I hold Alcoholics Anonymous in the highest regard. This said, I think it is acceptable, if not necessary, to address its contradictions and platitudes. I don't necessarily agree with everything Knox has to say but I appreciate it when anyone takes on a sacred cow and hope this post will be a catalyst for further conversation and critical thought.
A.A.'s Most Annoying Cliches
By Justin Knox
Sure, you got “sick and tired of being sick and tired” in your addiction, but don’t you also get sick and tired of all those cliches that are an inescapable inconvenience of recovery? Many aphorisms become aphorisms because they’re true, but others pop up and then stick around inexplicably—like these seven deadly slogans:
“My worst day sober is better than my best day drinking.”
Really? Well then let's get the most ridiculous cliche out of the way first. An appropriate response to this roundly scorned slogan is “Then you definitely weren’t partying with me!” If you’re in A.A., your drinking days clearly didn’t culminate in grace and health and dignity, but come on. You had at least one (or 100) amazing experiences on drugs and alcohol or you wouldn’t have kept chasing after another over and over until you ended up in a plastic chair at a dingy detox nursing a styrofoam cup of coffee. And, let’s just admit it, some sober days really, really suck. Life, you know? See how this adage doesn't add up?
"Let go and let God.”
Let go of what? Let God do what exactly? Existential questions like these echo in the minds of many addicts when some jerky girl in the front row of a meeting invariably pipes up with this inescapable exhortation. If this slogan belongs anywhere, it should be needlepointed and framed over your grandmother’s mantle, rather than actually uttered out loud by a sentient being. It’s frequently offered as advice by 12-steppers who are simply feeling good and aren’t quite sure why. A more practical suggestion might be, “Don’t drink, don’t obsess over your problems and stop feeling sorry for yourself. Just drag your tired ass to a meeting.”
“Have an attitude of gratitude.”
A maxim commonly proffered by toothless old-timers to jittery newcomers, this saying is quite similar to a favorite Jesse Jackson tactic—serving up cutely rhyming, meaningless exhortations to answer some of life’s most intractable problems. One of the dangers of this ploy is that if someone is going through a majorly painful ordeal, simple-minded Dr. Seuss banalities might cause them to react not so serenely. The sister saying, “You can’t be grateful and angry at the same time,” has also been known to trigger a rage reaction.
“Keep it simple, stupid.”
From the makers of “Make it Modest, Moron” comes this mother of all backhanded helpful hints. It’s a favorite of people who want to ignore the complexity of their own chronically diseased life by adding insult to your already injured self-esteem. But why wait until the end of a sentence to demean a recovering, shaking schlep? Instead, just switch the slogan around to “Hey, stupid—keep it simple!” and get the painful part over with.
“Pain is the touchstone of spiritual growth.”
Often opined at meetings by sad sacks, secret masochists and those who simply hate seeing others smile, this bromide provides only the coldest comfort, if any at all. The message here is that suffering is essential to maintaining your sobriety and, ultimately, your soul. But is that supposed to make the fact that you’re contemplating throwing yourself in front of the nearest bus feel somehow okay? Like after all the humiliation, regret, broken relationships, S.T.D.s and liver damage, now the pain starts?
“If you hang around a barber shop long enough, sooner or later you're gonna get a haircut.”
This one needs updating. Sure, some of us may go to barber shops. But does anyone really “hang around” them anymore? Maybe it's time for us to branch out and include, say, women and younger folks who may feel alienated by all this barbershop talk. We could try a female-friendly version like, “If you hang around L.A. long enough, you're gonna get a boob job” or, for pop culture fans, “If you hang around Justin Bieber’s stylist long enough, you're gonna end up in skinny jeans with an adorable mop cut.” Or we could just start saying, “Don't set up camp at bars and hang around with too many lushes once you sober up.”
"You're only as sick as your secrets.”
Alliteration is snappy—and by all means if you’re carrying around horrible, disgusting skeletons, you should certainly tell someone (just maybe not us). But, honestly, sometimes not admitting your most private experiences is simply a service to your fellow sober pals: we’ve all been in meetings where barely recovering comrades let loose with overwrought, embarassing confessions that contain a tad T.M.I.
Justin Knox currently lives in Athens, Georgia where he runs a screen-printing company and is the owner of a t-shirt fashion line. He is working on a hilarious memoir about the not-so-hilarious events in his life. Sobriety has given him a rich life that now includes, but is not limited to, being able to tie his shoes correctly and look people in the eyes when he speaks to them. He also wrote Messiest Celebrity Meltdowns for The Fix.