In the above discussion I have invoked the rite of passage metaphor and provided some ideas about how this can be taken up in assisting persons to revise their relationship with substances. Upon reviewing what I have written here, I found myself reflecting on what has become a particularly well established approach to addressing addictions and/or the excessive consumption of substances that is structured as a rite of passage - Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Although the ideas that I have discussed in this paper are not directly informed by AA, and although many of the ideas and practices of narrative work directly contradict many of the ideas and practices of AA, I never-the-less have a strong respect for AA, one that now stretches back over two and a half decades. I will here share some of these reflections, doing so in the context of an acknowledgment that I cannot claim an insiders knowledge of this system.
I believe that the originators of Alcoholics Anonymous had great vision, and a profound understanding of the significance of rites of passage. At the centre of A A is a ritual event that provides for a formalisation of the stages of separation and reincorporation, and for a marking of the turning points of person's lives. This is accompanied by the convening of forums that provide the opportunity for persons to give testimony to the decisions that they have made to break from excessive alcohol consumption, to the desires and purposes that motivate these decisions, and to tell and retell the stories of their lives before a group of witnesses, many of whom are veterans of such journeys. In this context, the responses of the witness group are powerfully acknowledging and authenticating of these decisions, desires, purposes and stories. As these decisions and stories, and these accounts of desire and purpose, become more richly described, they become more influential - they are more significantly shaping of persons' lives.
There is also so much about AA that provides a great deal of sustenance to those who are navigating the liminal phase of this journey. There is a buddy system that provides the traveller with intimate support, and a concerned community of fellow travellers who share the maps, the knowledges, and the skills that are specific to journeys of this kind. The structure of AA builds in frequent opportunities for travellers to give voice to the trials and tribulations of these journeys, and for them to experience continuing acknowledgment of the different struggles that they find themselves engaged in.
AA's responses to persons who turn back to the bottle are generally compassionate rather than judging. This is an antidote to the demoralising sense of personal failure that is so often occasioned by such U-turns, and keeps the door open on options for persons to try again, and yet again. In response to these U-turns, the AA community just goes on reaching out. This is a reaching out by persons who have 'been there', and who have a strong appreciation of the desperation that is experienced in this struggle.
In terms of explanation for why it is that persons break from substance abuse, AA privileges notions of conscious purpose, commitment, and calling. In privileging these notions, and in not joining with the contemporary habit of psychologising motives for action, AA assists persons to resist turning their lives over to the knowledges of the professional disciplines - the understanding of what it is necessary to understand does not require a submission to the 'expert' knowledges. In evoking notions of conscious purpose, commitment and calling, AA emphasises ways of life that are guided by personal ethics, formulated and re-formulated time and time again through tellings and re-tellings in a concerned community.
Alcoholics Anonymous, in the journey that it structures, in the understandings that it emphasises, and in its actual practices, has clearly had a positive impact on the lives of so many persons. - Via