Challenging my AA: Ego

I’m going to set out on a bit of a series.  I am going to challenge “my” AA.  By “my” I simply mean my experiences in the AA community in which I participate.

This is not intended to discredit AA as a whole…. nor in part for that matter … but more to challenge the things I find challenging.  Hey, maybe its all me just being intolerant… who knows.

The reason that this is of any importance at all is simply because I have found great help through AA.  I am a number of years sober after a number of failed attempts at other methods of sobriety and recovery.

I respect and admire the fundamentals and origins of AA.  I simply find that the way it is practiced in my community feels often like it is going in a bad direction.  Maybe I’m right, maybe I’m wrong…. I would welcome your input in helping me find out.

So my maiden topic will be Ego.

Ahh yes, that all too familiar lighting rod of AA wrath.  We so often hear it spoken against, yet in my experience, we so often see it nurtured and practiced in disguise.

Most of us show up at the door of our first AA meetings crushed and desperate.  Every coping mechanism having failed us, we are finally ready to listen and try something new.  We are often told that we must crush our ego, or at least check it at the door… and this is true, we must if we want to grasp something new.  We have no other way than to empty our hands of what is old because we can’t hold both at the same time.

So we do and life gets a little better.  More time passes, we remain sober, we begin to recover, and life gets even better.  Then what often happens?  The shattered pieces of our ego gather themselves, reform, and sneak in the side door.  Often, we get the notion that since we are now sober and life is improving, that we just might be…. well not quite ‘ALL’ that, but at least ‘SOME OF’ that.

Have you seen what can happen farther down this road?  Perhaps after a year or two or ten or thirty years of sobriety.  The reformed ego that snuck in the side door has now grown to full, but disguised, maturity.

It tells us subtly that we have some unofficial ranking or seniority based on our years of sobriety.  We can handle newcomers, chair meetings, share with poise and eloquence, make people laugh or cry, and be known by name at many a meeting around town.

We can quote the Big Book and get heads nodding in a meeting when we share our experience, strength, and hope.

C’mon, lets be honest, does the ego not start to tell us things by this point?  Is it not alive and well… and well-disguised?  Our we so naive to believe everyone is healthy and recovered enough to handle all of this success, attention and admiration with humility? And does our AA community not encourage us along by giving us accolades?  Especially at our cake meetings?

Are we not tempted to become self-righteous and feel we know what we and others need?  After all, look at our track record.  Do we not suspect that we are indeed small “c” celebrities in our AA community?

If we get to this point, have we not swapped one form of ego for a new, more culturally acceptable one?





About Chaz

Husband, father, brother, son, friend. Sober member of AA. Grateful for the life God gave me and for the happy struggle of recovery.
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16 Responses to Challenging my AA: Ego

  1. Debbie says:

    I haven’t been to AA, so am here more to listen and learn, and to encourage you to share and write! 🙂 I am following what you are saying. Sometimes when we are asked how long we’ve walked with the Lord, and we can say a longer number of years than someone else . ..I don’t like the feeling of pride that tries to creep in. I can’t tell you how many times daily someone who has known Him far shorter years than I, teaches me something new. Thanks for doing this series and always getting us to think! God bless you and yours!

    • Chaz says:

      Hi Debbie… yes, I have experienced the same in church. Often, we find ourselves ranking and comparing based on time-in. Which could be time in the church membership, time in the kingdom, or whatever. I wonder what part of our unhealthy thinking such thoughts come from?

  2. Heidi says:

    Kudos! I’m grabbing a front row seat! I am finding every which way I turn, I’m being warned about my ego. I don’t believe in coincidences. I have much to learn.

    Being a teacher/trainer, I would guess that all of the above applies to me… ouch. But it’s good timing as I’m anxious to apply the truth you share.

    Thank you for starting this. I hope I’m not the only one who benefits from your new series. This is exciting…

    OH, and it’s so great to have you as a resource again. Keep writing!

    • Chaz says:

      Hi Heidi…. Being in the public eye and in front of a crowd can have its dangers for the ego. So ya, some wise cautions would be…. well … wise 🙂

      I had taught seminars for about 10 years in a previous career and have to admit that having dozens of people listen to me on a regular basis did go to my head. I ask myself, ‘How couldn’t it’? I felt validated that so many people would come listen to my presentation.

      Yet with wise cautions in place…. including seeking the reflections of healthy, mature people around us, we can still be effective in fulfilling our professional roles without it getting away from us.

  3. Caddo Veil says:

    Hi Nephew! I was going to just click the Like and move on, since AA isn’t part of my experience–but then I read Debbie’s comment, and saw how it applies to me! She’s so right that having a teachable heart/spirit is the ideal place to be. Thank you, Chaz, for opening windows that I might learn from new views! God bless you always–love, Auntie Caddo

    • Chaz says:

      Hi Auntie Caddo…. thanks for making the choice to share your thoughts with us. Yes, the propensity to quantify our standing in a group through time then compare and rank ourselves against others does seem to be universal. So this doesnt apply only to AA. It is just one of my current challenges.

      Thanks for the comment.

  4. Cyndi says:

    yes, i agree with this and your previous post–it has become legalistic– you must do 90 meetings 90 days (even though your going through a pack of cigarettes and drinking coffee like it was water and never mind the sweets they serve)–people coming up to newcomers and telling them they HAVE to get a sponsor–like that minute even though they don’t even know what the first step is about–the ‘stars’ and the ‘preachers’–it’s why i don’t go anymore, but it’s like i feel about so many churches–it’s so hard to find one that isn’t trying to entertain (like so many AA speakers do) the ridiculous clapping for the people who made coffee or set up the chairs–what about the big “H” of AA, Humility? Also churches that have become more about what YOU need to do, instead of what Christ has already done: they’re all about how tos/methods–AA is so similiar in that respect. What about POWERLESSNESS. This is the key of the gospel message, we are powerless to change ourselves. And i could go on about the clicks and the people who put their keys on chairs to save them for their friends…What ever happened towelcoming the newcomer–hmmm? i find that oh so important, but most regulars have forgotten what it is to me new and clueless—I am all for the principles of AA, but we people always seems to want to come in and mess things up, so I don’t go anymore–and yes, I realize it’s take what you want and leave the rest–right now i really don’t want any of it….in the beginning it was “What are they talking about?” then, “Eureka–this is amazing!” and now it’s just tiresome. I’d rather be at home with a good book–right now reading Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian life and the Anatomy of Melancholy….

    • Chaz says:

      Hi Cyndi…. been a while… good to hear from you again.

      What you mention about not going to meetings anymore is what I am trying to be cautious about. I want to continue to give to and receive from the 12 Step recovery community that has been so helpful to me and others.

      I suppose that I am becoming a little disappointed in now being able to see the flaws in how it is practiced. Any and ever group and endeavor has flaws. Yet we can’t make a healthy lifestyle out of jumping from group to group just because something bugs us. Which is why I am exploring why I am bothered.

      I am sorry to hear that you have been so turned off that you stopped altogether. I do hope you find an alternative to help remain sober and recovering.

      I dont believe for a moment what many Big Book thumpers preach that if you quit AA you will die. It is not that linear. However, I am not prepared to take the chance for myself because when I go out, I go out hard. Booze and cocaine are not a formula for a good life.

      I agree with many of the questions you ask. Such as what about powerlessness, and how do we really treat newcomers? And I too am also a fan of Watchman Nee’s writings. They are profound.

      So thanks for adding to the dialogue. Hope to see you more often.

  5. Tommy Simpson says:

    Chaz I always admire your posts, for they have a quality of truth you have learned in your recovery. I would like to comment on the ego and my battle of recovery. In 1969 I was a $320 a day smack head. I had never considered it to be a problem, as a matter of fact I loved myself when I was in nowhereville. But it did not take long for me to realize how much trouble I was in. When I finally got to the bottom I went to a live-in community drug assistance organization in an old hotel. no one probably even remembers it now but it was called Synanon. It worked using several techniques which attacked the ego. The idea was not to destroy the ego. The procedures attacked a persons symptoms, causing the person to want to be right. You could simplify it by saying it was an attitude adjustment of the ego. I am no expert on id and ego. But I do know when I went to Synanon I was a 5’9″, 21 year old man who weighed 57 lbs. I could not hide what I was because I had tracks on the back of my hands and arms. They were so calloused they felt like wood. I would have done anything to get the next hit. That was a long time ago; today it is 40 years later and I am still clean.

    • Chaz says:

      Wow Tommy…. I was not aware of that part of your story.

      I have often wondered about the notion of crushing the ego completely. What about the part of our ego that compels us toward good and honourable things? Speaking for myself, for example, I feel really good about being able to look myself in the mirror knowing I am true to my wife. I am not one of these guys who flirts with the girls at work, AA, or anywhere else. I feel called to be a man of integrity in my marriage and ego is part of what helps me not want to be something beneath that. Ego helps me not want to compromise in this area. So perhaps, if this is any example, ego has a healthy side.

      What perhaps, in its purest intent, AA teaching seeks to destroy the harmful parts of our ego. Who knows.

      Is this what the program you were in attempted to do?

      • Tommy Simpson says:

        I believe so. After coming off withdrawals (which everybody had to do cold turkey), you were given a very low task. I was assigned to cleaning toilettes. Everybody was given a very low job when they came in and then you worked yourself up. There were meetings frequently where what you had done was attacked by the others. Each person had a turn on the hot seat, and when someone else was on the spot you could attack them (only rule no violence). Some of the meetings were 24 or more hours long. The first one I was in Blacky attacked me for the way I held the wash cloth, if I was going to do the job I should do it right. This was a symptom of my addiction, I always tried to get done and gone and not worrying about how I did it. The things attacked were external symptoms without psychoanalysis (I was only 21 but I knew all the right answers to give the psychologists). The general attitude was if you start looking and acting like a decent human being, soon you will start thinking like one.
        At the time it was believed a smack head could not be rehabilitated. Synanon was the first which was successful at this. It was not for just smack heads though, it was for anybody with any type of chemical dependence (smack head, speed freak, alchy). There was no seperation by what our type of dependence was, we worked together to rehabilitate each other.

  6. At my first pass at this post, I thought, maybe you need to find new meetings. Then, I thought, if you see a problem of such import, if you are a member of a group, maybe a group conscience is in order to take stock of where that meeting is going. ok enough about that …

    It is true that the party line is that we should “Crush the ego.” And that ego plays no part in getting sober, I have said and I say often, you can’t get sober and keep your ego. I have made some enemies in the program. People who do not like me just on principle. Humility is something we cultivate in ourselves by practicing the principles and working our steps. Yes, we celebrate milestones and cakes, but if you are celebrating notoriety, and pumping up someones ego then maybe you need to check your motives.

    It seems interesting that you chose this topic, having not written much in a while. When was the last time you hit a meeting? And is that meeting healthy for you, or do you need a change of people and personalities? I’ve heard reports of sobriety out west from some of our people who have visited there, and they say nothing but good things.

    I wonder if you are having problems with some people and personalities? If ego is popping up as an issue in your sobriety, that is a tell. Have you a sponsor that challenges you to grow or are you flying solo these days. People with time cannot afford to let their ego dictate how they treat others. If you aren’t getting what you need and you can’t reconcile your ego with the group that has forced you to write this piece, change your people and places. Before you fuck up your program.


    • Chaz says:

      Hey Jer…. thanks for the rich reflections.

      Thanks also for the wise caution to not F up my program 🙂 Crude as you put it, that is indeed what I am trying to avoid. Thank for putting it so vividly.

      When was the last time I hit a meeting? Well prior to last Sunday… probably a week before that I had been at a meeting. I also participate in a 2-man meeting most weeks. Just me and another guy in recovery. We both felt a little allergic to the drama in bigger public meetings so we began meeting at the polar opposite side of the spectrum…. 2 guys in a coffee shop with nobody to impress.

      I also have enjoyed visiting other meetings outside of my area recently. When one is a stranger to a meeting, one is less prone to be distracted by or be drawn into a particular meeting’s drama.

      I hope my point is clear…. I have a deep gratitude and respect for the process of AA. It has helped me get and remain sober where other methods have failed. So I am a believer. I simply find the need to delineate between simple, effective AA and all of the extraneous “stuff” such as politics, egos, and drama that goes on when mulititudes of people join together for an endeavor of importance.

      And yes, our out west neck o the woods does appear to have solid and effective AA communities. So sobriety and recovery are happening. So maybe it is more to do with me? I am only after discovery, not agenda. I wish only for more to be revealed. Thanks for helping it along.

  7. Chaz says:

    Tommy…. sounds pretty intense. It obviously helped you get clean and sober. Who are any of us to say what works for one person or another? Am sure you took good from the experience and applied what you did to recovery. Thanks for sharing your story.


  8. eddiered says:

    Thank you for the post. I can definitely feel what you are saying. I think our egos can prevent us from really connecting with people. Our egos can get in the way being present in the moment. I don’t think it is fair to say that all old-timers have some ego problem although I think that most of us (humans) do. I know many old-timers in AA who I would consider ‘humble.’ I know that my ego can get in the way of me living and it is something that I try to be aware of so that I can be present for life. I got help getting sober from a place called New Life House. Check out their site if you are looking for help. They helped me build a foundation for my recovery. New Life House – A Structured Sober Living

    • Chaz says:

      Thanks Eddie… glad the post was helpful. I certainly agree that not ALL old timers drift from humility. In fact, it is probably only a small proportion. Even AA’s own literature talks about “bleeding deacons” who would be old-timers who drift into ego-centred thinking around how things ought to be.

      Yes, I’ve seen your link. Thanks.

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