Thursday, 11 June 2015

Principles Not Personalities

Every now and then, someone points out that the AA co-founders were far from calm, balanced, morally sound people. Matt Forney just did so in an article on RoK. Then he made a claim about the high failure rate of AA. As opposed to the high success rates of all the medical treatments for alcoholism. Oh. Wait. There aren’t any. Because if there were, all those movies stars and rock stars would pop some pills instead of going to meetings. However, I’m not going to deny that a lot of newcomers start the program, and a lot of them drop out.

So. Personalities first. I don’t give a damn that Dr Bob was the worst doctor in his small town and a degenerate opium addict to boot. Nor do I care that Bill W took all sorts of highs, 13-Stepped and mooched on his wife. Partly because they are both dead, so I will never have to deal with them at dinner, but mostly because I don’t follow their example, I follow their program. As do all the other 12-Step people I listen to in meetings. Alcoholics learn to put principles before personalities, because the principles aren’t bad, but a lot of the personalities are pretty flawed. civilians still confuse the two. After all, if you insist that you will only adopt ideas that come from morally flawless people, you can keep your brain idea-free for your entire life. Judging ideas by their creators is what conformists do.

Sure there’s a high recidivism from AA. If I stop taking my Lanzoprosole, my acid reflux comes back within about forty-eight hours. Does that mean it’s useless? Acid reflux is what happens when a sphincter at the top of your stomach goes wibbly. There’s no cure or surgery for it. All I can do is take a palliative, and thank my lucky stars that it’s one that works, rather than a piece of chemical toxic junk with a name ending in “statin” or “formin”. Well, it’s the same with AA. There’s no cure for alcoholism: if there was, all those movie stars and rock stars would be paying for it. But no, they go to meetings just like the rest of us regular drunks. What it gives us is a palliative. Treatment centres can help start, but the recovering drunk has to prove it every day on the street. For. The. Rest. Of. His. Life.

There’s a phrase we know by heart:
“Rarely have we seen someone fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such unfortunates. They are not at fault; they seem to have been born that way. They are naturally incapable of grasping and developing a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty. Their chances are less than average. There are those, too, who suffer from grave emotional and mental disorders, but many of them do recover if they have the capacity to be honest."
A 12-Step program is tough to work, or rather, it’s tough to take the consequences. The hardest thing to accept is that sobriety comes before everything else. Job. House. Relationships. Fun. Fitness. Name it. This is not how normal people live. They juggle priorities, they compromise on their goals and principles if that's what's needed to advance something else they want to do. That includes getting drunk at and taking cabs home from a leaving do that over-ran, in the name of "networking". Alkies don't live that way. If something or someone clashes with what we need to do to stay sober, guess what? It gets or they get dumped. But then not having a drink today is the foundation of all the rest of the good stuff in my life: I lose it and all the rest goes. I turn back into a pathetic little jerk with the social skills of a resentful teenager.

AA is not a cure, and anyone who tells you it is? Don’t trust them when they tell you the time either. But then, don’t trust anyone who tells you there’s a cure for addiction, acid reflux, wilful stupidity, being a jerk, chronic lack of fitness or excess weight. There isn’t. There is only endless vigilance and practicing the programme.

And the next time someone tells you that something must be a bad idea because the person who invented it was a Bad Person, remind them that if ideas were only as good as their creators were moral, we’d all still be living in grass huts.

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