The Beauty and the Horror of AA

By Dillon Murphy 11/10/14
I may hate it, but so far it's helped.
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all work and no play . . . . Shutterstock

I am not able to drink normally. I wish I could, but the truth is I just can’t. That’s the truth and as much as I wish it wasn’t, the world is a better place without me drinking in it. Sometimes that’s all I need to ask myself in order not to go back. Am I going to try and contribute to the world today? Yes? Well then, I sure as hell shouldn’t drink because I’ll just end up taking instead of giving. Some days, it’s that simple. On other days, I go to AA meetings.

It makes sense. I am an alcoholic and there’s this thing called Alcoholics Anonymous. Eighty-years-old this year, for fuck’s sake. My grandfather did it when he turned 50 and he was a monster, but according to my Dad, less of a monster when he was doing AA. He didn’t make it to 80. He took his own life deciding that the pain from his cancer was too much. Everybody at his home-group missed him but neither my brother, myself nor anyone else in his actual family, knew him. He drank some sort of suicide milkshake and that was that. No alcohol involved. He did not contribute much to this world, but he helped out some other alcoholics that weren’t related to him.

Okay, so I had some bad associations with AA before I got there. That’s all it was though, associations. You’d think for someone with AA in their family background, I might have known a little something about it. I knew nothing. Nothing. I suppose I should be grateful for that because I would have never taken it seriously had I known how deeply weird it all is.

For me it is not a social network. It is not a place to pick up chicks. It is not a place to tell people how to live their lives.

I had to lose everything—job, family, home, desire to live—all that good stuff, in order to even begin to hear my internal voice telling me that I had a problem. It took what it took and it took a great sad mess. I called a friend and said for the first time (out loud) that I thought I might have a drinking problem. She gave me the number of a guy and it’s because of that one guy, I went to AA. It’s because I know that there are other guys and girls that are like that one guy, in that they are in AA, but there are also remarkably fascinating people that also happen to be alcoholics. And they contribute to the world. Some of them have been around the rooms for a while.

The guy I met had been doing it for almost 20 years and, while he never drank like I did, he seemed to get me in a way that I appreciated. Funny, smart and cynical. Yes after 20 years in the program of AA the guy had a great bullshit detector and it had nothing to do with his contact with a higher power but everything to do with the fact that he reads books, goes to the theater and all that other stuff that helps expand your mind without the use of LSD.

More importantly, he had zero interest in “recruiting” me. I was not an AA “prospect” to him. I was a guy with a very serious drinking problem and he was willing to hang out with me when no one else in their right mind wanted anything to do with me. After tagging along with him to a few of the more obnoxious meetings in town that seemed filled with people that never drank like I did, I tripped the light fantastic and went to a cabin in the woods, alone, for six months. It was there that I was going to kill myself. It was there that I sat with a bottle of Black Velvet whiskey in one hand and a pistol in the other. The guy I had met was the only guy who reached out to me. He had no idea how bad it was, but he reached out anyway. Then I came back to New York City and started to go to AA regularly. It was only then that I stopped drinking for real. If God had anything to do with all that, I couldn’t tell you.

I had only heard of AA. Never heard of SMART Recovery or any of the other options. For better or worse, AA has become a part of what it means to be an alcoholic in America. If I meet someone that is interested in recovery, the first thing I tell them is that there are other options. I do what I do but I wouldn’t push AA on anyone. 

I did my "90 and 90" at a series of very low-bottom meetings where I encountered people that definitely drank, and were still drinking, like I did. I once asked a woman why we put up with "what’s his name" because obviously he’s still drinking. After all, I insisted, this was hard work! She told me that this was Alcoholics Anonymous and not Sober Anonymous. I loved that. It’s moments like that.

For me, it is not a social network. It is not a place to pick up chicks. It is not a place to tell people how to live their lives. And it is absolutely not a place that I go to talk about God unless you want to tell me all about your God, then I usually find myself talking all about how there is no God.

It works for me now when I hear a group of men and women that actually drank over life’s complexities and couldn’t do it normally so they stopped and want to stay stopped. Sometimes I laugh, sometimes I get so depressed I wonder why the hell I came that day. Then I remember that as long as a guy like me is there; maybe I can help another guy see that it is possible to live in the world without drinking and still find it funny, twisted and endlessly intoxicating.

Dillon Murphy is a pseudonym for a regular contributor to The Fix since 2012. He has been sober for ten months. He's also written the Joe Sober column.

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