War Cries by Shelly Marshall

Shelly Marshall

Traditionally, armies used rallying cries and military mottos to mobilize troops and overcome the often paralyzing fear of the enemy. These war whoops usually had religious overtones and were designed to capture their troop’s commitment, not unlike encouraging a newcomer’s commitment to recovery. Today, those battle cries survive in what we call slogans, which originate from the Gaelic word sluagh-ghairm, translated as war cry.

Getting clean and sober can feel like war. War against a disease. Although we eventually learn to cease fighting anyone or anything, in the beginning we battle a ferocious enemy: the compulsion, obsession, and jonesing to pick up just one more time. To confront this fierce enemy, the old-timers gave us a very powerful tool in slogans, which often goes unrecognized. Most members, if we are honest, have grumbled at one time or another about the constant repetition of “mindless” sayings. Yet slogans, even if irksome, are a powerful way to reach the suffering alcoholic.

Slogans and Service Go Hand in Hand

Even if the twelve-step war cries don’t get the respect they deserve, slogans and service go hand in hand. We hear slogans are “simplistic” and “bumper sticker recovery.” All the same, old-timers and newcomers alike walk into meetings and Alano clubs everyday, walls bedecked in the classics: First Things First; Live and Let Live; Easy Does It.

Our slogan’s convey messages. They are brief, memorable and usually seize the attention of the person they are meant to influence. Whether begrudgingly or gleefully, we repeat a handful of these sayings meeting after meeting hoping to penetrate the resistant skull of the newcomer.

Practice for our Brains

Brain research tells us repetition is the most basic technique for learning. You know, the “practice makes perfect” kind of thing. So while it may be frustrating to hear, Keep coming back; it works if you work it after every meeting, that simple phrase is burning its way into the consciousness of the newcomer, slipper, depressed and forgetful. That war cry means that some alkie will get up in the morning and hear the enemy’s cry of “Just one won’t hurt,” and they’ll use their counter cry, “Keep coming back.”

Because you chanted the war whoop with them at the meeting yesterday, you are more likely to see them back in the room today, despite the presence of the enemy.

As I approach half a century drug and alcohol free, my brain circuits have healed, where once they were fried. When people shared around the tables, my mind dawdled between fleeting thoughts. How would the rent get paid; could I take those pain meds after getting my wisdom teeth pulled; should I tell the group I dreamed about taking speed last night? Hmm, what did that guy say? Focus. Focus. Finally, something actually made it into my head, Learn to listen and listen to learn. Wow. I knew I wasn’t listening and also knew I wanted to. I could learn to listen and would listen to learn. That war cry gave me the strength to try harder.

In early recovery, my mother and I attended a meeting in San Pedro down by the docks. (Mom brought me to my first meeting and at this time we only had a few weeks each.) A huge display rack showcased hundreds of little cards with various slogans on them—free for the taking. Selecting which one we wanted to represent our innermost self was serious business back then. I chose several that had meaning for me while Mom deliberated a bit longer. Finally, she picked her perfect message: Be Humble and You Will Not Stumble. In later sobriety, we often remembered that slogan and laughed heartily, finding it all the funnier because at the time it seemed so profound.

Slogans Save Lives

Slogans are our method of capturing clean and sober insights in a compressed form. They are our weapons against the inner addict/alcoholic, the little itty bitty shitty committee upstairs, and the ever present disease doing push-ups in the parking lot while we attend a meeting. For alcoholics and addicts who have a rough time focusing in early recovery, slogans save lives, literally. They are the Swiss army knives of the Twelve Steps. Give slogans their due respect when working with others for they remain the War Cries in the battle for recovery.