Born out of Service

by Lynn D.

Alcoholics Anonymous was born out of the spirit of service—one alcoholic talking to another. Ebby T., an old drinking buddy of Bill W., visited Bill in his Brooklyn apartment one day in November 1934. Newly sober, Ebby told how he was getting “honest about himself and his defects, how to make restitution where it was owed, how he’d tried to practice a brand of giving that demanded no return for himself.” Bill thought their talk was significant because Ebby was “himself a onetime-hopeless alcoholic. As a fellow sufferer, he could and did identify himself with me as no other person could.” (Pass It On, pp. 115 and 127).

In December of that year, after Bill’s release from Towns Hospital for the last time, he and Lois started attending Oxford Group meetings. It was not long before he and a group of alcoholics started meeting separately in the Wilson’s Clinton St. home. For all his efforts, Bill was unable to sober up one alcoholic in those early months, but Lois observed that his efforts had kept him sober for six months.

One alcoholic talking to another happens in every level of service

In May 1935, Bill W. found himself in Akron, Ohio on a failed business venture. Agitated, resentful and lonely, he paced the lobby of the Mayflower Hotel, attracted to the crowd in the bar. Again he recalled his work at Towns Hospital and Calvary Mission had protected him from drinking. In that moment, he realized he needed another alcoholic to talk to, as much as one might possibly need him.

The next day Bill Wilson was introduced to Dr. Robert Smith (a.k.a. Dr. Bob) at the house of Henrietta Sieberling, an active member of the Oxford Group in Akron. Dr. Bob would write later that Bill W. “was the first living human with whom I had ever talked who knew what he was talking about in regard to alcoholism from actual experience. In other words, he talked my language. He knew all the answers, and certainly not because he had picked them up in his reading” (Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers, p. 68).

Two years after their initial meeting, there were two small but solid groups of alcoholics meeting regularly—one in Akron and one in New York—and a sprinkling of groups elsewhere. One alcoholic talking to another takes place in every level of service. One-on-one help, like sponsorship, is vital. But A.A. also relies on the volunteerism of individuals at the group level, in Central Office, institution committees, and general service.

Photo credits available upon request to thepoint@aasfmarin.org

My own introduction to the power of service in Alcoholics Anonymous was in January 2000, when I was nominated to be the coffeemaker for the Sunday Bookworms group in San Francisco. I had attended A.A. meetings for four years but still could not stop drinking. After making coffee for two or three months, I remember being tempted by a bottle of gin on my kitchen counter on a Wednesday. What stopped me was the thought of my Sunday night commitment. In one single moment, the humiliation of relapsing and its dark consequences outweighed any temporary relief I might get from a drink. That commitment literally kept me from drinking for six months.

I was looking at 12 months of continuous sobriety for the first time in my life

When the commitment ended, the group nominated me to be secretary—a role both humbling and elevating. By January 19, 2001, I was looking at 12 months of continuous sobriety for the first time in my life. Since that time, I’ve held every kind of group service position (literature, treasurer, greeter, group rep), and had the privilege of sponsoring many wonderful women. Currently I have a regular commitment with my home group, a monthly teleservice shift, several H&I commitments, and I sponsor a group of women. I believe these activities not only safeguard my sobriety but are instant and magical relievers of the pain of selfishness, impatience and fear.

I sincerely believe that, as recovering alcoholics, we are uniquely called to reach out to those who are in their most sad and broken states. But just as meaningful to me is that those of us who actually do the reaching out find greatness that is far beyond ourselves. But please… don’t take my word for it. Try it for yourself.

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