Success in AA Includes Ability to Dispense Advice to Virtually Everyone About Virtually Anything
AA is an organization that is riddled with holes and contradictions. It happens to work for me. The steps are something I found to be very useful as a focal point of effort and ideals for which to strive. The fellowship of mutual help and peers was critical to my success in sobriety. I am lucky. Very lucky. The first time I walked into an AA meeting and thought “these guys look like guys I could have known at USC” it was life altering, more than anything, it made being sober ok and as a young man, I needed that permission. That era of my life was fun. I had friends, we had a robust life exploring Manhattan in a pack with few limitations other than not getting drunk. While I have great gratitude for AA and the people who helped me, I understand it’s not a fit for everyone. What’s the big deal? Isn’t that why they make chocolate and vanilla?
For many, the AA experience can be misery. A lack of connection, not finding the right peers, it can feel like it’s little more than deprivation punctuated by really lousy coffee. This is the life for which I am supposed to stay sober? When I went to graduate school in a Midwestern land grant rural community, AA was a much different thing. Mostly older men, many were cold and unwelcoming to students, the access was restrictive. The mitigating factor was hardly the gossip about the price of corn. Had that been my introduction to AA, my story could have been dramatically different.
AA Slogans for Recovery
AA is nothing if not full of slogans, many that make no sense, some compounded with rhyme as an added layer of mystique and aggravation. Here is a list of some of the more blaring examples, along with the often forgotten component of their meaning.
- “You’re as sick as your secrets”. Yet, you’re not supposed to tell anyone about AA, thereby being asked to be part of a secret society. Never mind that it’s not a secret, the pods of people smoking in front of a church is really the cat out of the bag.
- “If you’re taking inventories, take yours”. Great advice, seldom heeded. There seems to be a caveat that if YOU were successful you have the right to critique others, endlessly as well as assume role of soothsayer, doctor, clergy and just about any other discipline one might need.
- “We know but a little”. This is written in the AA big book but often cast aside for apparently knowing everything that people should do without knowing them.
- “Live and let live” but first inform that by not living as we live, you will die. Live on!
- “This is a selfish program”. Accurate to be sure. So selfish, in fact, it leaves no room for an individual to self determine.
- “Be part of the solution, not the problem”. The problem is complex, deep, wide, and individual. Pontification that you have the solution is a big part of the problem. So be a part of our solution of which we approve or else you will die.
- “E.G.O. Edging God out.” For a program that has a minimal requirement of a “desire to stop drinking”, there is an awful lot that must be believed. While the rhetoric is “you’re higher power could be the doorknob” the truth is, you will be an outsider, judged, subtly and not so subtly coerced, patronized and preached to if you in fact dismiss God to the level of a doorknob, never mind if you are a person of questing faith or no faith.
- “Be nice to newcomers, one day they may be your sponsor”. Really? For an organization that is so invested in a hierarchy of time, deifying members for being around longer than others, this seems contradictory.
- “An attitude of gratitude”. Yes. The rhyme. If ever there were a group of ungrateful people it’s in AA. Humans are not what we say, we are what we do. While other diseases have enjoyed the fruits of community organization and hard work, alcoholism hovers at the same dismal rates of recovery it has for generations. Grateful people work to help the process. Compare alcoholism to breast cancer: Research, walks, fundraisers, pink ribbons, MLB using pink bats to raise awareness and funds. Alcoholism, “hey man, I set up chairs at my meeting”.
- “We’re not a glum lot”. Let’s see if this blog gets any eyeballs, then judge for yourself by the comments the level of “glum”.
AA is a great organization to be certain. It is part of Americana that has helped millions of families and individuals. What it isn’t is perfection and something for all who need to address their drinking issue. The truth is, most people “fail” in AA and that has a big by-product of shame. Alcoholism is a complex illness, and not everybody does well in AA, most don’t. I am unique in the AA world being both grateful to it and critical of it. My message is clear, AA works, if it works for you. I have clients who have done well with it and others who abhor it; both groups have achieved and maintained sobriety and both groups haven’t. As always, there are never easy answers. There is no wrong way to get or be sober, don’t let the fear of AA stop you from trying or exploring options.