Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Sayings from the Rooms: Take What You Like and Leave the Rest

In AlAnon they say:

Take What You Like and Leave the Rest

In AA they say it a bit differently:

Take What You Need and Leave the Rest

(AA’s version, characteristically, incorporates a bit more desperation)

The idea is, we help each other in meetings by sharing from our personal experience—who knows about alcoholism and addiction better than those who have experienced it, or have lived with it?

From what I’ve heard over the years, the AA version is said less often in AA than the AlAnon version is said in AlAnon. Why?—I think it’s because in AA, the feeling is, we’re trying to save our lives, and in order to do that, we’ve gotta do as we’re bloody well told. We feel like we can’t afford to give people the idea that we can pick and choose anything.

In AA they also say,

Take the Cotton Out of Your Ears and Put It in Your Mouth


I’ve heard it said that this saying is for the kind of drunk/addict who drank or used to enlarge herself—participate in the grandiosity of addiction. But because I used in order to make myself small and shut myself up… because I came to The Rooms with a throat packed with cotton, my sponsors have encouraged me to do the opposite: spit out the gag, speak up and develop my voice. (Thus, dear reader, this blog)

Sometimes the pendulum swings too far in the other direction.

Went to an AlAnon meeting a while back. It had been a month or two since I had been to AlAnon, and I came home a bit irked. (red flag, anyone?) Told my partner that I disagreed with a few things that were said. Particularly the idea that no one should identify herself as an alcoholic in order to protect the idea that “AlAnon is Spoken Here.”

“I mean, there’s a difference between identifying oneself as an alcoholic, and saying ‘Last week at my AA home group we talked about XYZ, lemme tell you all about it,’” I said. “Don’t you think that there might be someone in The Room who might actually be helped by knowing that there’s another person there who’s an alcoholic, considering the fact that lots of us adult-children-of-alcoholics drink and use in order to numb out painful childhoods?”

“I would think—” he began.

“And somebody else called his wife his Qualifier!” I rambled. “I mean, WTF!! I never labeled my dad my Qualifier. I never even called my asshole gun-shooting grandpa my Qualifier—”

He sighed impatiently and waved his hands in my face.

“What part of Take What You Like and Leave the Rest do you not understand?” he said. “It’s not, Take What You Like and Fuckin Argue With Everything Else!”

AHHH-hahahahaha!” I yelped, collapsing on the couch as though he’d nailed me with a pea-shooter. “You got me, babe!”


What writing tons of inventory has shown me: If I’m criticizing other people, I’m probably being twice or three times as critical of myself.

Time to let up on everyone…

Today I’m going to

Listen and Learn

(AlAnon’s equivalent of AA’s cotton-in-mouth saying)

Also paint. Also write.

It’s a wild life.


  1. I think that it is about our tradition of protecting the anonymity of all AA members as well as having Al-Anon be a safe place where those who have been in abusive and tumultuous relationships with alcoholics can feel okay about sharing. I don’t think that walking into an Al-Anon meeting and having people identify themselves as alcoholics would have helped me when I first started. In fact, it might have driven me off. We have singleness of purpose just as AA does. It is a good thing to have separate fellowships. Good post G.

  2. Yeouch–busted. Presumably you saw my recent diatribe against the phrase “Keep Coming Back”? Sigh. It does help sometimes, doesn’t it (however painful it also can be) to live with someone in recovery, so they can show us our brilliantly scarlet red flags. :o)

  3. The process of identification isn’t always easy. My first meeting was NA, I also qualify for AA, CA, GA, OA, S&L A, Nar-anon Al-anon, ACOA, IA (intelects anonomous – “too smart for our own good”). I was taught by my sponsor, “When in Rome, do like the Romans”.

  4. wrong place for booze talk

    July 13, 2011 at 8:08 am

    At a recent AA meeting, the speaker said he’d heard that if a lede gets to be too funny, “maybe a family member should tell it for you.” The room erupted in laughter. At a subsequent meeting of my main group, Al Anon, i told that story and nobody laughed. In fact they thought it was a good idea. Family members know that alcoholism and domestic violence go together like rum and coke. yet rarely does a recovering drunk, the same one who admits to blackouts and infidelities, admit to having slapped his wife and kids around. if he did, chances are he’d spin it in a way to gin up laughter that would not sound funny to his wife and kids.
    This is why alcoholics are asked not to break their anonmity in Al Anon meetings. Al Anon members may feel unsafe around alcoholics, or outraged. As the son, nephew, grandson, brother and friend of alcoholics, i hated alcoholics before i ever picked up. and becoming one didn’t change that. first and foremost i am still a family member, still on edge around alcoholics.

  5. guinevere

    July 13, 2011 at 9:09 am

    @WrongPlace… I’ve recently begun attending Al-Anon more regularly again (after a couple of years of getting sober), and your statement about being a “family member” first and foremost resonates with me… However, since my mother (who was not an alcoholic, but the daughter of a violent one) was the abusive parent in the family, and my father the lenient and tolerant one, I think I may experience less edginess around alcoholics than you do. It was years before I heard the part in the Al-Anon literature that states that children may be more afraid of the non-drinking parent because of her rage. … In addition, I’ve learned to hate the disease, and not the addict, though as of this writing I still harbor some resentment against my grandfather (progress, not perfection)

    Thanks for the reminder that Al-Anon members may be afraid of alcoholics, and thanks for reading. cheers G

  6. Thanks, Guinevere. You open my eyes to a phenomenon I can easily imagine, wherein the nonalcoholic parent is more terrifying than the other. What a complex situation that would be for a kid to process.
    Generally speaking, and despite being a guy, i think that recovery meetings of every sort improve in quality as the ratio of female members rises.
    Not long ago i attended a men’s AA meeting in the outpatient room of a highly respected and highly expensive treatment center in chicago, which is to say that the demographic was upscale and well educated.
    And yet.
    The topic was the ninth step, and early on one fellow urged the rest of us to make sure the statute of limitations had passed before making any amends for crimes, particularly rape. What followed was rape joke after rape joke, and lots of laughter.
    My guess is, the women those men have known wouldn’t want to attend an Al Anon meeting populated with self-proclaimed alcoholics.

  7. guinevere

    July 13, 2011 at 3:26 pm

    @WrongPlace… amazing account from inside a meeting. I don’t live in a major urban center, and it’s been my experience here that the ninth step is rarely discussed, and sex is never discussed (though rape is primarily about violence and crime, not sex). … Thanks for the report and for your opinions.

Comments are closed.

Visit Us On FacebookVisit Us On Twitter