BY: E. C. | YORK, MAINE
Some of us have to get sober before we can get honest
THE FOREWORD to the 1939 Big Book, toward the end, reads much like the Preamble to AA as we hear it at most meetings today–including the statement that “the only for membership is an honest desire to stop drinking.” When and why the word “honest” was dropped, I’ve not yet pinpointed. But I suspect that some of the early AAs found, as I have in recent years, that dishonesty and self-delusion were side effects of alcohol; they often tainted the desire to stop drinking, and did not wear off the moment one decided to put the cork in the bottle. It might have been decided, in composing our membership Tradition, that making honesty an initial requirement might put some off.
I can distinctly recall my alcoholic mind thinking at an early meeting on this subject, “I don’t belong here–my desire to stop isn’t really honest!” And I voiced the thought. Fortunately, an older member called down the table to me, “But you want to stay sober, don’t you?” Thus I was brought into focus once again.
But I did not lose my doubts in my first year and a half of sobriety, and they eventually broke down my desire to stay sober. After almost two years of fighting a losing battle with so-called controlled drinking, I finally decided I’d better go back to AA. I knew my downhill slide was gathering momentum; the “mental Antabuse” of AA in conflict with alcohol caused unrelenting soul-sickness, for which I knew AA alone offered relief.
I seriously doubted that I deserved another chance–or that I was even capable of taking it, for I soon discovered, on my first attempts at a comeback, that I still did not want to stop drinking. Eventually, I took an older member’s advice (not really believing it would work for me) and started to pray every morning for a desire to stop drinking. After three or four months, I heard myself saying one morning, “Please strengthen my desire to stay sober!” I was overjoyed at the realization that once I’d been set free. I’m grateful to add that in the past three and a half years, I’ve been neither tortured by the obsession with alcohol nor tempted to drink.
In the back of the Big Book and the “Twelve and Twelve” are listed the Traditions as first printed in 1946–the long form. The Third Tradition reads as follows: “Our membership ought to include all who suffer from alcoholism. Hence we may refuse none who wish to recover. Nor ought AA membership ever depend upon money or conformity. Any two or three alcoholics gathered together for sobriety may call themselves an AA group, provided that, as a group, they have no other affiliation.” (Note here again the similarity to parts of our Preamble; and, perhaps, the seeds of Traditions Six and Seven.)
AA’s co-founder Bill W. apparently met with much controversy and some resistance in the forming of the Traditions. I read in Dr. Bob and the Good Old-Timers that it wasn’t until 1950, just before Dr. Bob died, that he finally agreed to confirm the Traditions.
For me, Dr. Bob’s “Keep it simple” is invaluable advice for keeping sober–and happily so–second only to “Stay away from one drink for one day”! In fact, it was largely his stress on the importance of simplicity that pared our membership Tradition down to “a desire to stop drinking.”
I think Tradition Three is truly the key to the program, most especially with regard to the First and Twelfth Steps. I was an indefatigable analyzer for at least my first year (was I or wasn’t I a “real” alcoholic?–complete with all the “Yes, buts”). After seven months or so of white-knuckle sobriety, I was fortunately reminded that “the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking.” I’ve learned since that I’m far from being alone; a lot of other drunks have been reluctant to call themselves alcoholics. That is why, in twelfth-stepping, I think it is important to remind newcomers of our simple membership requirement. In any recovery, the individual’s desire to do so is essential.
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