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BACK TO BASICS FOR ADDICTS
Muckers say A.A. has lost its course.
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
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."
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
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.
Maclean’s, October 21, 1996)