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Of Hammers and Nails.

10 December 2014

One of my friends (with whom I often clash a bit) over on twitter is Sciliz. A while ago, she commented that as an alcoholic in recovery I had finally found my hammer and now everything was looking rather nailish to me. That was about seven months ago, and I’ve been thinking about it periodically ever since. And I have come to believe that she was exactly right.

I have found my hammer, and yes, a lot of things look like nails to me. Huge swaths of the negativity in my life were centered around the fact that I couldn’t stop drinking. And I couldn’t stop drinking because I’m an alcoholic. And because I felt ill at ease with the world, and needed to address that ill ease with chemical obliteration. When I became sober, and worked the steps of AA, I discovered that I was able to remain sober, yes. But far more important, I was able to address the terrible discomfort I felt in the world in a new way.

And it works for me, as it has worked for millions of sober alcoholics. And as I believe it will work for any alcoholics able to devote themselves to working the program. I cannot say if every alcoholic is capable of that, I don’t know. But for the ones who are capable, the program works. We learn to re-enter society as productive, healthy, happy contributors. People who face life on life’s terms, as we say, and make progress.

But I need to respect that this is my hammer. And these are my nails. I recently had an experience where trying to advise someone who is not an addict or an alcoholic on using program-type tools to address other issues has not worked. And it hasn’t worked in a couple of important ways: first of all, it hasn’t addressed the issue they have; second, my suggestion was not useful in our interaction. My insistence that their problem was a nail, and that they should use my hammer resulted in friction.

Looking at where this comes from in me is crucial to my own development. Many people tell me that AA doesn’t or can’t work. Many scientists tell me that because AA doesn’t “work” for everyone that means it’s just an elaborate placebo. I confess that this makes me somewhat defensive. It’s important to me that the program “works”. Because I use it, and I stay sober, and I’ve watched so many other people recover and become happy and productive through it.

Of course, there’s no science behind AA’s program, and there’s never been any useful science studying it, because we don’t really have the first clue how to measure sobriety or effectiveness for something like AA. The tools we use in science actively prohibit appropriate analysis of AA’s program. It is, in my opinion, currently impossible to study at the level of rigor required by academic science. As such, I can ignore it when scientists draw profound conclusions about AA. They don’t get it, and they don’t need to.

But I want the program to work in the lives of others, because I want them to gain what I’ve gained: relief from addiction, anxiety (Often, not always!), depression, self harm. But the fact is, the program doesn’t work for everyone. And it is far less likely to work for people who are not addicts or alcoholics for things that it was not really designed to address.

And that’s ok. This is my hammer. These are my nails. I can support non-alcoholics through their own trials without needing to guide them along the path I’ve walked. It’s arrogance to presume that that’s the right thing to do. But arrogance is one of my nails. Defensiveness is one of my nails. And I have a hammer for them.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 10 December 2014 13:43

    It seems like the outcome is the thing with alcoholism…maintained sobriety and subsequent productivity is what counts. One example I know of a recovered and fairly successful alcoholic that doesn’t do AA is Chris Hardwick (@Nerdist). He’s talked about how it’s great that AA does work for people, but he found a solution that wasn’t AA based and that worked better for him. And that’s great.

    I try to take a similar tack with Depression. Andrew Solomon’s TED talk about how depressives cope/recover is so great because there really isn’t a one size fits all treatment for it and some of the solutions truly seem like placebo responses at work (like some activity that people find therapeutic). I have found solutions that work and am aware of a broad range of things that help people, so I try to give people who ask an array of things that may help them…or they’ll figure out something else that works for them & their situation.

    • 12 December 2014 08:39

      I am thrilled when people find ways other than AA to recover. AA works for who it works for, but it is not for everyone, obviously, and those who recover in other ways are also survivors of alcoholism. And that’s what matters.

  2. Syd permalink
    20 December 2014 10:39

    Carrying the message to others is important but I also am less strident in this than when I first began. I remember it is attraction and not promotion.

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