In the truck on the way home last night, I heard Walker Hayes. I didn’t recognize the song, but I recognized him. It was “Fancy Like” only with different words and a different tune. His voice, his style, but with new words and thoughts.
I turned it up, trying to make it out through tired ears.
And the part I got was the refrain, “I’m just trying to stay out of A.A.”
It’s a first-person narrative, some guy singing about his life, worrying about his kids and his wife, trying to get through, and “just trying to stay out of A.A.”
And I thought to myself, in an exclamation to him, “Dear brother, why would you want to stay out of A.A.?”
Alcoholics Anonymous. A boozehounds group, started in the 30s, by some guys trying to break free of alcoholism, back before anybody knew what alcoholism was. In fellowship and mutual support, in a progressive program of surrender and spirituality, they’ve been helping people get sober and reclaim their lives for almost a hundred years.
It doesn’t cost money, it doesn’t involve doctors, it’s drunks helping drunks – addicts helping addicts – sitting around in meetings, sharing stories and encouragement, crying out for help when help is needed.
This isn’t something you stay away from, it’s something you run toward. It’s the most successful treatment for alcoholism there is, and its 12-step program is the foundation of most addiction recovery programs around the world.
“We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable,” the Alcoholics Anonymous first step declares on behalf of its members.
That’s the part that hung me up, and that I openly mocked for years. I’m an American. I don’t believe in powerlessness. I believe that through grit and determination, through strengthened resolve, any person can do anything. Freedom, the exercise of will, is the defining characteristic and the greatest power of our species.
A lot of addicts feel that way.
And it kills some of them. The rest just stumble forward, though ever-repeating cycles of willpower-induced sobriety and crashing surrenders to addiction. The thrill of the fix and the hopeless remorse of failure, each low a little lower, each day a little darker, each loss a little more defining and permanent.
Until you hit the brick wall.
Your family leaves or the cops put you in the backseat or your boss says he’s had enough. Something happens and it dawns on you, damn, the drunks are right. I am powerless. My life has become unmanageable.
That is humility. That is the first buckling of the wall of pride.
Pride, and the dishonesty behind which addicts hide. The lie that everything is OK, it’s not that bad, it’s not anything I can’t handle.
Pride makes people believe that, and it puts them at enmity with God and man, it makes them a god unto themselves, them and their addiction. The deity in the bottle, or in the scratch off, or in the hook up.
Humility is the first step, and faith is the second.
We, the A.A people say in their second step, “came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
That’s the “Higher Power.” That’s A.A. code for God, so as not to offend those who don’t yet know that they believe in him.
They admit they are powerless, they acknowledge that God is all powerful, they decide to put him in charge.
We “made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God.”
That’s the first three steps.
The following steps call for a moral inventory, confession of wrongdoing, a plea for God to remove shortcomings, a commitment to faith and self-improvement, and a commitment to help other drunks and addicts get sober. Consciously or not, they are a step-by-step implementation of the Christian concept of repentance and submission to God, with a healthy dose of being your brother’s keeper.
And it works.
A bunch of addicts sitting in a circle, working the steps, bound in the brotherhood and sisterhood of recovery.
A Stanford University School of Medicine review of addiction treatments found in 2020 that every study every done has determined that the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous outperform psychological and psychiatric therapy and treatment for alcoholism and other addictions.
The best time to stop drinking is before you begin.
But too many of us miss that chance.
And too many of us find ourselves entangled in addictions that threaten our minds and lives.
And though we may not want to admit it, we know, in the corners of honesty left to us, that it is true.
We know that, as we circle the drain and franticly look to escape.
It’s a nice song, but it’s bad advice.
Don’t every try to stay out of A.A.
If you think you might need it, you do. And if you’re wondering if you should go, you should.
No matter your poison, the 12 steps are your cure. And the sooner you take it, the better.