Psychobabble and AA Principles
I was at an AA meeting recently when someone criticized what he considered to be the psychobabble at meetings.
For some of us in the rooms, such criticism is often a back-door way of hiding behind the literature of AA in order to avoid being honest about our our motives, our rationalizations, our hidden agendas, our imperfections, and, of course, our strengths and virtues.
Accusing others in the room of “psychobabble” can be a convenient way of avoiding any journey that might take us deeper into ourselves. It can also be a way of remaining stuck, safe, even smug.
On the debit side, it doesn’t take a long time in the rooms to discover that the fourth and tenth steps of AA, the self-examination and self-inventory steps, require that we be honest about our faults, our flaws, and our imperfections. When we begin this exposure-and-self-transparency journey through these two steps, we often discover deeper layers of our behaviors that we consistently missed when we were active users.
Pride, for example, comes in many colors. For some, it can be a refusal to take criticism. For others, it can be a form of condescension when we are praised. Pride can also rear its ugly head at group-conscious meetings when we try to fight-to-the-death to defend our belief that the treasury money should not be used for group picnics or that the annual group anniversary party should be paid for first before the church rent.
Or the kind of spiritual arrogance that loves to sit in judgment of those in the AA program who have chosen non-theistic spiritual journeys. And conversely, the sense of superiority some have in being “beyond” the traditional Christian journeys of many in the program. Even in our own unique spiritual journeys, we are still just another bozo on the bus.
I have also been in many a room, by the way, in which some will go on and on about their belief in a Higher Power without once stopping to think about those among us who do not subscribe to the philosophy of an interventionist divinity.
Those on traditional theistic journeys often assume that everyone in the rooms is on the same page, that the Higher Power is an anthropomorphic sky-god who has a will, and that this God “will” intervene on one’s behalf (very selectively, I might add).
For some of us, however, the Higher Power is a metaphor for anything that is beyond the ego. And the “will of God,” a spiritual adage telling us to move with the reality that is given to us. Or to surrender to the “Way” over which we have no control. Or it is the blossoming divinity within us that can accept a son-in-law’s political views, a father’s alcoholism, a mother’s constant need to fix our significant other.
And for some of us, the Higher Power is the gradual, evolving self-awareness and awareness of others we learn by taking our own inventories, by making amends, by doing service work (in and outside of the program), and by practicing our own forms of spirituality (prayer for some, meditation and quiet times for others).
For some of us, the second and third steps—the came-to-believe-steps—do not come to real fruition until well into the twelfth step. Belief, for some of us, does not come before steps four through eleven, but after.
And, for someone like me, the second and third steps are really about the covenants I made to the possibility of being more spiritual through the work of the other steps (surrender, amends, self-examination, meditation/a quiet time, and service).
Now there will be some who will say that I am taking too many liberties with the AA program, that I am psychobabbling my way out of my sobriety. Believe me, the journey I have been on has not been a knee-jerk one. Nor has it been a journey of trying to escape spirituality.
It has certainly been a journey of discovery, amends, requests for forgiveness, interiority, service, and needed silence—the very core of AA principles without, in my judgment, getting stuck in the ritualistic language of the program, language that can often numb me into passivity and smugness.
I believe that my relationship to the AA program, like any relationship, has to be kept fresh; that I must keep renewing my commitment to my spirituality by testing the waters of what I do and think every day; that writing about my sobriety and my journey is a necessary step towards “refreshing” my spirituality; that the true test of my spirituality is in my behavior and how I treat others in and out of the rooms.
If I hide in the rooms; if I repeat clichés without internalizing their unique meanings to me; if I make no connection between the AA literature and my behavior in and out of the rooms; if I never examine or challenge any of the my spiritual or theological assumptions, I may end up being the only Alcoholic-Anonymous-textbook expert on the block talking to myself.
In the end, the 12 steps are a means to an end. And that end, of course, is to be a productive, responsible, compassionate, emotionally centered, and balanced human being in society.
If that sounds like “psychobabble,” bring it on.