I’m so sorry that the blog has been neglected for a few days. I have been focused on some actual paying work, Speedy is writing his magnum opus, and MA is at the Home Depot. Plus I read the July issue of Grapevine cover to cover, and I’ve been incapacitated, wandering around with a thousand-yard stare, ever since.
I wanted to write about this issue, because it’s the “Prison Issue – Sobriety Behind Bars: Staying Sober on the Inside,” and that seemed very timely, considering some of the discussion we’ve been having around here lately. But, it shorted out my brain. Seriously: fzzzzt…pop.
It’s just so packed full of crazy, I don’t know where to start. I sit down to write, and I just sputter. If anything can prove to me for good and all that AA is designed to trigger brain death, this issue of Grapevine can.
OK. Let me start with our hobbyhorse here: contradiction. The way we go on about it, you’d think contradiction is the end of the world. It’s not. It’s just the way of the world. Things are complex. However, contradiction in AA serves a function, which is nothing more nor less than to completely fuck you up. To be precise, it obfuscates the nature of AA, in order to woo the newcomer, and then it serves to prevent people from ever getting their feet on the ground, from questioning the program, from trusting themselves or being able to communicate with “normies” (or rational people) – and so, it fosters dependence. “Oh, honey, of course I’m not cheating on you. You’re just paranoid. I am working late to provide for you, and if you weren’t so crazy and ungrateful…”
The reason this particular issue of Grapevine is interesting is that the very theme illuminates an irreconcilable contradiction in AA, between AA’s Traditions and how AA actually operates in the world. Actively mining the court system and the penal system, by courting judges and wardens, for a captive audience goes entirely against the Traditions of keeping out of public controversy; of attraction over promotion; of not lending the AA name to outside institutions; and most of all, of the single membership requirement: the desire to stop drinking.
12-stepping in the courthouse is certainly involving AA in public controversy. What is not public about promoting AA as a sentencing option in the court? And further, what is not controversial about a judge’s sentencing someone to attend a spiritual program?
The second part of the 11th tradition specifies anonymity in media. But it is disingenuous to use that as a loophole for disregarding the essence of the first part, which defines AA as a program of attraction, not promotion. Now this may seem like a fussy point (only if you’re not too smart for AA), but the phrase, “we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films” is after a semi-colon, not after a colon. A semi-colon separates two independent clauses. Using a semi-colon is kind of like saying, “and,” but more like saying nothing at all, and putting a period there. If the two clauses were separated by a colon, which can be read more like, “i.e. – ” or “meaning,” or “in other words” – it indicates a clarification. See, try replacing that semi-colon with an “and” or with nothing at all. Either work just as well for a semi-colon. Then try replacing the semi-colon with the words “meaning that.” See the difference?
The wording of 11th Tradition is very clear. Both clauses stand alone. In other words: AA is a program of attraction, not promotion. If you are going to engage the media, you must remain anonymous. It does not mean that you can promote all you want, as long as your group doesn’t put up a billboard on I-95 advertising your AA meeting theme ride at South of the Border.
Furthermore, no matter how you interpret the 11th tradition, the words “promotion” and “attraction” are very distinct, and there is no getting around the plain fact that knocking on the judge’s door with pamphlets in your hand and the intention of persuading him or her to, not just recommend AA, but to actually sentence unwilling people (alcoholic or not) to AA, goes beyond promotion and into flat out coercion.
By promoting AA this way, AA is also absolutely lending its name to outside institutions. The court is an outside institution, and AA has made quite sure that AA is sentencing option. Not only that, but the fact that most addictions treatment centers use the 12-steps primarily (careful not to say that they are AA – which is yet another way that AA plays fast and loose with the traditions), and then use AA meetings as follow-up “treatment,” means that AA has, in fact, lent it’s name to numerous private, for profit, outside institutions. It’s not AA? Technicalities, loopholes, fast and loose – dishonest.
Finally, and obviously, the 3rd Tradition, which I probably don’t even need to mention after parsing through the others, says that the only requirement for membership in AA is a desire to stop drinking. You don’t have to be a “real alcoholic,” or even a half-assed drinker. You just have to want to stop drinking, and – it should go without saying – want to be a member. It seems quite plain that people sentenced by the court to attend AA have not walked in of their own free will (which is actually convenient, considering that the very powerful and willful act of walking into a meeting of one’s own volition tends to undermine the notions that one cannot trust him or herself and is powerless, from the get-go), and therefore do not qualify for membership – at least not until or unless they’ve been indoctrinated. (Hey, are these AA attendees factored in when AA presents their membership figures?)
Happily, none of this contradicts the 1st Tradition: “Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends on AA unity.” First things first – and first is the fellowship. In that sense, the 1st Tradition is very similar to the 1st Commandment, which demands loyalty to the giver-of-life. And, or course, things are in order for a reason: There is a reason the 1st Commandment is the first, and a reason the 1st Tradition is the first. In Christianity, God comes first. Faith in God gives meaning to the rest of the commandments. And in AA, AA comes first – not you, the alcoholic, or the proverbial suffering alcoholic. The fundamental belief system comes first. Ensuring the survival of the faith is paramount.
That makes complete sense. If the religion (faith, belief system, institution, organization) survives, then it will continue to be available to offer salvation. So the individual suffering alcoholic is incidental. Whether some certain person is saved is not important. What’s important is that AA survives to save those who will perpetuate the program for those who will be saved to perpetuate the program, because AA is important.
I’m going to bed. I’m still not done fussing around with the freaking cover of this Grapevine, and I haven’t even touched on the staggering whackadoo within. But I will.