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Who are the Muckers in AA and CA?

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Editor's Note: Originally written in August 1995 - Toronto, ON Canada, the Muckers were a rising rebuttal to the watered-down recovery program of "Just don't drink and go to meetings". Recovery rates had dropped to less than 10% percent in the late 1980s and were answered by a "Back-to-Basics" revival of the original, undiluted 12 step recovery program of the early 1940s where recovery rates were as high as 75% to 93%.
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An open letter to all 12-step groups and members

It has become obvious that the growth of The Muckers is being met with concern and, in some cases, hostility, from the Toronto organizations of other 12 step fellowships, particularly A.A. and C.A. In this letter, we would like to take the opportunity to speak to these issues directly.

The Muckers are a group of men and women who have recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of addiction and alcoholism, using the 12 step program as outlined in the book "Alcoholics Anonymous". Central to the Muckers methodology is the action of a single recovered addict or alcoholic, guiding another addict or alcoholic through the Big Book. We have discovered through experience that this one-on-one approach, as described in Chapter 7 of the Big Book, is a powerful method of working the 12 step program of recovery.

What is "Getting Booked"?

Our focus is the Big Book; we use no other text. The emphasis is on the first 89 pages of the Book, which have not been altered since originally published in 1939. The process of one addict/alcoholic guiding another through the Book takes between 24 and 30 hours, usually done in 2 - 3 hour sessions, typically over a period of 2 - 3 weeks. In the process, we write comments and notes, circle words and highlight passages in the Book. (We are called Muckers, because we muck up the Book!) During this period of "being booked", the individual actually performs the first 11 steps of the program.

The purpose of this brief, intense process is to jump-start the program for the individual. The goal is to facilitate the "vital spiritual experience" as described throughout the Book, and to give the individual the tools to maintain and grow that experience. Once the individual has had this experience, we find that the addiction is removed. Subsequently, much of the maintenance and growth of the spiritual experience is achieved by working Step 12. This means working directly with other alcoholics/addicts. Once recovered, the individual is encourage to pass the process on to someone else - to give it away. While other forms of service are not discouraged, (including helping out a meetings - making coffee, etc.), this is not considered to be Step 12.

Addressing Concerns

These are some of the comments we have heard about the Muckers:

  • Muckers are a cult-group of fundamentalists.
  • Muckers are arrogant. They say that their way is the best way and the only true way to recover.
  • Muckers are trying to steal members from other fellowships.
  • Muckers do not use sponsors.
  • Muckers don't give out chips for sobriety.
  • Muckers have the nerve to say they have recovered.
  • Most of the Muckers have little clean/sober time. What do they know, anyhow?
  • Muckers are critical of what worked for thousands of us.
  • Muckers are anti-fellowship.

I heard about a meeting of AA Big Book fundamentalists in the Toronto area, named "The Muckers" for the way they study the BB, marking up the pages as they pair up and guide one another through the BB text in a detailed, action oriented way--closely following the way of the first 100 to recover in AA. That was in June '96, and after covering the 1st 88 pages of the BB and another rigorous application of the steps, I had a spiritual experience unlike anything I've ever known before and felt incredible, and "amazed before I was halfway through" as the Big Book says in the promises, page 83. I would highly recommend this experience for anyone who has not had it, it is incomparable. -- Anonymous

Let us clarify some of these points:

Muckers are a cult-group of fundamentalists.

Our focus is the Big Book, especially the first 89 pages. We use no other books. we try to follow the program of recovery as outlined those pages as closely as possible, not because we are fanatics but because it is what worked for thousands of the most hopeless alcoholics in the early days of A.A.

Muckers are arrogant. Muckers say that their way is the best way and the only true way to recover.

When some of us first recovered, we were shocked at our own success stories. Previously hopeless, we found a method that worked for us where all else had failed. It was the last resort in a life-and-death situation, and it worked. Some of us promptly marched off and told anyone who would listen that this was the only way, the best way, the real way to recover. This was a mistake. It antagonized people, and it was just plain untrue. We have no monopoly on god or recovery; we merely have an approached that worked for us.

Muckers are trying to steal members from other fellowships.

Step 12 is an integral part of our program. Some of us attend meetings of other fellowships. We tell people what happened to us. If someone is interested in trying our method, we offer to "book" them. We are not in competition with other fellowships. Getting booked is a short-term process. It can kick-start a long-term program. Many Muckers continue to be members of their original fellowships. Finally, we believe the most important issue is the recovery of the individual, rather than the issue of which fellowship they recover through.

Muckers do not use sponsors.

This is true. We do not use sponsors. The recovered addict/alcoholic acts only as a guide during the booking process. Once that process is concluded, the two individuals may become good friends. Or the newly-recovered addict/alcoholic may become a friend of another person in the fellowship. But not sponsor-sponsee. While we do not deny that, some cases, the sponser-sponsee relationship is healthy and helpful, we believe the sponsee stands the risk of relying too much on the sponsor and not enough on the Higher Power. And we believe the person acting as sponsor is at significant risk of subtle ego-gratification, self-indulgence, and putting personality before principles; these can seriously undermine their own program of recovery. We believe a recovered alcoholic/addict may need a person to talk to who understands their situation, and that person can be found within the fellowship. But we believe it is essential that the newly-recovered individual continuously maintain and grow their conscious contact with their Higher Power.

Muckers don't give out chips for sobriety.

For us, it is not how long an individual has been clean/sober. We know of many individuals with years of sobriety who have still not recovered. They are essentially unhappy, but have managed to stay clean. This is not something we aspire to. For us, time is not the issue. We focus on whether a person is recovered now.

Muckers have the nerve to say they have recovered.

The Book states "We, of Alcoholics Anonymous, know thousands of men and women who were once just as hopeless as Bill. Nearly all have recovered. They have solved the drink problem." (pg 17, A.A.) Having recovered, there is still the possibility the individual will slip. However, this depends on his/her effectiveness in continuing to work the program - to maintain and grow the spiritual experience. We say that we have recovered, but we continue to say that we are alcoholics/addicts, for what we have is a daily reprieve from our illness.

Most of the Muckers have little clean/sober time. What do they know, anyhow?

Again, we focus on the fact that, for us, time is not the issue. As a rule, we believe that, once a person has recovered, they are ready to guide someone else through the Book. It is the Book which contains the teaching, not the guide. We note that nowhere in the Book does it indicate a recovered alcoholic must wait a year before working with another alcoholic. In fact, in Bill's Story (pg. 9, A.A.) Ebby is described as 12 stepping Bill after only two months of sobriety. Moreover, the Book states that "nothing will so much insure immunity form drinking (using) as intensive work with other alcoholics (addicts). It works when other activities fail (pg. 89, A.A.). It is our belief that the prevention of such 12th step work during the first year of sobriety serves only to make that first year more difficult for the recovered addict/alcoholic.

Muckers are critical of what worked for thousands of us.

For those of us who spent time in the rooms and did not recover, there is a tendency to criticize what did not work for us. We forget that what did not work for us may have worked for others. Still, we believe criticism can be healthy, as long as it is done in a constructive way and without malice. We must all be open to such criticism, so that we as individuals and as fellowships do not become stale and rigid. The Book cautions against though "fettered by superstition, tradition, and all sorts of fixed ideas" (pg. 51, A.A.). Throughout the Book, the quality of open-mindedness is revered. This means we must be willing to listen to criticism, so long as such criticism is not mean-spirited. We must remain open to new ideas. Most importantly, we must all remember that no one has a monopoly on how to recover.

Muckers are anti-fellowship.

This is patently untrue. We attend meetings. We hold our own meetings. We have picnics. We go out for coffee. What we do say, however, is that fellowship alone didn't work. For us, we view the 12 steps as the essential foundation of recovery. Fellowship is encouraged in order to re-charge the battery, as it were, but if there is nothing to re-charge, the fellowship is insufficient.

We hope that this letter will serve to allay some of the concerns which currently exist. Perhaps we have not covered all of those concerns in this letter, but we have endeavored to be honest above all else. Finally, for all those who are hostile toward our approach, we offer the following quotation:

"There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments, and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance - that principle is contempt prior to investigation". - Herbert Spencer (pg. 570 - 3rd Ed. A.A. or 568 - 4th ed. A.A.)

Before judging, come and see for yourself.


Back to Basics for Addicts

The Muckers say A.A. has lost its course.

by D'Arcy Jenish - Maclean's, October 21, 1996.

"Up there," says James, a slim, muscular Bay Street executive in his early 40s, as he points to a gleaming office tower in Toronto's financial district. "That's where I work. Up on the 50th floor." On a noon-hour stroll through a downtown park, James admits that he is lucky to still hold a job anywhere. For years, he confides quietly, he was addicted to cocaine, a problem he kept concealed from his blue chip employer. At the height of his addiction, he confesses, he routinely blew $1,000 a weekend on the potent white powder. By Monday morning, he was exhausted, often unable to work. But a year ago, after numerous attempts to quit, James turned to a small but growing self-help organization called The Muckers Anonymous Inc. "My cravings went away and never returned," he says. "It was like someone with terminal cancer waking up one day to discover the disease was gone. It was remarkable."

There is, however, nothing remarkable about the Muckers' technique. According to a 52 year old recovered alcoholic named Jim who helped start the Toronto-based group in early 1995, the Muckers rely on intense study of the 57-year -old book Alcoholics Anonymous, known to A.A. adherents as the Big Book, and the Twelve Step approach outlined in the first 103 pages. Nevertheless, the group has become embroiled in a dispute with A.A. and several other self-help groups that resembles a battle between fundamentalists and mainstream Christians. Among other things, those groups say that the Muckers, so named because they frequently muck up the Big Book by underlining key passages and phrases, have a zealous approach to recovery from addiction that excludes anything but the twelve step method. "There's a huge backlash from the established groups," says James.

Last fall, A.A. representatives in Toronto removed the Muckers from their list of approved groups after discovering that their meetings covered various kinds of addictions, rather than just alcoholism. In May, A.A. ousted two members from elected positions as co-ordinators of treatment center meetings because they had been espousing the Muckers' philosophy. Representatives of A.A. are reluctant to comment on the Muckers or to discuss the relative merits of their approaches. "The Big Book hasn't changed," said Ron, a high-ranking official for eastern and central Ontario. "Its worked for almost sixty years."

Some treatment centers have also rejected the Muckers. Alpha House Inc., a rehabilitation facility treating various addictions, has instructed staff and residents to avoid the Muckers. "The bottom line is that Muckers seem to be obsessed with their way being the only way," stated a memo to employees. On the other hand, the Donwood Institute, a well established, Toronto recovery facility, has allowed the Muckers to hold weekly meetings, which Donwood clients can attend. "Some of them found it quite helpful," says Dennis James, vice-president of the Donwood health recovery program.

The Muckers contend that they are maintaining the original traditions of A.A. They charge that A.A. has drifted away from the Big Book and the 12-step approach that its founders, Bill Wilson, a New York City stockbroker, and Bob Smith, a physician from Ohio, developed in the mid-1930s to cope with their own alcoholism. According to the Muckers, many A.A. groups pay lip service to the sanctity of the Big Book but no longer insist that a recovering alcoholic must use it. "A.A.'s message has become broader and diluted," says John, a 35-year- old alcoholic, drug addict and staunch Mucker. "We stick to the original text."

The cornerstone of the Mucker approach is called "booking," in which a member of the group works one-on-one with a recovering alcoholic or addict. They spend up to three hours a day, usually over a two-to-three-week period, studying the Big Book, line by line and phrase by phrase. Among other things, the recovering addict must admit personal failings and weaknesses and make amends to people he has harmed through his addiction. Some Muckers who belonged to A.A. say they became disenchanted by that organization's move away from its original policy of one-on-one therapy in favour of personal or group study. And some longtime A.A. members confirm the trend. "You just don't see a lot of people going through the book one-on-one anymore," said Gord, who has belonged to A.A. for 35 years.

The Muckers have been booking about 100 people a month, according to Jim, and the fellowship now has about 2,000 members, almost all in the Toronto area. Some recently recovered addicts say they have experienced moments of profound spiritual contentment while being booked. "I had this sense of absolute peace," recalls Tory, a film-maker in his mid-30s who was battling alcoholism and heroin addiction. "I couldn't see anything or hear anything. It was almost like the first few seconds of a drug overdose." Since then, Tory says, he has not been tormented by his old cravings. And for that, he is both relieved and grateful.