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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Stealing a Little Vicarious Pleasure

"In our belief any scheme of combating alcoholism which proposes to shield the sick man from temptation is doomed to failure. If the alcoholic tries to shield himself he may succeed for a time, but he usually winds up with a bigger explosion than ever. We have tried these methods. These attempts to do the impossible have always failed."

"So our rule is not to avoid a place where there is drinking, if we have a legitimate reason for being there. That includes bars, nightclubs, dances, receptions, weddings, even plain ordinary whoopee parties. To a person who has had experiences with an alcoholic, this may seem like tempting Providence, but it isn't."

"You will note that we made an important qualification. Therefore, ask yourself on each occasion, "Have I any good social, business, or personal reason for going to this place? Or am I expecting to steal a little vicarious pleasure from the atmosphere of such places?" If you answer these questions satisfactorily, you need have no apprehension. Go or stay away, whichever seems best. But be sure that you are on solid spiritual ground before you start and that your motive in going is thoroughly good."

-- Alcoholics Anonymous, pp. 101-102--
Here, Bill W., the principal author of the 'Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, makes not one, but two, important qualifications for the alcoholic addict exposing him or herself to their old stomping grounds, so to speak. First: Is there a legitimate reason for our being at that particular bar, party, reception etc.? And, second: Are we spiritually grounded before we expose ourselves to our old environs? (Remember, as it says on page 85 of the 'Big Book,' "We are never cured of alcoholism. What we have is a daily reprieve contingent upon the maintenance of our spiritual condition.")

When reading the caution, above, I am always reminded of Bill's description of the night in Akron when, in desperation and fearing that he was about to succumb and take a drink, he reached out to make contact with the Oxford Group, and to find through them a drunk - who turned out to be Dr. Bob - with whom he could share his story.

Bill often described how he paced the lobby of the Mayflower Hotel, disheartened by a business deal that had for the moment cratered, listening to the sound of laughter and merriment drifting out of the hotel bar. He thought he might have a ginger ale, or perhaps a drink or two; his thinking being that then he would not have to spend a weekend alone with himself and his thoughts of failure and despair. Thankfully, at the other end of the lobby there was a list of local ministers and a payphone he could use to try and do what would eventually become known as "Twelfth Step work." After several dead ends, he connected with a Reverend Tonks, and through him, Henrietta Sieberling, and eventually through her, Dr. Bob. If Bill had succumbed and gone in to the bar, perhaps just to have a ginger ale and "to steal a little vicarious pleasure," I know that my life, and that of millions of others would have been radically different.

I also remember an A.A. acquaintance who had been through the ringer, but was sober a few precious months and was a regular attendee at all our local morning and evening meetings. His name was Al, and he would always say, "I'm still Al, and I'm still an alcoholic!" One morning he confidently shared how after finishing the part-time job he held, he was stopping at the local bar to read his newspaper and have a ginger ale. After the meeting, I shared with him the advice about having a legitimate reason for being in a tavern etc., and how if he was just there to soak up the vibrations, it probably wasn't a good idea. That was the last any of us saw of him. He undoubtedly died drunk, as it was clear that he didn't have another shot left in him.

When I was new in A.A., I was told by the old-timers, "Hang around the barbershop long enough and sooner or later you are going to get a haircut." It's advice well-founded through long experience, and it has served me well for years. I do not shy away from pubs, parties and receptions so long as I'm spiritually fit and have a legitimate reason to be there. But I've found that hanging out at a coffee shop with friends, or going to a meeting, is a far better place "to steal a little vicarious pleasure," or to outright enjoy myself.

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