a archaic: a scar left by a hot iron : brand
b: a mark of shame or discredit : stain ex: bore the stigma of cowardice
c: an identifying mark or characteristic; specifically : a diagnostic sign of a disease
I remember the fear in my throat when I first spoke the words, “I’m Louisa, and I’m an alcoholic.” Sitting in my third AA meeting, I felt like I’d been fleeing those words all my life, and now they rang out in the room like the gates of hell clanging shut behind me.
Twenty-three years later, I’m happy to tell the world, “Yeh-yah, baybee! I’m a full-on alcoholic — and thank god! Cause otherwise, I’d have missed out on the whole point of life!”
Do I sound looney? Maybe a tad. But I’m joyfully looney, and that’s a mighty bright candle to try and shit on.
My sober life is rich with AA friends who have each, through touching life’s deepest and loneliest pain, struck the bedrock of their own will to live, so that we can now meet each other’s gaze without pretense.
Mind you, I foresaw none of this when I first spoke those dreaded words. Nobody wants to join AA. Nobody identifies with that bunch of self-blaming, drink-obsessed sots who fart around in church basements. Obviously, AA as Hollywood and society at large envision it is about as cheery as a medieval dungeon.
But that’s far from the truth of AA as I’ve come to know and love it. Below are a few photos from some of the AA meetings/gatherings I’ve been part of in the past three years.
In a sense, all of these images are sacred to me, because I remember how we were all sober together at these meetings despite a disease that wants to kill us — or at least ruin our lives. At times we share tears. Most often, they’re tears of gratitude for having been blessed in ways we can’t believe we deserve. We still lag on our fourth steps or slip into familiar character defects, but each in her or his own way is pursuing is an ever-stronger connection to the Good.
Yep. Higher power, flow of the universe, life, love, god:the word doesn’t matter. What matters is that we’ve all nearly killed ourselves solo, and now we’re all intent on seeking help from [god] and each other to experience real life to the fullest.
Nevertheless, AA stigma persists. Despite the millions of lives transformed through AA, many people still dismiss it as contemptible. For instance, I recently came across a video from a lifecoach offering a program for “people who just want to stop overdrinking.” These are “good people,” as opposed to those who “claim that they have a disease or that they’re an alcoholic or that they want to go to meetings.” Having lost her father and brother to addiction despite the fact that each attended meetings, this coach seems to loathe AA. She recalls her “overdrinking… waking me up in the middle of the night [and] affecting how foggy I was feeling during the day and… creating a lot of cravings… to drink earlier and earlier in the day.” Yet, she affirms, “I had no interest in becoming an alcoholic or calling myself an alcoholic. I had no interest in recovery…. I did not see that as the solution to my very mild struggle.”
“Very mild struggle”~!
I’m sorry, but that’s friggin’ hilarious! What a coincidence! I, too, had a “very mild struggle” — for about 14 years!
Ego’s Game: the Stigma of Recovery
There’s a good reason why this lifecoach, Hollywood, and most people indoctrinated with popular culture regard AA with such distaste.
When Bill and Bob, AA’s founders, first met in 1935 and, talking for hours and days, hammered out the fundamentals of the 12 steps, they hit upon two little ideas that engendered the defeat of this previously invincible disease.
1) A god-connection blocks alcoholism.
2) Ego blocks god-connection.
That’s all there is to AA, really.
Here’s the whole damn program. SEEK GOD; DEFLATE EGO; SEEK GOD some more; DEFLATE EGO some more…
We need these processes broken down into 12 Steps and shared in a community because A) connection to god can be so elusive at the start, and B) ego is a wily, cunning, and stealthy tyrant that does not want to be deflated.
Of course it doesn’t! It’s fucking EGO.
The problem for most people, including our “very mildly struggling” lifecoach, is a lack of distinction between ego and self-worth. Ego is mistaken for self-worth by the vast majority of Americans (as epitomized by our arrogant Cheeto in Chief). In fact, however, the two are diametrically opposed.
Ego separates us from others, relegating them to an onlooker/competitor role at best. We believe our full experience of consciousness to be unique. Our thoughts and experiences — whether positive, negative, or just weird — are somehow more intense and complex than those of “ordinary people.” Ego tells me…
I’m doing it right.
and yet I know that in reality I bumble, get confused, hurt, and lost. Sometimes I fuck up. So… ego sweeps all that under the rug. It insists…
If I’m vulnerable, I’m weak.
If I’m humble, I’m less than.
If I’m only human, I’m nobody.
Self-worth, on the other hand, grows from connection and compassion. I understand that my human experience is little different from yours. I get that we’re in this together. I feel for you, and I trust that you feel for me. Trust emboldens me to tear off my mask and be vulnerable, honest, and fully human — flaws and all. I’m just me, but maybe I can help you.
Today, everything I love about myself, I hold to be a gift from god — not a feat of my own making. God is generating my mind, my body, my love, my courage, these words — every second I live. I am god — its flower, its child.
AA stigma is imposed out of fear. It’s a defense mounted by those fiercely loyal to the tyrant who imprisons their spirit. Let’s pray for them — for all sentient beings — to be free.