The Language of Recovery
When people first attend Alcoholics Anonymous, or any other recovery group, they can be bit confused or even intimidated by the terminology used. It can even seem like the regular members are speaking a different language. Please don’t be too concerned as this is just like any group of people who are committed to any special interest, there are always a lot of words and slogans that have special meaning. Basically having these words helps members communicate something that they are experiencing. Fortunately, it doesn’t usually take too long to become familiar with the language used in the rooms.
To help you have a little better understanding today, below are some of the most common words and phrases you will hear in a meeting. Please know that we have used AA as the basis of these explanations as it is the foundation all other 12 Step programs. If you are involved or considering being involved with any recovery program, these explanations will help you too.
AA Meetings: An important aspect of the program of Alcoholics Anonymous is regular attendance at meetings. Going to meetings often provides hope that a new life can happen, because a person can identify with others who have suffered in a similar way and they can see that there are those in the group who have found a sustainable solution. This is an environment where people can discuss their concerns and get support. It is also where they learn how to apply the 12 program to their lives. Lastly, meetings are also for those who have found a solution; the shares of those who are just starting out reminds the more experienced member what it was like when they began.
Addiction: An addiction is anything a person wants to stop doing but cannot end on their own will power.
Alcoholism: Alcoholism is an allergic reaction to drinking alcohol that affects a person both physically and mentally. One alcohol enters into an alcoholics body, they lose the ability to control who much they drink. The body just craves more and more. When without alcohol in there person’s system, the alcoholic obsesses over getting drunk so that they can find a sense of comfort and ease that only comes from drinking alcohol. Alcoholic drinkers cannot stop on their own even if they want to and therefore they require assistance in ending their drinking. Alcoholism is the only fatal disease that must be self-diagnosed for an effective treatment to be received.
Anniversary: This is the date when people stop drinking. Many members like to celebrate this date each year as an achievement or milestone in their journey of self-discovery. It is also commonly referred to as their AA birthday. AA anniversaries are important as it is a testimony that the 12 Step program does work over long periods of time.
Anonymity: AA is based on a foundation that puts an emphasis on anonymity. This is not only to protect the privacy of the individual members, it is also to provide a safe place to share personal matters with others. What a person shares in a meeting about their life should never be repeated again, even in another group meeting.
Attachment: An attractive thought about a person, place or thing. Attraction is an illusion.
Aversion: A thought that drives a person away from a person, place or thing. Aversion is an illusion.
Big Book: The Big Book is the documentation of the AA process of recovery and the most important piece of literature used by the group. It contains full details of the 12 Step program. It is common to hear readings from the book at meeting as it is the basic text of the fellowship. The teachings are so important to a person’s recovery that some members can recite passages without even looking at the text.
Big Book Thumpers: This is slang for those members who seem to be always quoting from the Big Book. Often they tend to be quite outspoken in their views of how other people should be ‘working the program’. The evangelical approach of big book thumpers can be off putting to some people but the intention is to keep the message true to the original text.
Bill W: Bill Wilson is one of the founding members of AA. Alcoholism almost destroyed his sanity, but he managed to quit with the help of a Christian group. Later, he was on the verge of relapsing but instead he tried to help another alcoholic. This meeting with Dr Bob is considered to be the birth of Alcoholics Anonymous and why helping another alcoholic is the foundation of AA. Asking other people if they are a friend of Bill W. is a subtle way of finding out if they are a member of the fellowship.
Blackout: One of the most worrying symptoms of alcohol abuse is the blackout. This is where excessive alcohol intake leads to memory loss. Many alcoholics will have done things they deeply regret while in the midst of one of these blackouts, so shame often can accompany the confusion. Not every alcoholic will experience this type of amnesia and it is not a requirement for a person to be an alcoholic.
Breaking Anonymity: Most members will tell close friends and family that they are a member of the fellowship. They might also break their anonymity in order to help a struggling alcoholic. However, it is never acceptable to break anonymity of another person as it may cause harm to that member or the group as a whole.
Carry the Message | Character Defects | Chips | Choice | Closed Meetings | Co-Dependency | Conference Approved Literature | Conscious Contact | Contrary Action | Control | Controlled Drinking | Cross Talk
Carry the Message: The primary purpose of AA meetings is to carry the message to suffering alcoholics. Those who have completed the 12 Steps are also encouraged to “pay-it-forward” and do all they realistically can to help those who are still struggling with their addiction. Many alcoholics rely of helping the person who still suffers for maintaining their sobriety but many also do this out of gratitude for their life being saved. Carrying the message gives many alcoholics lives a sense of meaning and purpose.
Character Defects: Giving up alcohol does not mean that people will become perfect overnight. They are certain to still have a number of character defects. These are imperfections in their personality and behavior that get in the way of finding complete happiness. People are not expected to completely eradicate their character defects. However, they should work towards eliminating those that interfere with the quality of their life the most.
Chips: Chips are a type of medallion that is given to people for achieving a certain length of sobriety. It is to remind the person of what they have achieved and to honor their commitment to stay sober. Newcomers who have not yet managed to get sober may be awarded a desire chip if they express the wish to stay sober for the next 24 hours. There are also usually chips for achieving sobriety for 1 day, 1 month, ninety days, six months, 1 year, and every year after that. These chips have no real monetary value but they can be a priceless possession for many members.
Choice: Choice is the only real power anyone of has. We can each choose what affects us and how we respond. Then we can choose how to respond to the outcome of our initial choice.
Closed Meetings: Some AA meetings are open to friends and family while some are not. The closed meeting is only open to individuals who are trying to recover from an alcohol addiction. Those individuals who are worried about their privacy may prefer to stick to this type of meeting.
Co-Dependency: Relying upon someone else’s satisfaction for your self worth to be confirmed. This is often referred to in meetings as being a “people pleaser”.
Conference Approved Literature: This refers to books, pamphlets, audio, and video material that has been approved by the Alcoholics Anonymous General Service Office. These are the official pieces of information from AA. There are also many valuable resources available that are not GSO approved. If it is not GSO approved, it only means that they should not be taken as representing the views of the organization.
Conscious Contact: This refers to how members will try to come in closer contact with their higher power. The hope is that such an awareness will mean that they will be able to manage life far more successfully than on ego alone. Basically it means living a more spiritual life.
Contrary Action: This is doing the opposite of what you instinctively would do in the past. For example, if you would normally avoid a difficult decision, you don’t ignore it. If you want to get high, you abstain. You want to tell some person off, you keep your mouth shut. Although this can sometimes be referred to in recovery as “fake it until you make it”, it is a very real and proven training behavior modification technique.
Control: While the meaning of this word may seem obvious, who we try to control people may not be. The need to control is intoxicating and often an addiction in itself. Even complying with another person, despite not really wanting to, is an attempt at control.
Controlled Drinking: Basically this means a person can stop drinking after just a few. If a person is really an alcoholic, they will not be able to control the amount the can consume after the effect of the alcohol is present, so attempting controlled drinking is something that is not recommended in Alcoholics Anonymous. The idea that they can regain this control is a common excuse for relapse because once an alcoholic individual has lost control of their ability to control the amount consumed, they can never get it back. Most members will have attempted to control their drinking in various ways before coming to AA.
Cross Talk: Cross talk is where one member speaks directly to another member during the middle of a meeting, usually to offer unsolicited advice. This type of communication is not encouraged as unsolicited advice is often perceived as an insult. The purpose of sharing at meetings is to discuss things from a personal point of view and not to lecture other people.
Daily Inventory: The process of recovery actually is a process of discovery because it involves looking back at the end of the day to see how things have gone well and what could be improved. There is also a recommendation to do this throughout the day which is sometimes referred to as a “spot check”. This is just like the daily inventory- being mindful of the motives involved an date consequences of actions- but in a less formal manner. Both methods are extremely beneficial.
Daily Reprieve: AA does not believe that it is possible to cure alcoholics; once a person has lost the ability to control their drinking it never returns. However, there are millions of alcoholics that do not get drunk because they focus on just one day at a time. (Just for today I will not get high.) Therefore, abstinence is possible. These single days turn into weeks, months and years of not picking up. Sobriety really is a daily reprieve dependent on the individual in recovery doing a few simple suggestions. One of them is not dwelling on the past or fearing the future because these are just thoughts; they are not real. If these negative ideas are held tightly and obsessed upon, they do have the power to overwhelm a person and eventually the alcoholic will return to the coping mechanism of getting high. A daily reprieve is a way of life that is based upon the concept that the only reality is the present moment.
Deflecting: Deflecting is excuse making. It is an attempt at directing the blame towards another so the person at fault has little to no accountability in a situation. Many times in a co-dependent relationship this happens.
Denial: Denial is an act of declaring something to be untrue and is a common defense mechanism. People will use it when they do not wish to face reality. Sometimes in their mind they will redirect their accountability towards another person as to shift the blame. Denial is especially common in addiction. If people begin to use this coping mechanism in recovery, it may be a sign that they are on the slippery slope to relapse.
Discussion Meeting: This is a type of meeting where members discuss a specific topic. When members are sharing, they need to avoid rambling too far away from the topic of the meeting.
Disease of Alcoholism: The disease of alcoholism is favored by AA. It views the condition as a progressive disease with specific symptoms and therefore not a moral failing. It also recognizes that alcoholism as an incurable but treatable condition.
Disease of Perception: This is a phrase used to describe rationalization, justification, and denial. The reason why its referred to as a disease as this type of think will lead a person to, or allow them to continue, harmful behavior. For an addict or alcoholic that can very likely mean death.
Dr. Bob: Dr. Bob Smith is one of the founding members of AA. His importance to the founding is sometimes overshadowed by Bill Wilson’s contribution but if not for Dr. Bob’s position in the medical community, the treatment of alcoholism as a disease may not have happened. He also was a member of the Oxford Group, a fellowship focusing upon early Christianity, and therefore contributed greatly in the spiritual aspect of the healing process offered by the 12 Steps.
Drunk Dream: Sometimes sober alcoholics will have dreams where they are back drinking alcohol again. This is considered common and perfectly normal. There is no need for concern if the person who has had the dream realizes it is just an imagined scenario and therefore has no real power unless they allow it.
Dry Drunk: Sometimes people will give up their alcohol addiction but not make any other changes to their life. They still are exhibiting the same thoughts and actions that they did when drinking. Dry drunks tend to be full of negativity and resentment. They repeat the harmful actions they did before they quit. Their family and friends may find them as hard to be around as when they were in the midst of addiction. Some people will experience this syndrome for a short period while others will remain like this for the long term. In the meetings they often talk about people as dry drunks because they haven’t touched alcohol in years but have not yet managed to have much, if any, peace in their non-drinking life.
Enabling: Enabling is when loved ones try to protect the alcoholic from the damage they are causing. Such efforts are done out of compassion, but they may be damaging if they prevent the individual from hitting rock bottom and genuinely asking for help. If they individual is allowed to experience the full brunt of their actions then this can help them see beyond denial.
Envy: Obsessive thoughts that center around desiring something that someone else possesses.
Fake It Until You Make It: This is doing the opposite of what you have done in the past, although you still desire to continue doing that behavior. It is not false as it is a genuine technique to change or modify harmful habits.
Fear: The fears that are spoken about in recovery are about aversions (which are strong feelings about something a person deeply dislikes). For example- a person fears getting into trouble again or relapsing. Both scenarios have happened in the past but if the person stays diligent in their recovery program, it’s unlikely that either of those concerns will happen. Fears are afterthoughts that are provoked by a stimulus that reminds a person of previous situations. These types of fears are not facts but strong feelings.
Fellowship: A fellowship refers to a group of people who share similar goals. For example, Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship where the common goal is to stay sober and to carry the message that there is a better life available to a person who still suffers from alcoholism.
Free Will: Free will is a God given right. We all have the ability to choose what affects us and how to respond. Every idea, every action, every reaction, is the result of a choice. A person is only powerless when they have given away the right to choose.
Geographical Cure: This is when people try to escape their alcoholism by moving to a new location. They have rationalized that the problems are circumstantial and therefore solved by a new environment. Such attempts to cure the problem this way are typically unlikely because the individual will be taking their addiction with them.
God’s Will: God’s Will is something that is talked about a lot in recovery and for most it is a mystery. That being said, we can break this phrase down by looking at the two words. “God”, as you understand him and the word “will” -which is an idea or motivation. So “God’s Will” is another way of saying of being in alignment with your Higher Power’s motivations. Seeking God’s Will for your life is thinking and acting in a manner that echoes your understanding of God.
Grandiosity: This is when people have an inflated sense of their own importance and sometimes is an overcompensation for feeling inferior to others. Grandiosity can prevent people from benefiting from the AA meetings as they believe that they are above those who are also in the program. A sense of humility and open-mindedness is required in order to learn from other people.
Gratitude List: Negative thinking can be dangerous for people who are recovering from an addiction as it can lead an attitude of indifference. A person who dwells on only problems many times can just give up trying to change and therefore apathy can eventually kill. A gratitude list is where people write down all the good things in their life that they appreciate. Looking at such a list can remind a person that they are not as bad off as they believe they are and encourage optimism. It provides real reason for hope.
Group Consciousness: AA is a democratic fellowship. If there are any important decisions to be made that will affect a group then there needs to be a vote. This is usually held before or after the regular meeting and all members get to have their say in a decision that affects the group. It also contributes to a person realizing that even though they may feel strongly about a matter, other people do too and the ultimate importance is what is good for the group. It reinforces the idea that life is not all about you.
Guilt: Guilt is not meeting a standard of society. A person can break a law and be guilty but not have any shame (violating a personal standard). Regardless of the person’s thoughts and emotions about what they have or have not done, the are objectively guilty. Many people who practice denial will say they are not guilty until they are caught. Of course that does not change the fact that eventually they will be held accountable for their actions.
H.A.L.T.: HALT is an acronym for; hungry, angry, lonely, and tired. These are common relapse triggers that can be avoided by recognizing them and responding in a manner that is not harmful. Many time that is doing just the opposite of what the person’s instincts say. A good example is keeping your mouth shut and not yelling when angry.
High Bottom Drunk: Many people manage to escape their alcohol addiction before they cause too much damage to their life. Such individuals are sometimes referred to as high bottom drunks. We believe that externally there are different bottoms but at the core a bottom is when a person makes a commitment to change and then does not change their mind about the decision regardless of what does or does not happen.
Higher Power: A vital element of the AA program is accepting that some power great than the individual can help the person defeat their addiction. It is not required by AA that anyone believe in any particular concept; just that life will be better if they apply the 12 Steps to their life. This is why non-believers can feel comfortable with AA. There is no rule that says that people need to have God as their higher power. They may decide to choose the power of the group to be their higher power instead. However, for many people, this higher power is referred to as God. What exactly that means is very personal and therefore likely to differ from your thoughts. The words used to describe how this power is working in the person’s life may be different but the core message may be really the same. Never the less, this does not mean either person is wrong, just that they have different ideas and emphasis. Regardless of what a person does or doesn’t believe, the AA way is to seek out the Truth.
Hitting Rock Bottom: Hitting rock bottom does not mean that the individual needs to lose everything in order to become sober. Some people will hit rock bottom without causing too much damage to their life. To hit a “bottom”, they just have to reach a point where they’ve had enough and are willing to do things differently. This often includes accepting wise advice and changing habits. Ultimately, it is up to each individual to decide when they’ve had enough and are willing to accept help.
Home Group: Most AA members will have one group that they attend most frequently. This is referred to as their home group. It is beneficial to have one regular group because it makes it possible to build relationships with other members. This increases the likelihood of success significantly.
Illusion: An imagined idea; not real but still a very powerful influence on a person’s actions.
Insanity: A word often used to describe a mental instability but in recovery it actually means distortion of the truth. For example, continuing self-abusive habits is insane. However, if a person is rationalizing and justifying harmful behaviors to continue doing something, it is not necessarily because of a mental imbalance. It is because they are subjectively seeing the facts and adjusting them to meet a reality that is acceptable to the individual.
Inventory: A personal assessment of assets and liabilities. This is an exercise in discerning the truth in our lives; not who is right or what is wrong.
Jealousy: Obsessive thought about losing something or someone a person feels entitled to.
Letting Go: Letting go is not giving up. Letting go is surrendering any attachments to people, outcomes and situations.
Low Bottom Drunk: Some individuals have to lose plenty in life before they are finally ready to accept help. Such people are sometimes referred to as low bottom drunks. We believe that externally there are different bottoms but at the core a bottom is when a person makes a commitment to improving their life.
Meditation: There are many forms of mediation. No method is necessarily better than another. What they do all have in common is being focused on the moment. This is just the opposite of dwelling on the past (regret) or focusing on the future (worry).
Ninety in Ninety: This refers to the advice that new members attend ninety meetings in ninety days. This will allow them time to build a good foundation in the program. It will also ensure that they have adequate support during the difficult early months of sobriety.
Non-Dualistic Thinking: Dual thinking is the idea that something is either “right or wrong” “good or bad”. It is a black or white “either/or” way of thinking. Non-dualistic thinking is a neutral approach that includes all that is known. It is our ability to read reality in a way that is not judgmental, in a way that is not exclusionary of the part that we don’t understand. It allows paradox to exist. For example, no one is entirely good or bad. We all have some assets and we all have liabilities. This way of thinking will allow a person to know something that could change everything.
Old Timer: This is a member who has many years of sobriety and serenity. Many times they are also referred to as “someone who has what I want”. Such individuals typically can be a good resource to turn to for inspiration and advice.
Open Meeting: This is a meeting that is open to the general public. If people are concerned about protecting their anonymity, they might want to avoid open meetings.
Oxford Group: The Oxford Group was an evangelical Christian movement that inspired the founding members of AA. Much of the 12 Step program came directly from this group.
People Pleaser: Also called co-dependency; being a people pleaser is relying upon someone else’s satisfaction for yourself worth to be confirmed.
Pink Cloud: Early sobriety can be an emotional rollercoaster. The pink cloud refers to a period when members can feel overwhelmingly happy. Such high feelings may be dangerous if people become overconfident about their recovery. The individual can also feel a sense of disappointment when the pink cloud ends.
Powerlessness: Powerless is perhaps one the most important and most misunderstood words in recovery. In the context of an addiction, it does not mean weakness, it means lack of control. Being powerless over drugs or alcohol does not mean the person who is addicted is weak. In fact, just the opposite as most addicts are actually very strong when you look at what they have endured.
Preamble: This is read at the start of AA meetings and outlines the primary purpose of the group: helping people stay sober.
Problem Drinker: Problem drinkers are those who have difficulties related to drinking alcohol but are able to stop or moderate their drinking on their own power.
Promises: On page 83 of the Big Book is a list of promises that outline what people can expect if they faithfully follow the program. Included is the chance to develop serenity.
Recovering Alcoholic: Alcoholics are never cured from the allergy of alcohol; if they drink any alcohol they will still not be able to control the amount that they take in. Therefore, they are afflicted for life and the best an alcoholic can do is recover from the disease one day at a time. If you would like to envision what the result of this looks like over time, it is perhaps best recognized as gratitude.
Relapse: This occurs when people return to active alcoholism. It is no longer viewed as a catastrophe but as an opportunity for learning more and better strategies for overcoming urges and for identifying the moods and situations that are likely to be difficult.
Resentment: Resentments are unfulfilled expectations. Its when a person expects someone to treat them differently than they actually did and they are still holding on to that memory. Basically a resentment is a mental process of repeating a feeling that surrounds a thought about the past.
Rule 62: This is a reminder to members that they should not take themselves too seriously.
Selfishness: Placing oneself as being more important than anyone else. Often addict sand alcoholics will act in a manner that disregards anyone else but themselves without having any malicious intent. Hurting those around them is intention, they are just only thinking about themselves.
Serenity: Those who manage to fully incorporate the 12 Step program into their life may reach a stage known as serenity. This means that no matter what is happening in their life they will almost always experience a sense of inner peace and joy. This is the objective of practicing the 12 Step lifestyle.
Service: Helping other people in recovery is a great way to strengthen sobriety. There are many opportunities for service within AA but there are also other way to being of service. All you need to do is think more of another person than yourself for a moment and you will probably recognize a way to be of assistance. And if you are not sure of how to help anyone, do your best not to harm anyone- including yourself.
Shame: Thoughts and emotions centering around not meeting an important personal standard. For example, a person can be ashamed of not graduating school. To others, this accomplishment may not be important and therefore they are not concerned or ashamed of not completing school. Therefore shame is a subjective way of looking at a situation.
Sharing: This is when people talk at the meetings. Typically a good share mentions what it was like before, what happened and what’s different now. Many in AA call this sharing your experience, strength and hope.
Sin: Sin is really not about being bad; it is about being disconnected form you Higher Power. Sin is separation from God.
Slip: When a person slips, they drink alcohol but automatically realize they have made a mistake. If they get help right away they can avoid a full-blown relapse.
Slippery Places: This refers to any venue where the individual will feel tempted to drink alcohol. Members are advised to not spend too much time around tempting situations. A common saying in the meetings is if you visit a barber shop regularly enough you will eventually get your hair cut.
Sobriety: Sobriety means more than just staying sober. It also means living a life based upon timeless principles.
Sponsee: A sponsee is a person who is being guided through the 12 Steps by an more experienced member of AA.
Sponsor: A sponsor is an experienced member who will be able to provide support and advice on a one-to-one basis. They are not a savior, a guru or psychologist. A sponsor’s primary purpose is to guide a person through the 12 Steps.
Stimulus: Stimulus is the beginning of emotions, thoughts and actions. Therefore, potentially almost anything can stimulate a person but it almost always is something that is personal. For example, if you had a bad experience, anything that reminds you of that experience can stimulate a response. This is also referred to as a “trigger” when the reaction to the stimulus is not thought out.
Stinking Thinking: This is flawed thinking- often dwelling on the negative aspects of a situation. Negative thinking can be dangerous for people in recovery. People may believe they are not worthy of a better life. Resentments towards themselves or others can lead towards excuses and rationalization. They may start to believe that staying sober is not really better than the life they lived before, so stinking thinking often leads to relapse.
Subjective: A perspective based upon personal thoughts and feelings. Often a subjective viewpoint is based upon an opinion not a fact.
Thirteenth Stepping: This is where more experienced members of the group take sexual advantage of vulnerable new members.
Threefold Illness: This refers to alcoholism to being a mental, physical and spiritual condition.
Trigger: Same as stimulus; a trigger is the beginning of emotions, thoughts and actions. Therefore potentially almost anything can trigger a reaction in a person but the trigger is almost always something that is highly personal. For example if you had a bad experience, anything that reminds you of that experience can trigger a reaction. Triggers are not always relapses but they are always an adapting of a memory into a current situation.
Truth: Truth is most often used to mean being in accord with fact or reality, or fidelity to an original or standard. Truth may also often be used in modern contexts to refer to an idea of “true to self,” or authenticity. The concept of truth is discussed and debated in several contexts, including philosophy, art, and religion. In recovery there are basically two kinds; subjective and objective. Subjective truths are personal and often based upon opinions. Objective truth is unbiased and based upon facts. Both are as real as the person makes them.
Twelve Steps: This is the AA program in the form of the steps that members should take to experience lasting change.
Twelve Traditions: These are the guidelines for how the meetings should be managed and how the organization functions. Basically the founders of AA knew alcoholics would not follow rules but they can recognize the benefits of having standards of conduct for the fellowship.
Two Stepper: This refers to those members who attend meetings but do not follow the AA program. (The two Steps this refers to are Steps one and twelve.)
Victim/Victimhood: Victims do not have a choice and tragically there are real victims in this world. However, when a person chooses not to accept responsibility they may say that they have no choice in the matter. Therefore in their mind a victim. Ironically, that choice negates them from being a real victim.
Vision: The strong personal conviction that something could be, and should be.