You’re not a piece of shit

I was talking to a friend at a party a couple months ago. I’d first become aquainted with Jamie through a Buddhist based recovery program called Recovery Dharma. I had also occasionally seen her at AA meetings. More recently I had begun seeing her at the home of some mutual friends where there was always lots of music and food and good times. These weren’t sober parties but they weren’t parties with lots of drinking or drug use either. Anyway, I’d seen Jamie in various moods in our previous recovery-based encounters. Sometimes she was happy, sometimes less so. She’s definitely a person with some edge to her. I like her. On this particular evening Jamie was expressing a lot of ambivalence about sobriety. She hadn’t had a drink or a drug for several years and I don’t she wanted to get high exactly. It was more about the sober life; that ennui we often experience, the sense of boredom and confinement. In our conversation Jamie expressed a very specific feeling of ambivalence for AA. I don’t like the way AA tells me I’m a piece of shit, she said, that everything is my fault, that I’m powerless. I wasn’t sure how to respond. Part of me felt defensive – I love being sober and will freely state without reservation that AA saved my life – and another part of me felt confused, for the same reason. In active addiction I felt really bad about myself pretty much all of the time. I’ve struggled with self doubt and negative feelings about myself in sobriety too, and working the steps demands that I confront the darkness in me. But for the overwhelmingly larger part, AA has given me the new freedom and new happiness that it promised. And I don’t think that freedom and happiness are possible when following a path that tells you that you are a fundamentally bad person.

But I thought about it that night and I’ve thought about it a lot since then and I know that Jamie’s not the only one who thinks that way, not by a longshot. Hell, I know people who are enthusiastic about AA who basically talk like they’re pieces of shit who manage occasionally not to act like pieces of shit only thanks to the 12 steps and instruction from their sponsors. I know a guy named Tim, sober many years, very well read in the literature, a guy who likes to correct other people’s shares – more than once I’ve heard Tim say something like, I wake in the morning thinking about myself and everything I want. I don’t care about my wife, I don’t care about my daughter .. just me. Until I get on my knees and call my sponsor I am a total self-centered asshole. And I’m like, you know what Tim? Maybe you are a self-centered asshole. Maybe you are. But that’s not your alcoholism. That’s just you.

So where does this attitude come from? Is it in the literature? Is it implied in the steps? Is it part of the vibe of the program and the rooms where we meet? Or is it a misinterpretation of a program whose core idea and intention are something totally different?

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