[This goes under my new category: Gratuitous AA Bashing. Alternately: kiss my ass.]
After having participated in many discussions with AAs, I have noticed that, while they often disown and dismiss their slogans, they also tend to be Carbon-Based Random Slogan Generators in their own right, responding to any given argument by stringing several slogans together in response to any criticism of their program.
A good case in point is the AA’s response I received in the comments to my Stinking Thinking post, in which the commenter politely handed me my ass for assuming that AAs treat these slogans as gospel, when, in fact, they are just guideposts — even while he unconsciously uses nonsense slogans to make his point, specifically: a variation on “None are too dumb for AA, but some are too smart,” and “One might accuse groups of ‘brainwashing,’ but the fact is, lots of brains NEED a good washing…” Using only two slogans in five paragraphs shows uncommon restraint, and I commend that. But I’m gonna address these.
Being smart isn’t anything to apologize for, as I’ve mentioned before. Neither is there such a thing as “too smart.” Smart is just a thing you are, like blonde or funny. Imagine telling a toddler he’s “too smart.” Not that I don’t get what they’re trying to say: AA works, but not if you sit around trying to analyze it until you suck all the God out of it, like taking the magic out of awe-inspiring sunset, by explaining that all the brilliant colors are generated by pollution.
And clever as it sounds, the brainwashing slogan is just bullshittery on so many levels, no matter how you interpret it, which could be a few different ways: First, “I’d rather be brainwashed than drunk, in jail, institutionalized, or dead.” (That’s a false dichotomy.) Second, “The antidote to my brainwashing is more brainwashing.” (Another false dichotomy.) Third, “Ha ha! So what if I’m brainwashed? I like it!” (“I know you are, but what am I?” To which there is no response, except “Honey? Hide the kids now.”) Fourth, they are making some kind of distinction between brainwashing (which is real) and washing one’s brain (which is not), which sounds kind of Yodaesque, but doesn’t make any sense at all if you’re smart. My gut feeling is that this slogan is simply damage control – a way of offering up just enough of the truth, in a light-hearted way, to diffuse further inquiry.
OK, so I got that out of my system.
What I wanted to focus on here are the unofficial, unofficial slogans of AA, which I have run across time and again in my conversations with AA members. These are sayings that you will never find on any bumpersticker or plaque or engraved silver bauble or in a signature line, but they are just as prevalent. These are the slogans that AAs use when their backs are against the wall. Here’s my list so far. Please feel free to add your own:
Try another Meeting. If you google this phrase, you’ll find that a vast majority of the top results are in reference to AA meetings: So, the meeting you went to sucked in definitive, widely-reported, stereotypical ways? Why don’t you try another one?
That’s Not AA. You’ll hear this in response to anything that AAs can’t deny actually happens predictably, as a matter of course, in meetings, but want to disown, and thus dismiss. I don’t know where you heard that, but that’s not AA. (This will be used to dismiss even quotes from Bill Wilson.)
Get a New Sponsor. When someone offers their story of whackjob dysfunction in their relationship with a sponsor, you’ll never hear an AA question the multi-level marketing structure of AA that fosters these random, unregulated, unaccountable, irresponsible pairings. Rather, they will put the responsibility for finding the correct sponsor on the “pigeon” (not the sober person), who, at the same time, is supposed to shut up and listen, take the cotton out of their ears, do what their sponsor tells them to do and not think…
No one ever said that AA is perfect. Well, of course AA isn’t perfect. It’s a loosely organized group of drunks leading drunks, har har! It’s the blind leading the blind! Oh, we’re whacky! Snork! We’re alcoholics! Hee hee! Not a glum lot! Just because it’s not perfect, doesn’t mean that it needs to be fixed or held to any standards in order to move toward perfection. Ha ha ha ha!!
I’ve been in AA [however long] and never heard that at a meeting. Despite the fact that stories of people being told to go off their doctor-prescribed meds are overwhelming, most old-timer evangelizers have never heard of such a thing. Did someone tell you that if you left AA you would die? Sorry. Never heard of it.
Statistics prove nothing. Anecdotal evidence is all they need, unless they are chin-deep in negative anecdotal evidence, in which case, AA has a proven track-record.
It’s irresponsible to criticize AA. Alcoholics will die if they listen to you. OK, look, I can’t refute what you’re saying, but don’t you even care that, even if you’re right and we’re wrong, the one alcoholic who takes your criticism to heart might just be one of the people for whom AA would work? And you have killed him. Nice work. Murderer.
AA isn’t supposed to get you sober. Where did you get that idea? What makes you think that AA promises to get you sober? Who said that? It’s not a program. No. AA is just supposed to help you stay sober, once you’re sober. See? You have to make the choice to abandon alcohol, and THEN you come to AA, where you admit that you’re powerless over alcohol.
More power to you. This is passive aggression: Oh, you’ve found something that works for you that’s not AA? Well, yeah, good luck with that. I sincerely hope that works out for you. Seriously, I wish you all the best. I’m happy to hear it. Very happy for you. Honestly. Woohoo! I wish you all the best. With that. (And we’ll be here when you hit bottom.)
Do I sense some resentment? This is what you say when someone responds with appropriate indignation to your ad hominem attacks. While AA’s gaslighting doesn’t work outside of AA, it can serve to effectively drive sane, sober people straight up a freaking wall and derail any discussion, if you use it correctly. You can maintain this rhetorical strategy as long as you pretend not to understand what ad hominem means. This is critical: under no circumstances are you to understand what ad hominem means, no matter how many times people give you the definition. As far as you’re concerned, science and statistics are a direct attack upon your very soul, but when you call someone angry, resentful or a dry drunk, you’re just making an objective observation.
My AA group is different. Your word against mine.
What are your real motives? You clearly have some diabolical agenda that I can’t fathom, because I can’t think of one that makes any sense. But, clearly.
How’s your sobriety? Mine’s great! You’re probably drunk.
If you’re too stupid to get out of an abusive group, then that’s your responsibility. Booyah! Give ’em some good old fashioned Tough Love: Don’t listen to the old timers; don’t listen to the group; trust your addict thinking; decide what’s best for you, no matter what the group says; think for yourself. Oh, and: fuck you. Before you say this, make sure that you express that you’re sorry they were raped, manipulated, taken advantage of, gaslit, pressured, etc., and word it appropriately. As an AA, you can’t actually say “fuck you,” but you can imply it, and no one will be able to call you on it. If they do, ask them how their sobriety is going.
For instance [I’m sacrificing authenticity here by leaving out the all-caps, misspellings, and random slogans. I trust that I made up for that by using the word “ain’t” at every oppprtunity, to give it that grassroots, rock’n’roll, honest, earthy, streetsmarts, been-there, curmudgeonly credibility, combined with the “I never said ‘ain’t’ in my life, but I just learned how to use it from my sponsor” flavor.]:
I’m sorry you had such a bad experience with your one single solitary experience in AA. AA ain’t perfect, and ain’t no one ever said it was. I have been with AA for 20 years, and ain’t never seen that in my group or heard anything like it, and I can tell you for a fact: that ain’t AA. I have to wonder why you didn’t you try other meetings, if you say you were comitted to staying sober. You do what it takes. If you had picked the right sponsor, they would have told you that ain’t right. AA ain’t no magic pill, you know. It ain’t there to make you sober. It’s there to guide you in your sobriety. If you weren’t able to stay sober in AA, then you should have questioned your commitment or hunkered down and done the damn work — it takes honesty. The beauty of AA is that it ain’t regulated, and every group will be different. Ultimately, you have to take responsibility for your recovery. By the way, how’s your sobriety these days? It seems that you are carrying a lot of resentment and anger. I have to wonder what your real motives are in telling people that you were abused in AA, because, first of all, you didn’t shop around for a home group that was good for you, and now you’re publicizing this one, single, exception to a benevolent, altruistic free program, with no investment in your participation, that has helped so many – which I have have proof of, because I’ve it seen with my own eyes. AA saved my life. Your criticism of one group could turn off an alcoholic to his last hope, and leave him dead in a gutter. If you have found another program that works for you, then more power to you. I’m happy for you. Honestly. Go for it. But why bash AA itself, which works for anyone who really wants it to, just because you didn’t? Namaste…