Inventories: Not Just Members-Only!
Copyright © The A.A. Grapevine, Inc., September 1987
I think we should sometimes take an inventory of AA itself as well as an inventory of ourselves. We need to take a close look at what we are doing and thinking as groups, as well as what we are doing as individual members.
I’m not writing this in order to rewrite the Twelve Steps, nor the Big Book, but we alcoholics are human beings first, even before we are alcoholics. Because we are, we tend to have the same frailties and short-comings that are common to other humans. Oh, I know that some of us sometimes act and talk as if we were a separate species, but we aren’t.
Human institutions and organizations tend to become rigid, to gather rituals and make them permanent after they have served their original purpose, and even extend them to areas where they were never meant to fit. When I came into AA over twenty-five years ago, there were many doctors who thought the answer to alcoholism was a pill. Usually it was a pill that tended to be addictive.
Many times we had to tell people to throw out those durned pills. And we were right. But over the years doctors have been moving forward, and we haven’t.
Very few doctors today will lead their alcoholic patients into addiction if they are properly informed by them. But we are still handing down the rigid commandment, “Throw out those durned pills.”
A man came into the Fellowship here recently. He suffered from severe depressions. He was told, “Throw out those durned pills.” He did. In short order he went into a severe depression. He attempted suicide. Thank God it was a failed attempt.
What if he had succeeded? Would the people who handed out the advice have acknowledged their error? Or would they have fallen back on the cliche, “He wasn’t working the program”? When alcoholics who are using medication come into AA they should consult their sponsor and inform their doctor. The doctor might very well decide to change or curtail the medication in light of the new situation. In case of doubt, the newcomer needs to get a second medical opinion. But we’re not doctors. Nor are we gods. We shouldn’t attempt to play either role.
Here’s another example. Over twenty years ago, in counseling a new man, I formulated a rule of thumb. The problem then (and it’s still one we run into frequently) was that he was freshly sober and his wife was not pleasing him enough. So he was ready to divorce her after years of a drunken marriage and two months of a sober one.
Other alcoholics after just a few months of sobriety are wanting to rush into long-term commitments or break other long-standing ones. New jobs, new marriage partners, moving: we’ve all come across these things.
What was the rule of thumb I suggested? “Do not get married, divorced, enlist in the French Foreign Legion, or make or break any long-term commitments until you have been sober for one year.” In a recent conversation with a lady in AA, I found that to a brutal wife-beater. In the course of eleven years of marriage, he had broken ten of her bones. The beatings he administered were too numerous to count. She was told she shouldn’t divorce him until she was sober for one year. What had started out as a rule of thumb had become a commandment – a commandment in a suggested program. Fortunately someone with enough sense to recognize when to ignore rules of thumb told her that it was almost impossible to get and stay sober unless she brought some sanity into her life. When I came into Alcoholics Anonymous we opened the meeting with a moment of silence, followed by the Preamble. Then someone added a reading from the Hazelden book, Twenty-Four Hours a Day. Someone else thought it a good idea to add “How It Works.”
I spoke at an open meeting last week. In addition to the above, we had “The Promises of AA,” “The Tools of AA,” and one other whose name I forget. It took fifteen minutes. We then had forty-five minutes for the meeting.
What has happened is that our propensity for ritual and habit has gotten hold of us again. Because one thing helped one person, one time, in one place, we must all have it forever. Castor oil did wonders for me once. Should everyone, everywhere take castor oil forever?
With our habit of adding and never subtracting, I fear to see the day come when we have forty-five minutes of reading and other rituals, and fifteen minutes of meeting.
In all of the above I see a growth of ritual and habit. In some instances, I see worse. I see arrogance and conceit. I see us drifting away from the principles of the program. I see us missing the point in such ideas as being friendly with our friends. What happened to stick with sobering up alcoholics as our specialty and allowing others to practice theirs? Where is the humility and compassion that Bill W. had when he wrote the Big Book?
The compassion and humility exhibited in writing that book when nobody had even four years’ sobriety exceed what I’ve gained in over twenty-five years. It shames me.
P. E., Merrillville, Indiana
Copyright © The A.A. Grapevine, Inc., September 1987
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