A. J. Adams illuminates the sometimes-intimidating world of AA meetings, slogans, and traditions with frank, self-deprecating humor for newcomers.

“Look, A. J., you can either keep on doing what you’re doing and continue to watch your life unravel, or you can give AA a try and take a shot at a better life than you ever imagined.”

“What do you say?”

Hmmm. Well, I’m going to have to think about that.

This was a real conversation. A year ago, I actually believed that AA would just have to wait while I considered my options. It was as though someone threw me a life preserver from the Titanic, but I wasn’t sure I wanted it because it was orange.

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has more than 2 million members in 100,000 groups scattered across 150 countries. No one who knows anything about alcoholism will deny that the AA method is the single most effective treatment available for alcoholism. Yet millions of alcoholics still suffer poor health and ruined lives–and some die–while the AA solution hides in plain sight.

At the end of an astonishing first year in AA that transformed my troubled life into a daily joy, I asked myself why so many alcoholics walk past AA. It’s not as though AA is only for a certain demographic. We are men and women; old, young, and middlers; struggling to well-off; educated and not; straight and gay; all races; all religions, no religion; introverts, extroverts, pessimists, optimists, realists, skeptics, fools, cynics, and saints. We have one thing in common: we are alcoholics. Untreated, alcoholism gets worse and ultimately can kill us. AA offered a solution and we took it. I haven’t met anyone in AA who invested sweat equity in the program and regretted it. Not a single person, and that’s remarkable.

So why is AA the most effective treatment for alcoholism in the world and still ignored by millions? I think many who take a pass on AA do so for one of four reasons.

The first is the most obvious. They haven’t suffered enough. Think of this as market economics. While the price of a fifth of vodka was $8.50, I was willing to pay. When it went up to $12.50, I didn’t blink an eye. When the price started to include some friends and co-workers, I still paid. Hard to believe, but when it cost my reputation, I was still buying. It wasn’t until I was asked to hand over my family, my health, and my self-esteem that I finally decided I couldn’t afford a fifth of vodka.

A second reason for ignoring AA is that it seems old-fashioned. Picture this: a few desperate men get together in the 1930s to self-treat their hopeless alcoholism with a combination of what looked like voodoo therapy, Masonic solidarity, and do-gooderism. Until I saw the results with my own eyes, I was skeptical too. In twenty-first century America, we’re used to having a pill delivered by someone in a white coat. AA is nothing like that. In fact, it’s so homey it can invite ridicule from the casual observer. Until I gave it an honest try, AA seemed quaint and a little peculiar to me.

The third reason AA puts some people off is that it seems too difficult. There’s an AA saying that the program is “simple but not easy.” But it’s not that hard either. If it were, I wouldn’t have stuck with it. What AA does is appeal to our better selves, which takes some getting used to for a lot of us. First, we have to be honest, and that can pinch in the beginning. Also, we have to have an open mind. Without it, we’ll second-guess the program to death in a week. Humility is probably the hardest angel to summon. Like most alcoholics, I was anything but humble. Finally, recovery takes commitment. But most alcoholics do find the strength they need, especially if they’ve paid a visit to the gates of hell first, as most of us have.

The fourth reason why so many suffering alcoholics fail to embrace AA is also the reason I wrote this book: people either don’t know anything about AA or they don’t like what they think they know.

Getting to that first meeting can be tough. I never made it into my first AA meeting. I set out for the appointed place in plenty of time, but I didn’t realize that AA meetings can be deviously hidden. They’re not hidden on purpose, but many are located in cheap, out-of-the-way commercial spaces and don’t have big “Drunks Welcome” signs outside. I pulled up late in front of the meeting hall. I looked through the plate-glass window and saw about twenty people sitting in a circle. The meeting was obviously under way and I didn’t know the AA etiquette for tardiness, so I drove to my local saloon to think it over.

The truth, of course, is that I was scared of AA and intimidated by the challenge of getting sober. What I knew about AA was a toxic mix of misinformation, misunderstanding, and caricature. I believed that only down-and-outers ended up in AA, and that the program was a kind of penance for past sins to which unlucky alcoholics were sentenced. None of that is true, but I encourage you to come to your own conclusions about AA, its program, and its people.

I hope this book makes it easier for others than it was for me to get to an AA meeting and stick around long enough to get the message. This two-step process is how most alcoholics get AA. Defeating our obsession with alcohol is only the beginning. AA is a fabulous lifestyle, philosophy, and personal code. That is what I mean by living undrunk.

Excerpted from Undrunk by A. J. Adams

Adams is a professional writer with a little more than one year in AA.

In this unprecedented book, A. J. Adams uses self-deprecating humor, entertaining anecdotes, and frank descriptions to introduce anyone who “just doesn’t get” Alcoholics Anonymous to the complete “Undrunk” lifestyle.
My eyes wandered around the room, taking in the strange collection of humanity seeking to claim me as a fellow sufferer. If variety is the spice of life, this crowd was the jambalaya of affliction.

–From Undrunk

Beginning with the story of his first AA meeting, he takes the mystery out what goes on behind closed doors, dispelling misconceptions of AA as cultlike, secretive, campy, or lowbrow. He then presents a user-friendly history and introduction to AA, explaining the Steps, Traditions, terms, and sayings–all punctuated by honest, often hilarious descriptions of his own struggles and eventual transformation to “getting” the program.

Randy Haveson

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Randy Haveson
Randy Haveson is the Founder & CEO of HERO House, a sober living, recovery residence program for college students in early sobriety from addictions. Learn More

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