I SUSPECT that many people drift away from AA because they become too bored with meetings. I suspect also that many others are tempted to try another group, but stick it out of convenience, or sheer determination and the fear of what might happen if they slow up their AA activities. And I suspect finally that AA is in no danger at all from the usual moochers, deadbeats, gossips, phonies, Lotharios and loafers, but it is greatly imperiled by the great blanket of boredom that stifles many meetings from coast to coast.
The remedy lies with AA's members who have allowed this condition to develop and are the direct cause of it. Though most AA's are lively, lovable and really interesting persons in normal life, something happens to many of them at the moment the chairman opens the meeting. Abruptly they become terrible bores, reciting AA phrases almost by rote and acting as if they are enduring some sort of penance until the meeting adjourns. The result is then a spiritless hour of stagnation which leaves nobody wiser or stronger.
Boredom often results because a person represses the way he really feels about the program, and does not allow his true feelings to shine through. He is afraid to reveal himself for the fine, loving, sensitive creature that he really is or the angry, indignant, sensitive creature he sometimes is. Instead, he allows the group to see a faceless robot who mutters dull platitudes about "how nice it is to be sober" and "how much peace of mind" he has found and "how grateful" he is to be here at the meeting. He may be saying what he mistakenly thinks the group wants to hear, not what he really feels. This robs his story of the feel of truth and honesty.
Fortunately, the battle against boredom is not won by eloquence or verbal sophistication. Were that the case, few of us would have a chance. Actually, eloquence and sophistication have little to do with it.
Often a member who may never have had experience in speaking develops a very interesting message, and has lots of important things to say around a table. It may be that his voice is poor, his grammar atrocious and some of his logic quite immature. But people listen, intently. When he speaks of gratitude, they know that he means it. When he speaks of happiness, they know that he has found some of it. And when he states that he loves his new-found state of sobriety, they are certain that he speaks from the heart. It is the way he feels, and the way he expresses his feelings that puts boredom to rout.
Having arrived at the conclusion that boring meetings and groups were caused by boring members, I began to look for some means of identifying just who these members really were. Surprisingly, they were the same fellows I have seen in my own bathroom shaving mirror from time to time.
First there is Drink-by-Drink Dave! And I don't care how new in AA you are, you have met him! Dave is a well-meaning soul, and I love him like a brother, as do all the other folks at the meeting. But there are some of us who would rather face the electric chair than hear once more about all the drinking that Dave did in Panama or in Albuquerque, or in Los Angeles, or when he was drafted into the Army. Dave seems to feel that he has to prove how severe his alcoholic problem was, and that this proof can be established by demonstrating not only the continuity of drinking but the quantity as well. It is not unlike Dave to pause in the middle of a talk to ponder whether he was drinking whiskey or wine the morning he woke up in Denver without any shoes. "Let's see, I think I was drinking whiskey that time! No, wait a minute, I think it was wine! Yeah, by gosh, it was wine!"
Let us move on to Mumbling Myron. He is an old group standby whose loyalty and sincerity are unquestioned. He has peace of mind, and he is grateful. But for reasons that are probably too painful to explore, he simply isn't able to tell convincingly just what AA has done for him. Moreover, he meanders monotonously through much detail, somewhat in the same manner of Drink-by-Drink Dave. A bleary-eyed and shaken newcomer cannot help experiencing, with fleeting guilt, the dark thought that AA hasn't really done too much for Myron. Older members know that he has a fine message, when he's able to deliver it with fire and feeling. But they usually tune out when he begins to speak. No, this is not unfair! Were Myron an incurable bore, we would discreetly make no mention of it at all. There are rare moments when his convictions come sweeping up out of his heart to put aside his dullness and his shyness, and it is at that time that the real message comes pouring out. Myron has vast resources to give AA, but he alone holds the key, and usually he prefers to keep the door shut tightly.
Now take this third character, Sour Sam. He sounds sour, looks sour and feels sour. It always shows. His face became wreathed in turned-down creases a long time ago, and he carries a perpetual sneer, which irks some people, because they think Sam doesn't like them. If he smiles, it comes out as a sort of recalcitrant grimace, as if he's conferring a favor.
Sour Sam is a bearer of gloom. When he talks at meetings, he tells of his many troubles and the way Sam does it just seems to make everybody feel worse. Now why should that be? Perhaps it's because everybody secretly recognizes that Sam likes to indulge in a lot of self-pity and rarely takes the blame for anything that goes wrong in his life. Usually the fault is with his wife or the #*%!#@# he has to do business with or something else. Rather belatedly, and almost as an afterthought, he admits that his old "alcoholic resentment" or his "stubborn alcoholic ego" causes him some trouble.
Despite his years, Sam has yet to learn that AA is not just a sounding board for his grievances against the world. After being with him a few minutes, almost anybody else seems cheerful. Even Pollyanna Pete.
Pollyanna Pete tries to see the bright side of everything. If you've just had a car wreck, Pete points out that you'll now be able to collect on your insurance. He's always joking, always smiling, always pumping somebody's hand. Everybody imagines he likes Pete, but few people actually do. Most of them think they like Pete because the rules of the game say that a person who jokes and smiles and shakes hands is a likable guy. But when Pete talks you always find that people are jittery and irked and galled, because he gushes through a lot of experiences without real feeling or purpose. In other words, Pollyanna Pete has an automated voice-box that churns out cheery prattle any time, any day, in any amount. Pete often exclaims, when addressing a group, "Ain't it great to be sober." Greeted with a blast like this, even the most dedicated listener can't suppress the heretical thought that for the next hour he might prefer to be drunk.
There they are, four well-meaning souls who, though they do not actually exist as portrayed here, do seem to exist, in part, almost everywhere. It would be pointless to identify these character types if the conditions described could not be remedied. But they can be, quite easily. The answer is not in speaking courses, inspirational books, or psychiatric counseling. It is in the simple telling of our stories, of how we found AA, and finally what it has come to mean to us.
M. D. B.