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Thursday, April 14, 2011

One Sufferer to Another

Bill W. once remarked that there was nothing new in the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, that all of our principles and the processes behind the 12 Steps themselves were borrowed from other, older - perhaps ancient - sources. The only thing, in fact, that Bill acknowledged to be unique was the phenomenon of one alcoholic addict talking to another about a solution to their shared problem.

In one of AA's best pamphlets, "A Member's Eye View of Alcoholics Anonymous," the author, delivering an address on A.A. to a class on alcohol counselling, in reviewing the night in Akron, Ohio when Bill first reached out to Dr. Bob, notes that this may have been "the first recorded instance where one alcoholic consciously and deliberately turned to another alcoholic, not to drink with, but to stay sober with."

As the "Member's Eye View" author notes:
Much more important than what was said that evening was who was saying it. Long before the average alcoholic walks through the door of his first A.A. meeting, he has sought help from others or help has been offered to him, in some instances, even forced upon him. But these helpers are always superior beings: spouses, parents, physicians, employers, priests, ministers, rabbis, swamis, judges, policemen, even bartenders. The moral culpability of the alcoholic and the moral superiority of the helper, even though unstated, are always clearly understood. The overtone of parental disapproval and discipline in these authority figures is always present. for the first time (in 1935) an alcoholic suddenly heard a different drummer. Instead of the constant and menacing rat-a-tat-tat of "This is what you should do," he heard an instantly recognizable voice saying, "This is what I did."
 Perhaps it is because I have read Bill's account of their fateful meeting more often than that of Dr. Bob, or perhaps because I have been on many 12th Step calls but have never received one, that I tend to look at the whole initial meeting of Bill and Bob from Bill's point of view. But reading the brief account of their meeting in the "Member's Eye View" pamphlet, I'm struck by how relieved Dr. Bob must have been to find out he was no longer suffering alone.
"I am personally convinced," the pamphleteer writes, "that the basic search of every human being from the cradle to the grave, is to find at least one other human being before whom he can stand completely naked, stripped of all pretense or defense, and trust that person not to hurt him, because the other person has stripped himself naked, too."

Prof. Dr. Carl G. Jung
Indeed, whether knowingly or not, the "Member's Eye View" author echoes what Carl Jung relayed to Bill in his letter of January 30, 1961 (available here), where the great psychologist observed:
"I am strongly convinced that the evil principle prevailing in this world leads the unrecognized spiritual need into perdition, if it is not counteracted either by real religious insight or by the protective wall of human community."
Indeed, perhaps one of the essential miracle-making ingredients of the 12 Step movement, irrespective of whether the alcoholic addict has undergone the much-vaunted "spiritual awakening," is that it brings the sufferer who is typically isolated in society, whether or not he realizes it, back within "the protective wall of human community."

For my part, when I first entered into recovery - and again at the lonely end of a long hiatus from A.A. meetings mid-sobriety - there was a huge relief in just being in the presence of other people who I knew had suffered the same existential pain of separation from everyone and everythin except first the bottle, and later, the alcoholic mind.

My first sponsee used to always say, "Don't leave before the miracle happens." Looking back at the physical and mental/emotional bottoms I have hit (both in getting sober, and in staying that way), it has always been the love and care that I have found in the presence of other A.A. members that first gave me hope that I too would recover from the lonely, frightening and seemingly hopeless depths I had plumbed.

That is why I can say, in all truth, "Whenever anyone, anywhere reaches out for help, I want the hand of A.A. always to be there." And, for that, healing "hand of A.A." being there, I am both grateful and responsible.

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