Surrender, Dorothy or How Long Do You Have to Go to Meetings?

Answer: Until You WantTo Go. It's official. I have the personality and thinking patterns of an alcoholic. I haven't wet my whistle in some time, but I found out today that I fit right in with the other misfit sober drunks in Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.). Doctors and psychologists have described alcoholics as suffering with a superiority complex coupled with an inferiority complexes.. The result is a desperate grandiosity to prove self-worth. We want to show the world we're better than they thought we were, and they didn't think much of us. We want to do big, important things that will give us more than our fair share of fame, wealth, prestige, security and romance. Some of us once wanted to be King of the World. After being sober a while many will settle for prince or princess of the world unless the honesty required to stay sober has taught them some humility. Take me, for example. I am now willing to give up the notion of writing the greatest American novel ever, and becoming a literary giant. I will "settle" for having a stable of bestsellers and being interviewed on TV by David Letterman and Charlie Rose. Naturally, I hope that the right publications will give my books glowing reviews, and fill my fat head with far-fetched tribute phrases to keep me warm on cold nights. But enough about me for now. This is a true story of the Pandora's box of wet dreams, greedy, self-important, delusional thinking that some early A.A. members opened after Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) became internationally famous and respected for its ability to get even lost causes sober. A.A. helped restore these early members to a functional place in society, business and family life that they had long given up hope of ever seeing again. They were amazed at this miracle, and some figured there had to be a way to cash in on this great success, especially after Jack Alexander's March 1, 1941 article "Alcoholics Anonymous" ( in the Saturday Evening Post. This very positive article about just how successful the A.A. program was in getting drunks sober became hugely popular. Their was a national and international surge of interest in the A.A. program. In 1941 A.A. was six years old and there were approximately 2,000 men and women who belonged to it, as compared to the 2,000,000 recovering people in A.A. worldwide today. The article stressed how A.A. seemed to work because one drunk, now sober, helped another. Service was and is the foundation of the fellowship. (Meanwhile, some 70 years later there is new research proving have what makes A.A. work: helping others.) John D. Rockefeller took an interest in A.A. when it was new and struggling. He did contribute to the group's early support. But Rockefeller stressed to group members the importance of A.A.'s paying their own way, and not looking to be supported in their endeavors by outside contributions A.A. took this advice to heart and created Tradition Seven: "Every A.A. group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions." This tradition, as well as is one of the 12 traditions or principles of A.A. are still followed today. The A.A. members learned the hard way that they needed Tradition Six: "An A.A. group ought never to endorse, finance, or lend the A.A. name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property and prestige divert us from our primary purpose." Getting back to the Pandora's box that was opened and the results which eventually led to the inclusion of this tradition, all hell broke loose after the Alexander article hit the streets. At this time there were some 2,000 members, mostly all former falling down drunks and some skid row bums who had achieved sobriety through the program. They were back behind their executive desks, driving their trucks and taxis, waiting on customers and generally succeeding at earning an income. Their families loved them again, and most forgave them, especially as the disease concept of alcoholism became well known. Alexander did point out the theory of some that alcoholism could be compared to having an allergy. An alcoholic had a similar negative reaction to their allergen, alcohol. Or, as the old joke heard around the church basements of A.A. meetings goes, "Yeah, I had an allergy to alcohol. If I drank I would break out. I broke out in bars, clubs, restaurants, at home and even at work." A great many of these sobered up drunks took A.A.'s new popularity and earned respect to heart. They felt that A.A. could do more for the world than just get a few drunks sober here and there. These recovering people got together and decided that now that A.A. was officially a success it could do more. Why not unleash the full potential of A.A.? They reasoned that they should go into business, and/or finance any enterprise in the field of alcoholism, They felt they had a responsibility to pay it forward cause whose time had come. Some of the plans they came up with for how to get more deserving folks into the A.A. program were: 1. They would build their own hospital chain. (Don't we have some of those A.A.-based chains today? A.A. itself might not finance or control these hospitals, but a person who went in for rehab would soon learn treatment was the A.A. way or go out and drink again. They are offered no alternatives or choices.) 2. They would educate the public about alcoholism, and rewrite school and medical textbooks. 3. They would gather up the derelicts from Skid Rows, sort them out into groups of those who were losers and didn't have a chance and those they thought could get well. They would make it possible for these chosen few to make their livelihood in a rarefied, if somewhat quarantined, confinement away from all temptation. These new businesses would make large sums of money, and finance other good works for alcoholics. 4. They quite seriously pontificated about changing the laws of the land in line with the view that alcoholics are not bad people, they are sick. This would stop drunks from getting thrown in jails. Judges would parole them into the custody of A.A. members and groups. (This actually is the case, as anyone who has ever received a D.U.I. and been mandated to attend A.A. meetings can tell you.) 5. They further saw themselves branching out into dope addiction and criminality despite the stated and well-known to them "primary principle" of A.A. which was written in the A.A. preamble as, "Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety." Pretty clear to many, but not all, of the recovering people.. 6. They reasoned that A.A. could cure anything. Hadn't it turned their own lives around? They would start A.A. groups for the depressives and paranoid mentally ill. . A.A. could handle misfits, crazies, those estranged from society and other misfits the sicker the better to prove the point. They reasoned, by God, if alcoholism could be licked, so could any problem if it used the A.A. program. 7. Some of them envisioned an utopia where laborers and capitalists would love one another. 8. The absolute honesty they must practice to remain sober, might even be applied to those in politics and a clean-up there. 9. They enjoyed their newfound happiness and just knew they could teach others how to get and stay happy. 10. They would endorse products and even take the opportunity to do P.R. for liquor companies that were requesting such representation to show the irresponsible drinker the virtues of moderate drinking. Although most did not touch a drop of alcohol, and none would ever achieve moderate drinking status based on the well-known fact that you can't turn a pickle into a cucumber again, somehow the liquor companies thought they were the people to speak to the irresponsible imbibers. Being endorsed by A.A. and recommended by sober group members would build their company's reputation and esteem in the public's eyes they believed. Dreams die hard, of course, and it took some very bad experiences to get these early A.A. members, some still a bit mentally and emotionally under the influence, to realize the error of their ways and end the grandiose plans. They knew that the proposed A.A. liquor company reps could well end up drunk, resulting in an undesirable alteration in public opinion. They ended up taking the name of A.A. off halfway houses and clubs where there had been a few too many relapses to continue without tarnishing A.A.'s good reputation. Some members went to Bill Wilson, the co-founder of A.A., and asked about becoming alcoholism counselors in hospitals where they could receive a salary for their experience, strength and hope. In fact, Bill himself had been invited by one hospital to work in this capacity. He had seriously considered it and was excited at the prospect until he realized he could not cash in on his A.A. experience without doing harm to the program. (Many hospital A.A. counselors today don't seem bothered by their consciences though.) The honesty and humility that these early members of A.A. learned from the 12 steps, brought them to the realization that they were, as the kids say today, tripping with their crazy ideas and plans for A.A. Recovering people didn't flock to become hospital founders or even sobriety counselors, and A.A. remained untarnished by greed and hubris. A.A. members know they are all one drink or drug away from a total relapse. Their sobriety, they learn in twelve step programs, is contingent on their spiritual condition. The members of A.A. in 1941 finally accepted that they were tripping and that their ideas were based on character defects they needed to have removed. One man who was invited by a distillery to represent the company went to Bill W. and asked if he should do it. It was a case of merely having to hear one's self speak lunacy aloud to another and finally having the lights come on. He didn't do it, of course. I got a kick from this story of human weaknesses, character defects, greed and extravagant pride because I could relate. I never wanted to be a worker among workers, or a cog in the wheel. I always wanted to be the star of the show and most of the production. In his article, mostly a glowing tribute to A.A. and its members, Alexander felt compelled to mention the general emotional immaturity of the alcoholic until he begins to grow up by working A.A.'s 12 steps. I wanted to find the cure for cancer, but without taking all the tedious science and medial classes and doing painstaking research. If the truth be told, I most wanted to be a literary lion with a long trail of bestsellers and appearances on David Letterman and Charlie Rose. Writing was hard work though, and I wanted to find an easier way to become a famous, wealthy author that didn't involve so much time and energy, well, writing, for starters. I wanted fame and wealth to come and strike me like a lightening bolt. I thought about the interviews that enterprising reporters would do with my family, friends, former acquaintances and coworkers who all agreed that they just saw that flash of rare brilliance in me and knew I would shine someday. I really liked imagining those interviews and the letters to the editors of book review publications about my early signs of extreme talent.But right now I needed to take a nap. If I had been an A.A. member in the ear
ly days, I imagine I would give high-priced speeches on the secrets of finding sobriety despite the fact that I only learned the secret was to surrender when the shards of my life were down around my ankles and I wasn't fit for human companionship. Who wouldn't surrender when it got bad enough? Hitting bottom is a rude, rude wake-up call to either grow up or die. I would have been chasing that A.A. gravy train though even if I had to do it still half in the bag and thinking pathetic mush. I would have liked to educate the masses on how alcoholics should be treated in this society. I'd rather teach than be a doer, that's for sure. The ugly truth of this story is that I did once take that I also wanted to cash in on A.A.'s success by working as a certified substance abuse counselor for ten years. In this capacity I used little of what I learned about Counseling Psychology in graduate school, and mostly answered patient questions about the length of my sobriety, my personal story of losing all and regaining my life, and sharing humorous anecdotes about some of the insane things I did while high. These conversations brought me a decent income and some status, even as the two hats I wore grew heavier and more cumbersome. Finally, I decided I never drank or drugged as bad as most of my patients, and I could afford to have just one drink. That led to my losing everything sobriety had given me. I lost my husband, custody of my children, became homeless, unemployable and ill and lost the hope that I could ever return to the beautiful sober life I had enjoyed for 15 years. These circa 1941 recovering alcoholics seem not to have had to ride their delusions into relapses, and I imagine that when they looked back at their thinking during that time they could only attribute this fact to the grace of God. Many hospital treatment programs cash in or seem to on A.A.'s reputation by using their 12 step program as a treatment model and getting all patients, and clients into mandatory meetings as soon as they stop throwing up and shaking after detox. But Alcoholics Anonymous is not responsible for this commercial abuse. A.A. should not be regarded as greedy and money-seeking on this account. They still only get the one dollar or two at most that members put in the basket at meetings to cover literature, and the expenses of keeping the thing going with paid staff workers who are non-A.A. Who or what will next attempt to get rich quick on the 12 steps is only a matter of waiting to see. I believe I have been restored to sanity and just want to leave this world a little better than I found it and I don't plan on getting any public accolades for doing so.

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