Constructive Use of Trouble – Personal and As A Movement
By Bill W., General Service Conference, 1958
I’m sure what Jack (Dr. John Norris, preceding speaker) had to say has deeply moved us all. What he had to tell us was not only wise, it was loving, in the deepest sense of that word. So I would first like to say: “God bless Jack and all like him who have done so much to make A.A. what it is today.”
As for your expressions of confidence in me, I treasure them greatly because I know you have not made them to applaud me, to confirm my infallibility that I have but rather to recognize that I am like you, that I, too, am fallible. You haven’t made these expressions for the reasons they are so often made. I deem it you have made them because you love me and because you love each other.
One of our great industrial companies in this country has its slogan—you’ve heard it often “Progress is our greatest product.”
I think that this particular conference of ours- this last one-bespeaks more promise and more progress for A.A. than any that have gone on before. It holds promise and has been filled with progress because it has had trouble. And it has converted that trouble into an asset, into some growth, and into a great promise. And I would like to dwell, in our last moments here, on this matter of trouble.
A.A. was born out of trouble, one of the most serious kinds of trouble that can befall an individual, the trouble attendant upon this dark and fatal malady of alcoholism. It was true of Ebby, and Dr. Bob and me and it has since been true of every single one of us, that you approach in A.A. in trouble, in impossible trouble, in hopeless. And that is why we came.
And this trouble of yours has been destructive trouble and such an impossible trouble that it has taken a virtual miracle of the grace of God to raise each of us out of our bondage. Then as Harry Tiebout has so well put it, the miracle stage is over and then comes this question of facing life, of living and growing and working together, of carrying this message to the world, of becoming citizens of the world, worthy of the name. That, then, is the problem. And here great abundant grace is still with us if we will take hope, but no more do we find this outright grant of the miracle of sobriety.
So our troubles begin. And now we have a different kind of trouble. We can still make a destructive trouble out of this if we wish. We can relapse to our former state. But, happily, most of us don’t do this. This trouble is now converted into an educational process. It is something for growth and progress becomes our most important product – and trouble is the touchstone, the stimulus to the perfection of that progress.
Let me illustrate: When I first told this story in Atlanta, one drunk came to me, crying, “My God,” he said, “I’m completely disillusioned.” And he went out and he got drunk, because he was disillusioned. Well, temporarily he had turned from the educational value of trouble and reality to unreality. (I understand he came around in a day or two.) This was the story I told. It was the inside story of the production of the A.A. book. I have touched upon it very lightly in “A.A. Comes of Age” because it would have taken too many pages to explain just how grievous the troubles of the production of this book were.
During the production of that book I saw human nature at its most sublime and I also saw it at its worst and most sordid. And I partook pretty much sometimes of the sordid end of the deal. I was raised down in Wall Street. I began to think in terms of how hungry I was. Here was the means not only of getting over being hungry, here was the means of becoming famous, here was the means of power – all of these thoughts would rise in me every once in a while.
Once in a while I would make a move in that direction. It would be quickly sensed by other people who had the same defects and who spotted me like that! And they settled down on me. And the group conscience began to talk. I think God performed several miracles on me to give me the intelligence to see that they were right.
We had quarrels about money. We had quarrels about prestige. We had the bitterest quarrels over the most magnificent passages in that book. And out of that conflict, out of that trouble, came an education. And out of the trouble that went before the book had come an education, an application of divine principles that makes the book what it is.
If we hadn’t had any trouble, we couldn’t have got any book. So it takes the absolute and the relative, the divine and even the sordid to make this very important product: progress. When the A.A? Tradition came along, and it came along very slowly, this time after a misplaced, great fear, threats of dissolution which beset groups and individuals throughout this fellowship, and for ten long years nobody could say whether the forces of destruction would prevail or whether the educational value of trouble would bring the right ideas.
If you look at me as the power driver I once was and still largely am, you will see that every single one of these Traditions was a contradiction to my natural inclinations. The hope (?) greater than me, the group conscience wiser than me.
I could not say who the membership would be. I couldn’t run this thing from New York. It would be autonomous. And so on down through the list of Traditions, all of them negations of that which I naturally wanted for me. So that was the point at which Alcoholics Anonymous began to educate me. Everybody had learned the hard way. There was immense travail, immense trouble. But this was the kind of trouble which caused growth. This didn’t turn out to be destructive trouble. This was constructive.
So therefore the art of growth has a good deal to do with making constructive use of trouble. Again, we came to the same situation as we developed the Board of Trustees, as the Headquarters took shape – painfully, every step of the way these same old drives, prestige, money, ambition, an insane desire for approval. At their worst they set brother against brother. This conflict engendered by the struggle to produce this Conference cost me the permanent enmity of one of best friends. A situation not yet repaired. Another caught in the vise was killed, literally, put in an impossible position.
Our non-alcoholic friends paid a big price. We all paid a big price in suffering and tragedy. And all through we could see this one phenomenon: People at their best transcending their best on the one side, and people at their very worst on the other.
Between these two mighty forces A.A. under the guidance of God marched down the middle.
So it was filling the group conscience and its wisdom, even in spite of the travail that came under the A.A. Traditions, that very largely came up with what we’ve got here. Because what we’ve got here had to be set within the framework of those Traditions.
So when I learned you had a red-hot Delegates’ meeting, hotter than anything yet seen in this Conference, I said: “Hurray, we’ re going to learn something. This is wonderful…”
I think all of us revere the concepts of democracy, and parliaments and the Republic. We see these associations of men and women trying to cooperate, trying to self-govern themselves. We in the western world believe that in these institutions lies the spiritual substance necessary for the ultimate happiness and unity of the world. We believe deeply in parliaments.
We believe deeply in the Republic. We believe deeply in the spirit of democracy.
Here, we believe in the same things for A.A. Now I submit if this Conference was ruffled, if individuals were deeply disturbed—one guy told me, he said his ulcer’s got going again – I say, “This is fine.” Because what parliament, what Republic, what democracy has not been disturbed? Friction of opposing viewpoints is the very modus operandi on which they proceed. What should we be afraid of here?
Now the great hope of democracies, republics and parliaments is that the people who lie back in their constituencies will be sufficiently well motivated, will be sufficiently well-informed, will be sufficiently spiritual to make these institutions work. If they don’t work, if the people back there don’t have these qualities, then we have to resort to the childish device of dictatorship.
Now if this is done where first of all we must survive and personal survival is constantly a personal problem to A.A.’ in this society where we must get a degree of spirituality just to stay alive, in this society whose preservation is all-precious, the chance for democracy under God’s guidance, the chance for a republic, the chance for a parliament of service – why!, the chances are so much better of our today than any other institution I can think of that it’s nobody’s business.
Of what, then, are we afraid? As I said, we revere these institutions. And every day we read the paper, from Washington, from London, and we find that very harsh things are said in these parliaments and that there are often great bitterness and strife and we still revere them because underneath we have the underlying confidence.
But I say, “How many times in such a parliament do they at the end of a session fall into such deep, man—to—man agreement? Do they feel themselves under such grace as we are so fortunate to have? At the conclusion of a bitter contest, how many senators, how many representatives, how many MPs stand before the assembly as Icky has?
What in hell are we afraid of?