Four 12-Step Clichés That Actually Work In Practice

When I first walked into the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous, I was so annoyed by the clichés and pithy little sayings that were spouted at me by old-timers. It was even more bothersome when those same clichés hung from the walls of the church basements and Alano clubs where the meetings took place, mocking me from above as if I was some kind of simpleton. Like virtually everything else in the 12-step programs that I sneered at in the beginning, later I would be amazed at how well these so-called clichés actually worked when put into practice and applied to my actual life.

Character Defects And Clichés

“Later” is a bit of an understatement, because it took many months and even years for me to develop a way of living and being that resembled emotional sobriety. Like an alcoholic or an addict or whatever substance use disorder label you wish to give to my disease of perception, I was unable to see the world or myself clearly. I took everything personally, and this included the pithy little sayings of the 12-step programs. When I walked into a room and saw those clichés staring down at me from the wall, it really got under my skin and brought forth my character defects like a volcanic torrent of red-hot lava.

Here are some of the so-called worst:

  1. One day at a time
  2. First things first
  3. I may not be much, but I’m all I think about
  4. The longer I’m sober, the drunker I was

I would hear that crapola popping out of the mouths of the old-timers, and I wanted to slap them upside the head. From the shadows would pour forth my go-to character defects when I thought about the sayings—incredible grandiosity and a major sense of entitlement—like predators leaping on their prey. Whether I said it out loud or kept it simmering within, the words would reverberate like pinballs in my skull:

“Don’t these assholes know who I am? I am a writer and an Ivy League graduate. I could do so much better than that clichéd crapola. No wonder people relapse. Man, I am so much better than all of these two-bit philosophical posers. I don’t need to take any more of this shit. I didn’t come here to be talked down to like some kind of high school dropout or homeless bum living on the streets.”

And on and on and on: Always better, always angry, and always empty inside, as I did everything possible to avoid the truth and my own. Eventually, I would come to realize that much of the truth is actually revealed in those clichés. By taking a closer look at each of them in practice, I can share with you what I later discovered for myself.