Can You Overdo it on AA?
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Can You Overdo it on AA?


In the fall of 2011 I was unemployed, unhappy and unmotivated to look for work. This is what happens when you’ve heard nothing after sending 100 resumes to HR recruiters. You know, you just kind of want to die. You consider your education—it’s good, but everyone else in the city vying that job as an assistant editor has the same degree as you, and maybe even one from Stanford. You consider your resume—it’s full of short-lived jobs and big gaps from all those times you were too drunk to show up to work or hold down a job. So you take a bunch of naps. You eat a bunch of Oreos. You call your sponsor. Then you get to a meeting.

And meetings are a very good thing. Often I’ll come out of one feeling balanced, more energized, more hopeful and with a new store of optimism so I can get back to sending out scores of resumes that I know won’t get me a job.

One of these days, when I was feeling exceptionally low, the meeting worked so well that I wanted more. I figured I’d double-up and go to another meeting in the evening. In hindsight, this was a wonderful way for me to justify not looking for a job. I was going to a meeting, after all. Isn’t that, above all, the most virtuous thing I could do with myself? AA always said to put my sobriety first. What’s wrong with sitting in three meetings a day? Maybe four? At least I’d stay sober.

I decided to attend this big meeting that’s walking distance from my house where a bunch of  LA hipsters stink up the air outside the room with thick clouds of cigarette smoke. Apparently it’s out of fashion to stand up straight or look remotely dignified, because all of them have this affected slouch. It also must be out of fashion to have even the slightest degree of manners, because very few will put out their hand, look you in the eye and say hello. They also seem wary of their own skin—most of them refuse to let an inch remain uncovered by a tattoo.

It’s just not my scene.

But every now and then I drop by because I can walk there, each time with a fresh burst of positivity, each time trying to look for the similarities, not the differences, each time thinking this time might be different.

But it wasn’t the hipsters that I hated the day—it was the same regurgitated narrative of psychological sickness that plagued most of the shares, including the leader’s. It’s one thing if you’re two weeks off smack or have been dry for six months and are finally starting to balance out neurologically. But it’s another thing entirely when you’ve been sober for 15 years and you’re whining about the molehills in your life as though they’re mountains or taking the whole room hostage with your histrionic sobbing instead of passing so a more coherent person can share.

“It’s my alcoholism,” this dude shared, referring to his anxiety, his neuroses, his obsessions, his inability to commit to a relationship and his inability to tolerate the noise from his upstairs neighbor. “It’s my disease. I’m totally powerless over it.”


According to the medical profession—and even the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous—alcoholism is a disease that compels you to polish off a fifth of vodka while isolated in your Hollywood studio at nine in the morning instead of showing up to work. Alcoholism is what makes you pick up a drink even when you know it’ll send you back to the slammer, the psych unit or to the morgue. But in AA, there’s this tendency for people to label any emotional or mental discomfort as “alcoholism,” even though that’s never stated in any of the literature, even though the vast majority of people on the planet suffer from the same, and sometimes incapacitating, hang-ups.

I’ve yet to meet a “normie” who isn’t incensed by a neighbor making ridiculous amounts of noise at 2 am. And maybe one of these normies will even bang on the ceiling with the end of a broom madly to get the upstairs neighbors to shut the fuck up (like my ex-boyfriend). I’ve yet to meet a normie who isn’t freaked out to go on a first date, or a job interview or a party where they don’t know anyone. I’ve yet to meet a normie who doesn’t get depressed and somewhat unmotivated when they can’t find a job.

So that day, with yet another alcoholic blathering on and on about his “alcoholism” as an excuse to be defective in all areas of his life, I realized I would have been better off staying home and looking for a job, or going out for a run, than sitting in that meeting. Yeah, yeah, I know I am not there for “me”—I am there to be of service. But there’s only so much I can tolerate.

What I observed that day isn’t the kind of recovery I want, and to my mind that isn’t even recovery—it’s the same self-obsessed “Poor me, poor me, pour me a drink” shit that got me into AA in the first place. It’s the reason I like hanging out at the rundown AA halls with all the old timers. Nothing is a big deal to an 85-year-old alcoholic with 55 years of sobriety who’s taken 500 people through the steps and stands face-to-face with his own mortality. Better yet, these old timers see humor in most things, and being around them is very healing. I am lucky to have a 76-year-old sponsor. When I call her with my tragedies, most of the time she laughs. In fact, sometimes I call her upset, asking if I need to write an inventory, and she’ll just ask “What are you doing for fun these days?”

Some people go through the Big Book word for word with color-coded highlighters, as though Bill Wilson was also the author of the New Testament, and maybe they even diagram the sentences or look up the words in Hebrew and Greek. Others write hundreds of pages of inventory over and over on the same same ex-wife or ex-boyfriend or parent. At that point, they probably need a therapist. Sure they should do the inventory, but there’s a reason for steps six and seven—it’s called moving on. Writing about a resentment over and over for 10 years straight will just feed the problem.

I did not get sober to inventory myself to death. I got sober to re-enter the world of the living, to show up for myself and other people, to make an honest wage, to pay my taxes, to make my bed and to do the things I love to do, like making pie dough, binging on The New York Times and learning how to flamenco dance. I did not get sober to hide out in AA. In fact, AA has taught me to do the opposite.

Alcoholics Anonymous is by far the most cherished thing in my life, because it gave me my life back. Remaining plugged in to the group is very important for my recovery, and, as a newcomer, going to two or three meetings a day was sometimes necessary. Having those ties, being of service, working the steps—all of this has saved my life. But I try just as hard to integrate myself into the non-AA world. I try to have as many non-AA friends as I do in AA, to keep balance and to keep perspective.

One day at a time, I get to grow up and remember there are no problems, there are no tragedies, no one hates me, and the noisy upstairs neighbor won’t always drive me crazy.

Because oh yeah, it’s America. For alcoholics and non-alcoholics. And I can get up and move.

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About Author

Tracy Chabala is a freelance writer for many publications including the LA Times, LA Weekly, Smashd, VICE and Salon. She writes mostly about food, technology and culture, in addition to addiction and mental health. She holds a Master's in Professional Writing from USC and is finishing up her novel.