Paul Carr's War on Alcoholics Anonymous
He is Sober, but Hates AA — and O'Doul's
March 21, 2012
BY Alexander Nazaryan
Paul Carr loves sobriety. But unlike many others who’ve left the drinking life behind, he despises Alcoholics Anonymous. That much is blatantly clear from his new book, “Sober Is my New Drunk: 850 Days (and Counting) Without Booze or AA: A Comedy in Twelve Steps,” published as a Byliner Originals ebook.
That hatred comes across loud and clear when I call Carr, who now lives in Las Vegas -- not exactly a beacon of sobriety, though he claims that it is a lovely, sane place once you get off the Strip. (Photo of Paul Carr / Richard Moross)
“It’s kind of like a religion,” Carr says of AA, his British accent still audible despite his having long lived in the United States, mostly in San Francisco. The acolytes of its 12 steps are “incapable of accepting there’s any other way.” As for the pathology of alcoholism that AA takes as its gospel: “It’s not a disease, there’s no test for it.”
And yet Carr’s own book is composed of 12 steps, in transparent mockery of AA’s program. Some of Carr’s steps do hold practical advice for the potential alcoholic: For example, “Pull Yourself Together” (#4) and “Replace Your Ridiculous Drunken Stories with Ridiculous Sober Ones” (#8). Then again, #12 is “Forget Everything You’ve Just Read,” in a final affront to an organization whose church-basement meetings Carr has never attended, but which he loathes nevertheless.
But this is not a self-help book. It is a memoir thinly disguised as one - the memoir of an entrepreneurial Brit who constantly seems to be finding himself accepting a drink, and then another, and then kissing a girl whose name he does not know and then being driven somewhere, and then waking up, God and Jack Daniels knows where, hungover and dressed in a tuxedo.
Carr bristles at what he calls a puritanical American drinking culture, saying that “drinking is much more evil” here than back in Europe, where it is not uncommon to drink during lunch, or to excess, or even both. And yet by the time he was nearing 30, he knew that he was drinking far too much - a realization that would have been evident to readers of Carr’s first book, "Bringing Nothing to the Party: True Confessions of a New Media Whore,” or of his popular Tech Crunch blog, which he no longer authors.
“My problem was that once I had a drink...I could not stop until my body shut down and I passed out in a pile on the floor,” he writes “Sober Is My New Drunk”. By almost any definition, that’s a problem. But Carr sure as hell wasn’t going to solve it with the gospel of AA, not with its turning “to almighty God for his magical, sobering powers” - especially not, as Carr points out, when “this is...the same God who taught his son to turn water into wine.”
He witheringly continues, “AA breeds an ‘it’s not my fault’ mentality that refuses to accept that anyone can ever truly be cured of the ‘disease’ of alcoholism.” Brushing aside years of medical wisdom, Carr says that alcoholism is a problem, but one that is not without solution.
So when he quit, he quit cold turkey - and has kept it going in the three years since his last drink. Perhaps the most novel thing Carr did (and advises others to emulate) is make a public announcement that he was on the wagon. He says that recovering alcoholics should shout their sobriety from the rooftops of Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr, in a preemptive warning to those who might think of buying them a drink.
Otherwise, his method boils down to willpower and distraction. And on more than one occasion, he admits that some people may need help, may even need AA - a hint that, at least to some slight degree, his hostility may be a posture.
For its part, AA refused to comment on Carr's criticism of its methods. "I don't need to look at what he's written," a press secretary in the organization's New York offices told me.
Today, in Las Vegas, Carr is working on new ventures (a blog series he did for the Huffington Post about high-end hotels turned into “The Upgrade: A Cautionary Tale of a Life Without Reservations”) and improbably excited about Sin City as a livable place - we will have to take his word on that. He says that his general love of ebooks, as well as the hesitation to write another full length book on drinking, led him to choose the Byliner route. “It didn’t need that many words,” he says of his latest effort.
Indeed, while I had expected a measure of bluster, he seemed generally agreeable - until I asked him his opinion on non-alcoholic beer, at which point began a diatribe I will not reprint here. “It tastes like nothing...Just drink Diet Coke,” Carr advised those poor souls contemplating an O’Doul’s.
On that one point, even AA would agree.
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