Watered Down AA

WATERED DOWN AA
From The Privileged Addict, pp. 51-55 (Copyright, 2012):
 
     “The first order of business up North was to turn my previous exposure to Alcoholics Anonymous upside down and then knock it flat on its face. But in yet another failed effort would soon emerge great hope. For me, AA had been nothing but a meeting room where I sit in a chair, listen to sob stories, drink lukewarm instant coffee, depend on others to keep me sober, and maybe run up at the end to get a sobriety chip while people clap. Perhaps I even raise my hand and tell a story of my own. But stories, sobriety chips, and Maxwell House didn’t get me better. I didn’t need a social club. I have plenty of friends and let me tell you, they can’t keep me sober. I also didn’t need to reward myself with a thirty-day sobriety chip just because I stopped hurting people. What I needed was to change, and that doesn’t always involve feeling good or patting myself on the back.
     Before going on, let me just say that I mean no offense for my views on modern AA, but I would be doing readers a disservice by not honestly describing my personal experience.
     The first AA meeting I ever went to in Boston did little but fuel my desire to get plastered. How could I forget it? Sitting in my Fenway apartment one night, depressed from having to work with a mere six-pack, I began to flip through the small pamphlet advertising meeting times and locations for regional groups. I should have scrutinized the meeting symbols a bit more (OS = Open Speaker, CD = Closed Discussion, NS = Non-Smoking, M = Men, W = Women etc.).
     It was a cold and rainy night. Wind gusts ripped through Back Bay streets. At the time, this was a tremendous effort towards my recovery. I was so proud when I found the meeting and made my way up the stoop of the Arlington St. Church. Peering around for a quick scout, all I could see were men in leather. Heads turned, eyes glowing. Chairs were offered. I sat down and realized that I was smack dab in the middle of a Men’s Gay AA Meeting (M, G). A speaker on the verge of breakdown unloaded about his life, depression, bills, eviction, boyfriend, blah, blah, blah… I couldn’t deal anymore. I left and walked into the Pour House Grill a few blocks away for a vodka tonic and a round of Golden Tee Golf.
     Trying to avoid dismay, I walked into another meeting at the Berkeley School of Music – a Young Person’s Meeting (YP). Nothing useful. More stories. While sinking deeper into a funk, I spotted a blue book lying on the speaker table. No one referred to it. No one opened it. No mention of it at all. I asked the treasurer if I could have it and was charged five dollars, which had already gone to the Pour House bartender. They gave it to me anyway and it sat in my studio for the next two years serving as a coaster. If someone told me what was contained within that book, I wouldn’t have wasted another five years killing myself and hurting people. But that didn’t happen. Here’s what they told me.
     “Oh, you don’t need that shit. It’s just a bunch of stories. All you gotta’ do is put the plug in the jug and just keep comin’.”
     Translation: keep holding on by a thread because no one here can actually help you.
     Young people are great, aren’t they? They get emotional and say things like, “Yeah, today was really tough. I almost didn’t make it. My selfish, asshole roommate pissed me off so much that I almost needed to drink, but I didn’t! I mean, my alcoholism isn’t even my fault; it’s my fuckin’ genes, man… It’s my Dad! I think I need anti-depressants.”
     There’s a guy I know from the north shore who goes to AA meetings all day, everyday. He’s one of those biker types, you know, with the bandana, leather black pants, tank top, and braided red hair down to his ass. He gets up at the end and says, “Meetings, meetings, meetings… Go to meetings until you’re blue in the face, and when you can’t take it anymore and you can’t sit through another meeting… go to a meeting. Meetings, meetings, meetings…” I hope this guy doesn’t have a family at home because going to meetings all day would, yup, take up the whole day. In my local groups, I learned that it was all about me. Up North, I learned that it was all about others.
     But I think the most baffling AA slogan is “Sit down, shut up, and wait for the miracle to happen.” Okay, so I’ve tried waiting and guess what happens? I go get high. Plus, miracles don’t zap me in the face while I’m sitting on my ass doing nothing. And why drag myself all the way to AA just to keep my mouth shut? I’m going nuts here. I’m the guy who needs to open his mouth to ask, “How do I get better?”
     I met staunch resistance in local AA groups. I dropped bombs all over the place once I’d been educated up North. Rarely was I called on to speak. And double dipping is especially frowned upon. After a downtown Beverly gathering, a seemingly docile young female speaker accosted me outside a meetinghouse known as the White Whale. Her once humble countenance deteriorated as her mouth opened.
     “What are you, a fuckin’ idiot? I didn’t call on you ‘cause the guys around here will beat the shit out of you for speaking twice!”
     Sounds like a tremendous way to recover.
     A day later at a Manchester gathering, I found the speaker-turned-stand-up-comic rather unamusing. It was more like amateur comedy hour than a forum about alcoholism, and I was the only guy not laughing. Returning from the cigarette break, I found my chair removed and facing backwards on a stage behind the speaker podium. Now that is one wildly effective way to help people recover!
     His few no-nonsense words, I remember clear as day.
     “God’s never done shit for me! God doesn’t keep me from drinkin’ like these stupid whackos who say God talks to them. No friggin’ Big Book keeps me sober either! I’m sober ‘cause I choose to stay sober.”
     Huh???
     I’m not sure that’s the kind of program I needed after fifteen years of chronic drug addiction. So I confronted him afterwards and here’s what he said.
     “Spiritual? Kid, you got it all wrong! You see, we have an alcohol problem. Not a moral problem, not a psychological problem, not a spiritual problem, no, no, no. We got ourselves a drinkin’ problem. See here boy, I still lie, cheat, call my wife a bitch, get into fights and what have you. I’m still an asshole, just a sober asshole!”
     Oh, now I get it. It’s finally clear to me. So I can thrash my wife, lie to people, steal money, maybe even sink into a depression, and it’s all good so long as I’m sober? Wait a second, then how do I stay clean without wanting to slit my wrists? If this is what twenty-five years of recovery looks like then someone please shoot me in the head.
     So all those posters on which the Twelve Steps hang look pretty, and the nice, big print is easy to read, but they’re not going to fix me just hanging there. I can’t finish them in my head during the meeting and by the time it’s over, boom! I’m done. I also can’t take a Step a year or wait a year before starting them. It’s not something that I read or study, but something that I do.
     Watered-down versions of the Twelve Steps are now mainstream in AA and in many treatment programs. But I’d be dead right now if I had approached recovery this way. I can’t wait a year to get better. I especially can’t wait a year to feel better.
     Know what does attract me? Being a free man. Being recovered. Having peace of mind and strength of spirit. Having the power to walk through my fear and pain. Having the hole inside me filled with Love. The misfits up North told me that I needed a Power other than myself to do that, and I saw this Power within them. I listened to them because they were filled to the brim with something that actually fixes broken minds and hearts.” – The Privileged Addict, pp. 51-55

Do What You Fear

<!– /* Font Definitions */ @font-face {font-family:Garamond; panose-1:2 2 4 4 3 3 1 1 8 3; mso-font-charset:0; mso-generic-font-family:auto; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:3 0 0 0 1 0;} /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-parent:""; margin-right:0in; mso-margin-bottom-alt:auto; margin-left:0in; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-ascii-font-family:Garamond; mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-hansi-font-family:Garamond; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";} @page Section1 {size:8.5in 11.0in; margin:1.0in 1.25in 1.0in 1.25in; mso-header-margin:.5in; mso-footer-margin:.5in; mso-paper-source:0;} div.Section1 {page:Section1;} "     Contrary to popular belief, the best way to conquer our fears is not to avoid them, but instead recognize that they exist within us, that they are part of us, and then walk right into them and through them. In other words, DO what you fear and what you fear will gradually lose its power. Some people fear public speaking to the point of panic. Our heart rate goes up, it palpitates, we can’t breathe… but here’s the thing: Often these symptoms only precede the actual event. Most of our symptoms are caused by anticipatory fear – fear we create ourselves by thinking and worrying about the event. Once we open our mouths and begin talking, in many cases the fear goes away and we think to ourselves, ‘What was I so afraid of? That wasn’t so bad.'” – Anybody Can Take Steps, Chp. 10

Don’t Make War with Yourself

<!– /* Font Definitions */ @font-face {font-family:Garamond; panose-1:2 2 4 4 3 3 1 1 8 3; mso-font-charset:0; mso-generic-font-family:auto; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:3 0 0 0 1 0;} /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-parent:""; margin-right:0in; mso-margin-bottom-alt:auto; margin-left:0in; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-ascii-font-family:Garamond; mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-hansi-font-family:Garamond; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";} @page Section1 {size:8.5in 11.0in; margin:1.0in 1.25in 1.0in 1.25in; mso-header-margin:.5in; mso-footer-margin:.5in; mso-paper-source:0;} div.Section1 {page:Section1;} –      “To note, sure we all want to feel better and it’s fine to use meditation to do so, but its real purpose is to allow whatever arises to come into your mind or consciousness and move through you. In other words, when we stop and breathe, the stuff that comes up is part of us and therefore has a right to come up. It needs to come up. Though we may at first find it very uncomfortable or painful, if we continue to let our thoughts and feelings exist without fighting them and judging ourselves so much, we eventually come to accept it all, light or dark. As well, the painful stuff loses its power and moves through us without getting stuck. Some of it may stop coming altogether. What you resist will persist, so do yourself a favor and allow what’s inside of you to not only exist, but to move freely. Befriend what you own, for even the dark and painful stuff deserves respect. It deserves to be heard, accepted and loved. Making war with any part of our selves just makes things worse.” – Anybody Can Take Steps. Chp. 11

Maximum Usefulness

<!– /* Font Definitions */ @font-face {font-family:Garamond; panose-1:2 2 4 4 3 3 1 1 8 3; mso-font-charset:0; mso-generic-font-family:auto; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:3 0 0 0 1 0;} /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-parent:""; margin-right:0in; mso-margin-bottom-alt:auto; margin-left:0in; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-ascii-font-family:Garamond; mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-hansi-font-family:Garamond; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";} @page Section1 {size:8.5in 11.0in; margin:1.0in 1.25in 1.0in 1.25in; mso-header-margin:.5in; mso-footer-margin:.5in; mso-paper-source:0;} div.Section1 {page:Section1;}       “Why do we take Steps? Sure we embark on this journey to ‘grow along spiritual lines’ and find some peace, but the larger purpose behind all previous 11 Steps is to equip us properly to go help others. We have dug deep and peeled back the layers of emotional pain and psychic damage. We have cleaned up our past, gained confidence and stand firm as we can now look the world in the eye. We have humbled ourselves and let go of our need to force our will on everything and everyone. Instead, we have learned to pray, meditate, get quiet and listen to the will of God. We are now in the position to be of maximum usefulness to others who suffer as we did.

     Service is the silver bullet of getting better. When in doubt, go help others. There are times when we suffer no matter how hard we try to change the inner landscape, when the feelings get heavy and become suffocating, when the thoughts and worries come fast and hard. Sometimes our daily repertoire of tools, while useful in keeping us sane, fail to do very much about the way we feel. That is when we go help someone. It is the strongest medicine in the cabinet and it works every time.” – Anybody Can Take Steps, Chp. 12

Distant Concept or Actual Experience?

         “God can either be a distant concept or an actual experience, and it is through right action that we make that shift and close the gap. Many teens and adults alike have a problem with God because it has been reduced to a social construct – a detached belief system or simple academic concept. God has become intellectual. We are taught about the divine via sermon or in class on a chalkboard, but there is no real experience on the inside. So the idea behind enlarging our spiritual lives through action is to show people ways in which they can actually feel the power of God and expand His presence within. If spiritual power is harnessed through meditation, prayer, public speaking or service and we feel that glow of warmth inside, we will know how worth it this path really is, but if there is no detectable payoff from this journey, who is going to be interested?” – Anybody Can Take Steps, Chp. 9

Alcoholics Should Never Apologize

<!– /* Font Definitions */ @font-face {font-family:Garamond; panose-1:2 2 4 4 3 3 1 1 8 3; mso-font-charset:0; mso-generic-font-family:auto; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:3 0 0 0 1 0;} /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-parent:""; margin-right:0in; mso-margin-bottom-alt:auto; margin-left:0in; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-ascii-font-family:Garamond; mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-hansi-font-family:Garamond; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";} @page Section1 {size:8.5in 11.0in; margin:1.0in 1.25in 1.0in 1.25in; mso-header-margin:.5in; mso-footer-margin:.5in; mso-paper-source:0;} div.Section1 {page:Section1;} —  '                “So when we go to make the amends, there are a few general rules to remember. #1: DON’T APOLOGIZE. Sounds counter-intuitive, right? Nonetheless, we don’t say sorry to those we have harmed because it no longer carries any weight, at least for addicts and alcoholics. We’ve said sorry so many times only to repeat the same destructive behaviors, and that is no sorry at all. We never want to play with our loved ones and pull them in both directions, which is quite frankly more harmful than consistently being a jerk. Why? Because it is manipulative. If we are always a jerk, at least the person knows what to expect and can easily choose to leave. But the alcoholic or addict is a true Jekyll and Hyde, as the Big Book notes, and charms people they have hurt back into their lives, only to be hurt once again. Manipulating our loved ones emotionally is one of the worst kinds of abuse, so nobody wants to hear that we’re sorry, especially those closest to us.” – Anybody Can Take Steps, Chp. 9  

Is There a Moral Dilemma to Certain Amends?

     “Amends to banks or stores that we stole from can be especially confusing for parents or spouses. Let’s say an addict robbed a bank and got away with it. Making the amends might land him in jail, thereby robbing him from his family and his duties to them. How would that be unselfish when our families need us now more than ever? Wouldn’t that cause more harm than good? But what if we have to make the amends to achieve sanity? What if we will drink or use drugs again if we don’t go through with it? We may have to make the amends to fully recover and remove our obsession. In this case, we must ask ourselves how important our sobriety and our spiritual growth is. Are we going to put our recovery and God before EVERYTHING else, even our families? If so, we have to go make it, regardless of the selfish consequences that may ensue. Perhaps we can use this formula to decipher other moral dilemmas we face throughout life. Try putting your spiritual growth and God before all else and then make your assessment. Ultimately, we have to do what we need to do to be okay.” – Anybody Can Take Steps, Chp. 9

No Amends Is Too Small

<!– /* Font Definitions */ @font-face {font-family:Garamond; panose-1:2 2 4 4 3 3 1 1 8 3; mso-font-charset:0; mso-generic-font-family:auto; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:3 0 0 0 1 0;} /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-parent:""; margin-right:0in; mso-margin-bottom-alt:auto; margin-left:0in; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-ascii-font-family:Garamond; mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-hansi-font-family:Garamond; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";} @page Section1 {size:8.5in 11.0in; margin:1.0in 1.25in 1.0in 1.25in; mso-header-margin:.5in; mso-footer-margin:.5in; mso-paper-source:0;} div.Section1 {page:Section1;} —       “Some of us will think we do not owe any amends, that we were not addicts or alcoholics and have never harmed anyone or committed a wrong, and while I suppose that could be true, I seriously doubt it. Others may think, ‘Well yeah, I stole a few apples one day from the store, but that’s really not so bad’. Sure it may not start World War III, but it is still wrong. Someone worked to grow those apples and someone else paid for them so they could be offered to you. You therefore owe the storeowner and the farmer who grew them an amends. No, you don’t need to go hunt down the farmer, but you do need to walk into that store and be accountable for stealing, and then offer to pay the storeowner back for his or her losses.” – Anybody Can Take Steps, Chp. 8

All Spiritual Experiences are Unique

     “I debated whether or not to share my own 7th Step experience because I didn’t want to set anybody up with expectations. The truth is that we all have a unique, personal experience taking Steps, so try to simply go through this process without thinking about it too much or expecting any particular thing to happen. Some of us will experience the wash of a great calm. Some of us will feel as if a tremendous weight has been lifted off of our shoulders. Others will just continue this process and slowly change over time. A gradual change may even make us stronger in the long run, so try not to worry about it or judge it too much. We just have to keep moving forward and getting stronger, knowing that with each right action we draw closer to God. I share my personal experience here to simply provide hope, that it might inspire just one more soul to embark on this spiritual path and become equipped and willing to go help others.” – Anybody Can Take Steps, Chp. 7

Meditation Is Absolutely Crucial

<!– /* Font Definitions */ @font-face {font-family:Garamond; panose-1:2 2 4 4 3 3 1 1 8 3; mso-font-charset:0; mso-generic-font-family:auto; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:3 0 0 0 1 0;} /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-parent:""; margin-right:0in; mso-margin-bottom-alt:auto; margin-left:0in; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-ascii-font-family:Garamond; mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-hansi-font-family:Garamond; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";} @page Section1 {size:8.5in 11.0in; margin:1.0in 1.25in 1.0in 1.25in; mso-header-margin:.5in; mso-footer-margin:.5in; mso-paper-source:0;} div.Section1 {page:Section1;} —           “Sitting quietly without distraction and breathing is an incredibly powerful tool, one that few may realize the true benefits of. Meditating brings us back into the present moment and elevates awareness, leading to greater clarity and acceptance. Even if our minds wander off into the future or the past, we can simply let the thoughts come and let the thoughts go. There is no need to hold on anymore. Thoughts and feelings don’t have to stop us dead in our tracks. They do not have to control our lives. As we move forward, consistent meditation will gradually re-align us, harmonizing the mind and body by allowing us to accept our existence and what is happening around us. The simple practice of breathing quietly and remaining still can literally alter your brain chemistry, balancing levels of crucial neurotransmitters that make us feel calm, grounded, balanced and whole. There is now a plethora of scientific evidence that reveals such positive changes to our brain due to meditation and mindfulness.
     I’ll share with you a more structured meditation that I learned while in treatment up North. It is easy and can have a marked effect in a short amount of time. This might be good for certain people who are not only very busy but have a difficult time sitting still…” – Anybody Can Take Step, Chp. 6