After binge watching drag races at home, I now hear this phrase in my sleep: “If you can’t love yourself, how in the he*% you gonna love somebody else?” Along these lines, Rick R reminds us The Golden Rule requires high self-esteem (and how to get it). Sheer repetition leads to Luke H joining Teleservice in Banana Pancakes—a great reason to remember to announce service positions. And in a book review Alan G recounts some of Bill W’s most historic lines, such as “I am an anarchist who revels in liberty.”
Our Letters to the Editor include an opposition statement and a response from the Intercounty Fellowship of A.A. Board. We also see Another Perspective on Service from John W. When all else fails, try the power of promotion from Kathleen C’s Little Sister. I’m looking forward to the time when “Corona” just means “beer” again and I run out of reasons to be a couch potato. Tune in next month when the Point features sponsor trinities, tiffany lamps, Old Brazil and so much more! If you’d like to say something to our fellowship, click here, or here for the Point Podcast.
When my sister Carolyn and I were kids we once drew a chalk line down the center of our shared room and promised death to whoever crossed the line. She thought I was a mean bossy big sister. I thought she was an annoying sensitive little sister. After high school we both left home. Mom and Dad had problems with alcohol and pills, so we set out to create some of our own.
We shared a two-room apartment on Read Street, in Baltimore, where we both went to college. It was fun for a while, there were parties and adventures. But it got old fast and our tastes in substances were always a little different. I thought her sloppy drunken dope-fiend friends and their shoplifting habits were too low-rent for words. I drank wine, went to art films instead of bars and was much more ladylike. I also feared that her friends were taking my sister away from me. I busted her to our parents who had her committed to a mental hospital (they didn’t have rehab back then). Her lowlife friends broke her out and she and I didn’t speak for a year.
It was fun for a while
I moved to San Francisco, and a few years later she moved to L.A. We were no longer sworn enemies. I was married, even had two little daughters. I was still drinking and using, though. She had been recruited by a big company in the arts world and was soon in the Hollywood social whirl. She whirled a little too hard and got fired from the big company and had a tough time landing another job. Then something happened. She started going to some kind of meetings. Next thing I knew, she was inviting me to go with her, every time I came down to visit.
I made fun of her. I figured Alcoholics Anonymous was just another one of her psychobabble therapy-of-the-month fads. I half expected to see some sari-clad guru surrounded by incense smoke and devotees bestowing garlands around the necks of trusting believers. Carolyn didn’t care. She practiced promotion rather than attraction big time. “You’re a mess. You need a meeting!” She dragged me to meetings in Hollywood. “Come on, we’ll see movie stars.” And we did.
I also saw what I needed to see, the effects of Alcoholics Anonymous on my sister’s life. This was a girl who, after a night of drinking, once drove a car halfway around Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C. In the rain. Flipped over on its roof. She had emerged into the rain-lashed darkness, her evening gown in shreds, screaming for her Charles Jourdan shoes. Now she spent her evenings in A.A. meetings, in West Hollywood, Fairfax and less posh areas of Los Angeles. She took me to gay meetings, biker meetings, women’s meetings. I didn’t want to identify; these people weren’t like me. But here was my sister, one of them, but still herself. She didn’t stop being Carolyn just because she got sober. She was happy. She wasn’t perfect; she was still my annoying sensitive little sister. I still made fun of her, but something was changing in me too.
She crossed the chalk line
Every time I went home I resolved to change my life the way she had changed hers. I started going to meetings, even though I was still drinking. Keep coming back, she told me. When I finally hit bottom and quit smoking dope, she was the one I called. When I announced proudly, “I quit smoking dope,” she answered “And . . .?” When I replied, “And what?” she answered again, “What about alcohol?” When I dithered about how alcohol wasn’t really my drug of choice, I was mostly a pothead, I hardly even got drunk . . . she suggested I try quitting alcohol. So I tried quitting alcohol. Twenty years ago, I tried quitting alcohol and I have continued ever since, one day at a time.
Thanks to my sister. My sister who crossed the chalk line, who practiced promotion as well as attraction, who took me to meetings, who showed me how quitting drinking and working the steps and going to meetings could change my life, the way it changed hers. My annoying sensitive little sister.
“As an A.A. member, I am an anarchist who revels in liberty” (Our Great Responsibility, p. 27). I believe if I had heard those words spoken by Bill W., the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, on my first day of getting sober, I might never have wanted to leave the rooms again. Of course without working the steps my chances of staying sober were slim. But the philosophy that serves as the foundation for A.A’s success has been a primary factor for my continued sobriety. All knowledge of alcoholics and alcoholism leading up to that fateful meeting between Bill W. and Dr. Bob would have everyone believe that a society of drunks helping drunks was an impossibility. It turns out that lunatics running the asylum can actually produce miracles around the world.
Our Fellowship would find in our principles of recovery a sufficient containing power to hold us in unity
Published in April 2019, Our Great Responsibility includes sixteen of Bill W.’s talks at the General Service Conference between 1951 and 1970. He narrates the precarious birth of the General Service Conference, the tumultuous growing pains as the Conference took hold of its intended purpose, the maturity of the service structure as the Fellowship rapidly expanded, and finally the adult phase of a global organization whose function is to forever be unorganized. Reading through the talks, I felt Bill’s amazement witnessing the unlikely development of A.A.’s service structure. He shares his sense of humility, acceptance and grace and the history of the Conference. The guiding presence of a higher power, an ultimate authority, resonates down through the years as Bill’s tone fluctuates from emotional effluence to wizened analysis of the miraculous gift spreading worldwide among those beaten to within inches of their own lives.
Bill talks us through the big changes faced by this experimental society of sobriety: the writing of the book, the explosion in membership and the formation of the Foundation. The loss of Dr. Bob and the birth of the General Service Conference all happened within the first fifteen years. Even through the darkest times of A.A.’s adolescence Bill refers to what he calls the language of the heart. He expressed a strong belief that a society of “drunks helping drunks” could work like the 12 steps to change in alcoholics’ lives. He witnessed a psychic transformation in the Fellowship as a whole as it gradually placed its trust in the leaderless leadership.
Bill always stayed focused on A.A.’s primary purpose. “Everybody in a certain sense is a leader in this Society. Everybody who carries the language of the heart to the man or gal still suffering; this is the supreme leadership. This is the greatest trusted errand. But there are those of us who find ourselves cast into assignments of service leadership, and this is nothing but a specialty in which we are supposed to become expert and dedicated in the task of making the primary leadership possible. If the light is to be carried to the newcomer, he has to be brought within reach of it. This is our business here. It is the business of every intergroup association, every group committee” (pp. 161-162).
During that first decade the ever-present doom of dissolution became the fertile ground from which a vibrant fellowship sprung. Much like the gift of desperation guides the suffering alcoholic to the life raft of sobriety, so did those fledgling groups cling desperately to what they were building to protect the gift of sobriety at all costs. The traditions evolved during that period of adolescence as groups discovered how best to carry the message. They survived through trial and error, sometimes overreaching and other times overly cautious in their acceptance of change. “Then came the test whether our growing groups could live and work together — whether the enormous, explosive, neurotic quality of our Fellowship would find in our principles of recovery a sufficient containing power to hold us in unity” (p. 41).
Simultaneously, the Alcoholic Foundation (now known as the General Service Office, or G.S.O.) and the individual groups learned the lessons which informed the creation of the traditions. Each discovered their own path towards a shared understanding of how Alcoholics Anonymous would survive. The rapidly growing society of alcoholics — many of whom were crushed morally, physically and spiritually upon entering the Fellowship — brought the question of leadership into sharp focus for Bill. These old-timers knew recovery depended on faith in a power greater than themselves. So, it turned out, did our unity.
A.A. progress can be reckoned in terms of just two words: humility and responsibility
A momentous shift in A.A’s service structure occurred at the 1965 General Service Conference. The balance of trustees shifted from a majority of Class A non-alcoholic trustees to a majority of Class B alcoholic trustees in 1966. The fate of the society was in their hands. A.A. had come of age and the tumultuous growing period evolved into a stable service structure. Its foundation was traditions and principles for adapting to whatever challenges the future held.
Bill’s talk at the 1965 convention resonated with an aura of grace. His words conveyed a sense of calm reassurance for the fellowship’s capability to meet its responsibilities. Early on in my own path of service in A.A. I heard a quote from this talk, “As we know, all A.A. progress can be reckoned in terms of just two words: humility and responsibility” (p. 84).
Alcoholics Anonymous may never again have to trudge through the challenges of those first 20 years, but change is constant. Our ability to adapt is prefigured in the experience, strength and hope of those who set the stage before us. We face momentous changes. Social structures are shifting, new technologies are evolving, and people around the world are wondering what the future holds. We in A.A. have a history of adapting to survive. We will reach still-suffering alcoholics wherever they may be. Guided by our three legacies of recovery, unity and service, we take responsibility for the progress necessary for the future. “Ever-deepening humility, accompanied by an ever-greater willingness to accept and to act upon clear-cut obligations — these are truly our touchstones for all growth in the life of the spirit” (p. 84).
For moreinformation on Our Great Responsibility is in the Spring 2019 issue of Box 459.
One cannot overstate the importance of intensive work with other alcoholics to insure immunity from drinking” (Alcoholics Anonymous, pg. 88). The effect this had upon the Founders of the program in the short time that preceded their writing of the Big Book, in which they made the observation, has been underscored by the experiences of countless recovered drunks since. Yours truly is among that group of believers. That service comes in many forms, I discovered before reading about it in the Big Book in one of the stories in the back (Alcoholics Anonymous, pg. 366). Later in my sobriety I realized my frequent volunteering to clean up the meeting space, washing dirty reusable coffee cups, or sweeping and mopping, even while still struggling to stop drinking, had broken down the walls of solitude and distance from when I first crossed the A.A. threshold.
He picked me up off the canvas before the count had reached ten
Sober years that followed the miracle of the obsession lifting on that fateful St. Patrick’s Day. I can report only what I have seen and only what I have heard about the principle of service. I know how those who were of service to me, worked with neither pay nor promise of reward, to try to bestow upon me the value of adherence to the suggestions offered by working the steps. As a grateful heir to the legacy of those who walked the walk before me, I found the limitless lode would only pay dividends if mined for the rest of my life with the proceeds given away entirely. As my sponsor was so kind to demonstrate for me, sometimes it was less painful to run into a brick wall than to try to help another alcoholic, especially one who is unsure of their real need for such help. With such service comes the pain of failure. Yet such failure might actually only belong to the unwilling alcoholic. It makes no difference to the one trying to help. The failure still hurts. So the policy we take out to insure against the effects of this risk of failure, is the continued striving to carry the message of hope to those whom the disease besets. Because ours is only a daily reprieve, my struggle to fend off my disease and provide help as I may which others might need, once joined becomes a battle ongoing. But it is nevertheless, a battle that we can hope to win today.
As with any step, where my progress on it has slowed, I have heard sound advice. Reflection upon the prior step can produce unexpected, positive results. So, too, with the principle of service. In a moment of confusion and weakness, when that cherished sponsee had gone out and all contact with him and his family ceased, I asked, What’s the point? Is this all service is about? Make the effort, lose and move on? This doubt seemed to grow with each moment I gave power to it by pondering it. In my alcoholic quagmire, the thought came again that I needed to retreat to the previous step, to turn to improving my conscious contact with my Higher Power, to seek solace in His embrace and power.
I was back again for the next round
What came as such a surprise to me in that effort, likely would come as no shock to those who had experienced this revelation before me. For if my Higher Power was so powerful He could relieve me of my obsessive drinking behavior, why could He not also relieve me of this doubt? I had been told there were no mistakes in His world, so my work, albeit unsuccessful, with my lost sponsee, was also not a mistake. I found that the fruit of my doubt was that I had been willing to turn to Him for help and with that action had received the help and guidance I needed. He had picked me up off the canvas before the count had reached ten. I was back again for the next round. Yes, I was a bit battered and bruised for the experience, but I was not yet defeated, I was on my feet, I had lived to fight another day.
However, the scar from that knock down remained. I can now see in service, not only that it comes in many forms and helps me to stay sober, or that, when fortunate, it likewise helps others in their sobriety. I can also see it as an invitation to draw closer to the Higher Power of my understanding. This invitation is extended many times each day, with each challenge. All I need do is be willing to look for it and accept where it guides me. This is the essence of the principle of service, freely given as I trudge the road of happy destiny.
When I entered the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, I identified with just about everything I had read and heard, and I began to recognize where I went wrong up to that point. I realized that I had nodirection in my life, no moral compass to speak of. I felt inferior, unworthy, disrespected, isolated, unappreciated, disliked, etc. The failure in my personal relationships manifested itself in low self-esteem and self-loathing.
I was going to have to depend on something outside of myself to govern my judgment and my decision-making. One of the first default positions I would take to surrender to these new realities was to concede to the fact that, as an alcoholic, my brain did not process information properly, and that I was going to have to trust in something more reliable. Living by principles – what a concept.
If you start with the child and work your way to the rogue, it will get easier
There are people who believe that if we all lived by one simple principle, we wouldn’t need any other laws on this planet, and that principle is The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. That simple statement gave me an understanding of how I could begin adopting a value system, based on principles, where I did not have to originate my own rules.
While reading a book on economics, the author stated, “A man who lives by principles has 99% of his decisions already made for him.”With that in mind, I began to establish a system of principles that are consistent with the A.A. program, and, I might add, with most of the other successful philosophies of life. I would read theSt. Francis Prayer daily (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, pg. 99). I attend a step study meeting weekly to reinforce these principles and to make sure that I am not modifying these standards to evade the tougher actions.
Reprogram mental software to default to principles
I was complaining about another member of our group one day, to one of my mentors at that time, and he suggested that I try to place principles before personalities. I responded, yes, but I do not agree with his principles. He then said it was not his principles that we are talking about, but that it was my principles that needed to change. He then informed me that we cannot be selective about with whom and when we apply these values. I must treat everyone with respect, and that goes for the smallest, innocent child to the most errant rogue that I might encounter. I know that it seems like an impossible task, but I assure you that if you start with the child and work your way to the rogue, it will get easier. If you don’t let your ego convince you otherwise. There are many suggestions in the Big Book and the 12&12 that have given me plenty of material to work with so that this does not have to become a crisis management project. It is more like a lifelong pruning of my unwanted, destructive behaviors.
Here are a few of those suggestions: Exercise restraint of tongue and pen (or thumb and send). Drop the word blame from your thoughts and speech. Stop fighting everyone and everything.
Cash-register honesty means I must be honest with everyone, not just the person at the cash register. If we all had amnesia, we would all be pretty much the same. The only things that make us different are the things we carry around between ourears. It may be time to reprogram the mental software to default to the principles that have been proven to work so well for so many. No one could ever fault us for living by the principles that we learned in A.A.
More often than not I don’t know a thing about what I’m doing when I first try something, and what I do know is usually wrong. Such has been my experience with Teleservice in San Francisco. I heard it was what other people in the Fellowship did for service. I heard that it was hurting, with volunteers dropping and leadership in general disarray. I didn’t pay much attention, though. I never felt compelled to help out even when I heard some passionate members push to breathe life back into the organization.
Passionate members pushed to breathe life back into it
My experience getting involved with Teleservice reminds me of a phenomenon I experienced some years ago growing up in Orange County. Have you ever had a favorite radio station that keeps playing a really awful song that you totally hate? When I was younger, I listened to KROQ 106.7 all the time. My clock radio woke me up by playing KROQ. Almost without fail, Jack Johnson’s “Banana Pancakes” would be playing first thing in the morning. Every. Single. Morning.
I swore that the DJs were doing this to ruin my morning. I already had to be in class by 7:20 so this was just adding insult to injury for me. Weeks passed. Months flew by. Gradually I found myself singing along to “Banana Pancakes” as I awoke to it. I even bought Jack Johnson’s entire discography on CD (I still stand by this decision – he rules).
Bringing it back to Teleservice now: I heard Lara A. announce at what seemed like every meeting that Teleservice wasn’t doing too well. Every week, she made the same announcement. Eventually, she approached me and asked if I was interested in helping out. I found myself saying “yes” and promising that I would be at a Gratitude Center ad hoc orientation on Saturday. I had heard Teleservice talked about enough that I realized I had but one choice: help out to ensure the future of this great part of the service work, made possible by Intergroup.
I was sure I was going to tank
I attended and said I would take a regular shift. Should there be an opening, I didn’t mind being a Daily Coordinator (keeping scheduled volunteers apprised of shifts and helping volunteers get coverage if needed). Lara got back to me within a day or so and said I had a shift. I was now a Daily Coordinator for Wednesday. Wait, what? I hadn’t even done my first shift and I needed to help out a crew of seasoned volunteers every week. I was sure I was going to tank.
Almost three years have passed since then. I appreciate and love Teleservice more than ever before. We have great Daily Coordinators and even better volunteers. Were it not for COVID-19, we would have had our annual volunteer appreciation brunch, at some church last remodeled in the late 1970s, I’m sure. The last one in 2019 was pretty great – so many people I had emailed, talked to on the phone yet had never met in person! We actually got to meet each other and share some laughs over chilled Minute Maid orange juice.
I encourage you to come and join us on the third Monday of the month at 6:00 p.m. for orientation. We have a lot of fun helping out still-suffering alcoholics. Until then, I’ll keep announcing the same entreaty each week at the meetings I attend for others to join me for fun with Teleservice. It grows on you like banana pancakes.