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Friday, November 26, 2004

Why I Hate Alcoholics Anonymous

A Note:
Though based on an actual event, names (except mine, of course) and locations have been changed.

The language is also a bit more vitriolic than my actual feelings since I originally wrote this essay for an evening of spoken word performance and went a bit more over the top than my usual tone.

My point, however, remains. I don't like AA all that much.

And though it might take me awhile to approve comments, I approve and read each one which isn't spam, so whether you agree with me or disagree and insult me, each one will be approved in time.

So please comment.

Thanks.

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Hi, my name is Ben, and I’m not an alcoholic.

But I've never wanted a drink more in my life than when I went to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

My cousin Jay regularly attends AA meetings. I was told, on the day I agreed to accompany him to one of the meetings, that he hasn't had a drink in over nine years, so I thought, well, why is he going to AA if he hasn't had a drink in so long? Sounds like he's kicked it.

I started wondering what the statute of limitations was for alcoholism. Jay's been dry nine years and still considers himself an alcoholic. Can't you finally doff the moniker "alcoholic" if you've been sober ten years? Twenty?

Never?

If you've stopped smoking, you don't still consider yourself a smoker. You're an ex-smoker.

I've yet to hear anyone describe themselves as an ex-alcoholic. They're all "recovering alcoholics".

Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic. Sounds like a raw deal to me, a scarlet AA burned into your liver for eternity.

The only reason I accepted the invitation was because so far my trip had been rather tame, filled with accompanying my nephews to the local swimming pool each day, sitting through impromptu living room talent shows, and getting to know the family dog rather well.

We arrived at the Charlottesville Community Center thirty minutes into the hour-long meeting. Before joining, Jay and I detoured into the coffee room to juice up. A large man cradling a styrofoam cup stood reading a bulletin board.

"Stan!" exclaimed Jay, giving him a hug. He motioned to me and continued: "I want you to meet my cousin Ben. This is his first visit to AA."

I shook Stan's hand while Jay ran off to use the restroom. "Nice to meet you," I said.

"Welcome," he said. "So, this is your first time, huh?"

"Yup," I said, making my way to the coffee machine.

"Well, we're glad you're here. You'll find that you've got help here whenever you need it."

I didn't try to correct his assessment of me, as denying I was an alcoholic would firmly cement in his head my reason for being there. Admittance is, after all, the first step. So I just smiled politely and pulled a cup from the shelves.

"Is the coffee any good?" I asked.

Jay rejoined us and said, "Stan's my sponsor. Been trying to get him to be my sponsor for a long time, and he finally said yes."

"I said yes just so you'd leave me alone," Stan chuckled. Jay laughed at this, an inside joke apparently.

"Yeah, Ben here's a normie," Jay said.

"Is that so?" Stan asked. "You sure he's related?"

The three of us shared a quiet laugh, then made our way into the meeting room, where Arlene was talking about how her faith in God keeps her sober.

We took a seat in the back, well away from the single table lamp illuminating the room, and listened to the various stories.

"Hi, my name's Brad, and I'm an alcoholic."

"Hi Brad."

Brad went on to tell us how he's been sober for five years, which elicited supportive applause from the group. He apparently found the drink in college, and realized he was an alcoholic when he woke up one afternoon in a puddle of vomit in the front yard.

I thought hell, I've done that before.

Brad and Arlene's stories were your basic stories of "this is how I became an alcoholic, this is how I realized I'm an alcoholic, and this is how I keep from drinking," and I wondered if they tell these same tales each week.

Seems like that would make for some tedious meetings. The same people telling the same stories over and over. Like visiting Grandpa in the old folks home except with less urine smells. You just smile and nod and feign interest in the story though what you really want to do is scream "we've heard this one before, we get it already, Jesus Christ!"

A few more people related their stories of woe and hope, strength and faith. Each one unique, each one exactly the same.

At the end of the hour, it was time to call this meeting adjourned. After an induction of two new members, everybody stood up, grabbed each other's hands, and arranged as much a circle as they could in this dark, L-shaped room crowded with desks and chairs.

I sat back in mine, outside of the circle, and listened to the group prayer which was topped off by what appeared to be the AA vision statement in rhyme. Something about trusting in Jesus to help the drunks get through life one day at a time, yadda yadda yadda.

I thanked Jesus myself for not letting anybody notice I wasn't participating, and afterwards gleefully watched as everyone scrambled to the front porch for a cigarette, chuckling as I imagined the Smokers Anonymous members throwing back a few pints after each one of their meetings.

Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic. Talk about having no hope at all for recovery. It frightened me to think of all the bad habits I've had over the years, and how someone might still be able to identify me as that habit today even though I've kicked it completely.

Hi, my name is Ben and I torture insects.
Hi, my name is Ben and I pick my nose.
Hi, my name is Ben and I don't wash my hands after using the bathroom.

You see what I mean? I don't need this following me around. I don't want to be standing at the altar and have a priest say "Do you Ben, insect torturer, take you Kerri, passive aggressive ice queen, to be your lawfully wedded wife?"

But this is what Alcoholics Anonymous is doing. They're supporting an ideology and culture which states that even though you've been sober for over twenty years, you're still a fucking drunk. What sort of fucked up co-dependency is that?

I say if you haven't had a drink in a year, you're no longer an alcoholic. Forget about it and get on with your life. The only person worse than a drunk is someone who thinks it's by the grace of God they don't get shit faced each night. We understand you used to have a problem, Brad, but get out of the bar, you're bringing everybody down!

You don't want to drink anymore? Go see a movie, read a book, or better yet, don't go to these meetings every week where you're constantly reminded about how fucked up and awful your life used to be. Leave that to your family, they're quite good at that.

Goddammit I need a drink.