Friday, August 13, 2010

Some Light Summer Reading

Earlier this summer I decided to read Alcoholics Anonymous (AKA The Big Book).  Most people think this is pretty weird for a non-drinker (and admittedly I am weird) but I had a few reasons for wanting to read it.

My first reason being that a good friend is trying to quit drinking and I thought that it might offer me some tips/advice for helping or offering some support.  I also planned on passing this book to her in hopes that she would read it and maybe find some strength and solace to help her quit.

I also thought it might help me understand my parents and my childhood.  I am still not sure if they were alcoholics at the time but it definitely seemed like a problem to me.  They are much better now but still I would like more insight on the past.

Finally, I always found addiction interesting.  I may have never been an addict but I think I have some addictive tendencies. When I find interest in something - music, movies, pinball, books, etc... I tend to push it farther than most other people would.  Often times I become a collector and it becomes more about completely a collection rather than about the content itself.  I'm sure it's some kind of C.D.O. (it's like O.C.D. but the letters are in alphabetical order like this should be!)  I have long recognized this in myself and it has definitely shaped my life.  I don't drink because I think I wouldn't like it.  I don't drink because I am afraid of what might happen if I do like it.  PS - it is the same reason why I don't play WoW.   Sorry Cam, I really think I would be one of those people that spends all their free time playing.

I picked up a used copy of the 1980 printing of the third edition at Salvation Army.  There was a plastic bookmark inside with a printed prayer on one side and a hand-written note on the other saying something like "I will always love and support you.  Love, xxxx."  It made me a little sad, I wonder if the gentleman survived his alcohol problem and if she really did always love and support him.  To me, finding this book in Salvation Army suggests maybe not.  There was also dog eared pages only through about 2/3 of the book...was it ever finished?  These are answers that I'll never know, but I do know that they were smokers because the book smelled horrible and every time I turned the page it almost gave me the feeling of being in a bar.

As I first started reading it, I thought AA (the book) was a boring bunch of crap.  The beginning of the book is slow (at least to me) the history and story of the founders and then the process and 12 steps and what have you.  It took a long time to read because I couldn't really connect with this and my mind would quickly start to wander.

AA (the book) also seemed very hypocritical to me...seeming to say "In any other program Alcoholics won't get better and will eventually relapse and ruin their life, but if they are in AA a relapse is just a stumbling block on the way to quitting forever."  There were several stories about people who drank, then quit for a while, then drank again...but in AA they are now different.  Like the story about the guy who drank, then quit for 13 years on his own but eventually drank again but now has now been sober in AA for 4 years (or something like that) is that 4 years different than the 13 years that he quit on his own?  There were lots of similar stories with different time lines but they always said that quitting with AA was different than the previous times they quit.  It almost seemed self-delusional to me...the person wanting it to be different.

I was surprised at how short many of the stories came from people that only seemed to be in AA and not drinking for, what I consider, a relatively short time.  Like 1 to 3 years.  I suppose if you are an alcoholic that 1 to 3 years is a long time...but for me, it doesn't seem that long.  Again, most of these people have had other instances of quitting, so to me it seemed a little soon to be claiming a changed life.

The book also seemed a little dated.  Most stories take place in the 1930s and 40s.  Although they are probably good enough illustrations of drinking to the drinker, I again had a hard time relating.  Calling getting drunk "Getting Tight" and talking about the D.T.s (delirium tremens) just seemed old fashioned.  Really?  The DTs?  I hadn't heard that in a long time.  There were many other instances about what things were called or how instances were treated that maybe it seem non-current.  Again, I am probably noticing the things that aren't important to the drinker because they are relating more to the character and their drinking than I was.

Eventually, I started changing my mind a little...and seeing that maybe the although the people had quit before, maybe this time was different because they felt different.  Maybe the feeling of not being alone with this problem, the support from the AA groups and meetings, and the spiritual awakening can lead a person to change their lives and beat their addictions.  I still think there was too many stories about people just suddenly feeling this great change inside themselves, but I think it could be a slowly, growing change in many people that makes the difference.  I can see how this support and feeling of belonging could help bring about big changes in some people.

AA (the book) left me with several thoughts.  It made me even more scared to drink than I already was but at the same time kind of made me want to drink too.  Why did it make me want to drink?  All the talk about using alcohol to fit in socially and the sense of community and feeling of belonging when these people are in a group.  Often feeling socially awkward, this has some appeal for me, I would love to feel part of a community instead of constantly being an outsider.  AA also made me feel sad, because although I would love to be able to help my friend more, I don't think I can provide the kind of understanding, feeling of not being alone, and feeling of belonging that other drinkers are able to provide.

I think it would be beneficial for anyone who is or knows an alcoholic to read.  I can't really relate to the spiritual awakening that makes many of these people change their lives as I have never had one myself, but I can see how this book my give them some some hope and understanding.  Now, I need something fast, fun, and probably sci-fi-ish to cleanse my palate.


*Lesli* said...

Oh Michael....I don't know whether to be impressed that you read this, or call you crazy ;) What I do love and appreciate is your intense detail in describing everything you encounter.

Michael said...

I am crazy...I didn't know there was any question there.

I think it is a little funny that you think this is detailed...I had much more to write (and usually do) but figured no one would want to read that much, so I try to cut everything I write in half. Thanks though.

Shannonnicolle said...

Less cutting, more writing.

I have a friend at work who considers himself a hardcare gamer. He avoids WOW for the same reason as you. He knows it will consume his life.

Michael said...

What can I say? Much like a teenage girl, I am a cutter.

No, I look at my post and I barely want to read it...let alone anyone else. I'm a little self-conscious, and thank that my writing is not great, so don't want to bore people. But maybe, I'll lighten up a little when you seen the 80,000 word post, know that it is your fault Shannon.