Magazine

From the January 2014 magazine.

January 2014: Just Don't Drink

Could a popular newcomer saying do more harm than good?

I have attended several thousand AA meetings during the past 20-plus years. During that time, I’ve noticed many changes in the Fellowship, some for the better, and some, I think, that bear more consideration. One emerging trend is an increase in short, sharp directives to newcomers. The most popular of these is: “Just don’t drink!” I have heard this command strongly and insistently expressed, and sometimes even shouted dogmatically, occasionally followed by a number of expletives, in the hope of helping a newcomer to attain and maintain sobriety. At times I get the impression from certain advocates of this approach that this is all that’s needed. This directive is, I’m sure, well-intentioned, perhaps in the vein of “Keep it Simple.” However, such simplicity has a deceptive allure. Keeping it simple ought not be confused with oversimplification.

Despite its popularity among some members, “Just don’t drink!” seems to go against the compassionate and understanding spirit on which AA was founded. Maybe we modern AAs just don’t have the time to mince words in our prevailing instant-results era? Like fast food, “Just don’t drink!” is the way we AAs-on-the-go try to carry a speedier remedy to the ailing newcomer. Yet ironically, this well-intentioned directive in fact may communicate the sort of ignorance and impatience associated with those who misunderstand the nature of alcoholism and recovery from it. After all, how many times have we all heard, “Just don’t drink!” from angry family members, friends, law enforcement, court officials and so on, before coming to AA? The fact is, we would have stopped drinking if we could have—but we just didn’t have the power to do that. We found that power in AA.

-- Anonymous

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