no formal overall organization micromanaging individual meetings and their elected secretaries. There isn't one leader. Wow! AA has literature that is used to guide meetings and members. This "irrational" organization has an estimated 2 million members worldwide and has been in existence for 80 years. It doesn't advertise so people basically have to stumble into it and yet, somehow, they do. It's true that some have been court-ordered to meetings, but many just find them on their own.

AA is like a lighthouse. A ship is at sea caught in the storm, just like when someone is lost in a stormy sea of addiction. That big lighthouse keeps throwing the light saying the shore is this way! You won't be completely out of the storm, but you'll be on land if you get here! Meanwhile some guy who's super rational and doesn't believe in lighthouses is throwing rocks and yelling at the side of the structure. It doesn't stop the lighthouse light from shining and the captain still has a choice, come to shore or stay on the stormy sea. Yes, it's completely the captain's choice. The ship's captain doesn't have to have any one-belief system; he just has to have the desire to come to shore.

"The only requirement for membership is the desire to stop drinking." -- Alcoholics Anonymous

"When, therefore, we speak to you of God, we mean your own conception of God. This applies, too, to other spiritual expressions which you find in this book." -- page 47, Alcoholics Anonymous

Last month I saw my mom's death certificate for the first time. You know what her cause of death was in 1984? Ethanolism. Yep, that's what the coroner called it at the time. Alcoholism killed my mom. I can conclusively say AA didn't keep her sober. I used to step over her AA coins in her apartment while booze sat on the kitchen table. But her numerous psychiatrists, medical doctors and medications didn't keep her sober either. That doesn't mean it wasn't all worth trying. Anything that can keep someone sober is absolutely worth an attempt. It seems that AA's founders felt the same.

"God has abundantly supplied this world with fine doctors, psychologists, and practitioners of various kinds. Do not hesitate to take your health problems to such persons." -- page 133, Alcoholics Anonymous

They say it's a hereditary disease, or it can be. I heard an AA old timer talk about having a parent afflicted with alcoholism. It turned out this old timer was able to stay sober for half her life, going to AA.

Alcoholics Anonymous is old fashioned in that it clings to the idea that success speaks for itself. Sober members share their experience, strength and hope in meetings. You won't see their faces on TV or the Internet promoting AA's success. That's the interesting part. They don't talk about how rational it is. They just live their lives sober. Not everyone makes it though, I'll grant you that.

I can hear laughter right now in those who frequent the rooms, that sobriety should be rational. For most I know in AA it's nothing but irrational. It defies explanation how one day someone was drinking in an alley or considering suicide and the next day they are in a meeting not drinking. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, there's no doubt about that. But yelling at a lighthouse? That's what I call irrational.

Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.