MY FOURTH SOBER AA DAY, I was sitting alone in one of
our musty old meeting rooms, very sad and very broke.
All the AAs had seemed very kind in their desire to help,
but none of them had mentioned money. And, like thousands
of other new members, I believed my biggest problems were
financial. Yet not one person had offered a loan.
suddenly, one of those big, handsome, gray templed, well-dressed
old-timers strode in with a friendly smile widening his
face. He stuck out his hand and squeezed mine. "If
I can help you any way at all, just say so, and I'll do
it!" he declared heartily. Trying to sound as if
I were merely asking for a match, I said, "I hope
so. You see, I need to borrow two thousand dollars."
silence was total.
finally he spoke. "You're in the wrong place,"
he said firmly. "We don't lend money here, my friend.
That's not what this place is for."
froze, but he went on and on. "We won't help you
with a money problem. We won't help you with a family
problem or a job or clothes or a medical problem or food
or a place to spend the night. All we will do in AA is
help you stay sober," he explained. "Then you
can take care of these other problems yourself. You can
take care of yourself, can't you, if you're sober?"
hated that word "sober?" But what could I say?
"Certainly," I snapped, humiliated that, in
my ignorance of AA folkways, I had been caught in a faux
pas, as if someone had found me eating peas with my fingers.
the man had said made perfectly good sense. I had been
sober a few days and could take care of things. So I put
my gradually clearing mind to it, remembered a cousin
I had not tapped for months, sent a wire, and got some
my astonishment and sorrow, I almost instantly found myself
a few hours, my new AA benefactor had given me in very
blunt words a sharp summary of Traditions Five, Six, and
Seven. And, by getting drunk, I had illustrated perfectly
the special sense behind Five. What I needed most was
not money, obviously. After getting it, I still had the
drinking problem that had made me think of approaching
AA in the first place.
happened in January 1945, and the first hint of the Twelve
Traditions was not to appear anywhere in AA until the
July 1945 issue of the Grapevine, when Bill W. wrote,
"I would like to discuss in coming issues such topics
as anonymity, leadership, public relations, the use of
money in AA, and the like."
what I encountered in AA during my first few months, before
the Traditions were formalized, were customs of AA behavior
followed by members who had learned that some AA ways
would work and others would not.
is the authority of the Traditions in my personal life.
I honor them, not solely because of their authorship or
their having the mystical number twelve or their being
adopted by the Fellowship at the First International Convention
in Cleveland in 1950. I cherish them because they work.
They enable me and my fellow AAs to stay sober, together,
and to carry our message to other alcoholics.
I did not like the Traditions at first, especially when
they conflicted with what I wanted. I was a suspicious
character, often turning phony operator to get what I
wanted. During those first weeks, I kept wondering what
"those AAs" were really up to or out for, and
what I could get out of them.
real miracle is that most of them acted with extraordinary
kindness. No matter what I tried to maneuver out of them,
they tried just to give me the message.
subsequent years, I tried to misuse AA in two ways; that
is, I tried to get more out of it than the sobriety message.
Once I wangled a part-time job from a fellow member, then
took advantage of him. Coming in late, I would excuse
myself by thinking, "After all, we're both alcoholics;
he ought to excuse my little weaknesses." He exploited
me, too, expecting long hours of unpaid work simply because
I was a fellow AA. We began to concentrate on what we
were owed, not on what we as AAs owed each other. Neither
of us got drunk, but our friendship did not survive. Another
time I tried to use AA for romance, and really did find
balm for a lonely heart with an AA partner. We found romance,
all right, but we lost our sobriety.
have gone by since I had my infancy in AA as an excuse
for my "gimme" tendencies. Today I try to look
at the Fifth Tradition as a giver, not as a taker. But
the picture is not pretty enough to brag about. It isn't
always easy, even now, to keep my personal wants out of
the way when I try to carry the message. I want applause
as an AA speaker, compliments as a Grapevine writer. I
want to be a "success" as a sponsor - that is,
I want to be the one who sobered somebody up!
have found I prefer to carry the message to pleasant,
attractive, grateful alcoholics who do what I say and
give me full credit for their sobriety. Sometimes I wish
I did not even have to carry the message at all; I wish
I could just wait where I am for people to come and pick
the other hand, I rejoice that I can now participate in
so many good ways of fulfilling our primary purpose. I
can help put on public meetings and other public information
activities to carry the message to the alcoholics who
are still out there drinking sick, scared, completely
unaware that we want them, and completely wrong in their
notion of what our sober life is like. I can be on our
hospital and jail visiting committees. I can serve on
my group's hospitality committee, to welcome the ill at
ease newcomer. I can attend or lead beginners meetings.
I can help support our local intergroup office and the
AA General Service Office, which reach drunks in places
I cannot get to. I can have coffee with the new AA after
the meeting, instead of running off to chin and gossip
with my old friends.
my group (made up of individual AAs, including me) has
improved a lot in its respect for our Fifth Tradition
- in its ways of carrying the message. My own AA history
has lengthened considerably since I first caught glimpses
of the sobriety-preserving wisdom in the AA way of doing
things, summed up in our Traditions. But I have recently
discovered something else quite wonderful about the Fifth:
It does not say that AAs should help only newcomers.
do not agree that the newcomer is the most important member
at any meeting. In my opinion, equally important are those
old-timers who showed me the way, and any middle-timer
who may today be suffering. If newcomers are indeed the
lifeblood of AA, old and middle-timers are its skin and
backbone. What a bewildered mess we would be in without
in your next meeting, when that Tradition about carrying
the message "to the alcoholic who still suffers"
is mentioned, please give a thought, not only to newcomers,
but also to the alcoholics older in AA who are sitting
there. One of them might be me. I still suffer, sometimes.
I still need to hear the message, always.
L., Manhattan, N. Y.
© The A.A.
Grapevine, Inc., June 1970
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