Regarding controversy and rhetoric

This is a very exciting week in politics. Last night, the SB5 filibuster going on up in Austin kept the pro-lifers and the pro-choicers in suspense while this morning the LGBT community is proudly waving their rainbow flags following SCOTUS’s decision to show them some love and tolerance in their rulings on DOMA and Prop 8. And what would politics be without taking yet another look at racial issues through affirmative action and voter ID laws in rulings which will come later this week.

I do love politics. I’m not sure when that happened. My family never discussed anything political. It wasn’t until I was preparing to graduate high school that I looked back over my transcript to find that nearly all my electives were social studies. I began listening to talk radio at work when I got bored of listening to the same old songs over and over again. Though I turned 18 in 1996, the first time I voted was 2000. I studied everything I could find about Gore and Bush because I wanted to make an informed decision. I was overwhelmed by the choices for local office and wondered how anyone could ever feel satisfied that they had properly done their civic duty by educating themselves and voting for the best possible candidates.

Sometimes I take things a little too literally.

While I do try to keep myself abreast of what’s going on in this political world, I understand how quickly I can get bent out of shape when I get too close. Being in recovery means that I have to hold my sobriety sacred above all else. Even if every ruling is “wrong” – hell, even if every ruling is “right” – I have to maintain my emotional sobriety or face dire consequences. “We began to see that the world and its people really dominated us. In that state, the wrong-doing of others, fancied or real, had power to actually kill” (BB, pg. 66).

As a mother of children who aren’t always perfectly behaved (how dare my children be disobedient!), I found I had to learn to pick my battles. I learned that in politics, I must do the same. I can’t put my whole heart into every issue. I must find one that matters most to me and plant my flag on that hill. While there are a lot of very important issues being discussed right now, none of them concern the hill I’m willing to die on. Therefore, I’ve been able to step back and examine both sides of the issues and I actually have a lot of faith that our chosen leaders will make the right choices. I feel safe, contented and totally un-crazy.

There is a hill that is calling me to shed some blood, though. This issue has come up a few times over the last week or so and it keeps ruffling my feathers harder and harder. Recovery has taught me that if something gets me riled up, that I should wait – sleep on it, give it 24 hours – if I’m still upset in the morning, then I can do something about it. Well, I’ve given it about a week and it isn’t getting any better, so I feel I must say my piece.

When I first heard about the documentary, The Anonymous People, I was torn. Over the movie itself, I’m still somewhat torn, actually. I’m sure I’ll watch it at some point and I’ll probably like it to a certain extent. Unfortunately, the part of me that will like it will most likely be that creepy celebrity-stalking side of me that wants to know which of my favorite actors I might accidentally bump into at a meeting one day.

Overlooking the whole “anonymity at the level of press, radio and films” bit, the fact that the trailer portrays the movie as taking such a political stance makes me feel really, really squeamish. Other parts make me very sad and even angry. One quote is highlighted in the middle of the trailer which is an outright lie: “There are a number of individuals who may hide behind vague rhetoric about anonymity as a spiritual tradition, but the bottom line is – they’re ashamed.” Now, I haven’t seen the whole movie, so I don’t know the context surrounding this quote, but I’m not sure how it could have any context which would make it any less of an out and out lie.

I get what they’re trying to do here and I’m sure there will be some who are compelled by it to become more comfortable admitting their powerlessness. I am positive that their intentions are very good and that they will get some very good results. This does create a division within AA as a whole, though, as it flies in the face of nearly all our traditions. Will it spell the death of AA? Hells nah! The fellowship has withstood far greater controversy. Why, the movie itself even mentions Bill W. lobbying Congress. The problem is that it doesn’t learn from the examples it depicts… or perhaps the movie’s creators decided it was worth the risk in order to get more discussion going; and that’s something I can totally get behind! Sometimes we have to break the rules in order to make good things happen.

Like I said, I’m still torn on the movie itself. I wanted to know more about the people behind the movie, though. What is their driving force and what should I expect to see when I finally do get a chance to see it? I began following them on Facebook to gain some insight and soon they posted a link to this article which relies heavily on conversations with David Sheff and essentially says that alcoholics don’t need to hit “rock bottom.”

Now, I owe a debt of gratitude to David Sheff, as Beautiful Boy was the first book I read in sobriety and I often (mis)quote a line from the preface to describe how Bobby’s addiction fueled my own. However, there is a huge misunderstanding going on here and this article is just about as wrong as wrong can be. It references some rather strange studies (yes, I did read the abstracts, but no, I did not read the full studies) regarding legal coercion and successful recovery to erroneously conclude that people are just as likely to get and stay sober if they are coerced into it as if they actively seek it on their own through reaching their personal “bottom.”

Allow me to quote from “Step One” in Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions: “We perceive that only through utter defeat are we able to take our first steps toward liberation and strength” (pg 21). “[W]e shall find no enduring strength until we first admit complete defeat” (pg 22). “Many less desperate alcoholics tried A.A., but did not succeed because they could not make the admission of hopelessness” (pg 23). And most blatantly: “Why this insistence that every A.A. must hit bottom first? The answer is that few people will sincerely try to practice the A.A. program unless they have hit bottom” (pg 24).

I don’t know everyone in recovery and I don’t know every story. Of the stories I do know, though (which are not few), not one person has ever recovered without personally admitting defeat. I do know quite a few who were led to make this admission through coercion of the courts, friends, family, employers, etc. These coercions are called “consequences.” Alcoholics face greater and greater consequences as they decline. At some point, these consequences force them to face their “bottom.” There is no special formula for “rock bottom” except for maybe what is found on page 325 of the 4th edition: “You hit bottom when you stop digging.”

What this article has done is to use the rhetoric, taken out of context, and twist it into something entirely other than what is intended. I don’t know how to be sober other than the way I do. I found something that works for me (and many, many others) and I run with it. And it is a hill I am willing to die on because it’s the hill that saved gave me my life.

Just the way I first took being an educated voter a little too literally, some people take alcoholic ideas too literally. And when they do, it scares me because it distracts those who desperately need help from truth and salvation as I have come to know it. Some people greatly underestimate alcoholics; imagining us to all be morons when the opposite is the real truth. God bless David Sheff; he’s been through a whole lot in his life. He’s not an alcoholic, though, and he doesn’t understand the rhetoric that gives us life. For all the good intentions in the world, these Anonymous People only have their own stories and cannot speak for AA as a whole; especially if they refuse to abide by the repeatedly tried and tested traditions.

And me. I’m just one person who has a personal story. I don’t speak for recovery as a whole. I would never want that onus placed on me. The rhetoric has gotten out of hand, though. Life is not a meme. It’s not lived in 30-second sound bites. Rhetoric without substance is just sentimentality and there is no room for sentimentality in matters of life or death. I don’t care where the words come from, if they don’t speak in God’s voice, they are NOT TRUE! But if upon examining them deeper they do ring true… this is where you can find God. In recovery, in politics, in life, don’t just listen for the loudest voice – listen for the one that speaks into your heart. Know what you know and live what you live; don’t just echo sentiment.

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