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Carol Orlock has been quoted as having said, “When our knowledge coalesces with our humanity and our humor, it can add up to wisdom” ( Warner, C. ,1992, Treasury of Women’s Quotations, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, Prentice-Hall,p.171). When I first sat around recovery tables, I was somewhat  uncomfortable with all the laughing and joking that always went on at meetings. It seemed to me that these people were laughing at things they’d done in the past that really were not funny at all.  Alcoholics Anonymous’ “Big Book” (Anonymous, 2001, Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., p. 132) speaks to this when it says, “So we think cheerfulness and laughter make for usefulness. Outsiders are sometimes shocked when we burst into merriment over a seemingly tragic experience out of the past. But why shouldn’t we laugh? We have recovered, and have been given the power to help others.”

It took me a while to understand it, but I think humor and laughter play an important role in helping those of us in recovery heal. We need to laugh at ourselves to get over ourselves.  This type of “therapeutic humor” helps us accept we are human rather than God—that God is in control rather than us. If humility is, as I have been taught, the acceptance of our powerlessness and the desire to pursue and do God’s will rather than our own, then it makes sense to me that the use of humor at meetings helps people seeking recovery to look at their past in the right perspective—-to admit our human rather than omnipotent status —and to empower the  spiritual growth  necessary for recovery to take place. If we can laugh at the human mistakes we have made, we can begin to accept and forgive ourselves.

However, I do have a word of caution to those of us in recovery. Sometimes people in early recovery are very fragile; their self-esteem is very low, and, therefore,  they are easily injured by  the misuse of humor. It is easy for them to “take it personally” when those around them are laughing . They may feel like they are being picked on, belittled, and further shamed for their past actions. Their perception may be flawed, but it might not be far from the truth. I am just saying we need to be careful how we use humor—-are we laughing at ourselves and our mistakes—or someone else’s?

Chittister (1992, The Rule of Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21st Century, p. 94) has written: “Humor and laughter are not necessarily the same thing. Humor permits us to see into life from a fresh and gracious perspective. We learn to take ourselves more lightly in the presence of good humor. Humor gives us the strength to bear what cannot be changed and the sight to see the human under the pompous.” It follows, then, that “bad humor” (that at the expense of others)  does not. Chittister (p. 95)  goes on to say that “Derision is not funny, sneers and sarcasm and snide remarks, no matter how witty, how pointed, how clever, how cutting, are not funny. ”

Wow! That hit home.  I’ve spent over sixty years perfecting the art of sarcasm , and now I am being told it is not funny regardless of how clever or witty it is. Ouch! That last sentence tells me she’s is right. If I am more concerned about myself being clever or witty than on how what I am saying might impact a fellow human being, then I am definitely not displaying humility. When I am in an “it’s all about me” mode, then I am not focused on others or willing to seek and follow God’s will—–I am back at “first base” with myself and my will being the focus of my thinking and my actions.

Here are the highlights I have learned from all this:

  • humor and laughter based on my past mistakes can help me get over myself and into recovery
  • humor can give me the  ” strength to bear what cannot be changed”
  • laughter at the expense of others  may be hurtful
  • humor used to bolster my own ego is a “warning flag” that I am not on a spiritual/recovery path
  • combining humor, knowledge, and humility (acceptance of my own humanity) can create wisdom

I would love to be a wise and spiritual person, but I often use humor to build up my own ego. I need to work on that. I am a long ways from “being wise.” Please comment and share your thoughts about the use of humor….in recovery or elsewhere. May God bless and keep you.