Monday, January 4, 2016

A drunk is a drunk is a drunk

   Seamus O'Regan has already suffered his first self-inflicted setback on the road to personal recovery. 
   The Newfoundland Liberal MP and former national media personality didn't have to go public with his(?) decision to seek counselling for alcoholism.  He could have done what the overwhelming majority of recovering alcoholics do and walked into a community center or church basement, where he'd be just another drunk at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.  Instead, he made a grand pronouncement on social media that he was going to a "wellness program" in pursuit of an "alcohol-free lifestyle".  
   Those sugar-coated platitudes might make for good optics, but for anyone who knows anything about real recovery, they smack of denial and violate not one but two of the fundamental traditions of AA:

- "Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films."

- "Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities." 

   Contrary to outside perception, anonymity is not about protecting the alcoholic from the "stigma" of alcoholism.  It's about protecting the AA program.  "Principles before personalities" puts everyone in the fellowship on equal footing.  The only time there's a most-important-person-in-the-room is when a newcomer walks in the door, whether they're an unemployed labourer, a rock star or the honourable member for St. John's South-Mount Pearl. O'Regan has already compromised his prospects for recovery by going public with a battle that cannot be won without a significant measure of humility, which in recovery is born in no small part of anonymity. 
   How do I know all of this?  I've been an AA member in good standing for nearly 19 years.  By disclosing that, I'm violating the very traditions cited above and setting aside my own humility (or what there is of it), but when I posted on social media that O'Regan was ill-advisedly - if unwittingly - distancing himself from "regular" drunks who go to AA meetings to get sober, I was quickly set upon by AA detractors whose predictable myth-making needs to be challenged and debunked.  
   The most common misrepresentation of Alcoholics Anonymous is that it's a religious cult.  AA is not a religious program; it's a spiritual program.  There's a big difference.  Unlike organized religion, AA does not mandate that salvation can only come through certain beliefs.  The program's literature makes clear that the 12 steps to recovery are suggestions, and that they are best practiced through a God of your understanding.  Your higher power could be the biblical God.  It could be the AA group.  It could be Mother Earth, Father Time, Brother Theodore or Sister Sledge - whatever works for you.  
   The cult canard is the most easily dismissed fallacy about AA.  Cults are built around personalities, and we've already established principles before personalities as an AA cornerstone.  "Cult" also suggests forced membership, but as far as AA members are concerned, you're free to come and go as you please.  AA's detractors like to cite books and studies that demonstrate the program's low success rate, but they overlook, conveniently ignore or just flat out don't realize that people who don't make it invariably fall by the wayside because they couldn't or wouldn't put in the work.  No one who doesn't want it is going to get it.  In my experience in the program, the success rate among people who are truly willing to go to any lengths to get sober is 100 percent.   
    I can l only speak to my own experience covering most of the last two decades, and I have seen too many AA success stories - some of which I would describe as miracles - to sit idly by while people with no clue what they're talking about badmouth the program.  All that does is potentially drive people in trouble away from something that could save their family, their sanity and their life.  
   So keep coming back, and remember, as I once heard a sober but geographically-challenged member say at a meeting some years ago, "Denial ain't just a river in Panama - or wherever the fuck it is."

1 comment:

  1. Since AA keeps no records, all the "statistics" about success rates are pretty much hooey, as far as I'm concerned.

    I come from an alcoholic family—if you shake my family tree, bottles fall out. On both sides. My favorite aunt died of the disease, and I, just a bit more than two years sober, was devastated—I adored her; in a family that has never really understood me, she was the closest thing I ever had to a "kindred spirit". She had been to one AA meeting, but left, she said, because someone had brought their child to the meeting with them, and she was afraid her attendance would be noted and reported—she was a visiting teacher.

    I've come to believe that, sadly, that was just the most convenient excuse. I went to a meeting the night I learned of her death and a dear friend told me one of the hardest things I've ever had to hear; it's stuck with me:

         AA is a program for people who want it,
         not for people who
    need it.

    My sobriety dates from December 7, 1981—40 years after Pearl Harbor got bombed, I discovered I didn't have to anymore. It's been an easier road for me than for many others I've witnessed, but it's had its moments. I harbor no illusions that I can celebrate such a long string of daily reprieves solely because of my own fortitude. I've had massive amounts of help along the way, primarily from a wonderful group of loving people in San Francisco.

    I sobered up at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in a community decimated by the disease and watched more than 100 friends and acquaintances die sometimes horrible deaths. There was a popular saying in the rooms back then: "Don't drink, even if your ass falls off". I watched men whose asses literally wasted away to nothing—"fell off"—maintain not only their sobriety, but their service to others as well. My problems paled in comparison; what excuse could I possibly justify for picking up in the face of their example?

    I also give credit to a Higher Power/God that I don't try too hard to define. I figure my mortal perspective places limitations on the divine that it just doesn't have, and I'm content to know that a "power greater than myself" has had a hand in the proceedings.

    The study of alcoholism is discovering new things all the time, and I read the articles with great interest. I don't agree with all of them, and some of them fly in the face of the information that has shaped my recovery, but I respect good science and hope that one day, there truly will be an "easier, softer way" for the multitudes that, for one reason or another, "cannot or will not give themselves" to AA.

    Thank you for your article!