Saturday, 12 July 2014

AA myths ... Or are they?

For years now, lists and discussions have abounded about the 'myths' of 'watered-down AA', which are 'killing newcomers'.

I have absolutely loved these over the years. I have enjoyed the discourse and the debate. But I also enjoyed the self-righteousness generated by hoisting myself above the fellowship that had saved my life with my sarcastic observations and only partly coherent logic, all under the banner of defending the Big Book.

Something has always troubled me about this pastime and it is this: the tenor of such discussions has an awful lot in common with the anti-AA websites, one particularly prominent example of which uses similar straw-man arguments and derision as I have engaged in with other recovered alcoholics myself.

The method is this: take the slogan out of context, purport it to be a representation of the entire programme, and then find a line in the Big Book that appears to contradict it, attribute the line to treatment centres and middle-of-the-road AA, and your job is done!

Now, let me say that there are things said in AA that, by any reading, are inconsistent with the Book, e.g. 'a step a year'. No benevolent reading can make this particular slogan remotely consistent.  Even in those cases, however, I must be careful not to inject a spirit of scorn or derision. Love and tolerance are what the Book teaches me, and I must manifest those qualities. No one is helped by my calling anything an eight-letter word beginning with 'B'.

Here is a good example: I have seen 'easy does it' written off as rubbish, when set against 'half measures availed us nothing'and 'we urge you to be fearless and thorough'. This is a straw-man argument, because this slogan refers not to the speed at which one takes the steps but to relations within the family in recovery. The slogan is actually in the Book, to boot.

To be fair, some slogans are misused, as are lines from the Book, e.g. the 'progress not perfection' idea being used to promote and justify indolence. The problem then lies not with the slogan or quotation, but with its misuse. This is an important distinction. Most slogans, used wisely, are very helpful teaching mechanisms when dealing with newcomers with terrible memories.

Most slogans used in AA are also used in a specific context and were never designed to represent the entirety of the AA programme or preclude the remainder. They are merely devices to represent particular key elements of the programme.

'90 meetings in 90 days' is a frequent target of attack. This is typically used as part of a whole raft of instructions to newcomers, not as a single silver bullet. It is often portrayed, wrongly, as an injunction only to attend 90 meetings in 90 days, ignoring all other measures.

Now, rather than trying to prove that something is inconsistent with the Book, I can substitute positive for negative thinking and see whether it is supported by the Book.

1. The Big Book in the UK still has the AA logo, which includes the word 'unity'. One of the ways I practise unity is by spending a lot of time with or talking to other alcoholics. Meetings are pretty much the best way of doing that when one is new.

2. Chapter Eleven contains this passage:

"A year and six months later these three had succeeded with seven more. Seeing much of each other, scarcely an evening passed that someone’s home did not shelter a little gathering of men and women, happy in their release, and constantly thinking how they might present their discovery to some newcomer."

Scarcely an evening? You mean they met ... almost every day?!

3. Frequent contact with each other and with newcomers is the bright spot of our Iives, according to Chapter Seven.

One could go further, but suffice to say that the instruction to go to a whole lot of meetings in the first ninety days of recovery seems pretty consistent with the principles set out in the Book.

One might also observe whether, all other things being equal, newcomers who do go to lots of meetings generally do better than those who do not. In my observation they do.

Here would be a fun exercise: take every dismissed slogan and see if you can see the good in it. See if you can find how the slogan does actually reflect a principle in the Book. I have been amazed that the analytical skills underpinning my negativity, if turned on their head, can be a positive force for unity.

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