I am responsible. When anyone, anywhere, reaches out for help, I want the hand of A.A. always to be there. And for that: I am responsible.
Today is my sober birthday. My 18th year.
The non-sober people who warmly congratulate me on my sober birthday for staying sober are unaware that within the benign cult of Alcoholics Anonymous abstinence, is not good enough. The first question many non alcoholics reasonably ask, “Why, after so many years, do you still go to meetings?” The truth is, sobriety as defined by William Griffith Wilson has become an absolute way of life: a total immersion, a divine calling, a cross onto which we nail ourselves and each other, a commitment to a God of our own invention that leads unquestioningly to a daily reprieve from the disease of alcoholism.
Last week, I traveled north to East Dorset, Vermont to the birth place and grave of Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. I was shown a plank, casually nailed to the wall, behind which Bill Wilson was born. The gentleman sitting beside me pointed at it, lowering his eyes, telling the story of Bill’s birth with the same reverential gravity christians afford the Nativity. The following day I sat at my lap top and wondered out loud to fellow gay alcoholics (on a gay sober Facebook page) how things have changed since Bill W and Dr Bob Silkworth framed the beginnings of what would become a world-wide phenomenon. I didn’t pull my punches, I never do.
Much has changed in the rooms of AA since I got sober 18 years ago. AA has evolved. When I walked into my first meeting the message was clear. AA was a ‘bridge to normal living’, it was the nearest a person like me would get to being ‘born again’. I was advised to look for the similarities and not the difference when people qualified, it was suggested that I find a sponsor. A sponsor is a man or woman who is willing to take an AA new comer through the ubiquitous 12 steps.
Men sponsoring men and women sponsoring women to avoid romantic complications.
Sponsorship used to be a humble service, a helping hand, to check in, to unravel the mysteries of AA, a friendly face to show someone around the rooms… as well as to go through the 12 steps. That first year I did whatever I was told to do. I made tea, cleaned up cigarette butts, I diligently read the Big Book. I was advised to find a sponsor who had what I wanted… all I wanted was peace of mind. I met Vince who took me swiftly through the steps. I remained willing and teachable. Vince was a perfect introduction to AA and for him I will always be grateful. It is because of the solid foundation he helped me build in sobriety that I remain sober today.
Since then, sponsorship has become a monstrous beast riven with ego, co-dependence and self-aggrandizement. Sponsors congratulate themselves for the number of sponsees they have. They throw extravagant anniversary parties, positing their bloated and wholly personal ideas about sobriety, none of which has anything to do with Bill and Bob’s original intentions. Sponsors have become demi-gods, using and abusing their sponsees at will.
They say: Call me every day, don’t have sex for a year, we’ll do this my way… or the highway.
This problem is not specific to gay AA. I saw the same thing happen in straight stag meetings.
Originally the newcomer completed the first 8 steps in a day with someone who had already completed all 12 steps. Step 8 to step 12 would be worked a few weeks later. Today sponsors can take years to go through the steps, they might not even have completed the 12 steps themselves. Too many of them make step work as hard a task as becoming a brain surgeon.
These sponsors use the book of AA against the newcomer, a hopeful… enthusiastic day counter (a day counter is someone who publicly announces how many days sober they are until 90 days have elapsed) may become disillusioned with the huge amount of written work he or she is required to do. These ghastly sponsors tell the newcomer that they have to be thorough, scrupulously honest, that half measures will avail them nothing. Step 1: the simple act of owning up and surrender is now a protracted treatise on powerlessness and unmanageability. Step 2: accepting God into your life as a power greater than yourself requiring one to bow to anything other than my own will… has become a religious conversion. Step 3: the elegant proposal that ones life has been so poorly managed that it is best handed over to a higher power or… God. Step 4: (a moral inventory) designed originally to swiftly clear away the wreckage of ones past so one might better embrace God and sobriety has become a monster of self-examination, scrutiny and fear. A monster so fearful most will not get beyond to step 5.
This is not all. There are endless stories of Sponsors taking advantage of their sponsees sexually, taking their money, abusing their trust. In gay AA, because men are sponsoring men, romantic and sexual entanglements are rife.
The problem is: many gay men I meet in AA or NA are not alcoholics or addicts. They are lonely, friendless and stuck in a miserable half-life that the gays offer in lieu of community. They are drinking and taking drugs and hooking up. The gay dream. When they realize this is all there is… they turn to AA where they find friends, fellowship and community. A frat house of sober gays who never had a drinking problem in the first place.
When real alcoholics, desperate drug addicts wander into this clean white environment the gays simply don’t know what to do. They look askance at the homeless, the beggar and scarcely offer their manicured hands.
The gays have created a ghetto at the edge of AA where they get away with murder. Literally. Only last week I heard of another man who killed himself because he couldn’t connect or feel included by gay AA. If this gay sober cabal were working to keep the majority sober (happy joyous and free) then I would have no argument with gay AA but the facts are: many, many gay men leave AA after 5 years. This is evident from the ‘countdown’ where we celebrate anniversaries. After seven years there is a chasm, a ten-year gap… between those who stayed and those who left AA.
The enthusiasm (pink cloud) a new comer experiences during the first five years tails off into abject misery as they realize AA isn’t about making friends, fucking cute sober boys and going to sober circuit parties. It is about being present for ever. For ever and ever.
As with any small, incestuous group of men and women desperately holding onto cultish beliefs… anyone who challenges what and how they believe is destined to be ostracized. It happens in Gay AA, LA AA, Men’s Stag AA. Christ, I sat in a men’s stag AA meeting above a Palisades bank at 7am for nearly a decade. I witnessed and experienced bullying, homophobia, misogyny, ageism, racism… every day. Yet, somehow within the rooms of AA, this is perfectly acceptable. I returned recently to that room above the bank after having written about the ogres who live there. Those I had written in my blog looked disgusted… then conveniently reimagined AA in their own image. A sniveling, grey haired, Dickensian lawyer called John told the group how ‘unsafe’ he felt that I was sitting in ‘his’ home group. Choosing to ignore the AA ‘suggestions’ and ‘traditions’ he delivers a personal attack on me. His greasy hair limp on his pink, mottled forehead, his uneven yellow teeth, his waxy hands trembling with fury. Another pompous member of that same group, perhaps the vilest of them all, surrounded by the vapid newcomers he sponsors… momentarily forgets his ‘singleness of purpose’, and tangles himself in a crippling scribble of resentment and self pity. To the amusement and horror of the other alcoholics in the room he lambasts a recent widower who had foolishly delivered a favorable pitch about forgiving and forgetting. Warning (me obviously) that he holds onto resentments… then magnificently back tracks… realizing how pathetic he sounds to those recent converts to Alcoholics Anonymous he hopes to inspire.
Too many men have left that dank room above the bank and killed themselves.
Obviously, the gays reacted very badly to my mild critique, my gentle questioning. They told me I wasn’t sober… that I was ‘dry’, (dry is a pejorative term in AA meaning sober without working the 12 steps of AA) they tell me to go have a drink. They tell me to leave AA. More evidence of the sickness that exists not only in gay AA but also within our larger gay community.
I am not leaving AA any time soon. If I drink (as they suggest) I will return to AA a hero. If I don’t drink today I will return to AA a hero. There’s very little they, my detractors, can do. When they tell me to drink they are really telling me to kill myself… and many will attest that is exactly what the weak-willed have done. Excluded by the cult of gay AA they have taken their own lives.
Each Alcoholics Anonymous group ought to be a spiritual entity having but one primary purpose — that of carrying its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.