There’s an essay in Wired by Brendan I. Koerner, titled “Secret of AA: After 75 Years, We Don’t Know How it Works.” It is burning up the email channels and New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote about it. As the headline makes clear, the piece is largely about the fact that the success rate of Alcoholics Anonymous can’t be measured. We can clasify addiction as disease, but unlike diabetes, we can’t say how many people get better through treatment…in this case, by working the 12 steps.
I feel safe in predicting that a lot of people will start reading it and quit about a third of the way into the piece. Not because it isn’t well-written enough, but for one of two other reasons:
(1) Squirm factor: They’re alcoholics/addicts and not ready or able to deal with the “cunning, baffling” affliction; or
(2) Gratitude factor: They’re in the program, it works, and they do not care why.
I read the whole piece, but I was skimming it by page 3.
I fall in category 2-A: It works, I don’t care why. But yeah, okay, tell me why.
For more than 20 years I’ve thought of Alcoholics Anonymous as the equivalent of a concerned relative who took me in, made up a bed on the couch and said: You’re not doing so great. Stay here until you feel up to leaving.
I slept there around-the-clock for awhile. The couch is always made up and ready when I need it.
It’s an odd notion on the face of it, that the only way some alcoholics or addicts survive is by sitting in a room with a lot of other drunks, tweakers, pill-takers, glue-sniffers, junkies. It seems odd right up until it doesn’t. Funny how we humans can move the goalpost of “normal” up and back so many yards.
Yet, I do welcome new findings about the ways in which brain chemistry and environmental factors conspire to make an otherwise rational person ingest poison. I believe that the more mysteries we solve, the better off we’ll be.
In other words, I want the updated brain-operation manual and the couch. When I’m too weary to read the small print, I can lie down and rest.