When people share their stories at A.A. meetings, they often talk at length about how bad it was to drink. They describe all of the horrible pain that they went through, and all of the heartbreak and suffering that alcohol caused them and their families. They all agree that drinking made them feel just awful, sick to death. And all of the stories in the Big Book follow exactly the same format. What they all carefully avoid ever talking about is how much fun it was to get drunk, and all of the pleasure alcohol gave them.
Let's face it: drinking alcohol gave us alcoholics pleasure, a lot of pleasure. So much pleasure that we worked extremely hard at getting and drinking more alcohol. We pursued alcohol with a fanatical single-minded determination. There was nothing weak about our will power when it came to getting more alcohol. We persevered in our quest for the joy of alcohol in spite of all of the hardships and obstacles thrown in our paths, and in spite of great costs to us in terms of our jobs, our marriages, our health, and sometimes even our lives. And we usually succeeded in our quest for more alcohol. And we weren't drinking all of that alcohol because we wanted to feel bad.
The A.A. members like to claim that they drank because they have a disease, and the disease forced them to drink, often against their wishes. They would have quit long ago, they say, but the damn disease just kept reaching for another drink. Step One said that they were "powerless over alcohol." That gets them off the hook, and they don't have to accept responsibility for anything. In the Big Book, a woman finds the standard A.A. party line about alcoholism to be a "revelation":
"I wasn't mad or vicious — I was a sick person. I was suffering from an actual disease that had a name and symptoms like diabetes or cancer or TB — and a disease was respectable, not a moral stigma!"
While the A.A. members are doing their fearless moral inventories, and finding all of their defects of character, and wallowing in guilt about lots of other stuff, the one thing they don't want to list, the one thing they won't look at, is memories of gladly, happily, gleefully getting and drinking alcohol, and enjoying it. If they looked too closely at that, they would have to see that neither a disease nor the Devil made them drink. They would see that they drank because they wanted to drink, because they really loved the way it made them feel. They would see that it was always their choice.
But the A.A. alcoholics who read the beginning of Chapter 5 of the Big Book at the start of every meeting, talking about being constitutionally capable of being honest with themselves, don't seem to want to be honest about that. And the Big Book just repeats the same "no fun" theme often, along with the "compulsive disease" theme:
Blackout drinking at once. I had no pleasure out of the drinking at all.
I was never a hilarious drunk; the more I drank the quieter I got, and the drunker I got the harder I fought to stay sober. So it is clear that I never had any fun out of drinking...
I was being pushed around with a compulsion to drink that was completely beyond my control. I couldn't stop drinking. I would hang on to sobriety for short intervals, but always there would come the tide of an overpowering necessity to drink and, as I was engulfed in it, I felt such a sense of panic that I really believed I would die if I didn't get that drink inside.
It helped me a lot to become convinced that alcoholism was a disease, not a moral issue; that I had been drinking as a result of a compulsion, even though I had not been aware of the compulsion at the time; and that sobriety was not a matter of will power.
I think I had the physical allergy right away. A drink never gave me a normal, pleasant glow.
Yes, it's all just that damn disease, just always reaching for another drink, even though it isn't any fun at all. It doesn't even feel good. I don't get a warm rush off of it. I don't get a pleasant buzz from it. It isn't my fault; the Devil made me do it.Talk about being in denial...
There is an implicit social contract at A.A. meetings, to not talk about the fun, the joy, and the pleasure, of drinking. They say it will cause "ecstatic recall", and tempt people to relapse. It might. It might also make some people extremely uncomfortable to have to confront the real reasons why they drank so much. It might blow away the disease myth, and leave people feeling responsible for their actions. So what? Isn't a meeting supposed to be a real good place to handle such feelings? Can you think of any better place to bring up and deal with such feelings?
Aren't members of Alcoholics Anonymous supposed to "grasp and develop a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty"? Well, let's start developing some rigorous honesty about the joy of drinking.
(Just as a side note, how can you get ecstatic recall if drinking was never any ecstatic fun in the first place? You should get something like yucky recall.)
I can't help but wonder whether being in denial about the joy of drinking contributes to the standard A.A. behavior pattern of repeated relapses. The A.A. member is forced into the strange, unnatural position of having to deny all of the fun he ever had drinking, and just mope around and complain about how bad it was. He is forced to suppress all of the feelings that go along with the joy of drinking: He denies that it was fun. He denies that he misses it. He denies that he is grieving for a lost friend, and lost good times. He denies that he feels deprived of all of the joyous partying that he used to indulge in. He "stuffs his feelings." Then, when enough pressure has built up inside of him, he explodes into uncontrolled binge drinking. Finally, sick and ashamed, having lost all of his dry time, he crawls back to A.A. to repeat the cycle.
Does it really help alcoholics to hide from themselves the real reasons for drinking? Does being in denial about the joys of alcohol make alcoholics any safer from relapse? Or does it do just the opposite? Does such denial leave alcoholics defenseless, sitting ducks, when cravings and ecstatic recall come along, and they suddenly remember that alcohol was a whole lot of fun and really felt great? (And then the dogma that we are powerless over alcohol means that, theoretically at least, he cannot even try to resist the cravings.)
It seems to me that really deciding to quit drinking involves recognizing that one is balancing long-term benefits against short-term benefits, and deciding which one wants more. I can get great short-term benefits from a fun drunken binge. It really might be a lot of fun to get high again, to get righteously ripped, to buzz my brains out. But the long-term effects of drinking (for me) are all horribly negative: readdiction, blown liver, blown brain, sickness, probable death. Not fun, not in the long run. The only long-term benefits available to me come from not drinking. So... we put drinking on one side of the scale, and abstinence on the other side, and weigh one against the other, and see where it balances out... And I ask myself, "What do I really want?"
The Big Book, in the chapter "To Wives", says:
We never, never try to arrange a man's life so as to shield him from temptation. ... If he gets drunk, don't blame yourself. God has either removed your husband's liquor problem or He has not. If not, it had better be found out right away.
Okay, that is as clear as it can be. So why all of this pussy-footing around, and trying to avoid even mentioning the joy of alcohol?
Get over it, come off it, get real.
Just as a side note, the A.A. refusal to speak about, or really look at, the pleasure of drinking alcohol reminds me of the Jewish religion's Jahweh, He Whose Name we must not speak out loud, or a Polynesian god, whom you must not look at, else you will be killed for your effrontery. Is A.A. elevating alcohol to the status of a god? In a way it does: First, when you are young, and things are going good, alcohol is the Magical Spirit who takes you to Heaven. Then things go bad, and alcohol takes you to Hell. Then, after you do enough time in Hell, alcohol takes you to another Heaven: the world of A.A., where you will find salvation and a permanent abode in the home of another deity. Where would you end up if it weren't for wonderful alcohol? You would be just another poor stupid slob who didn't benefit from the Twelve Steps. Why, the ordinary, normal people out there can only wish they were alcoholics or drug addicts, so that they could get as close to God as we alkies and dopers do.
There is actually a story in the Big Book where a non-alcoholic is complaining about how boring his life is, and his A.A.-member friend thinks:
"You poor guy. I feel so sorry for you. You're not an alcoholic. You can never know the pure joy of recovering within the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous."
It seems like, every time I try to be sarcastic or ironic, they outdo me by being even crazier than I can imagine.
Last updated 11 July 2012.