Unpopular Opinion: Why I stopped taking cakes

I’ll say it – I’m basically obsessed with myself. I think about myself far too often. I replay things in my head that have already happened, and anticipate things that may happen, most of them with a flourish of my own imagination. Either way, I would like to think about myself less.

I stopped taking cakes (celebrating yearly milestones) over three years ago. My last cake was a one-year, my second time taking a one-year cake, during which I talked for nearly 40 minutes about myself. Sure it was great to share more about myself with other members, but it felt highly unnecessary.

Since getting sober I have travelled at least once a year. I have been to Eastern Canada and the U.S., the Los Angeles area, and 13 cities across Western Europe. I have been fortunate enough to attend meetings in most of those cities. Not once have I been to a celebration of a milestone where someone shared about themselves for even close to fifteen minutes. In fact, at many of the celebrations a member who is not taking a milestone is chosen to share by the person taking the milestone on their own experience, strength and hope. This person shares for maybe ten minutes and the rest of the meeting is like any other meeting. I’ve seen people take over thirty years and share for maybe three minutes. I have been told that this is not the case at every meeting in all of those cities; that in fact some meetings do have the person taking their cake share for a good chunk of time, choose the topic of the meeting, etc. but I was never witness to it. Further, when I would tell members in those cities how cakes were celebrated in Nanaimo, almost all of them were left speechless. Imagine a New York member trying to wrap their head around our cake meetings!

I am an egomaniac with an inferiority complex. To this day, I attribute much of my addictive tendencies to self-centeredness and an expectation that outer things should make me feel whole. The last thing I need is to be obsessing for days (maybe even weeks) about talking in front of a group of people about myself. I have seen countless people get negatively worked up over their cakes simply because they put too much pressure on themselves to do a “good job.” I have also heard how it’s common to relapse around the time one is taking a milestone, and again, I wonder if it is partially due to the pressure one puts on his or herself to make sure that their cake is great. We are repeatedly told that AA is a 24-hour a day program, but with so much emphasis on milestone celebrations, it doesn’t really seem fully genuine. Additionally, many people wake up the next day after their cake and wonder “is this it?” simply because they have assigned so much emotional significance to the milestone. The day after a recent milestone in which I decided not to take a cake, I woke up feeling as I always did because the milestone was just another day for me. I felt that I was fully practicing the 24-hour principle of the program.

In Buddhist terms, the root of all suffering is attachment. With cakes, there is great opportunity to form all kinds of attachments: how many people came/didn’t come, did I share too much/not enough, did the person giving me my cake or medallion share positively about me, was I funny, did I seem nervous, etc. etc. For a sensitive egomaniac like myself, the way most people celebrate cakes in Nanaimo is just too much. The ego, which the Big Book and 12×12 states must be deflated, is fuelled greatly by how recovery milestones are commonly celebrated here.

We are told that taking a cake is not about the individual, but I have to ask myself, how is it not? Many of us, myself included, have made meetings almost entirely based on ourselves by choosing the topic of the meeting, the person chairing, when the cake-taker is going to speak, and sometimes even exactly who shares. If I give the chairperson a list of people’s names that I’d like to share, I’m essentially asking individuals to provide me with accolades of my achievement, or at the very least, I’ll be talked about in some positive reflective light.

I am not at all against cakes entirely; I absolutely love hearing people’s stories. However, I am against how much cakes are focused around the individual. My proposal is to have cakes celebrated once a month at the latter half or even last ten minutes of a meeting. I absolutely love hearing members’ stories, so I would additionally like to propose more speaker meetings where a member gets to share their experience, strength, and hope, but does not receive an onslaught of praise. I believe hearing other members’ stories is incredibly important in creating great opportunity for connection and ability to relate to others, essentially the opposite of alcoholism. Connection to something is vital for the alcoholic, and hearing others’ stories is one of the best ways to do that.

I am open to my view regarding cake celebrations being perceived as cynical and negative, but I ask you, as a member, to critically think about whether the way we commonly celebrate cakes in Nanaimo is conductive to the principals of recovery. Just because something has appeared to be right in the past, doesn’t mean it’s the right way to do things today. The phrase “that’s the way things have always been” needs to be abolished. Recovery is all about figuring out what’s working and what isn’t, and ultimately, the unexamined life is not worth living.