I was out to dinner the other night with a friend I have sponsored for many years and he said, “Why don’t you write an article about how the program has changed over the last twenty- five years?” I knew right away what he meant. Recently I have heard many “oldtimers” complain about the “watering down” of our program by the combined influences of treatment centers, pop psychology and television gurus like Dr. Phil and Oprah.
People often complain about the use of our meeting rooms as “baby sitting services” for treatment centers and inexpensive group therapy for those who don’t understand what our meetings are about. While all of the above may be true to some degree or other I still firmly believe that the basic principles and practices of our program have not changed one bit.
I was told early in my sobriety to look for a way in to the program and not for a way out. This meant that if my focus was on the negative aspects of people or the program I could find many reasons to find fault and to leave. By focusing on the positive, and overlooking the defects of others and perceived weaknesses of the group and the program, I would find the true healing power of the program and become successful in learning how to stay sober one day at a time. When I am looking for AA the way it was when I got sober in 1977 I find it in every single meeting I attend. It is in the hearts and minds and eyes of the people I see there.
The past several years I have become very interested in AA’s history. I have had the opportunity to study and attend seminars with Dick B., a great AA scholar. I have read with interest AA Comes of Age and Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers. I have had the opportunity to visit Bill Wilson’s birthplace in Vermont and read old AA documents and Bills writings in his library there. All of this has led me to the understanding that the meeting between Bill and Dr. Bob and their subsequent work with AA #3 contain all the principles and the foundation for the Big Book and the Steps. These principles are alive and well today at AA meetings around the world.
The basic principle that I see at every meeting is “one drunk helping another”. The key to Bill’s sobriety was a visit by a fellow drunk and drinking buddy named Ebby who was able to reach Bill with the spiritual solution because Ebby was a drunk like Bill. Bill would never have heard a word if the message was coming from someone who didn’t suffer from the disease of alcoholism. This was the key.
Dr. Bob was set on the course of recovery in the same way when Bill was able to relate to him as one alcoholic to another. As Dr Bob says of Bill, “(he) was a man ..who had been cured by the very means I had been trying to employ, that is to say, the spiritual approach. He gave me information about the subject of alcoholism which was undoubtedly helpful. Of far more importance was the fact that he was the first living human with whom I had ever talked who knew what he was talking about in regard to alcoholism from actual experience. In other words, he talked my language. He knew all the answers and certainly not because he had picked them up in his reading.”
Throughout my own years of active alcoholism many people tried to help me. They approached me with spiritual, intellectual and psychological approaches. The wisdom fell on deaf ears. My friends and family all wished to see me stop drinking and offered to help but they “didn’t understand” and were unable to lead me to sobriety. It was only when I attended my first meeting and a complete stranger who was a fellow alcoholic offered me a welcoming hand that I was able to hear the solution. It was the first time another alcoholic had tried to help me. It was the beginning of a new way of life. I see the welcoming hand of AA at every meeting. At some meetings there are so many acts of kindness that I begin to take them for granted.
In 1965 a huge throng of Alcoholics at the International Convention stood and recited these words: “I am responsible. When anyone, anywhere, reaches out for help, I want the hand of AA always to be there. And for that: I am responsible.”
Forty years later this personal responsibility is alive and well and the hand of AA is still there. It is the hand of kindness, a welcoming hand, extended from one fellow sufferer to another. In every meeting and at every gathering the healing spirit of our program is carried out just like is was with Bob and Bill. As hands are held at the Big Meeting at the International Convention in San Antonio know that AA is “Alive and Well At Seventy-Five”.