Where Are They Now?
Grapevine, Inc., February 1995
I should have known I was an alcoholic when I went to
school so drunk that I couldn't make it to class, and
instead passed out in my high school's basement boiler
room for six hours. Or when I misjudged the amount of
150 proof rum it would take to make my senior class retreat
tolerable, and vomited all over the retreat director.
Perhaps the bare fact of my daily drinking and the associated
lies and theft it took to maintain it should have clued
me in to the fact that I had a problem with alcohol. It
didn't: my denial was etched in granite, and the well-intentioned
teachers, parents, and coaches trying to divert me from
the disastrous path I was on were easily ignored.
several turbulent, painful years, I came to realize that
the immense loneliness and despair that I felt related
somehow to my drinking. Hoping to learn to "drink
like a gentleman" - I couldn't comprehend a life
without alcohol - I made a phone call one night that led
me to Alcoholics Anonymous, via a local detox center.
In the rooms of AA I learned the fatal nature of my illness,
and in the Big Book and fellowship found a power that
enabled me to stay sober one day at a time. I had just
turned twenty-one years old.
power that I found in Alcoholics Anonymous has kept me
sober for nearly five years now, and has given me a life
beyond my wildest dreams. Marriage, a house, an interesting
job, an education - all of these things have come my way
as a result of being sober and applying the principles
I've learned in AA to my daily, affairs. Even more importantly,
I've developed a deeply satisfying spiritual life as a
result of working the Steps as directed by the Big Book
and a loving, caring sponsor. The past five years, however,
have had a few "downs" as well as plenty of
"ups" and a recent one of those "downs"
has reminded me of the importance of the concept of singleness
of purpose, both to my own personal recovery - and to
the survival of our Fellowship.
phrase "singleness of purpose" can be found
in the account of the Fifth Tradition in the "Twelve
and Twelve." Tradition Five itself reads "Each
group has but one primary purpose - to carry its message
to the alcoholic who still suffers." Our Preamble,
printed in the grapevine, also discusses singleness of
purpose: "Our primary purpose is to stay sober and
help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety." The chapters
on Traditions Five and Six in the "Twelve and Twelve"
eloquently describe how absolutely essential this concept
is to the survival of AA, stating "The very life
of our Fellowship requires the preservation of this principle."
"Twelve and Twelve" goes on (in the chapter
on Tradition Ten) to describe the Washingtonian Movement,
a nineteenth-century movement among alcoholics that was,
initially, similar to AA in many ways. Over one hundred
thousand alcoholics sobered up with the Washingtonians,
before the movement self-destructed in the chaos caused
by involvement in a myriad of issues unrelated, or only
remotely related, to alcoholism. Lacking singleness of
purpose, the movement collapsed. The experience of the
Washingtonians provides compelling evidence for the importance
of AA focusing directly and exclusively on the issue of
strong belief in the importance of the principle of singleness
of purpose for the Fellowship of AA has some important
conse-quences. It means that when I go to a meeting, I
introduce myself as an alcoholic, period. Like many alcoholics
(including Bill W - see page seven of the Big Book), my
story includes drug use, ranging from pot to crack to
LSD. I don't hesitate to share this at meetings when it
is relevant, as it is part of the experience that brought
me to AA, and a part of my story that many other young
people, especially, can relate to. However, I think it
is extremely important to emphasize that I am an alcoholic,
and that in meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous we discuss
the common solution to alcoholism that we share. If I'm
an "alcoholic and an addict and you're an "alcoholic
and a compulsive overeater and the person leading the
meeting is an "alcoholic and a compulsive gambler
we begin to lose our commonality. I become slightly different
from you - an attitude that I believe is potentially fatal.
Moreover, we've started down the slippery slope that doomed
the Washingtonians. Our program is no longer focused on
the single purpose of recovery from alcoholism, but instead
is tackling the issues of drug addiction, gambling, co-dependency,
etc. - very serious problems, undoubtedly, but outside
the scope of Alcoholics Anonymous. A careful reading of
Traditions Five, Six, and Ten has convinced me of how
dangerous this is to the continued existence of our Fellowship,
and it is my responsibility as an AA member to ensure
that the hand of Alcoholics Anonymous is always available
in the future to reach out to the suffering alcoholic.
found that the concept of singleness of purpose applies
to my life in an even more immediate, personal way as
well. When I got sober at twenty one, I didn't have an
established career to return to, a family to reunite,
or even all that much wreckage of the past to clean up.
The future was a blank state, and the newly found freedom
of sobriety made the possibilities overwhelming. I immediately
jumped into school, work, and relationships - and suddenly
didn't have time for meetings. Life would get chaotic
and painful and I'd make my way back to the Fellowship
and principles just long enough to soak up a little bit
of serenity by osmosis, then head back out into the fray.
Fortunately, some AA members were able to point out to
me the insanity of my actions, and I was able to alter
my behavior before it led me to the inevitable drink.
discovered that in order to maintain any semblance of
spirituality and serenity in my life, I needed to live
by the principle of singleness of purpose. Like the Fellowship
as a whole, I have but one primary purpose: to stay sober
and help other alcoholics achieve sobriety. The same three
reasons that support our group commitment to singleness
of purpose underlie my personal commitment: (1) duty -
I can repay those who have given me this gift by giving
it away to others; (2) love - I've learned compassion
for those still suffering and want to help others; and
(3) self-preservation - I must help others in order to
stay sober myself. I inevitably find that when I'm able
to stay focused on my primary purpose, my "secondary
purposes" (school, jobs, relationships) work themselves
out quite satisfactory. For me, the concept of singleness
of purpose has become the bedrock of my personal program
of recovery, just as it is the fundamental principle supporting
the structure of our entire Fellowship.
B., San Diego, Calif.
© The A.A.
Grapevine, Inc., February 1995
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