I have attended a few Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings in my life, which is partly why I was so disgusted at a Romanian club’s attempt to squeeze yet another drop of hipster cynical Entertainment from the suffering of other people, but I didn’t do it because of any kind of alcohol dependency issues on my part.
Except of course the first thing they tell you in AA is that the every alcoholic is In Denial at the beginning, unwilling or unable to admit their own dependency on the drink, so when you’re sitting there in a genuine AA meeting and not lost or having wandered in accidentally but chosen to be there the situation lends itself to a very awful recursive well maybe I secretly do have a drinking problem because clearly the experts here (AA) say that the diseased mind will deny a problem in the first place and I am at an AA meeting so maybe subconsciously I am seeking help for a problem I don’t want to admit I have loop.
Actually I was there to lend Support to a kind and dear person who was hurting quite badly, thinking that attending and sitting next to and nodding sympathetically at all the right places was going to be helpful. Which it actually wasn’t because it’s akin to strolling by a proctologist’s office and then peeping in the windows and then drawing up a lawn chair and cracking open a beer and munching on popcorn while some poor guy you never met in your life gets carefully lubed and then digitally reamed and then has to sit ashen-faced on crackling butcher paper afterwards and hear about tumors and survival rates and unpronounceable names of high powered pharmaceuticals. In other words, the whole thing takes on a voyeuristic aspect not out of any kind of innate perversity on your part but simply because there’s no other reason to be there if you’re not going to Participate.
There are lots of ways to help hurting people once you figure out that attending AA meetings is not one of them, plus ways to help former clients and customers and people you know that you see in these meetings and realize whole new sides of their lives that you didn’t want to and definitely shouldn’t know is going on. It’s anonymous for a reason and knowing their booking numbers almost by heart is yet another pretty clear indicator even for the innocently naive and perennially curious that another choice needs to be made post haste.
But in reading “the literature” and receiving heartbreakingly revelatory audio cassettes of speeches given at AA ceremonies from close friends and going to the odd meeting that you don’t belong at and spending time with recovering addicts of all stripes, you begin to realize that it’s not the Substance that’s really the issue at all.
In fact, sometimes it’s a Substance, as in a drink or a pill or a shot or a crystallized “rock” or a powder or a crumbly leafy material but other times it’s seemingly more inchoate, being the siren song of dinging bells on a slot machine or the tottering exhaustion of incalculable hours on the job or endless sweaty marathons of coupling and grasping with partners or raw non-healing wounds in the genitals and the dazed eyes from too much self-pleasure or the spreading, spongy gut and premature arthritis slash carpal tunnel effects of 24 hour plus marathon sessions of playing video/board/role-playing games, etc, etc, including many other addictions and addictive behaviors that would only be prurient to describe in greater detail here.
So I’ll call it the Substance, for short, but it could also be the Activity, but regardless of the legality or illegality of it, the quantities consumed or the societal approval or disapproval of each individual’s participation, after enough time battling Addiction you begin to realize that it’s never the Substance itself that’s actually the central issue. Some Substances of course, heroin, morphine and their pharmacological cousins especially, are incredibly disastrous for both bodily and mental health and need to be treated separately for the purely physiological addictions they create. But other Substances, particularly your high-grade opiates or marijuana etc. can be recovered from more or less completely and wholly without any long-lasting health effects.
But regardless of the physical addiction incurred by your Substance (sometimes called the Substance “Of Choice” by clueless people), what’s always going on in any kind of Addiction is something far more insidious and has essentially no bearing on whatever neurological and possibly physiological havoc your Substance is wreaking. In other words, some people’s bodies get messed up and addicted to some Substances but every addict gets messed up mentally and slavishly dependent on whatever it is that eventually leads them to seek therapy and recovery and support in order to overcome.
AA, of course, has nothing to do with medical treatment and pretty much leaves that up to the professionals to dispense the pills and methadone and admit people to hospitals, etc, etc. What AA is all about instead is dealing with the “head” part of the whole thing, the mental disarray and sickness and general state of everything being fucked up that caused you to sign up for the meetings and fellowship in the first place. When I say “AA” I mean of course other “12-Step” programs such as NA, etc, etc, as well actually as other similar style programs that may not follow or hew exactly to “Anonymous” style therapies but function more or less the same way in their own style. Therefore assuming your bodily health is at least tolerably okay and you’re not twitching on the floor or bleeding out of your rectum anymore, etc, you show up at an AA meeting and they provide you the steps for handling the rest.
And thats why I say it’s never the Substance itself that’s the issue. It’s not how many liters of vodka you sip each and every night after work or how many beers you pound before breakfast or grams of coke you snort up your nose or eight-balls you freebase at the club or how many hundreds of websites you’ve got to visit in order to jolt you enough to be able to rub yet another one out or whether you’re a 6-10- 12-pack a day man or you restrict your “partying” to only the weekends or consume pure pharmaceuticals or the garbage toxins that you find in your average dose of meth.
The typical outside image of an alcoholic is some homeless bum or some guy with redshot eyes and a shaking wrist slamming a plastic bottle of rotgut five minutes after the stores open just so he can function. Not so. Some alcoholics and other addicts are what’s termed “High Functioning”, they get up and put on a tie or pantyhose just like everyone else in the office, pay bills, drive cars and pretty much keep their life under control, at least for a while, and if you didn’t know you just Wouldn’t Have Guessed It until perhaps the secret comes out somehow.
What you discover, to your horror, is that all along the Substance (or Behavior) wasn’t the issue but that somewhere in your past, some part of your internal landscape started to go rotten, started to stink, started to putrefy and roil and become acidic and leak out and spoil and destroy the (so far) unblemished parts and you’ve simply got to wall it off and try to block it and throw a heavy padlock over the sucker and Hope It Goes Away. And that’s why the Substance (or Behavior) always starts off as Pure Fun, freeing you from the malevolent putrefaction in that (hopefully) small corner of your personal make up and you feel light and buoyant and can Forget, at least for a while, the awful thing you’ve got locked up in the dungeon of your soul.
But after a while, whether gradually over years or rapidly in just weeks or months, the Fun starts to become less and less Fun. It still works, at least a little, but the pressure build-up from whatever monster you’ve got locked down there just is relentless, 24/7 tearing and pushing at you, and the Fun is no longer Fun but some kind of desperate therapy, some kind of medicine in order to throw heavier and heavier stones over the trapdoor in your mind to keep the beast from breaking loose. And then as the secondary effects, both physiological as well as societal (failed relationships, poor job performance, etc, etc) start a whole new galaxy of problems that must then be papered over as well with the Substance or Behavior, the entire thing starts spiraling out of control until no amount of quote unquote Fun works anymore, at which point some people then scramble for a new kind of Fun, which may end up delaying the whole thing further, postponing it like some kind of hideous and ever-increasing psychological credit card bill that everyone can feel right in their bones will have to be paid for at some juncture. And nobody really wants to do that, naturally, and so the whole thing inexorably and heartbreakingly lumbers or lurches or heads at high velocity through its downward death spiral until you Hit Bottom, which is what AA calls it.
So you go to a medical doctor to deal with any urgent health issues and then head to AA, where they feed you an endless stream of vapid cliches and lots of really bad coffee. The rest is a kind of mishmash of proto-fascist brainwashing and indoctrination (in its slogans, not any kind of leader) and demanding a sort of blind obedience to a rather vague and sometimes disturbing over-reliance on spiritual aid and assistance. It is, for example, mandatory and obligatory to at least call on a Higher Power, whatever you wish to call it (I’ve seen some AA literature tailored for Native Americans aka Indians that is both amusing and darkly disturbing at the same time, calling the HP the Great Spirit, etc), including if you don’t believe in it at all. That plus the endless repetition of seemingly trite and never-explained cliches such as One Day At A Time can be quite off-putting for some people and the few objective scientific studies of AA and AA-type programs show a fairly low success rate, all the hype not withstanding.
But when you are mentally and possibly physically as well slavishly dependent on a Substance or Behavior and have, after trying all of your own personal efforts to combat it and failed then sometimes just giving up control and understanding and Turning It Over (another AA cliche), even if it has just a 1% chance of succeeding, is the best option you’ve got at the moment.
What makes AA work, for those that it works for, minus any impossible to quantify assistance from the Higher Power, is two-fold. The first is that every person at every meeting (minus the naively curious fools in attendance) is also struggling and dealing with and experienced with and in solidarity with your own battles and addictions and thus is a very effect quote unquote support system, often both S’s capitalized in certain self-help books but in this case not in a trite or scholarly effete way but fellow survivors of the same demons you’ve faced that inculcates the sort of brotherhood (or sisterhood) that soldiers who have just seen a godawful amount of death and destruction have. And no matter how far you’ve fallen, how low you’ve gone, how utterly wrecked and flamed out your life is or how bad and awful your past was that kicked off the whole masochistic and failed attempt to self-medicate with Fun, there’s someone right next to you who has been through worse. And so you realize you’re not alone and can bond with and relate to and Identify with others, and that’s quite important.
The second part is that once you start making it One Day At A Time without the Substance (or Behavior), the bricks and anvils and granite blocks you’ve piled over the subterranean horrors in your mind start getting cast aside and the awful beast you were trying so hard to squash down gets loose, the very thing you had feared from the beginning. And this is where the support system and mutual survivors’ fellowship of AA (or whatever group) starts being essential because they’re there to hang on with you as you reel from a tidal wave of toxic shit that’s been building up all of those years. The pure unadulterated mental sewage that caustically scorches your heart and mind, if you can just hang in there with support and understanding, if you can just ride it out and let it flow over you like some evil tsunami wave, if you can just outlast it, you’re suddenly, incredibly free. Damaged, injured, crippled, perhaps scarred for life, but at long last you’re free.
Which is The Gift of AA (or whatever system) that you then will probably (and rightfully so) feel compelled to spend the next few years or perhaps the rest of your life Giving Away to others. And so on and so forth, the cycle continuing as the next freshly Bottom-Hitting stranger staggers into a meeting desperate for any kind of way to escape the soul-destroying spiral of addiction.
Now obviously this website is all about Romania, not some kind of free-form platform for expository essays (tomorrow’s topic is General Washington’s Creepy Original Plan for the City of Cincinnati hehe) so I think I need to tie the whole thing together here or else get down off my soapbox and go drink a few mint juleps out on the porch while I deliver jeremiads about the unrecognized greatness of the military strategies of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson to my completely indifferent and illiterate cats while making angry jabbing motions to emphasize certain points with the tip of my non-existent pipe.
The first, of course, is that in Romania there are vast numbers of “boner fried”1 alcoholics, whatever your definition of alcoholism is, many of whom might be Hitting their Bottom and in desperate need of help right now but not really getting it, which is a real tragedy, as in not the hyperbolic overused definition of the word (as in it’s a tragedy Madonna never won a Grammy for La Isla Bonita) but a true tragedy as in unmitigated and totally preventable human suffering on a large scale.
The second, much more personal here, and relevant to you, as the reader of this website, is that I have discovered or perhaps broken through a long-standing wall of Denial that I am suffering from an addiction. It’s none of the ones listed above, purposefully so to protect my privacy and self-dignity, but painfully real nonetheless. Certainly I don’t rise in the pre-dawn hours to drink or pop or inject some kind of Substance in order to dispel delirium tremens nor am I scrabbling under couch cushions for wayward coins in order to finance one more dose of Fun. I’ve been functioning more or less fairly well over the years and my bank account and bodily health are both in pretty good shape, which is a blessing.
Nonetheless, the various coping mechanisms and attempts at kicking the psychological can down the road have become increasingly ineffective and futile here of late. And it’s been a real struggle, a personal dark night of the soul, wondering exactly how I landed in this totally unexpected (from my point of view) Psalm 7:15 situation aka there’s no more Denying it to myself. But the quality of my life has continued to deteriorate and lots of life projects and ambitions just are not getting done despite maximum self-generated enthusiasm and repeated expenditures of white knuckle willpower. And it’s not due to any kind of external forces or other people but essentially that the day to pay off my my large and with compound interest psychological debt has arrived.
If you’re the kind of person who scans through books and articles to judge their length and sighs with dismay when seeing they are “too” long, I’ll go ahead and give you the short summary. I’ve been sick for quite a while and I need to get healthy. And I need to focus on it and that means taking a break from being online for a while, including writing for this website, and go find my serenity and joy again.
In the meantime, there are close to 900 different articles and pictures and other jibber jabbery stuff on here for you to poke around and look at and read. I appreciate and thank you for your support both now and since I started writing here. Remember to be good to yourselves!
Oh, and if any one of you enjoyed the Carl Sagan thing from my post the other day, I highly recommend his Cosmos series, all of which can be seen in full on YouTube (at the link). They are quite inspirational and amazing, especially considering they were filmed in 1979-1980. Wow!
1 Aka “bona fide” misprounounced this way in a genuinely unintentional way by an old Southern cracker that I once knew, which always caused me to double over in laughter, which the guy in question never did quite understand and his confusion made me feel bad but it still didn’t prevent it from being hilarious to me.