Sobriety's Sincerity vs. Postmodern Detachment

By wombaat 02/04/19
A wombat wearing a festive shirt and a jaunty cap.

I know, inherently, that the title of this post itself is incredibly pretentious. I promise you, though, that I’ve got a point.

When people refer to postmodernism, they’re talking about the pervasive sense of cynicism, irony and painful self-awareness in media and culture. What used to be funny is now, supposedly, stupid, cheap or lame. What used to be earnest is now, supposedly, naive.

There’s an inherent conflict between postmodernist cultural norms – painful self-awareness, jokes about jokes, memes, ironic detachment – and a spiritual recovery program. By definition, a spiritual recovery program relies on the fact that you believe in something. It doesn’t matter what it is, and I don’t want to get into the argument about spirituality vs. religion here (I’ve tried writing that blog, it’s a mess), but truly participating in a 12-step recovery program is totally antithetical to what and how people think in many cases.

I’m not sure how we got to this point – I’m suspicious that Comedy Central being the major news source for America’s youth may be involved – but I do know that it’s a problem. When people genuinely believe that everything should be viewed through a lens of ironic detachment, recovery programs can’t work.

Take politics, for instance. I’m not going to pick a side because I’m not an idiot, but the most common phrase you’ll hear from millenials is “nothing matters.” If you spend any time on twitter, instagram, etc. you’ve seen it a million times. It’s become the default philosophy for an entire generation to believe that caring about things is stupid.

Compare that to a 12-step recovery program; in recovery, everything matters. There’s no place for cynicism, because to fully participate and hopefully succeed, you’ve got to buy in all the way. You have to have faith – the ultimate enemy of postmodern nihilism – that there’s something out there bigger than yourself that you can lean on, rely on and believe in.

By now you’re either asleep or wondering what the point is. I’ll admit that this line of reasoning is somewhat catered to a certain generation and may not track for everyone, but it’s important for anyone participating in one of these programs to realize that postmodernism is the default philosophy for several generations who are now having to face addiction and recovery without the benefit of an earnest, hopeful attitude.

The linguistic currencies of millennials and generations younger are in conflict with the sincerity of support groups. For your average person under the age of, say, 35, there’s significant difficulty understanding the genuine concern of strangers. The question becomes, “why do these people care, and what do they want from me?”

Having matured only in a world whose primary language was irony and cynicism, any kind of sincerity immediately raises suspicion. Granted, there is the “new sincerity” movement which exists and is gaining some traction – wherein people are returning to believing that things matter and being nice to people is something you just do because that’s what you’re supposed to do – but it’s not as common as it should be. Many view it as naive.

In a polarized society whose premises for conflict resolution generally boil down to “I don’t like the terrible things these people are doing” vs. whataboutism’s “well these people also did terrible things and did them first,” 12-step recovery groups are finding themselves in uncharted territory.

You may think I’m painting a bleak picture of how younger generations think and why they think the way that they do, but sadly this is the new reality. It’s important that 12-step recovery groups not only adapt to an environment where nihilism is common, but actively work against it.

These programs work. If you’re reading this, and your intent isn’t just to leave a snarky comment, you probably genuinely believe that. And these programs work because not only do we care about ourselves, but we also care about the other people in the programs. Beyond that, we care about the programs themselves.

We’re working together to improve ourselves as a collective, united in the belief that with dedication and belief, each of us can succeed where we alone would fail. These recovery groups are bigger than any one of us, and if they’re going to succeed, we’re all going to have to participate with genuine intent.

So let the nihilists control social media if they’d like. That’s not an arena recovery groups necessarily need or want to exist in. What we should be concerned with is finding the people who want what we’ve got, showing people that what we’ve got is worth having, and that believing in something bigger than yourself is perhaps one of the greatest things you can do to improve yourself.

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