“It Is What It Is”: Toxic Tautology

In meetings and conversation with other A.A. members I’m hearing the phrase, “it is what it is,” almost as often as our Preamble. Expressions in which the same thing is said twice in different words are called a tautology. For instance, “If it’s meant to be, it will be,” or the ubiquitous YOLO (you only live once) or since I’m writing this post in late August from Liguria in Italy, “The hot sun was scorching.”


Regardless if hearing these sayings makes you cringe or compare, they are usually no more than an annoyance. But the tautology, “it is what it is,” is often thrown down as an excuse. We tried to get our home group or intergroup excited to do 12 Step outreach and they ignored us. We encouraged a newcomer to get a sponsor and work the steps, but s/he panned our suggestions. We asked fellows for health care professional (HCP) referrals who could be contacted with the message local A.A. groups are an ideal support community for problem drinking patients, but received only a handful. 

The basic implication behind these words is that we are unable to change circumstances. At a recent CER Assembly, a Delegate explained that since Conference had previously rejected endorsing the “Meeting Finder” app for A.A. Great Britain, it required waiting at least a year or more before submitting the same proposal. Incredulous looks from some attendees that something as basic and useful (and cost-free) as a universal app to find an A.A. meeting would need not months –  but years! before Conference would consider it again, elicited explanations, “hey, it’s the process,” and “it is what it is.” So the Chair moved on to the next agenda item. Discussion done and dusted by toxic tautology.


What is concerning about this is when results fall short or an outcome doesn’t meet reasonable expectations, we are all too ready to exonerate ourselves of the burden of learning why something is what it is – why did the results not meet goals? What could have been done differently with a little more thought and effort? 

As those who follow my health related posts here know, last month’s article made a strong appeal for anyone in the 700+ groups of CER to follow the lead of Basel, Geneva and Zurich fellowships and organize an outreach working group (OWG). Here is the final paragraph, subtitled Give Freely:

I or newly organized OWG members, can show you, or your group, how to quickly and easily start HCP outreach in your local community—regardless if you’ve never done PI or any service outside your group before. There’s no minimum sobriety required—just willingness to pass along what was freely given to all of us.


How many responses did I receive from anyone reading these posts and my direct appeal for a minimal effort? 


So should I leave it at that because apparently everybody’s too busy to do more service – or there is no interest in doing outreach to local HCP in your area and write it off as “it is what it is.”

No – and here’s my personal reason why. As I described in another ArenA post, earlier this year I received an email to my HLO inbox. The mail described an alcoholic death of despair, this one a young woman who drank herself to death in a Geneva hotel room. Despite multiple 12 Step calls from A.A., despite two trips to hospital ER and pleas to a psychiatric detox facility – she died alone – drunk. 

Ought we take solace that in this alcoholic’s case, “it is what it is?” I hope you too can answer NO. Because the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates, “Every day, 800 people in Europe die from alcohol-attributable causes. Most worryingly, a relatively high proportion of alcohol harm occurs early in the life-course, with one in every four deaths among young adults (aged 20–24) being caused by alcohol.”

I will be attending the next CER Assembly meeting (online) 03 Sept 2022 and ask every IG rep to mention in their report (written or verbal) “How are you (or your IG/Group) reaching out to local professionals?” or are you satisfied reporting, “it is what it is.”

Comments as always are always welcome. My email is health.cer@aamail.org.


Joel B. – Health Liaison Officer

Continental European Region of Alcoholics Anonymous UK


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