I never went to Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.), but 20 years ago I underwent a lifestyle change that involved an exercise and diet program (lowering my resting pulse rate from a rocketing 120 to a healthy 60 that I've maintained ever since), and a return to church and a spiritual path.
From a daily dependence on alcohol that periodically turned into binge drinking, I went for long periods of abstinence to times when I have a glass of wine with dinner or at a social function or celebration.
My friends in A.A. still refer to me as an alcoholic, since I've never done the 12-step program and still sometimes have that glass of wine.
One evening over dinner, I asked one of those friends if she'd mind not calling me an alcoholic, explaining that isn't how I define myself. I quoted the definition of alcoholism from my American Heritage Dictionary: "the excessive and habitual consumption of alcohol."
My friend wasn't comfortable with that definition and suggested we call a doctor to get a "medical definition." I said the dictionary definition was good enough for me, and if she saw it differently that was fine too; I simply wished she'd stop calling me an alcoholic. She suddenly said, "Screw it," picked up her purse and books, and stormed out of the restaurant.
One of the drinking buddies of my boozing days is an Irish fellow who also stopped drinking 20 years ago and has never had a drop since though he never asked for the help of AA, therapy, religion, or any self-help or spiritual programs. His friends in AA lament that he is, nevertheless, what they call "a dry drunk."
In my non-AA layperson's view, a "drunk" who doesn't drink is a contradiction in terms.
Dan Wakefield's books include "How Do We Know When It's God?" and 'Returning: A Spiritual Journey.' Visit his website.
I have the greatest respect and regard for A.A., which has saved millions of lives and, as Kurt Vonnegut has said, may even turn out to be America's most important contribution to Western civilization, not only for helping people conquer alcoholism but also for providing a network of "families" in an era of social breakdown and isolation. My argument with the program is its insistence on being the only
way to deal with the problem of alcoholism and seeing its views as the only legitimate ones on the subject.