Where Are They Now?
Copyright © The A.A. Grapevine, Inc., February 1995
Maybe I should have known I was an alcoholic when I went to school so drunk that I couldn’t make it to class, and instead passed out in my high school’s basement boiler room for six hours. Or when I misjudged the amount of 150 proof rum it would take to make my senior class retreat tolerable, and vomited all over the retreat director. Perhaps the bare fact of my daily drinking and the associated lies and theft it took to maintain it should have clued me in to the fact that I had a problem with alcohol. It didn’t: my denial was etched in granite, and the well-intentioned teachers, parents, and coaches trying to divert me from the disastrous path I was on were easily ignored.
After several turbulent, painful years, I came to realize that the immense loneliness and despair that I felt related somehow to my drinking. Hoping to learn to “drink like a gentleman” – I couldn’t comprehend a life without alcohol – I made a phone call one night that led me to Alcoholics Anonymous, via a local detox center. In the rooms of AA I learned the fatal nature of my illness, and in the Big Book and fellowship found a power that enabled me to stay sober one day at a time. I had just turned twenty-one years old.
The power that I found in Alcoholics Anonymous has kept me sober for nearly five years now, and has given me a life beyond my wildest dreams. Marriage, a house, an interesting job, an education – all of these things have come my way as a result of being sober and applying the principles I’ve learned in AA to my daily, affairs. Even more importantly, I’ve developed a deeply satisfying spiritual life as a result of working the Steps as directed by the Big Book and a loving, caring sponsor. The past five years, however, have had a few “downs” as well as plenty of “ups” and a recent one of those “downs” has reminded me of the importance of the concept of singleness of purpose, both to my own personal recovery – and to the survival of our Fellowship.
The phrase “singleness of purpose” can be found in the account of the Fifth Tradition in the “Twelve and Twelve.” Tradition Five itself reads “Each group has but one primary purpose – to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.” Our Preamble, printed in the grapevine, also discusses singleness of purpose: “Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.” The chapters on Traditions Five and Six in the “Twelve and Twelve” eloquently describe how absolutely essential this concept is to the survival of AA, stating “The very life of our Fellowship requires the preservation of this principle.”
The “Twelve and Twelve” goes on (in the chapter on Tradition Ten) to describe the Washingtonian Movement, a nineteenth-century movement among alcoholics that was, initially, similar to AA in many ways. Over one hundred thousand alcoholics sobered up with the Washingtonians, before the movement self-destructed in the chaos caused by involvement in a myriad of issues unrelated, or only remotely related, to alcoholism. Lacking singleness of purpose, the movement collapsed. The experience of the Washingtonians provides compelling evidence for the importance of AA focusing directly and exclusively on the issue of alcoholism.
My strong belief in the importance of the principle of singleness of purpose for the Fellowship of AA has some important consequences. It means that when I go to a meeting, I introduce myself as an alcoholic, period. Like many alcoholics (including Bill W – see page seven of the Big Book), my story includes drug use, ranging from pot to crack to LSD. I don’t hesitate to share this at meetings when it is relevant, as it is part of the experience that brought me to AA, and a part of my story that many other young people, especially, can relate to. However, I think it is extremely important to emphasize that I am an alcoholic, and that in meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous we discuss the common solution to alcoholism that we share. If I’m an “alcoholic and an addict and you’re an “alcoholic and a compulsive overeater and the person leading the meeting is an “alcoholic and a compulsive gambler we begin to lose our commonality. I become slightly different from you – an attitude that I believe is potentially fatal. Moreover, we’ve started down the slippery slope that doomed the Washingtonians. Our program is no longer focused on the single purpose of recovery from alcoholism, but instead is tackling the issues of drug addiction, gambling, co-dependency, etc. – very serious problems, undoubtedly, but outside the scope of Alcoholics Anonymous. A careful reading of Traditions Five, Six, and Ten has convinced me of how dangerous this is to the continued existence of our Fellowship, and it is my responsibility as an AA member to ensure that the hand of Alcoholics Anonymous is always available in the future to reach out to the suffering alcoholic.
I’ve found that the concept of singleness of purpose applies to my life in an even more immediate, personal way as well. When I got sober at twenty one, I didn’t have an established career to return to, a family to reunite, or even all that much wreckage of the past to clean up. The future was a blank state, and the newly found freedom of sobriety made the possibilities overwhelming. I immediately jumped into school, work, and relationships – and suddenly didn’t have time for meetings. Life would get chaotic and painful and I’d make my way back to the Fellowship and principles just long enough to soak up a little bit of serenity by osmosis, then head back out into the fray. Fortunately, some AA members were able to point out to me the insanity of my actions, and I was able to alter my behavior before it led me to the inevitable drink.
I discovered that in order to maintain any semblance of spirituality and serenity in my life, I needed to live by the principle of singleness of purpose. Like the Fellowship as a whole, I have but one primary purpose: to stay sober and help other alcoholics achieve sobriety. The same three reasons that support our group commitment to singleness of purpose underlie my personal commitment: (1) duty – I can repay those who have given me this gift by giving it away to others; (2) love – I’ve learned compassion for those still suffering and want to help others; and (3) self-preservation – I must help others in order to stay sober myself. I inevitably find that when I’m able to stay focused on my primary purpose, my “secondary purposes” (school, jobs, relationships) work themselves out quite satisfactory. For me, the concept of singleness of purpose has become the bedrock of my personal program of recovery, just as it is the fundamental principle supporting the structure of our entire Fellowship.
Brad B., San Diego, CA.