OK. Let’s just say that ST were a support forum for recovering alcoholics – which we’re not, but let’s just say – and that, therefore, we’re obligated to tell people what to do. And let’s also just say that the AAs around here are correct when they say that we have nothing to offer but “Just Quit.” We write these interminable posts that distill down to nothing more than “Just Quit.” I can see that. I mean, without a set of instructions, a manual of some sort, an army of panty-sniffing camp counselors, and a Higher Power, to whom you can ungratefully return your divine gift of free will, we got nothin’.

My question is – assuming we were all about trying to get people to quit drinking by the “Just Quit” program – what is actually wrong with “Just Quit”? That phrase seems to have so much packed in there for AAs, that when you say “Just Quit” it has the same effect as saying “Hitler” in a political discussion. Yall just “get it.” That says it all.

You have to understand that, not being an AA member myself, and, in fact, being quite allergic to AA, as I assume many of our readers are, I don’t get it. And I am hoping that you can unpack this little phrase for us and explain why “Just Quit” is so obviously asinine. What is does it mean? What does an alternative to AA need to possess in order for it not to be “Just Quit”?

Now, before you do that, lemme just tell you what I think I understand: The first thing I understand is that for people who use the phrase “real alcoholic,” saying “Just Quit” is like saying “Just send your cancer into remission.” Right? Because it’s a disease. So, ha ha! That’s just silly. But, AA has never proven to be as effective or versatile or evolving or customizable as cancer treatment, has it? (I’m asking.) I mean, let’s just forget about comparing AA to no program at all, or to an alternative recovery program. Let’s just hold it to the medical standards of disease treatment.

Yes? No?

No? What do you think? What standard should we hold it to?

There must be some standard, or “Just Quit” wouldn’t be so ridiculous, right? If the standard is not medical treatment, then what is it? I realize that the “disease model” isn’t in the Big Book, but you must have some benchmark for what makes a program of recovery realistic or valid. What makes the 12 Steps realistic to you, as opposed to “Just Quit”?

What I’m getting as is that if there’s no standard, then AA can’t claim to be more than a “Just Quit” method, either. What’s the practical difference between saying, “Just Quit” and “Just do the Steps”? Or “Just boil your head and stand naked in a corner for three days”?

So what is it?

One thing that’s so interesting to me is the caveat about people who are constitutionally incapable of honesty. The reason is that there seems to be a lot of “Just Do It” tough love and personal responsibility involved in doing AA, and that failure to do it can be explained away by this caveat. (By the way, I’m not sure what AAs mean by “constitutionally incapable of honesty,” but to my mind, “constitutionally incapable” people would have to be clinically diagnosable sociopaths or psychopaths. Or brain damaged.)

If a person is actually

  1. Constitutionally capable of honesty;
  2. Required to have the wherewithal to choose the right meeting and to know the difference;
  3. In posession of their wits, their boundary-setting skills, keen judgment, common sense, personal fortitude, and survival instincts, in order to choose the correct sponsor and avoid predatory or toxic entanglements within AA (which is, I guess, just like going to a bar or a time share sales pitch – just like anything or any place where you have to be able to discriminate);
  4. Able to enforce these boundaries and to actually trust one’s judgment;
  5. Has the will to walk in the door; actually attend 90 meetings in 90 days, and commit to working the steps;
  6. Able to actively compartmentalize the above 5 requirements of personal responsibility and willfulness, in order to simultaneously believe that one can actively abdicated self-will to the Higher Power that gave you that divine gift of personal responsibility in the first place (an HP that accepts backsies, I guess);

then working the steps seems to require the same – if not more – presence of mind, strength of will, and capacity that Just Quitting does.

However, if alcoholism were a disease or a condition (whatever you want to call it) that actually compromises one’s ability to trust one’s self, to make the correct personal decisions – in general, to function in the world – then how can they be simultaneously expected to possess these characteristics, as a prerequisite for making AA work for them? These seem like the very characteristics that would make “Just Quit” a viable option for them as well, considering that they’re healthy and stable enough to be expected to take responsibility for themselves. This all makes “Work the Steps” sound as valid as “Just Quit.”

I mean, the only practical difference I can discern between the two, based on what I’ve learned from AA members around here, is religious conversion (which I wrote about here).