Salvation for Drunk Punks

There is hope for you after all, and without bringing God into it.

What are alcoholic punk rockers to do? All of their lives have been spent fighting the system, avoiding the masses, rejecting a deity, and living on their own terms. When the time comes for some of them to realize that they have a problem with drugs or alcohol, their only option to get clean and stay clean is usually a free 12-step program, decidedly out of the confines of the Betty Ford Center.

A 12-step program asks a lot from you, like surrendering to a "higher power," joining a group, and following "rules," something that anyone who considers themselves to be an outsider or a rebel of any kind would avoid like it were jury duty. However, most of us probably know someone who is in AA whom we never thought in a million years would ever join, let alone bring the doughnuts and make the coffee. Finally, someone just like that has written a book, Get Up: A 12-Step Guide to Recovery for Misfits, Freaks & Weirdos, by Bucky Sinister.

Sinister is a longtime Bay Area scenester and poet who is now living sober after years of heavy drinking (up to two pints of whiskey a day). He talks about being too drunk to perform at poetry readings, spending his entire Sundays drinking at the Kilowatt, and being buried in self-doubt and debilitating feelings of failure that only made him drink more. It's hard to tell which came first with Sinister, the punk or the drunk. He perfectly sums up the "Anarchy! Beer!" shtick that some gutter punks seem to have: "I believed the government and organized religion were oppressing us. ... While cigarettes and alcohol were perfectly legal, marijuana wasn't, and you can make pants and paper out of marijuana. To show my protest against such abusive powers, I drank as much hard liquor as I could get my underage hands on."

Mr. Sinister offers un-preachy advice on how to kick the bad habits.
Mr. Sinister offers un-preachy advice on how to kick the bad habits.

In Get Up, Sinister walks the reader through each of the 12 steps, all the while addressing the obvious questions that any self-respecting libertine named Sinister would have. For example, how do I surrender to a higher power when I think God is bullshit? Sinister spends a large part of the book confronting this. He is an atheist himself, but he decided that instead of God, he would surrender to what he pictured to be his ideal self, or the man that he wanted to be. He also doesn't reject the idea of faith, in itself, nor does he disparage the camaraderie that comes from storytelling at meetings. In short, he gets spiritual without bringing God into it. He also talks about the supposed serenity that all recovering addicts are promised. "What is serenity," he jokingly asks, "other than an inappropriate name for a stripper?" For Sinister, serenity is simply the opposite of all the chaos that goes along with addiction.

The book is refreshingly un-preachy and seems mostly geared to those people who have already taken the first step — admitting that they were powerless over a substance and that their lives had become unmanageable. The author is not Dr. Phil with a nose ring; he will not help you figure out if you are an addict. Sinister's book is meant to be a bridge between the AA Big Book and the doubting drunk who is convinced that the steps are not for him. I use the male pronoun "he" because the book is very much geared toward males just like Sinister. Women will find some good things on its pages as well, but generally it is targeting newly sober men.

One surprisingly helpful section of the book breaks personality types down based on the characters from the A-Team. Are you Hannibal (orderly, overachieving), B.A. (intimidating, unpredictable), Murdock (prankster, artistic), or Face (charming, untruthful)? Most of us have some attributes from all four, but could stand to bone up on our Murdock, for example. Perhaps we are too introverted and would benefit from performing on stage in local theater. Or maybe we are a lot like Face and need a jolt of humility. The book lays out what each type is like as an addict and in recovery, and the pros and cons of each type. For example, B.A. as an addict: "No one dared burn you on a drug deal, although some of them were afraid you were a cop ... You've made bongs out of everything but other bongs. Some of those bongs had mechanical parts." In recovery, the B.A. type might have a hard time finding a sponsor, but once they find the right one, their progress will be rapid. "Your goals, once realized, are targeted and achieved." It seems like a silly exercise, but in fact Sinister is getting the reader started on the fourth step, where you look at yourself honestly and try to take positive steps toward the person that you want to be.

Get Up will strike a nerve in the recovery movement, which has heretofore had to convince certain people that it wasn't as lame as it seemed. Now, at least, meeting secretaries have a book that they can recommend to the guy in the Leftover Crack T-shirt who sat in the back the entire time with a scowl on his face and his arms crossed tightly across his chest. And though the book is definitely eccentric, it still holds the same appeal that most recovery books promise: the feeling of empowerment that you get when you are done reading it. Anyone who reads the book will think to themselves, dang, if that guy can do it, I can do it. One day at a time.

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