Ah, those AA clichés. What would a life in recovery be without hearing somebody share about taking it One Day at A Time or Living Life on Life’s Terms? When I first got sober, those particular clichés drove me nuts, but not as much as the ones on this handy list that I have compiled.
1. Keep an attitude of gratitude.
During my first year of sobriety, my dogs and I lived in a hovel. My neighbor, who was also in AA, had an irritating habit of texting me a derivative form of this cliché around 7 am, several times a week, when she knew I was asleep, and had no intention of getting up until 5 pm.
Her texts said ridiculous stuff like: Keep on rockin’ that attitude of gratitude! Not only did the sound of her texts startle me (this was before I set my phone to mute), they flat out made me want to run out of my house, and start a resistance movement against AA. In my mind I would be like Che Guevara, leading a revolution against annoying 12-step fellowships and their insipid clichés. I, like El Che (wearing a beret of course) would lead a group of disgruntled anti-AA people. Armed with picket signs claiming, I’m Tired of Faking My Gratitude, Viva la Anti AA Revolucion! and What do I Have to be Thankful For? We would march into a meeting and express our outrage.
Thankfully, my idea remained limited to the confines of my mind. After a few years, I realized that having an attitude of gratitude really helped when I was going through hard times. While I could not necessarily force myself to feel grateful, I could usually manage to gently remind myself of all the good things I had in my life.
2. Are you comparing your insides to someone else’s outsides?
When I first heard this cliché, I thought, what does this mean? Don’t compare my spleen to another’s woman’s Prada handbag?
There was a time after I reached my third year of sobriety when I did not have a car. While I was feeling carless and pathetic, it seemed like many AA members (including those with less time than me) were buying brand new cars. In one particular meeting, a woman shared how grateful she was to have a brand new car, and mentioned her perfect credit score. She didn’t even realize she had perfect credit until she applied for a car loan from a top auto dealership. As a former prostitute, she had always relied on cash for years and never had a checking account or credit cards until she got sober.
I had a crazy thought. Maybe if I had been a lady of the night, I could have maintained an excellent credit score, too! Hell, at that point I would have been happy with a score of 640. Months later, I finally understood the meaning behind the cliché. I had compared my feelings of depression and inadequacy to this woman’s brand new car! Since she had a car, I assumed she was extremely happy and secure. That was not a healthy assessment, nor was it based on reality.
3. I’d rather have a frontal lobotomy than have a bottle in front of me.
In the 1982 film, Frances, Jessica Lange played actress Frances Farmer. During one scene toward the end of the movie, we get to see poor Farmer strapped to a stretcher. She is at the mercy of a shrink who is describing lobotomy during a presentation. He talks as he hammers an orbitoclast, a gadget that looks like an icepick, into her right eye.
So no thank you. I did not get sober to have my mental capacity diminish and become equivalent to a Teletubby doll. But what if I am taking this damn cliché too seriously? So I googled the cliché, and ended up with this spoonerism instead! I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy!
Supposedly, writer Dorothy Parker first coined this phrase. Parker battled alcoholism during her career and was even committed to a sanitarium. Here, she is said to have informed the doctors that she liked her hospital room, but needed to leave on an hourly basis to get a drink. That kind of insane statement is something I probably would have said if I had ended up in a sanitarium.
So I had a thought. Perhaps this cliché just shows how insane alcoholism really is. A lobotomy, while drastic, is simply a metaphor for doing whatever it takes to stay sober.
4. KISS (Keep it simple, stupid)
What the hell? Like I didn’t have enough self-esteem issues already. Now I got to verbally abuse myself and call myself, stupid? This one really bugged the hell out of me. But being the smart woman that I am, I conducted an online search of this annoying cliché. Perhaps there was a meaning that had eluded me?
According to an article in Forbes, keeping it simple doesn’t mean that you are stupid. If anything, people who overanalyze things to show how smart they are end up coming off as elitist, which can turn people off. In business, it’s smart to be known as a team player. I suppose, that’s what recovery is about too! Being part of a team, as opposed to standing on the sidelines or being an arrogant snob. As Albert Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself!”
And guess what?
This cliché forms an acronym, KISS. So today I choose to believe this is a loving cliché, not a mean one.
Maybe I do need that lobotomy after all.
5. Get off the cross, we need the wood.
I heard an old timer recite this cliché, along with several others, all in the same share. She came off like a Stepford wife reading the ingredients of a chicken potpie. I couldn’t connect—she obviously didn’t get it.
When I first got to AA, I did feel sorry for myself, because I had a lot of wreckage to deal with. I did not fare well with sponsors who used a tough love approach. This just made me feel worse than I already did. If anyone ever said this cliché to me, and no one ever did, (thank God) I was prepared with an answer.
Sure I’ll get off the cross, but I am going to bash you in the face with the wood!
After a while, I realized that indulging in self-pity just plunged me into depression. I even found myself acting as if I was a character in a Greek tragedy. “Woe, oh woe is me! I have been through so much in my life, woe is me!” I actually said this out loud in Greek, many times in my recovery. There was no audience except my dogs.
But then I thought about this. What does get off the cross really mean? I think it means to stop crucifying myself. When I find myself going to dark places in my head, I use the recovery tools that I have learned to get myself off the cross. I also work towards loving myself, which is an excellent antidote for self-inflicted anguish.
Obviously, AA clichés have made an impact on my recovery journey. While some of them used to get me all bent out of shape, many have helped me hang in there when the going got rough. As with most things in life, when it comes to clichés, take what you can use and leave the rest.