Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment. In July, Don Gately tells the White Flag meeting that he feels ashamed that he still doesn’t have any sense of a Higher Power. While AA members are allowed to submit to whatever God they choose, Gately wishes someone would just choose for him. He feels embarrassed to be discussing his struggle to connect to God rather than focusing on the day-to-day “miracle” of sobriety. However, after he finishes speaking, people in the audience stand up, clap, and cheer. A biker who introduces himself as Robert F., yet whose jacket reads “Bob Death,” tells Gately that it was good to hear him talk about his difficulties with the God thing.
In discussing his struggles identifying a “Higher Power” Gately risks alienating himself from the AA community. However, his words turn out to have the opposite effect. Clearly, people are relieved to hear him articulate something that they have all been thinking but are too afraid to say. This is another pertinent way in which institutional control is shown to work on people: by making them afraid or ashamed of voicing their own thoughts.
When AA members talk about how everything gets better through abstinence and recovery, they fail to mention the enormous amount of pain these things involve. The urge to take Substances usually disappears after about six months of sobriety, but it is also at this point that people start “getting in touch” with their most painful feelings and memories. Both Gately’s father and stepfather beat his mother, who was also an alcoholic. As a child, Gately began drinking his mother’s vodka after she passed out so that she wouldn’t drink any more. She developed cirrhosis and attended AA meetings sporadically, relapsing in between.
The novel’s grimly realistic account of life includes a refusal to romanticize recovery. While the book leaves no room for doubt that recovery is absolutely necessary, it also doesn’t hesitate to show the most grisly, difficult, and painful aspects of the recovery process. Furthermore, there is nothing redeeming about this negative side—no “happy ever after” where the pain goes away. The only redemption is in not dying through addiction.