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Fraser Trevor Fraser Trevor Author
Title: Often anxious, fearful, lonely, shameful, confused and depressed, we emerge from the fog of addiction vulnerable, naïve and gullible. We lack the inner resources and abilities to cope with the world around us. We are lost
Author: Fraser Trevor
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  Often anxious, fearful, lonely, shameful, confused and depressed, we emerge from the fog of addiction vulnerable, naïve and gullible. W...

Often anxious, fearful, lonely, shameful, confused and depressed, we emerge from the fog of addiction vulnerable, naïve and gullible. We lack the inner resources and abilities to cope with the world around us. We are lost, seeking help, feeling abandoned and hopeless. Our sense of self-worth and self-esteem is abysmally low. We have no clear conception of our selves and a frail and uncertain sense of self-identity. Very often we are unsure of who we are or what the purpose of living is. In such a condition our powers of judgment and decision-making are impaired. Naturally, we follow the advice of those who seem to have our best interests at heart or have authority over us. Fearing death from alcohol or drugs, we voluntarily (or sometimes not) join organizations, which offer help and relief, but at a price. A price we are not aware of at the time and that we might not agree to if we new the consequences.

When anyone mentions the word cult or sect, we usually think of groups like the Moonies, Branch Davidians or Lifespring. Many alcoholics and addicts fall for these and lesser known groups in desperation when trying to rid themselves of a miserable life of addiction. However, what also we fail to see is that many officially accepted recovery groups can also be cults hiding behind a thin facade of social respectability. Some psychologists and cult specialists have already raised the question of whether the 12 Step groups are indeed cults, endangering the long term psychological well-being of their members. "Groupthink" or thought control, cloning, mystique, self-confessions, "groupspeak", veneration of texts and leaders, etc are some of the features of recovery groups typical also of cults. Indeed, one should also be wary of non-12 Step groups, psychotherapy groups and even secular organizations. Your support group does not have to believe in a Higher Power or follow 12 Steps to be in danger of being cult. Groups can be secular and scientific and still qualify as cults.

If we are lucky the groups we join may help us achieve or maintain some level of sobriety. However, in return, we may pay with the loss of our individualism, personality, self-identity and our ability to re-establish our place in the “real world” as functional, independent, free-thinking individuals. In the name of recovery members' intrinsic sense of self-identity is frequently undermined by the methods employed by a group. In fact, the methods used to keep some of the members abstinent are often the cause of serious psychological disorders. Such methods are extreme cult-like pressures to conform, emotional manipulation, threats and fear, reward and punishment and systematic deconstruction of the personality and its replacement by a pseudo-personality consisting of an artificial Cult Self or Sober Self.

It is probable that the limited success of groups like AA ("curing" around only 1 in 5 addicts) has nothing to do with the use of a therapeutic method and more to do with brain washing. Those 12 Step members who stay sober for long periods probably do so as a result of the cult discipline and mind control, much in the same way that certain religious cults achieve periods of enforced celibacy and other acts of abstinence.12 Step sobriety may be achieved through methods of thought control and identity destruction, coupled with group coercion, fear, reward and punishments, isolation, reality distortion, linguistic programming, indoctrination and threats.

"But don’t be ridiculous” you’re probably saying. “ My support group can’t be a cult. It is full of caring, courageous people doing a lot of good for others and themselves.” That is probably true, but a member of the Moonies or Branch Davidiians would no doubt say the same thing. Indeed, all cults deny they are cults and practice exactly the opposite of what they preach - loving Christians cults practice violence and destruction; personal growth groups cause personality destruction; ultra democratic groups practice internal dictatorships, and so on.

“Ah yes” you say “but cults are religious fanatics, with charismatic gurus – we don’t have any of that”. In fact, a cult doesn’t have to have a living guru, be fanatically religious, or religious at all. That is just one cult variation. Cults can be secular, are found in the fields of psychotherapy, politics, science, business training, self help and new age movements. A cult can form around an idea, a book, a mission, a vision, a theory, etc. Often cults form through split aways from healthy organizations under the excuse of it being degenerate, insufficiently fundamentalist, or badly organized. This is usually provoked by the need of the breakaway cult members to find solace in certainty, black and white thinking and set answers for everything. What Fromm called the "Escape from Freedom". Moreover, just as nobody decides to join a cult, cult members never think or admit they are in one. Cult members like to reassure themselves in collective self-delusion that they are superior, even denouncing other groups as being cults and/or congratulating themselves on being the true path, being rational and objective and even trumpeting their own non-cultism!

Forms of “cultism” can, therefore, vary from group to group and take on different, special characteristics. Recognizing a cult is not always easy, especially for the cult member. Alcoholics, addicts, co-dependents and children of alcoholics in particular will often defend their groups with the same passion and denial that they once defended their addiction, their alcoholic family or partner. Overcoming this is a process of acceptance and acknowledgement, gathered through increasing awareness.

So, before we start a warning! You will need to have an independent mind, give honest answers or battle to achieve it, in order to benefit from this article. Denial is often the first defense reaction to these issues, especially where you may see no other alternative and where for recovering alcoholics and addicts and co-dependents, isolation and relapse can seem to be the only alternative to continuing cult membership. What to do if you feel you are in a cult is something we will come to at the end.

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