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Don’t Believe What You See In the Movies About Alcoholics Anonymous


December 2020

It’s a rare day I’m going to directly speak about what happens in an AA meeting, though this will be more a series of generalities rather than comprehensive personal experiences. What you see here, what you hear here, let it stay here, was ever thus and so it shall remain. This post is a long time in coming, it was just recently I put it together in my melon, because it’s a tricky subject.

Typically, when a meeting is portrayed in a movie, they give an actor a script that contains a goodly portion of clichés. Without proper context, some of these scenes can make us look like we belong to some kind of cult. This is vastly overdone in press, radio and film as we who actually belong shy away from all three, other than in offering generalities. Thus, the “anonymous” part of the name. Indeed, if we’re working the program correctly, recovery isn’t about us, it’s about the still sick and suffering that we’re going to try to help, and there is no glory due us in doing that work. Also, those of us who really work the program speak like normal people about how we deal with life… err… on life’s terms.

I once had a sponsor who would say, “Cursing is a crutch for conversational cripples”. I don’t necessarily know if you can get away with the word “cripple” anymore, but in this context I think it’s apt. AA’s voluminous clichés are much the same. They’re typically used to convey a thought that can’t otherwise be intelligently articulated in a short amount of time. We learn this early on as it is widely said that a person’s attention span for a person sharing at a closed meeting is around five minutes. Anything after that, you start losing people. So, to shorten things up, many will use cliches that convey a long, complex description of emotions or events in just a few words. The problem with clichés is that newcomers can’t grasp the full meaning without the experience required to do so… and outsiders can’t possibly grasp what we’ve gone through to get to the front door of an AA meeting to begin with and therefore lack the context and an understanding of what we’re trying to say in the first place. That ignorance can make us seem like a bunch of kooks.

Well, folks, many of us may be slightly on the well-done side of baked, but we’re certainly not a lot of automatons and idiots in a cult. Sure, you can paint us that way if you wish, but that’ll say more about you and your ignorance than it will of us after that paint’s dry. We’re just trying to non-medically get over a disease that’ll kill us deader ‘n hell without help. The best part of all this is, it’s free and often times doesn’t require outside help or intervention.

Of course, those interventionists hate that we don’t need a pile of doctors, bureaucrats and administrators to sober up so they have to knock our way of life down in order to take over and show us how it’s done. I say, “whatever”. Give it your best shot. In the end, what we’re a part of is about a few drunks with a coffee pot, a resentment, and a book about getting better together with the hope we can make the world a better place. That’s good enough for me, and I’ll be perfectly fine if it isn’t with an outsider. Just don’t expect me to follow you till you’ve walked a few hundred miles in my shoes. People like me have been frustrating doctors and otherwise intelligent folk for centuries. Let us have our coffee, fix our resentments and read our book. That’s a relatively mild price for turning scourges into decent, upstanding members of society… with a bunch of clichés. That’s how it works, even if you don’t get it.


  1. jeffw5382 says:

    One of my favorites, “You only have to go to meetings until you want to”
    I think the thing that gets stuck in the craw of some is that it’s free and it does indeed work-If you work it

  2. fergysun says:

    Great post.. I enjoyed hearing your perspective… my take from it is…
    Movies and stories are made to seem real…
    It’s only when it is your reality that they become strangely unreal.

    • bgddyjim says:

      I think for the movies they like to stereotype groups… perhaps that’s why Hollywood, as an ironic collective whole, thinks everyone else is like that, too.

  3. Bryan B says:

    I think they have improved the reflection of what an “AA Meeting” is due to the fact that some of the actors are also members. I also think shows like Law and Order that showed Lenny’s struggle with sobriety helps give context to what being an alcoholic is like. Many outsiders think that the only alcoholic there is are living on the streets, groveling for their next drink and rummaging thru trash bins. I was like that in my head, close to that when I quit. Best advice I ever got in AA was, “Sit down, shut up and listen.” It hurt my feelings, scared the hell out of me, but I followed the advice. 32 years later, I say the same thing.

  4. unironedman says:

    I’ve only been to a few open meets and a couple of Al-Anons but you guys have ALL the best quips and aphorisms going. I’d almost drink more to earn the right to use them. And yes, that’s a joke, in poor taste. But forgive me. LIke I say, you have all the best gags already sewn up 😉

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