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Grapevine September 1947 A.A. Holds Key to Powers


September 1947

A.A. Holds Key to Powers

I hadn’t been on the program very long before very gradually the idea began to sink in to the recesses of my mind that self betterment was one of the basic pillars on which our program is based, and is indeed a primary essential if we wish continued sobriety. What I wanted on the program was sobriety and I could look the other members of the group in the eye and tell them that all my troubles could be summed up in one word–booze. Actually, however, there were many defects in my personality and character and I didn’t realize how many until I had been on the program for a considerable period.

According to many psychologists and psychiatrists, most alcoholics take to drink as a means of escape. However, by a rigid application of the 12 Steps it is possible for us to lead lives in which the need for escape is eliminated and in effecting this miracle we act as our own psychiatrists.

If it will make this idea more clear, it is my experience that a psychiatrist tries to locate some frustration or troublesome matter in a person’s background, then brings it out in the open for the patient to recognize and handle in a normal fashion instead of trying to run away from it. Using the 12 Steps as our tools, we A.A. members gradually eliminate these things in our own way and create for ourselves a way of life in which we are happily dry.

This is, of course, closely related to our 8th and 10th Steps wherein we “made a list of persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all” and wherein we “continued to take personal inventory and when wrong promptly admitted it.” Since we are to be alcoholics all of our lives and must be everlastingly on guard, we have in reality assumed a lifetime job. Our quiet time is closely interrelated with the application of these two particular Steps and their importance in planning our sobriety and new way of life cannot be overlooked. Most of us plan our work after a fashion once we get to the office. If a motor trip or a vacation is in view many pleasurable moments are attained in planning each particular leg of the journey, maps are brought out and equipment is renovated and cleaned. Some of us, particularly when going hunting or fishing, even plan for unforeseen contingencies and alternative routes. This is a technique which I believe fits very well into our A.A. quiet times. Let us during this period practice providing for unforeseen contingencies and alternative routes in our daily A.A. way of life. There is much pleasure that can be obtained from this procedure and it will reinsure our final objective of continued sobriety.

The word “power” comes into our A.A. talk and literature with regularity. There is the “Power greater than ourselves” referred to in our 2nd Step. There is also the power of the group and we often think of the power of the grip John Barleycorn had over us as individuals. A power that we hear of all too little and the importance of which ofttimes escapes our attention is the power of example. We seldom realize or comprehend the power of our own individual examples on other members of our group. Do you think that if the founders and earlier members of the group had practiced erratic behavior with continuous slips that our organization would have grown to a membership of 40,000 to 45,000 within a period of twelve years, or that if E.T., C.L. or L.H.’s handling of their application of the A.A. program had been less consistent that our Chicago Group would have enjoyed its phenomenal growth and success? Most of us would be surprised and pleased if we realized the importance of the power of our example in our own groups–it is a power we should jealously guard and treasure.

The transition between power of example and slips is not difficult. They are closely related as the chronic slipper has a negative effect on the group as a whole. For lack of better name we call the following a slip. As the case may be, this person gets into his car or takes the elevator down from his office and makes for the saloon of his choice. He opens the door, goes in, and deposits himself within arm reach of the bar. When the bartender says, “What will you have?” he lays his money on the bar and replies in a distinct voice, “Bourbon and soda.” The bartender puts a shot glass down, gets the soda and reaches to the back bar for the bourbon which in good time is poured and in turn gulped down. This describes what, with some minor variations, is called a slip. To most other people, however, it would appear simply that here is a fellow who wanted a drink and stepped out and got it. Perhaps slips aren’t slips at all but wilful deviations from the program–shall we say vacations from A.A.? Our program has never failed–but there have been many misapplications, on the part of aspiring A.A.s, of the program to their daily lives.

Progress in my personal transition from lying, cheating and general dishonesty was effected because there seems to be a line of demarcation which my conscience readily recognized between truth and lies and honesty and cheating. However, the gradual change from arrogance and conceit to tolerance and humility is a fine line not easily discernible and my program has been difficult and slow. As to those virtues of tolerance and humility, both you and I can hear the world crying for them; but as A.A.s and individuals, how many of us actually view them as vital ingredients for our personal success? And how difficult it was for me to realize that a tolerant attitude is no favor to be condescendingly granted to my wife and friends, but is vastly more beneficial to the person who adopts it, than to the person who is being tolerated. I, for one, must develop tolerance for others so that I can retain and tolerate myself.

A.A. asks an answer to but one question, “Are you ready?” The answer must be categorically yes or no. When the question is asked, our newcomer is at the fork of the road; to the left is continued alcoholic excesses and to the right the A.A. way of life with its attendant happiness and peace of mind. It requires no exercise of the will to answer this question. All that is required is an election freely made between two choices–and any alcoholic may be free. Don’t be mistaken–this is not high-faluting philosophy–this is the record of A.A.

Since I was first introduced to A.A. many things have happened. The war has been brought to a successful conclusion. My personal war with alcohol has, at least, reached the armistice stage. Peace with all its ramifications has gained access to my life and home.

I have discovered I am not a “big shot” but only a small cog in a big wheel. I have learned that yesterday cannot be recalled and that tomorrow is an unknown quality and that today–this present 24-hour period–is the time to practice the principles of A.A.

H.B. Chicago, Illinois

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