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An Alcoholic “in good standing”?

15 April 2012

Despite the fact that I’m a professional engineer/scientist working in health care, and even hopefully, in mental health care, I do not speak about alcoholism as a scientific authority. I haven’t studied it beyond as an interested participant. I generally do not have knowledge about the latest scientific theory. I don’t know the latest treatment methodologies. I’m not sure what the cognoscenti are writing about it. If you are interested in such things, drugmonkey is something of an authority on such matters.

What I know about alcoholism comes from the fact that I’m an alcoholic, that I meet regularly with lots of other alcoholics, and that I’ve worked very hard to be an alcoholic in recovery. I do that through Alcoholics Anonymous. I do not speak for Alcoholics Anonymous. I am only a member. Everything I say about alcoholism should be treated as opinion. My opinion will vary significantly at times from the official opinion of AA.  If you are interested in such things, you can find that information on their website.

When we discuss alcoholism and recovery in AA, we generally talk about “what it was like, what happened, and what it is like now.” I’ll be doing a full post on each of those things in the coming week. Today, I mostly want to write about what I consider to be a somewhat unfortunate choice of words in my Introductions post, with which I described myself as a member “in good standing” of Alcoholics Anonymous.

There’s no such thing. And that’s important. AA, like any organization, has a bunch of essential concepts. They start with the twelve steps, but less well-known outside of AA are the twelve traditions. The twelve traditions are the organizing principles, such as they are, given that one of them is a tradition of disorganization. The third tradition outlays the only requirement for who is allowed to be a member of AA. There is only one rule: you must have a desire to stop drinking alcohol. Nothing else matters. AA has no schedule. No by-laws. No dues. No required oaths. You don’t have to do the 12 steps. You don’t even have to succeed in not drinking. All you have to have is a desire to stop drinking.

So what did I mean when I said I’m a member in “good standing”? Well, part of it was ego. I want you all out there in cyberspace to think well of me. When I decided to integrate two different online identities, which would involve a large group of people I admire coming to learn that I’m an alcoholic, I was terribly, terribly afraid. Alcoholism is something that nearly everyone on earth has some experience with, or opinion about. I remain afraid that people I have come to care about will now see me in a negative light because they’ve learned this about me. There is a strong stigma still associated with alcoholism. So I wrote that I’m “in good standing”, I think, in part to try to shed as positive a light as possible on the state of my recovery.

The moment we become too secure, too confident, too comfortable in our sobriety, is often the moment that our disease kills us. But that’s not to say that we are always teetering on the edge of relapse, or that every day is a struggle. I don’t think too much about alcohol. I entered recovery precisely so that alcohol would not control my life. I know one criticism of AA leveled by those who seem not to have any experience with it (I’m looking at you, South Park – but I still laughed my ass off at that episode.), is that we still have lives that are all about alcohol, just in absentia, not as drinkers. Well, to some extent, yes, alcohol remains a part of my life through its absence. But I am liberated from it, not chained too it as I once was.

I also meant, in describing myself as in “good standing”, that I have done the twelve steps (and I’ll have a great deal to write about those), that I have a sponsor, and that I speak to my sponsor regularly. That I go to meetings. That I work a program of introspection. That I seek peace and serenity through service. That when I am troubled, I try to look inward first, see where and how I am contributing to my difficulties, and how I can change my own behavior. I consider most of my problems to be of my own making. And I consider most of the solutions to my problems will come from my own efforts. I try as hard as I can not to indict others, because I know that if others seek to indict me, I can easily be found wanting.

So, it was a mistake to describe myself as in “good standing”, because there is no such thing. There is no list of attributes by which we distinguish a member of AA as better or worse. There is only this:

I suffer from a chronic, progressive, incurable, terminal mental illness. However, I am in remission. My remission from alcoholism was achieved through two actions: cessation of consumption, and adoption of a lifestyle inimical to emotional anaesthesia. As a consequence of taking those steps, I stand free.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. sciencegeeka permalink
    15 April 2012 13:47

    Dude: we already think well of you.

    It’s interesting to note that sometimes, as part of the larger society, we value those that don’t have any baggage or problems or are perfect. I find, that I’d much rather associate with those that can face those fears and talk about them, than those that are secretive about that which makes them non-perfect.

    There’s these weird thing in contract law about restitution from the harming party should ‘make the other whole’. To me, whatever harm we’ve done to ourselves in our lives, rests upon what we do in the rest of our lives to make ourselves ‘whole’. This isn’t to say that we should make up for our wrongs, but ultimatly live our lives in such a way where we do good and try to be happy in the best way possible, while also recognizing what got us to that point in the first place.

    So, in short, you are making yourself whole and being truthful. I’m impressed that you trust *us* enough to share.

    • 15 April 2012 21:08

      Thanks! It’s really meaningful to have someone I have come to respect and care about say such uplifting things.

  2. 15 April 2012 19:01

    I know you only through twitter — it’s nice to hear your story now in more than 140 characters. I’ve been a member of Al-Anon for 18 years now, so much of what you say resonates with me. Nice to have another program person in the blogosphere!

    • 15 April 2012 21:09

      Do you know Syd, at “I’m just F.I.N.E.”? He’s a retired prof and al-anoner for decades. Wise!!

      • 16 April 2012 19:48

        I hadn’t heard of him — but looked up the blog last night. So I’m reading him now.

  3. furtheron permalink
    16 April 2012 06:30

    anyone who manages a day of sobriety has my overwhelming admiration – I’ve been there and know just how hard that is, but how utterly simple it is as well – Don’t drink, Go to Meetings – the rest will follow – they told me, they didn’t lie.

    12 concepts? Even less well known, I’m only just learning some of them as I’ve got into regional level service in a background way. Useful stuff in there, one about the acknowledgement of the minority voice – sadly I feel often overlooked at a group level. I had to leave a group as I disagreed with something (I thought it in contravention of at least two traditions) but my voice wasn’t to be heard. I wish I’d known about concept 5 at that time… sadly that group no longer exists, maybe that says something in itself

  4. 16 April 2012 08:54

    You have more courage than I do! I would never “come out” to the people I know professionally. I will pay close attention to how this works for you. Let me be quick to add that I don’t think you are breaking any tradition, because you are anonymous…. love the new handle by the way.

    I don’t think there is anything wrong with calling yourself a member in good standing – if you are sober, going to meetings, doing the stuff – you are in good standing. It is a term that others might understand better.

    Best wishes to you on this endeavor. As I said, I will be watching 🙂

    • 16 April 2012 08:55

      Thanks MC. No one from my actual workplace reads this, to my knowledge. But many scientists I consider friends and colleagues do.

  5. Jeff R. permalink
    2 August 2012 09:19

    I completely understand the intention of your article and greatly appreciate your opinion. One only has to google “an AA member in good standing” and it becomes clear very quickly that decades ago this was a common statement and there is a historical belief or foundation for being considered “a member in good standing”. My first sponsor today has 32 years sober, and his first sponsor had 20 years when he was new to AA. He has shared with me what he recalls was shared with him, what a member in good standing was considered to have done and currently does. It is easy to see how sensitive members could be offended by this idea, and in today’s society would be a divisive idea to introduce. But from a historical perspective, I would love to hear what other members have heard from their forefathers what “requirements”(word used squeamishly)”a member in good standing” was comsidered to have done/does/accomplished. I would like to know if this is similar to what I have been told.

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