A Bulleted List of Things I Like and Dislike About AA

I’ve been in Indonesia for a little more than two months now without access to in person meetings. I have been to a couple Zoom meetings and while I’m glad they’re there and have not sworn them off completely, I have made a pretty firm decision that I don’t like them. But in the absence of AA meetings, neither my sobriety nor my serenity has suffered. I am neither cocky nor afraid and I remain constantly engaged in my own recovery. Being not immersed in AA at present has given me cause to re-evaluate certain aspects of the program and its surrounding culture and in the spirit of taking inventory, I have decided to compile some of my current thoughts in a clear and tidy list.

The Good

  • AA’s description of active alcoholism is entirely consistent with my experience as is its insistence that abstinence is the only possible relationship an alcoholic can have with alcohol
  • The 12 steps have been totally transformative for me, absolutely life changing
  • AA offers a community of people with similar experiences in the midst of a society/culture/world tends not to understand addiction very well
  • That community offers opportunities for openness and intimacy that are extremely rare, especially for adult men
  • The community of AA offers encouragement and help, an attitude of “being in this together” that is indispensable to recovery
  • The 3rd step as an ideal of how to live in the world with grace and serenity
  • The 4th and 5th step nurture a sense of compassion for others and revelation of the human condition
  • The identification of fear and resentment as core motivating emotions among alcoholics and, I believe, all people, is brilliant
  • The clarifying nature of writing inventory
  • Encouraging prayer and meditation as regular habit
  • AA promotes gratitude
  • The transformative act of praying for those against whom we hold resentments
  • Create your own conception of God!
  • “Love and tolerance of others is our code”
  • AA is a uniquely long-lived non-hierarchical, no-central-leadership organization operating completely without profit motive

The Bad

  • Gruff oldtimers offering “tough love” in the form of commands to “Sit down and shut the fuck up!” and the like
  • People who have been sober for years describing themselves as “sick”
  • Related, the common misapprehension that alcoholics, whether recovering or not, are distinctly selfish and self-centered. There is no evidence for this.
  • The mistaken idea that, let’s say, performing AA is synonymous with sobriety
  • Participation in AA may, in some cases, encourage some people to stay stuck in disease thinking instead of fully enjoying the gifts of sobriety
  • Very literal ideas of God and the role God plays in recovery – this just isn’t for me
  • Are they really defects of character or human-all-too-human qualities present in everyone, alcoholic and non-alcoholic alike?
  • There is some common confusion among many in AA by which powerlessness over alcohol, which is indisputably key to the program, has become equated to powerlessness over people, places, and things, an idea which is flatly untrue and nowhere to be found in any AA literature
  • With the notable exception of a couple men’s crosstalk meetings, no “discussion” meetings I’ve ever been to have involved any actual discussion.

The Ugly

  • I don’t love a lot of the aesthetics around AA – church basements tend to be drab, cliches and platitudes are an affront to language, and certain aspects of AA culture are just really cheesy.

I plan on drawing on this list for future posts. Have I missed any? Am I wrong about any of these? Please hit me up in the comments!

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  1. Tim Custis

    I have 35 years of sobriety, and AA put me on the path to sobriety and reconnected me with a higher power. I will be forever grateful for that; however, after receiving my 3-year chip, I was guided to quit attending meetings. The circumstances I will not go into here. However, one thing became clear to me, and that is it is fear-based. For example, you will drink if you do not go to meetings. While this may be true for some people, especially at the beginning of sobriety, it is not my long-term experience. I believe that people should be empowered and be able to stand on their own two feet, as they say.

    I do not encourage anyone to stop attending meetings but to be open to their intuition and follow divine guidance. Of course, this requires a deeper exploration of who they are and how they operate in the world. I was guided to A Course in Miracles during this time, which also changed my life.

    I applaud you for questioning the experience and discovering what is true for you. Keep exploring. Even when people slip, it is a learning opportunity. And I had my share of those in the beginning. I wish you the best of life that sobriety brings.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Chris

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Tim


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