In Defense of the Drunkalog

Big Book purists will say that “90 in 90” is nowhere in the text of Alcoholics Anonymous, but in my path to recovery, I have always gone to a lot of meetings. My reasons have followed the traditional route: being forced to go, feeling obligated to go, going skeptically, ambivalently, with resignation, with resentment and finally, to commune with the fellowship I crave. I have gone to plenty of meetings in a white van from a treatment center, and for perhaps the most valuable reason: for that one hour I had somewhere to be. Standing outside a church basement, a friend once said to me, “Do you think they’ll ever let us walk through the front door?”

I could not understand why, when I was desperately trying to keep my mind off drinking, it would benefit me to listen to someone talk non-stop about the highs and lows of their drinking life. At times it seemed like watching a bad movie over and over again. But when I was able to put some time under my belt and relaxed enough to make eye contact with my fellows, I began to feel less like the star of the my own personal tragedy, which naturally I am, and more like a movie reviewer. “Good presentation,” I would think to myself. I could almost go shake the hand of the speaker after the meeting and say, “That was a heart-warming tale of bittersweet triumph. I loved the part where you came to in a swamp in Pennsylvania and the hijinks that ensued!”

When I hear a speaker start off a meeting with, “I’m not going to talk about my drinking. We all know how to get drunk– I want to talk about the solution.” I somehow feel like saying, “Can we also hear just a little of how bad and disgusting your drinking got?”

I needed to hear about the collateral damage, the broken hearts, the jobs lost, and the public humiliation. I didn’t want to compare out, but I needed to see myself in someone else’s story and convince my brain that I had, like the speaker, reached a point in the road where a U-turn was necessary. And no excuse could justify not grabbing hold of a way out.

I have heard speakers who obviously take pride in how much they drank or did, and how bad it got, and that is not attractive. A drunkalog with no turning point is just a painful ego-stroking speech. However, a speaker who talks only of the solution without the details of the demise has no traction. Later in my sobriety, I needed to hear about the danger of complacency: really hear about it. I needed to be reminded that even after 5 or 10 years of sobriety, having a glass of champagne at wedding reception can open the door to a powerful relapse with spectacular speed.

My brain is always minimizing my disease, that’s how I know I’m still on the battlefield. Listening to someone describe the warped decisions that we make in addiction allows me to grow the rational part of my brain that says, “See, that’s you, you crazy little twit.”

As those of us who have been in the rooms for a while know, 12-step meetings are the greatest show on earth, and sometimes the entertainment value alone is worth the trip. Where else can we openly release some of our craziest moments and be received with love and understanding?

As far as walking through the front door instead of slipping through church basements, I heard a speaker recently who was Catholic priest with a captivating story of denial, shame and finally awakening, say, “You know, many of us who have congregations up there,” he said, pointing to the main rooms of the church, “wish we could bring the spirit we have down here in the basement up to the pews on Sunday mornings.” Amen to that.


About the Author:

Nina James is a writer and web content editor based in Bel Air, Maryland. She is also a grateful, former resident of BRC Recovery.