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I'm About to Cross-Talk

For some, this irresistible phenomenon is the bane of every AA meeting. Instead of letting it bug you, it's best to nod your head and move on.

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Not going to cross talk (till my next meeting) Photo via

By Carlos Herrera

09/05/12

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"I don’t mean to cross-talk but...” When you hear this in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting—and you heard it all the time—guess what happens next? Someone cross-talks. Some formats forbid cross-talk and some don't. I go to both kinds of meetings. They are both Alcoholics Anonymous. 

Cross-talk is the sometimes irresistible act of commenting on somebody else's share during your own. Oftentimes, cross-talking causes the meeting to devolve into a conversation of that poor sap's experience. On the other hand, I've been in meetings where every share was about one person's experience, and it's been helpful to everyone in the room. Either way, people cross-talk all the time.

I used to go to a midnight meeting in West Hollywood where cross-talk was not mentioned in the format, and that tended to result in a lot cross-talking—and a lot of chaos. People would cross-talk, and other people would either yell, "No cross-talk!" or "I'm about to cross-talk, guys—be cool." We're being cool, man. Nobody gives a shit. Just say what you're going to say and I'll continue to play Brickbreaker on my Blackberry (don’t mean to date myself; this was years ago). 

Why is cross-talk even discussed in formats if everyone's going to do it? Parking issues and toilet paper commitments hold more weight and draw more of a gasp when they're not done properly. 

So who really cares about cross-talk, anyway? Why is it even discussed in formats if no one respects it? Parking issues and toilet paper commitments hold more weight and draw more of a gasp when they're not done properly. 

Like many things in life, the easiest way to deal with it, is to accept it and move on. About five years ago, there was a sober guy I knew in West LA that I loved to hear speak. He used to say, "I wouldn't trust most people in AA with my sick cat if they were veterinarians." I always remembered that, and it's helped me take everything I hear with a grain of salt. Not just in AA, mind you, but in everyday life. Some people will listen to a random person's advice on what to do in their post-sobriety, falling-apart marriage. When I share in AA meetings about how my life is falling apart, there is always one person who wants to tell me what to do. After several years sober, I’ve learned to nod my head and let it go in one ear and out the other ear. No harm done. I was really depressed a couple of years ago and people in AA told me to take medication and some, also in AA, told me to do the 12 steps (which I was actively doing in grocery store parking lots while chain smoking). I didn't listen to any of them. I called my sponsor and we had an hour-long conversation about it. I went to a doctor the very next day in a high-rise office with a view of the ocean and I took a couple of pills. That wasn't for me and I went on with my life. In this case, I think the ban on cross talk can be important. But what's more important is that people, in AA and in the fucking world, should know to not take advice from people who aren't qualified to give it. I've heard horror stories about someone taking an AA lunatic’s advice on what to do with their meds. 

Just like anything in an AA, the members determine the format for every meeting. I’ve discovered during my time in AA that I'm not a huge fan of group business meetings: I've walked out of several, made enemies in a handful and never left happy. People are too into it and that's great for them but it's not my deal. Democratic governments work without most of their citizens voting and so does AA. Cross talk has clearly been brought up, voted on and placed into meeting's formats. And if it wasn't there originally when the meeting started, then cross talk has probably been an issue in the past in this particular meeting before it was brought up in their business meeting. And even after all this, it is still not taken seriously. Why? Because it usually has to do with some idiot saying "I have a German Shepherd, too!" and everybody looking up from their phones, muttering "Ugh,” rolling their eyes and going back to their phones. But in the case where this same guy says, "Hey, man, your wife needs you—go be with her!" after only hearing someone talk about her for three minutes, then the poor guy goes home—ignoring the fact that his wife has a restraining order on him—and goes straight to jail. But it goes deeper. Because what if this imaginary guy already has a record due to his decades of alcoholism and drug abuse so the judge says "You know what? I'm sick of you. This isn't the divorce court scene from 17 Again! You're going to fucking jail for a while, buddy!” This is obviously a bizarre and rare case that I let my imagination take the wheel on while I'm chugging caffeine but if I came with up with it, then it's not completely out of the realm of possibilities, right?

I am not a stickler in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. For the most part, as long as I have a seat and the person next to me isn't telling bad jokes (so I can), then I'm totally okay. Forty-year-old men dressing like they’re my age? Bring it on. Rehab busses? Cool, more sponsees. Cross talk? You can even cross talk on my share and I won't care! But when cross talking turns into this advice panel on sensitive life issues, it gets rough. I say that unsolicited advice is for single uncles, barbers and your first roommate. It's not for sober members of Alcoholics Anonymous. I like my gym so stop fucking tell me that yours is better because it's $10 cheaper! I don't give a shit. But what I do give a shit about is the fact that you thought it was your place in history to give me an ear beating about it. 

All this being said, a couple of winters ago, I shared that I was afraid of going to see my parents because of how I acted when I was an actively drinking and using alcoholic; after the meeting, a guy who only had about a year sober told me that I should go see them. I bought a plane ticket 45 minutes later, slept on the plane and woke up when the wheels hit the runway. I ended up having the best Christmas ever with my family, and my relationship with my parents, brother and two sisters has been amazing ever since with little-to-no speed bumps. The guy that told me to do this was basically the opposite of me—from a different city, had a different background, was about 30 years older and lived in a different part of LA. Maybe his perfect advice had nothing to do with AA. Maybe we were just two people who knew little about each other and we got it right on accident. And maybe the reason that, if I do crosstalk, I just do the comfortable two-sentence comment and then dive into my own personal share is that I'm afraid I’ll never be able to hit the kind of home run he did with me.

The point is this: people are going to do what they’re going to do and it’s up to each person whether or not they want to take it in, let alone act on it. I say give cross talk a break. If an actor is giving you advice on what to do with your hurt, alcoholic marriage, nod and go see a couple’s therapist. What do you get for nothing? Nothing. See doctors for illness, gay guys for spin class and your sponsor for advice in AA. Cross talk, parking rules and the coffee being five minutes late? I promise you’ll survive it. So just sit back, listen and go live your life.

At least that’s my unsolicited advice.

Carlos Herrera is a Los Angeles-based stand-up comedian and writer. A former entertainment assistant from the age of 19, he has performed at The Hollywood Improv and The Comedy Store, amongst others. He just wrapped a docu-comedy pilot for MTV and can be seen late night (in the back) at comedy clubs in Hollywood. He also wrote about seduction in sobriety for The Fix.

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