One of many slogans from Alcoholics Anonymous, this particular catchphrase is one of the more popular, ranking right up there with “One Day at a Time,” “Let Go and Let God”,and “God never gives us more than we can handle.” Generally speaking, what it means is this: each of us -- living as we do, alone, inside our own little minds – has a tendency to compare the turmoil we feel on the inside with the apparent placidity, tranquility, and “got it togetherness” that often cloaks the outside of those around us.
Of course, this is a flawed comparison. Except in the most extreme of circumstances, you can be fairly confident that everyone around you is at least as messed up as you are. That’s just the way the world works. And while you’re sitting there comparing yourself unfavorably to your co-worker, he’s probably looking at you from inside his own little mind-trap, and doing the exact same thing.
The reason this slogan is particularly important in a 12-step program is that twelve-steppers are, generally speaking, very fragile creatures. Sometimes all it takes is a little “discouragement by comparison” to set someone off, and back into a humiliating, if not life-threatening, relapse. So the slogan is there to remind us not to place too much stock in the appearances of those around us. While our neighbor may seem on the surface to have it all figured out, he may actually be one step away from destruction himself.
There is also a reason this slogan – and the approach it encompasses – is so successful in AA. When twelve-steppers come into the program, they can shed as much of their lives as they want. They don’t have to talk about their family, their jobs, their kids. They don’t even have to give their name.
But what every twelve-stepper has in common, rich or poor, young or old, is a fatal inability to control the corrosive influence of alcohol in their lives. Every single one of them has a story, unique in itself, about how alcohol brought them down and made their lives unmanageable. And that means that each one of them has something in common on the “inside.”
It’s what can make a meeting so incredibly effective. Because while it is often very easy to lie to oneself (“Just one drink wouldn’t hurt me”), it’s almost impossible to put one over on someone who has stood in your shoes. And, knowing that each person you talk to at a meeting shares your struggle with alcohol, it makes it so much easier to accept their advice and comments for what they are – a sincere effort to help you win your daily battle with alcohol.