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with Dr. Paul
This Grapevine interview was conducted by
telephone to Dr. Paul's home in California.
Copyright © AA
Grapevine, Inc., July 1995
Paul's story "Doctor, Alcoholic, Addict" was published
in the Third Edition of the Big Book; his remarks on acceptance,
which appear on pages 449 and 450, have been helpful to
many AA members over the years. This interview was conducted
by telephone to Dr. Paul's home in California.
Grapevine: How did you come to write the story that's in
the Big Book?
Paul: The editor of the Grapevine - a woman named Paula
C. - was also the chairperson of the committee to review
the stories. She wrote to tell me that the magazine was
going to use an article I'd written on why doctors shouldn't
prescribe pills for alcoholics. So she knew my writing a
little bit and she asked me if I had a dual problem and
would I be willing to write an article about it for consideration
in the Big Book. My reaction to that was the same as my
reaction when it was suggested I come to AA - I thought
it was one of the dumbest ideas I'd ever heard and I ignored
on she called and asked for the article, and I lied and
said I hadn't had time to write it. She extended the deadline
and called me a second time. I had a gal working in the
office with me who was in the program, and she thought it
would be nice to have typed a story that might end up in
the Big Book, so she said to me, "You write it, I'll
type it, and we'll send it in." So that's what we did.
But by that time they had done another printing of the Second
Edition, and I thought, Fine, that means they won't use
it. But Paula said she liked it and the Grapevine published
it with the title "Bronzed Moccasins" and an illustration
of a pair of bronze moccasins. Eventually it was put in
the Big Book, but the title was changed, and my guess is
that they wanted to show that an alcoholic could be a professional
and be an addict, but that wouldn't make him not an alcoholic.
It worked well but maybe it overshot the mark, and now one
of the most uncomfortable things for me is when people run
up to me at a meeting and tell me how glad they are the
story is in the book. They say they've been fighting with
their home group because their home group won't let them
talk about drugs. So they show their group the story and
they say, "By God, now you'll have to let me talk about
drugs." And I really hate to see the story as a divisive
thing. I don't think we came to AA to fight each other.
Grapevine: Is there anything you regret having written in
Paul: Well, I must say I'm really surprised at the number
of people who come up to me and ask me confidentially if
what they've heard on the very best authority - usually
from their sponsor - is true: that there are things in my
story I want to change, or that I regret having written
it, or that I want to take it out because it says so much
about drugs, or that I've completely changed my mind that
AA is the answer, or even that acceptance is the answer.
I've also heard -- on the best authority! -- that I've died
or gotten drunk or taken pills. The latest one was that
my wife Max died and that I got so depressed I got drunk.
So, is there anything I'd like to change? No. I believe
what I said more now than when I wrote it.
Grapevine: Do you think that your story might help those
who are dually addicted?
Paul: I think the story makes clear the truth that an alcoholic
can also be an addict, and indeed that an alcoholic has
a constitutional right to have as many problems as he wants!
But I also think that if you're not an alcoholic, being
an addict doesn't make you one. The way I see it, an alcoholic
is a person who can't drink and who can't use drugs, and
an addict is a person who can't use drugs and can't drink.
But that doesn't mean that every AA meeting has to be open
to a discussion of drugs if it doesn't want to. Every meeting
has the right to say it doesn't want drugs discussed. People
who want to discuss drugs have other places where they can
go to talk about that. And AA is very open to living the
Steps and Traditions to other groups who want to use them.
I know this from my own experience, because I wrote to the
General Service Office and got permission to start Pills
Anonymous and Chemical Dependency Anonymous. I did that
when I was working in the field of chemical dependency.
We started groups but I didn't go to them because I get
everything I need from AA. I don't have any trouble staying
away from talking about drugs, and I never introduce myself
as an alcoholic/addict. I'm annoyed -- or maybe irritated
is a better word -- by the people who keep insisting that
AA should broaden to include drugs and addictions other
than alcohol. In fact I hear it said that AA should change
its name to Addicts Anonymous. I find that a very narrow-minded
view based on people's personal opinions and not on good
sense. History tells us that the Washingtonians spread themselves
so thin they evaporated. Jim B. says the greatest thing
that ever happened in AA was the publication of the Big
Book, because it put in writing what the program was and
made it available all over the world. So wherever you go
it's the same program. I don't see how you could change
the program unless you change the book and I can't see that
Grapevine: It's a question of singleness of purpose?
Paul: That singleness of purpose thing is so significant.
It seems to be working; why would we change it? I can't
think of any change that would be an improvement.
Grapevine: Nowadays drunks often come to meetings already
dried out, but that wasn't always the case.
Paul: No, it wasn't. You don't get Twelfth Step calls as
dramatic as they used to be. Now I find that if you're called
upon to make a Twelfth Step call, it'll be on somebody who
is in the hospital. You find out when they're available
and not in some other kind of meeting, and make an appointment.
But this might change as the number of treatment programs
begins to fade out.
I used to make "cold
turkey" calls, where the alcoholic hadn't asked for
help. One time I went to see this guy who was described
to me as a big husky fellow. He was holed up in a motel.
I found out from the manager of the motel that he was on
the second floor, and as I was walking up the outside stairs
to get to his place, I thought to myself, if this guy comes
charging out the door, he could easily throw me over the
stair railing and I'd end up on the concrete. So I thought,
well, the good news is I'd probably be one of AA's first
martyrs. Then I thought, yeah, but I'd be an anonymous martyr.
I made the call anyhow, and he got sober for a while.
Grapevine: In your Big Book story, you say that acceptance
is the key to everything. I wonder if you've ever had a
problem accepting what life hands you.
Paul: I think today that my job really is to enjoy life
whether I like it or not. I don't like everything I have
to accept. In fact, if everything was to my specifications
and desires there would be no problem with acceptance. It's
accepting things I don't like that is difficult. It's accepting
when I'm not getting my own way. Yes, I find it very difficult
Grapevine: Anything specific?
Paul: Nothing major, though it sometimes seems major that
I have to accept living with my wife Max and her ways of
doing things! She is an entirely different person than I
am. She likes clutter, I like things orderly. She thinks
randomly and I like structured thinking. We're very, very
different. We never should have gotten married! Last December
we were married fifty-five years.
Grapevine: I guess she knows your thoughts on this matter.
Paul: Ad nauseum.
Grapevine: You're still going to meetings?
Paul: I'd say five or six a week.
Grapevine: Do you and Max go to meetings together?
Paul: Max isn't in AA, she's in Al-Anon and she's still
very active in it. But I go to Al-Anon too, and that helps
a great deal, and Max comes to open AA meetings with me
and that helps too. It's kind of like Elsa C. used to say:
when two people have their individual programs, it's like
railroad tracks, two separate and parallel rails, but with
all those meetings holding them together.
Grapevine: Do you think you'd still be married if you hadn't
gone to meetings all these years?
Paul: I'm sure we wouldn't. I initially thought that the
Serenity Prayer said I'd have to change the things I couldn't
accept. So I thought, well, we can't get along so it's time
to change the marriage. I used to go around looking for
old-timers who would agree with me and say that's what the
Serenity Prayer meant. But Max and I finally made a commitment
to the marriage and stopped talking about divorce and started
working our programs. In fact we tend to sponsor each other,
which is a dangerous thing to do, but we help each other
see when we need more meetings, or need to work a certain
Step or something like that.
Grapevine: Do you have, or did you have, a sponsor?
Paul: Early on I was talking to a friend of mine, Jack N.,
who was sober a couple of months longer than I was. Jack
and his wife and Max and I used to go to AA speaker meetings
together. I was telling him how my home group was nagging
at me because I didn't have a sponsor, and on the spur of
the moment I said, "Why don't you be my sponsor?"
and on the spur of the moment he said to me, "I'll
be your sponsor if you'll be my sponsor." And I said,
"I don't know if they'll allow that." But we decided
to try it and it worked out. He calls me because I'm his
sponsor and I call him because he's my sponsor so I guess
we call each other twice as often. We're still sponsoring
each other That's been going on for twenty-seven years.
He moved to L.A. but we stay in touch, mostly by phone.
Grapevine: Is there a tool or a slogan or a Step that is
particularly useful to you right now?
Paul: Pretty much every morning, before I get out of bed,
I say the Serenity Prayer, the Third Step Prayer, and the
Seventh Step Prayer. Then Max and I repeat those prayers
along with other prayers and meditations at breakfast. And
I say those three prayers repeatedly throughout the day.
I grew up thinking that I had to perfect my personality,
then I got into AA, and AA said, no, that isn't the way
we do it: only God can remove our defects. I was amazed
to find that I couldn't be a better person simply by trying
What I've done with
a number of problems -- like fear and depression and insomnia
-- is to treat them as defects of character, because they
certainly affect my personality adversely With depression,
I've never taken any antidepressants. Instead, with any
defect I want to get rid of, I become willing to have it
removed, then I ask God to remove it, then I act like he
has. Now, I know God has a loophole that says he'll remove
it unless it's useful to you or to my fellows. So I tell
him I'd like my defect removed completely, but he can sleep
on it, and in the morning he can give me the amount he wants
me to have, and I'll accept it as a gift from him. I'll
take whatever he gives me. I've never done that when he
hasn't removed a great deal of my defect, but I've never
done it when he has permanently and totally removed any
defect. But the result is that I no longer fight myself
for having it.
Grapevine: That's a helpful way of seeing things. It makes
defects into a gift.
Paul: That's right. And it's the Rule Sixty-two business
[see Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 149]. It's like
Father Terry always says, "Be friendly with your defects."
In fact some poet said, "Hug your demon, otherwise
it'll bite you in the ass." Poets can talk like that.
Grapevine: Has your sponsoring changed over the years?
Paul: I do a lot more stuff by telephone. When I'm speaking
at a meeting, if I think of it, I give out my home phone
number. So I get a lot of phone calls from all over the
country. People ask me if I'm willing to help them as a
sponsor and I tell them, well, you call me every day for
thirty days, or maybe sixty or ninety or whatever, and then
they call me every day, and we get to know each other, and
during that time we find out what it's like to be relating
to each other. It's kind of a probationary period. Then
if they still want me to be their sponsor, we'll go ahead
and if they don't, we move on and there's no loss. And this
gets them accustomed to calling, so when they have a problem,
they don't have to analyze it at great depth and decide
if it's bad enough that they should bother me with a phone
call. I haven't personally been doing each Step individually
with people as much, but I've redone all the Steps myself
on an average of every five years. And every time I've done
that, my sobriety has stepped up to a new plateau, just
like the first time I did them.
Sometimes people call
me because they're feeling in a funk, their sponsor has
moved away or died, or they've moved away from their sponsor,
or the meetings don't mean much anymore. They aren't getting
anything out of AA. And because of my relationship with
pills, I've had a lot of people come to me and say they've
got -- what do you call it? -- a "chemical imbalance."
They're seeing a counselor who says, "Yeah, you're
depressed," and the counselor wants to start them on
an antidepressant. My suggestion is, if you want to do something
like that and you haven't done the Steps in a number of
years, do the Steps first. And repeatedly people will do
that and decide they don't need the pills.
Grapevine: When you speak at out-of-state AA meetings, does
Max go with you?
Paul: I don't go unless she goes.
Grapevine: Why not?
Paul: Because I decided I didn't come to AA to become a
traveling salesman and be away from home. So we go where
it's a big enough event that they can take us both. And
what's really more fun is if it's a mixed event where Max
can speak, especially if she gets to speak first. She likes
that. She likes to say that I say that she tells a perverted
version of my drinking story. Then she points out that I
was the one who was drinking and she was the one who was
Grapevine: There are many more young people in the Fellowship
now. Do you think young people have special problems because
they're getting sober at such an early age?
Paul: People always say they're so glad to see the young
people come in, and I agree, but I'm glad to see the old
people come in too. I like to see anybody get sober. It's
hard to say whether your pain is greater than my pain or
mine's greater than yours. I'm sure that young people have
problems, but we all have problems -- gays have problems,
people who are addicted to other drugs have problems, single
people have problems. I can't think of anything more of
a problem than being a woman alcoholic trying to get sober,
married to a practicing alcoholic male, and with a handful
of kids. That must be about as big a problem as you can
get. Everybody has special problems. I've said it often
and I haven't had any reason to change my mind: the way
I see it, I've never had a problem and nobody will ever
come to me with a problem such that there won't be an answer
in the Steps. That gives me a great deal of confidence.
I think the program -- the Steps - covers everything conceivable.
I'm getting way off
from what you asked me. I can't give short answers. I often
tell people that the more I know about something, the shorter
the answer, but when I don't know, I just make up stuff.
Grapevine: Did you find it helpful at some point to become
familiar with the Traditions?
Paul: I find the Steps easier to understand than the Traditions
and the Traditions easier to understand than the Concepts.
In fact, I find the long form of the Traditions considerably
easier to understand than the short form, and I find that
the long form is much more specific on the idea that AA
is for alcoholics and not for just anybody who wants to
come in. A lot of people like that phrase "The only
requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking,"
and people interpret that to mean that if you're willing
to not drink, you can call yourself an alcoholic and a member
of AA. That's not at all what it says. I think it means
that if you're an alcoholic with a desire to stop drinking,
that's the only requirement for membership. Grapevine: How
many years have you been sober now?
Grapevine: Twenty-seven years of meetings. Have you seen
any changes in the way the meetings are conducted?
Paul: All I see is that there are more meetings and bigger
meetings and more variety of meetings. I just love to see
AA grow. I enjoy meetings. I've been to meetings in Singapore
and Hong Kong and Japan, but I think the most interesting
was when Chuck C. and Al D. and I were vacationing in the
Cayman Islands and we couldn't find any meetings. We were
twelfth stepping alcoholics there and we decided we all
needed a meeting, so we went to the local newspaper and
got some publicity. We had a public information meeting,
and we got a regular meeting started. As far as I know,
that meeting is still going.
Grapevine: So you haven't gotten bored by Alcoholics Anonymous.
Paul: Well, I thought about that some years back. Why is
it that so many people aren't around any more? Where do
they go? It seems to me that most of the people who leave
AA leave because of boredom. I made up my mind I wasn't
going to get bored, and one of the things I do when I get
bored, if I can't think of anything else to do, is to start
a new meeting. I've probably started fifteen or twenty.
The most recent one was last November.
I got a couple of friends
together and we started a "joy of sobriety" meeting
-- it's a one-hour topic discussion meeting and it has to
be a topic out of the Big Book and it has to be on the program
and how you enjoy living the program. It's fast-moving and
we just have a lot of fun. It's a great antidote for depression.
Grapevine: What's the most important thing you've gotten
Paul: This whole thing is so much more than just sobriety.
To be sober and continue the life I had before -- that would
have driven me back to drink. One of the things I really
like about AA is that we all have a sense of direction,
plus a roadmap telling us precisely how to get there. I
like that. All I want out of AA is more and more and more
until I'm gone.
© The A.A.
Grapevine, Inc., July 1995
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