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View Full Version : Is Alcoholics Anonymous ever as eloquent as what you see in the movies?


Shalmanese
03-17-2015, 07:09 PM
AA meetings seem to crop up especially often in movies and TV shows because they're such a convenient tool for exposition. You have people stand up and give incredibly moving, compelling speeches completely off the cuff that delve incisively into their internal mental state and conveniently underline the larger themes.

Obviously, movies aren't completely accurate representations of real life. Having never been to one, I have to imagine, given real, normal, average IQ humans in a room, the average AA meeting is probably a cringe inducing mix of incoherent rambling and poorly made points.

For people who have been to AA or other support groups, what's it really like? What's the average speech sound like? Does it ever remotely resemble what happens in the movies?

Shagnasty
03-17-2015, 07:19 PM
Yes, there are some extremely talented speakers that are AA members. There are also rambling homeless people, complete wrecks, housewives that just want an audience, boring business people and everything in between.

The one thing that you mention that doesn't generally happen is great 'off the cuff' testimonies and speeches. It doesn't really work that way. Most meetings are small and somewhat of an ordered conversation but it depends on the meeting type (speaker meetings are only one type). You can get lots of good stories because, let's face it, alcoholics and drug addicts tend to have lots of them. Most AA members that I know do come in various ranges of IQ's and verbal talent but it is rare to hear someone that is almost completely incoherent unless they are just very recently sober. The meetings that I have been to consist of doctors, trial lawyers, corporate executives along with everyone else. The meetings themselves tend to be better run than your average meeting of any group because there are strict rules.

However, there are also very large meetings of several hundred people or more. Anyone can speak at those and get support but some are much better than others. There are a few extremely good speakers that get invited to speak at large meetings all over a given area and they get quite good at it because they do it for years. They don't get paid for it or anything like that but it is the talent that some of them want to use to help themselves and others. The tone general tone is rather serious because of the subject matter but some of the good ones mix in comedy that makes fun of themselves and everything else. I have seen a few people that could have easily made it on the national entertainment stage if they hadn't crashed and burned through substance abuse.

Procrustus
03-17-2015, 07:22 PM
I've been to three AA meetings (as a guest). At two of those meetings, yes, a person did stand up and give a very moving and compelling presentation. Not "off the cuff." I will also say that their was a fair amount of off the cuff shorter comments (sharing) that varies considerably in quality. Everyone is incredibly supportive, though, and very kind.

Leaffan
03-17-2015, 07:38 PM
I've gone to a half dozen or so meetings as part of my counseling to save my marriage. This was about 3 or 4 years ago. A guest speaker did in fact deliver a well-prepared speech.

I'll tell you something; these people hit rock bottom hard and were nowhere near what my ex-wife thought was my problem. I liked to have a few beers most nights at home and not driving anywhere.

People giving speeches blew their pay cheques on booze, before the groceries or housing payments were made. They woke up dazed and confused in the back yard the next morning after being out for a "few" drinks with friends. They lost jobs and friends and marriages and credit and driver's licences.

It made me realize how normal I was, perhaps at the higher end of the social drinking spectrum, but nowhere near what I was being accused of by my ex and the bitchy marriage councilor.

There was also too much of a religious aspect and feel to the meetings. I can see how the support could help some people. Again, it just made me realize that I really had no issues compared to the stories I heard at AA.

Bryan Ekers
03-17-2015, 09:25 PM
Heck, now I'm feeling vaguely tempted to start writing recovery-inspiration speeches, and I don't even like alcohol.



Well, I like Bailey's, but I haven't had it in years.

pseudograph
03-17-2015, 09:44 PM
Another thing to keep in mind is that someone sharing their story at a meeting often isn't doing so for the first time. So even though it isn't a prepared speech, it is often a story that they have given a great deal of thought to and refined over numerous tellings and re-tellings.

Hail Ants
03-17-2015, 10:36 PM
I'm not an alcoholic and have never been to one of their meetings, but, one thing I always think of in terms of what the movies (deliberately) leave out is that AA is a decidedly Christian organization. One of the main parts of it involves accepting Jesus Christ into your life. Not that that's a bad thing, it's just a little jarring when you hear that part of it said out loud (which is why the movies always cheat and leave it out). Maybe it's Twelve-Step I'm thinking of, I'm not even sure if they're different...

Shagnasty
03-17-2015, 11:01 PM
I'm not an alcoholic and have never been to one of their meetings, but, one thing I always think of in terms of what the movies (deliberately) leave out is that AA is a decidedly Christian organization. One of the main parts of it involves accepting Jesus Christ into your life. Not that that's a bad thing, it's just a little jarring when you hear that part of it said out loud (which is why the movies always cheat and leave it out). Maybe it's Twelve-Step I'm thinking of, I'm not even sure if they're different...

Not all of the meetings do that. AA is a completely decentralized group with no leaders so it varies greatly by meeting. In Massachusetts, a lot of the meetings are held in church spaces because that is where the free space is but others are held in private homes including mansions because there are lots of very wealthy members around here. Most meetings are predominately secular and certainly not exclusively Christian. They do ask that you adopt some type of 'Higher Power' but that is personal choice and certainly not a religious God. It can be anything that is outside of yourself. Some people pick their children or other family members and I even knew one guy who picked his prized motorcycle as his higher power because he really didn't want to get drunk and disrespect it wrecking it again. Any of that is fine as long as it helps a person stay sober.

It may be different in the more religious states but there is no requirement for members to have any religion at all. It is just a joint-help and completely non-profit organization. I am not a member these days but they did help me in very real ways a few years ago. People can call them a cult all they want but, if that is the case, it is the most benign one conceivable. They won't take your money (that isn't even possible under the rules) and the organization as a whole won't make you believe anything that you don't want to. If someone finds themselves in that situation, all they have to do is change meetings - no questions asked. The 'Anonymous' part of the name is there for a reason. Anyone can show up for help and they will get it on the spot. Few other organizations can claim that.

There are alternatives to AA like Secular Sobriety and others but they suffer from a fundamental problem. They aren't everywhere and don't have the volunteer membership to provide the level of personal support that AA does. Few people that aren't acquainted with AA have any idea how many meetings there are in a single week in your area alone. In the Boston area, it is about 3,000 separate meetings a week both small and very large that meet morning, noon and night 365 days of the year including holidays. Other cities and even small towns have the same thing although most people never hear about them at all because you have to know where they are. There is no advertising because members generally need to find it voluntarily. I know of no other user driven organization that can come close to that level of saturation. You can go to a small town in North Dakota and be welcomed into an AA meeting that day just as easily as you can in NYC, Paris or Rome. However, it is a myth that they are going to push any specific religious beliefs on you at all. Individual members might but the organization as a whole is simply about free help to people that need it.

Don Draper
03-17-2015, 11:47 PM
I'm not an alcoholic and have never been to one of their meetings, but, one thing I always think of in terms of what the movies (deliberately) leave out is that AA is a decidedly Christian organization. One of the main parts of it involves accepting Jesus Christ into your life. Not that that's a bad thing, it's just a little jarring when you hear that part of it said out loud (which is why the movies always cheat and leave it out). Maybe it's Twelve-Step I'm thinking of, I'm not even sure if they're different...

Not at all. Not even close. In fact, depending upon where the meeting is being held, getting too specific about any particular religion will be decidedly controversial.

In general, A.A. and similar 12 step programs encourage members to accept a "Higher Power as he understood it." (the italics are not mine.) What it basically means is that recovery depends upon the alcoholic / addict recognizing and acknowledging that he/she isn't the center of the universe, and that the world he/she lives in is not under his control. This sounds pretty no-brainer stuff, but you'd be amazed at the amount of magical thinking and entitlement issues that are often wrapped up in addiction.

A person can accept Jesus as his higher power, if he so desires. But A.A. does not demand that. Many people accept other deities or religious figures as their Higher Power, or even the cold hard laws of science. Some name the A.A. program their Higher Power, it can even be a purely symbolic item like "the Temple of Dendur at the Met" (as one person I know declared.) The point is, an alcoholic/addict just has to let go of the mentality that he has control over everything around him.


That said, as for the OP's question. I've heard some very moving speeches from folks in AA meetings. I've heard some stuff that was very off-the-cuff and yet still very profound. But in general, A.A. meetings tend to get trumped up and over-dramatized in TV and movies. The fact is, if you're not an alcoholic, meetings tend to be fairly boring and routine talk, not angry passionate grandstanding. Every so often someone gets belligerent, or something dramatic may happen, but those people are shown the door (as would happen in any other public gathering when someone acted up.) Meetings serve a good purpose, and are necessary to a lot of folks struggling to manage their problem, but their not especially interesting.

guizot
03-18-2015, 01:11 AM
Not at all. Not even close. In fact, depending upon where the meeting is being held, getting too specific about any particular religion will be decidedly controversial. I have a handful of friends who go to AA (or NA), and they are not religious at all. They tell me that, for them, the mention of "God" or "higher power" in the AA literature is essentially just an old-fashion word for a "moral compass." It's a way to get out of one's self-obsession.

They say it can be like that (for them, at least) because no one else in AA cares (or even knows) how the other people envision the "higher power." They leave it up to you.

Robert163
03-18-2015, 01:32 AM
I'm not an alcoholic and have never been to one of their meetings, but, one thing I always think of in terms of what the movies (deliberately) leave out is that AA is a decidedly Christian organization. One of the main parts of it involves accepting Jesus Christ into your life. Not that that's a bad thing, it's just a little jarring when you hear that part of it said out loud (which is why the movies always cheat and leave it out). Maybe it's Twelve-Step I'm thinking of, I'm not even sure if they're different...

This is completely false. it would be very very bad form to mention Jesus, or Mohammed or any religion in a meeting. Well, you could say, I go to church or I believe in Jesus but you can not say that anyone else should and they wouldn't let you do anything but mention that you go to church or pray to jesus (part of your higher power as you understand him). What they will do is tell you to pray and find a higher power. They claim you can work the program without a belief in god but since they do require a belief in a higher power, its a contradiction to say you dont need a god or you don't need to pray. AA finds people at their very very bottom which is why they insist so heavily on a higher power. Unfortunately, once they get better they tend to think they have to keep relying on a higher power, not only to stay sober, but to live a "productive" life as well.

sleestak
03-18-2015, 12:14 PM
I'm not an alcoholic and have never been to one of their meetings, but, one thing I always think of in terms of what the movies (deliberately) leave out is that AA is a decidedly Christian organization. One of the main parts of it involves accepting Jesus Christ into your life. Not that that's a bad thing, it's just a little jarring when you hear that part of it said out loud (which is why the movies always cheat and leave it out). Maybe it's Twelve-Step I'm thinking of, I'm not even sure if they're different...

Your ignorance on this is stunning.

I've been to literally thousands of A.A. meetings and never, not once, has anyone in any meeting said, stated, proclaimed, urged or in any other way pushed christianity or any other religion. No 'Jesus will heal you'. No 'you must accept christ'. No 'you have to believe X'. Never.

In fact, if someone were to say something like this in a meeting, they would be shouted down instantly.

Additionally, when a newbie asks about a higher power the answer is generally in the form of "Well, I believe X. That works for me. It is up to you to decide. It may be god, it may be biology, it may be little green men. We can't tell you what it is, it is up to you, it is a higher power of your understanding'. FTR, mine is biology. I can't beat biology, it is what it is and nothing I can say or do will change it.

Regarding the moving speeches, I once went to a meeting after my then fiancee dumped me in a particularly nasty way*. I had no idea that a) she was unhappy and b) cheating on me and c) a total psychopath**.

So I went to a meeting. The first man to speak came because he had just left a funeral. The funeral was for his son. His son was also an addict. This man had tried to get his son help. The man had ~10 years sobriety. His son was in and out of the program. He worked hard to get his son help.

He failed and his son went back to drinking/drugging. His son then killed himself. But before he killed himself the son killed his (the sons) wife. It was a murder/suicide.

The man spoke for about 50 minutes. Totally off the cuff. About the choices he had made. About the mistakes he had made. About those he had hurt, including his son. And how he had tried to get his son help. And how he had failed. And how he now had to live with the failure. And how he really couldn't control what his son chose to do. How he got sober and tried to amend the wrong he had done. And how he was going to go on without drinking or drugging.

Everyone in the room was flat out sobbing. The mans strength through that horrid time was inspiring. In fact, the word inspiring is woefully insufficient. I just don't know of a better term.

The man owned his flaws and his actions. He owned his guilt. Yet he also had hope, due to the changes A.A. helped him make, during one of the worst times imaginable.

I don't believe in god. But I know that I could not have had a better message given to me that day. I walked in a mess due to the end of my relationship. I walked out with a real perspective on things, what matters and what can be let go.

Slee

*When she broke up with me she told me (really, she said this) that her original plan was to move out while I was at work. She wasn't sure if she was going to leave a note. Oh, and she was banging one of her clients.

** I found out later how her life went after we broke up. She basically went on to use every single person she knew. I don't normally assign terms like psychopath to people, however her behavior towards her family (who are generally good folks) and her friends was amazingly callous. I also found out some other things later that I didn't know at the time. For example, she had worked through four or five groups of friends. All the groups absolutely hated her because she used them and then stabbed them in the back when it worked to her advantage.

Maserschmidt
03-18-2015, 12:50 PM
Funny, there are dozens of movie scenes with AA, but I don't think I've seen one yet with Al-Anon (http://al-anon.org/). I can honestly say you hear some horrific things in those meetings, but it's probably not as compelling in a movie as showing it directly.

Don Draper
03-18-2015, 01:38 PM
I have a handful of friends who go to AA (or NA), and they are not religious at all. They tell me that, for them, the mention of "God" or "higher power" in the AA literature is essentially just an old-fashion word for a "moral compass." It's a way to get out of one's self-obsession.

They say it can be like that (for them, at least) because no one else in AA cares (or even knows) how the other people envision the "higher power." They leave it up to you.

:confused:

Which is what I said in the rest of my post.

WOOKINPANUB
03-18-2015, 01:41 PM
If only. With the exception of a few speakers meetings, I don't recall ever hearing any particularly compelling contributions. In fact, though I owe a certain amount of gratitude to AA, I found the meeting interminably boring. This could be due to the particular meetings I went to but I felt like all I was hearing was peoples' war stories, which is not inspiring and definitely not interesting to me.

outlierrn
03-18-2015, 02:19 PM
I'm not an alcoholic and have never been to one of their meetings, but, one thing I always think of in terms of what the movies (deliberately) leave out is that AA is a decidedly Christian organization. One of the main parts of it involves accepting Jesus Christ into your life. Not that that's a bad thing, it's just a little jarring when you hear that part of it said out loud (which is why the movies always cheat and leave it out). Maybe it's Twelve-Step I'm thinking of, I'm not even sure if they're different...

You've been misinformed.

garygnu
03-18-2015, 02:41 PM
What I've seen is compelling stories and decent dpeakers, just nowhere near as concise as on screen. There's a beginning and a meandering middle that doesn't end. Also a few that are too brief for a scripted show, well meant but unpolished.

As for the religious thing, it's most certainly there, but toned down to be mostly unnoticeable. However, the "as you understand it" thing will give full-on atheists occasional trouble.

panamajack
03-18-2015, 03:11 PM
Funny, there are dozens of movie scenes with AA, but I don't think I've seen one yet with Al-Anon (http://al-anon.org/). I can honestly say you hear some horrific things in those meetings, but it's probably not as compelling in a movie as showing it directly.

Stuart Smalley mentions Al-Anon (since Franken himself created the character based on his experience) although I don't know if meetings are shown explicitly.

On the Media recently did a piece on how AA came to pop culture prominence (http://www.onthemedia.org/story/hollywood-recovery-problem/) (the reporter is fairly critical of AA in the segment, but gets to the history after a few minutes).

guizot
03-19-2015, 01:12 AM
:confused:

Which is what I said in the rest of my post.Hence my affirmation of your comment by way of my own personal experience, which yet another poster may reaffirm by citing some other manifestation, to which Hail Ants may or may not provide a rebuttal, in response to which several others may offer further repudiation.

We can engage in metadiscourse all day long, I suppose.

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