The new A.A.
A funny thing has happened to Alcoholics Anonymous in recent years - it's not so much about alcohol anymore. Oh it still is, and always will be, but it's not only about alcohol anymore.
Far from it. Go to any A.A. meeting and listen to the people talk, and it has become a rarity to hear anyone claim that their only vice was liquor. I know, because I go to a lot of meetings. What has happened is the mind-expanding trippers of the '60's and the hard party people of the '70's and 80's - those that survived - are now making up the bulk of the membership of Alcoholics Anonymous, and they are there for difficulties that usually transcend the use of only one drug.
The earliest years of A.A. were all about booze because alcoholism pretty much described the extent of the drug problem in America during the 1930's and '40's when A.A. was first taking off. Yeah there was a music and art scene doing marijuana (hopheads they were called) and a small junkie scene thought to be beyond redemption, but basically if you were talking about substance abuse issues you were talking about problems with booze.
All that changed dramatically in the 1960's when the whole cornucopia of intoxicating drugs suddenly flooded the culture. At first there was a clear demarcation between the two drug cultures, the early hippies were teetotalers when it came to alcohol, considering it the drug of the establishment. That, however, didn't last very long and by the mid-1970's nearly all of the pretensions of mind-expansion and bohemianism associated with non-alcoholic drug use were gone. The new drugs had not replaced alcohol, as the hippies had hoped, instead they simply merged with it.
And why not? People who get drunk like to get high, so the only thing surprising was that it took so long for these other drugs to join alcohol in use by the party people. Here is a picture of Bill Wilson, the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. Is that the face of a stoner or what? That heavy lidded grin would've been right at home at any Grateful Dead concert.
I suspect that if Bill Wilson was born a generation later, he would have named his group Drugs Anonymous, with alcohol included as just another one of the get-high substances people mess up their lives with. But it hardly matters, since his modern membership has pretty much done that informally anyway.
There remains one aspect of the drug culture that hasn't completely merged with A.A. and that is needle using junkies. There is a belief among some that the blood rituals of those who violate their veins to ingest drugs is unique among drug users and never fully understood except by those who have indulged in it. I suspect that's true, but even those who belong to the small sub-group Narcotics Anonymous usually have dual memberships in A.A. Throughout everything, at the end of the trip Alcoholics Anonymous remains the shore upon which all substance abusers, regardless of what they abuse, end up.
In Northampton recently I came upon this statement scrawled on a shack near an area strewn with liquor bottles. It's a message Bill Wilson would have approved of.
This sign advertising a blood drive in Hamp today is chained to a street lamp. Would anyone really want to steal that sign?
As an AIDS precaution, blood donors are asked, 'Have you ever had sex with another man, even once, since 1977?' If the answer is yes you can't give. As part of rehab I had blood work done in November that showed I'm totally AIDS free. So I could probably give blood safely, but I would still be banned if I answered their questions honestly. I guess it's not that big a deal, and I recognize the importance of protecting the blood supply, but it still feels like a kind of low-grade discrimination to have such a blanket rejection of all queers.
But I know I will receive absolutely no sympathy on that issue from straight people.