AA Slogans…just superficial sobriety blabber?
Pardon the awful alcoholic alliteration…damn I did it again!
Slogans, cigarettes, and coffee – that’s what Alcoholics Anonymous does!
The newcomer is bombarded with a bunch of steps, traditions, and concepts not to mention all the names of people they meet.
Then, upon breaking from their shameful navel-gazing they look upon the walls of the musty church cellar and notice all these odd posters.
“Think, Think, Think!”
“One Day At A Time.”
“Easy Does It.”
“Let Go and Let God.”
What the hell do they mean? Nobody knows! Alright, alright, we know.
The problem is that these wonderful quilt-by-number posters fail to provide the context to their deeper meaning.
So, most of us reference them mindlessly for the street cred. And alas! Like the majority, we blab clichés with little ability to explain their significance.
AA Slogans Exist For A Reason
The truth is that most popular AA slogans exist for specific therapeutic reasons.
They wouldn’t exist if they served no deeper purpose.
If that deeper purpose is understood the AA Slogans pack quite the punch.
In this article, we will focus on 7 of the most popular AA Slogans and how they can beef up and radically alter your 12 Step recovery program.
1. One Day at a Time
Alcoholics Anonymous is adamant that life must be taken one day at a time, one hour at a time, one minute at a time, and one moment at a time.
Hence one of the most popular AA Slogans is “one day at a time.”
But why? What does this phrase convey? What message does it carry?
I’d argue that this slogan delivers two critical messages.
For starters, we must learn to focus and live in the present.
It makes sense. We cannot mystically see into the future with our magic glass ball.
We cannot control the universe. Our limited human nature simply won’t allow the omnipotence we demand.
Instead, we can control our behaviors and actions right here, right now.
Why do we struggle living in the present?
We see others sober, living amazing lives filled with stability, success, and loads of laughter. To be honest, it can be daunting.
We fixate so much on the future and where we “should be” that we often fall prey to anxiety and depression.
We frequently throw in the towel before even trying.
The mountain just looks impossible to climb.
However, by focusing on the now we enable ourselves to see the value in the accumulative approach and find that climbing that mountain wasn’t as impossible as it initially appeared.
Writing A Book.
The prospect of writing a book was intimidating to me. Every time I sat down to write, the task felt overwhelming and impossible.
I couldn’t fathom the patience and persistence of authors. How can you possibly write a thousand-page book? Be it fictional or textbook variety, I just couldn’t wrap my head around it.
Then I established my writing hour.
Five days a week I would wake up before everyone else in the house and write for one hour.
My goal was to crank out one chapter a week.
Within a short time, I had written a book.
Once I broke it down into small and achievable parts, it basically wrote itself.
This is the same fundamental principle of living one day at a time.
Rather than be consumed by all freaking possible worlds, we identify and live out the series of moments we are currently in.
A Series Of Moments
Emotional sobriety demands we visualize life as a series of moments rather than a block of 80 years.
I started off with this, breaking things down to one hour at a time or one minute at a time.
You’d be surprised how easy it is to stay sober and grounded for a minute.
You’ll find that when you focus on the present moment an abundance of opportunities and options present themselves.
When your mood is stabilized, when your thought process is coherent and level, it’s amazing the flexibility of your behavior to the situations around you. In short, you have far more control over the outcomes.
2. Easy Does It
You’re only as effective as your ability to pause.
If you can’t stop and take a deep breath every once and a while you’ll burnout rapidly.
For us, however, a burnout can mean relapse.
So, what do we do?
Try to picture yourself as a car, a Tesla to be exact.
In every Tesla is a self-correcting mechanism.
If you’re cruising down the freeway and you slowly veer off onto the shoulder, you usually hear the thundering of rumble strips.
These little rivets in the road are designed to get your attention.
They basically scream, “get back on the damn road!”
When this occurs in a Tesla, the car automatically corrects itself.
The rumbling strips trigger the mechanism and the steering wheel restores the vehicle to the road.
Let’s imagine, for the sake of this analogy, that the rumbling strips are anxiety and the self-correcting mechanism is the innate healing that exists in each one of us.
The anxiety let’s your brain know that something is going on that needs your attention.
Unfortunately, we try to correct everything ourselves and rather than focus on what needs attention we lay our attention on the anxiety.
This makes about as much sense as trying to smash a home run by looking at the catcher rather than the pitcher.
It’s the equivalent of fighting the self-correcting mechanism of the Tesla and remaining on the rumbling strips.
Easy Does It reminds us to stop fighting everything tooth and nail and allow solutions to unfold and solve themselves.
It’s alarming how often this is actually the case.
People complain that this aa slogan is overused to the extent that it’s no longer meaningful.
It’s everywhere and thus fails to pack an emotional wallop.
But just because it’s overused doesn’t mean it’s useless.
If anything this points to its sheer awesomeness.
The serenity prayer is used to the point of freaking abuse. Most people vocalize it’s content without even broaching any variety of understanding. This doesn’t say anything about the serenity prayer, but it does say something about the people brainlessly repeating it.
It stands to reason that the goal for more senior members in the group should be to keep these overused elements alive and novel for the newcomer.
But how do they do this?
Teach the fundamentals of the program!
You wouldn’t be the first person in the program if you arrived Monday and expected to be well by Tuesday.
We all rush.
We make amends before reaching Step Nine, like day two.
We jump into relationships even though everybody except us recommended we wait.
We take on new commitments, overwork ourselves, and put the cart before the horse.
Listen, I get it. It makes sense.
It’s perfectly normal to want to recover and turn your life around as soon as possible.
Nonetheless, all of us must learn to respect the process.
And that’s what recovery is, it’s not an event.
This aa slogan reminds us of this importance and therefore is impossible to overuse.
3. Let Go and Let God
This is one of those slogans that is terribly misunderstood.
Some folks in the rooms go as far as to comment that it’s utterly useless.
Instilled in this little saying is the concept of locus of control.
The concept conveys the fact that our level of influence is proportional to our activity in our circle of control.
Let me explain.
Imagine three concentric circles. The circle in the middle represents the circle of control. This is, as evident in the name, the area of of direct control.
The next midsize circle represents the circle of influence. This circle is the domain of indirect control.
The final biggest circle represents the circle of concern, and as is also evident in the name this is an area of concern and consequently no direct or indirect control exists.
The circle of control is everything within your direct control.
- How much effort you put into something
- How many times you smile, say “thank you”, or show appreciation today
- How well you prepare for something
- How you react to an emotion
- What you focus on
- How you interpret a situation
- What you commit to doing or not doing
- What conversations you have and what you engage in
- How much you focus on the present moment
- What you tell yourself and how nice you are to YOU
- How you take care of your body
- How many new things you are exposed to
- What you do in your free time
- Whom you spend your time with and who your friends are
- What information you consume: courses you read, media you listen to or watch
- When you ask for help
- Whether you make plans and act on them
- How much you believe what other people say
- How long it takes you to try again when you fail
The more you focus on this circle the larger it expands.
Therefore, the more you focus on what’s within your control, the larger your circle of control and influence! It can expand almost indefinitely.
Let go and let God means to trust this process, that there is a purpose behind life and an intelligent design.
When we say let go and let God we are not arguing for passivity. As if you merely become a passive recipient of God’s deeds.
Instead, you become assertive and actively engage in what can be done at any given moment. In the words of Saint Francis, “I pray for a garden then pick up the hoe.”
To give another illustration I’ll use the Biblical story of Noah. I’m sure most of you are familiar with it. God sends a raging flood and commands Noah to build an ark so his family and two of every kind of animal can board and survive.
Putting aside religious debates and ethical concerns, this story is instructive.
Obviously, Noah could not go retrieve two of every single creature. This was beyond him. What could he do? What was within his power? Building the ark!
Let go and let God means building the ark and trusting God will bring the animals.
This AA slogan does seem to suggest some form of cosmic design or purpose. This further suggests some type of God.
And let’s be real, some people find God offensive. Particularly if it indicates some variety of religious exclusion.
However, we can appeal to the intelligent design of the universe without being religious. Just like we can appeal to free will without being religious.
That actually brings us full circle. Sometimes we need to let go of all these controversial ideas, focus on what’s in our control, and take action.
4. Spirituality vs. Religion
Nonetheless, some of us cannot let go of the God idea.
Even though the concept is as abstract as they come, we cannot separate it from religious traditions that have negatively impacted us.
Fortunately, your religion or totally lack thereof has no bearing on your capacity to leverage a spiritual remedy.
This AA slogan has one specific purpose: to separate religion and spirituality.
The idea looks like this:
“Religion is for people who’re afraid of going to hell. Spirituality is for those who’ve already been there.”
People always nitpick. They can’t help themselves.
The peanut gallery complains that this reduces all religion to a mere fear-response and transforms the excessive partying of addiction as egotistically equated to the supernatural.
Once more, these slogans are not designed to be overly politically correct and airtight.
Rather, they are designed to be like a good joke, the punchline is meant to be obvious and hit you right between the eyes.
The so-called Jesus Freaks of the 1970s had a similar slogan, “it’s not a religion, it’s a relationship!”
The idea conveyed is that spirituality is a rich relationship with your Higher Power and with others and this could be established within any form of religion.
It’s barebones, a demand from the bowels of pain and desperation.
Conversely, religion is built upon specific tenets of faith, is usually exclusive, and demands obedience to its doctrines and rituals.
Spirituality is a personal experience and needs no qualification, it simply needs desperation; a state of mind this AA slogan was born out of.
5. Keep It Simple, Stupid (KISS)
This is one of my personal favorites, I’ve actually dedicated an entire article to it.
To explain this AA slogan let’s give the mic to Mr. Simplicity himself: William of Ockham. Who’s namesake is used for the staple of simplicity – Ockham’s Razor:
“Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected.”
In other words, just roll with what we have access to.
I’m not going to get all philosophical or scientific on you, let’s keep the application simple.
If I walk into my house and my dog doesn’t come running to the door, it would be silly to assume she must be dead. This hypothesis assumes too much. Instead, it’s likely that due to her older age and proficient laziness, she is just taking her sweet ass time to provide her greeting.
The first is an assumption based on fear, it’s not based on data but rather what I don’t want to happen. The latter is a hypothesis that is in accord with data because historically this is her track record, it’s what has the least assumptions. So, Why torture myself? This is how the KISS principle can eliminate unnecessary stress.
Between a simple life and a complicated life lies a choice.
6. Progress, Not Perfection
Marcus Aurelius observed that “imperfection is the necessary byproduct of nature’s work.”
A momentary glimpse at the world produces this conclusion.
Heck, even Achilles had his heel.
We are all vulnerable and have gaping blind spots. To deny this is to literally deny our humanity.
Moreover, such denial would only imply the sheer size of the denier’s blind spot.
Claim perfection? Really? Hi Thanos, it’s the universe calling, they’d like their stones back.
The silliness of perfection notwithstanding, consider the Roman Phalanx.
Each soldier has specific blind spots and weaknesses which are compensated for by the soldier standing next to him.
Each matches one another’s weaknesses with each other’s strengths.
Together we are as close to perfection as it comes.
Additionally, when I think of exceptionally talented artists or athletes, I don’t think perfection – though the sentiment is appealing – I think that their particular imperfection is what makes them really stand out.
For example, Slash is one of my favorite guitar players but he can be a sloppy guitarist. Nonetheless, that’s what creates the Slash sound! It’s not his perfection I admire, it’s his imperfection that makes him who he is – an incredibly unique and masterful musician.
At any rate, I wanted to demonstrate the ridiculousness of trying to be perfect.
But wait, what about practice makes perfect?
Scratch that idiom out of your cortex.
What a ludicrous idea – perfection.
Let’s apply the German saying from which this motto was derived:
“Der ubung macht den meister,” which means “continuous repetition makes the master.”
Continuous repetition can make a master out of you, but never make you perfect.
After all, it’s the imperfections that distinguish one master from another.
All masters share a common characteristic.
It’s called the growth mindset.
What is the growth mindset?
The growth mindset is a belief that your basic qualities, including intelligence and talent, can be developed and perfected through effort.
This means that while people may be innately different, with certain aptitudes and temperaments, all aspects of a person’s abilities and personality can be changed!
It doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to notice that people with a growth mindset see the world differently. In fact, they live in an entirely different world.
They have faith that effort equals competency.
They believe that practicing and learning something will naturally yield better results.
Failure doesn’t mean futility, it transitions to feedback – a learning experience.
If these people think they’re not good at something they see this as a signpost that harder work is required
It’s actually the most common-sense approach.
Our experience should immediately validate it.
Unfortunately, most of us never try and thereby validate our fixed mindset, which is the opposing mindset.
One thing I’ve observed between the two mindsets (a fixed mindset vs a growth mindset) is that a fixed mindset determines its worth by social approval, validation, and acceptance.
This is the main reason failure isn’t an option to them, because unconsciously they believe it means they are unworthy of belonging, maybe even living!.
Conversely, growth mindset individuals appreciate validation and approval, their worth however is usually determined by virtue of being human.
Moreover, to be human is to be imperfect. These individuals tend to recognize this and live wholeheartedly and vulnerably.
They desire growth in every facet of their life, even if this growth requires setbacks, discomfort, pain, challenges, and colossal failures.
Thus their value is predicated upon effort and courage.
What a difference!
From this perspective, challenges aren’t avoided but welcomed as opportunities to grow and expand personal boundaries and limitations.
In fact, this ability is the very thing that makes us human.
When someone tells you “progress not perfection,” this is what they are attempting to communicate.
After all, success is a mere succession of glorious failures!
7. First Things First
Stephen Covey made this slogan famous in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
He may have popularized it, but this was not a novel idea.
In my opinion and somewhat following Covey, putting first things first is the natural consequence of self-awareness and purpose…which is conscience.
Being able to separate urgent things from non-urgent things, distractions from complete wastes of time requires a yardstick of sorts, a value system to measure, sift, and arrange things accordingly.
It demand’s an examination and constant reexamination of values.
Not just what matters to us in an emotional sense, but what aligns with our principles.
For instance, try holding a seed in your hand and making it grow by sheer willpower alone…now try harder…keep trying…yeah it’s not happening.
This is because certain principles or laws govern the growth of the seed – in a word, it must be placed in the right conditions.
If we are to expect life change we must place ourselves in the right conditions for growth.
We do this by aligning our values with moral principles that are universal and timeless.
This slogan was designed to be a constant reminder for us to act according to our moral barometer, or the pangs of our conscience.
It’s our inner demand for mindfulness.
There is a common saying in treatment that radiates wisdom, it’s that “anything you put before your recovery you’ll lose.”
What this means is that there needs to be congruence between what is important for you and what is important to you.
When these two areas of importance fail to converge, problems unfold.
For example, it may be important to you to be in a relationship. Maybe you’re lonely and are longing for a cuddle session.
However, it may be important for you at this point in time to avoid emotional entanglements because you barely have the ability to regulate your feelings solo.
If your wisdom says no but your appetite says yes, wisdom must be yielded to. If it’s not, bad things usually follow.
Everything Has An Order
We see order in everything around us.
From the most robust philosophies to the warmest melodies; from the darkest novels to the finest architecture – order simply cannot be missed.
Even in the swirling quantum confusion one cannot help but recognize its order; the underlying chaos which brings the breathtaking rose into existence can hardly be called inordinate.
Nonetheless, the structure of out emotional and spiritual nature can be difficult to surmise.
We must first observe our own mental structure before we can really behold wisdom.
I to recommend starting with core beliefs, which are propositions assumed to be true for the sake of the belief system.
Failing to know these core beliefs can create a world of frustration because you tend to follow your appetite rather than your wisdom.
Why look core beliefs? Because they communicate what comes first for us! They help as ascertain the order or sometimes lack thereof!
For example, I started to see this dynamic unfold in my home life.
Often, when my wife and I have embarrassingly petty arguments, it’s actually because we are coming to these events with two entirely different preexisting beliefs and assumptions.
Especially in this day and age with email and text messages, communication has become that much more mystifying and difficult to decode, left with little but our core beliefs about self and others as our standard for interpretation, frequently to our detriment.
Truly, it appears we simply do not have enough information at times to rightly interpret others’ emotional states.
Perhaps it’s not so much about solving the problem or rightly interpreting the emotional state as it is merely tending to it.
Emotional order is less about correction and more about connection.
Often our core beliefs just seek to correct the world around us to better correspond to our beliefs – it’s a shit show.
But if we lead with connection rather than correction perhaps we would be more concerned about what each other were attempting to communicate rather than hastily reach rash conclusions based upon preexisting ideas prior to even truly listening.
A rightly ordered relationship following the dictates of connection will look precisely like The Prayer of Saint Francis – and there is no better yardstick for a rightly ordered love.