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Vol. 19: 830-834, October, 1963
- IF A WAY?
W.A.G. - ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
many speakers at A.A. meetings with the utmost sincerity
that A.A. is a Way of Life for them. Up until they had joined
fellowship, either they had no way of life or, having had
had abandoned it through drinking. For both types, A.A.
did mean that
a new life was opening up for them - if not new in all respects,
still new to them as they began to live it.
recurring expression, a Way of Life, used to invoke in me,
at my earlier meetings, mixed feelings. It alternately annoyed
puzzled me. I did not doubt that the speakers were saying
that was very real to them; the excitment in their voices,
quietness of their facial expressions, the intensity of
mirrored in their eyes - all these bore eloquent testimony
reality. They did begin to live; a new dawn did break for
them; a new
day that promised no end did open up to them.
why was I annoyed? This idea was so insisted upon that I
felt, in my confused state of mind, I had to accept it at
or face the alternative that I was not accepting the A.A.
recovery. And I resisted this insistence. I was sure that
I had a
satisfactory Way of Life, one that was perfectly satisfactory.
only unsatisfactory feature of it was that I was not following
I ought. I knew how I ought to live; no one needed to tell
me that. I
had known it all my rational life. I knew, too, that if
drinking, I would be able to live that life, at least less
imperfectly than when I was drinking. So why this constant
on a Way of Life? In those days, had anyone suggested to
me that I
had to adopt a new Way of Life, one associated with A.A.
or any other
fellowship, I would indignantly have refused even to consider
was I puzzled? Well, a way, to me, brings up the picture
a road, a path, a channel, an avenue, a via, to something.
I can go
to Chicago over the road, on rails, through the air. This
is the way
1 go; this is the means by which I reach my intended destination.
it is not itself a destination. Thus, when people said "A.A.
is a way
of life," I waited to hear "to what?," "wither
away?" (if you'll
pardon the expression). To what goal, what destination?
of course. Fine; but is sobriety itself a final goal for
striving? Or is sobriety itself but a means to a further
goal, and if
so, what is this further goal?
this point, then, let me say that from the beginning of
membership in A.A., the program has been to me a means by
obtain and maintain sobriety. Sobriety, in turn, is a means
can more fully and properly carry out the obligations of
my state in
life. I feel quite sure that the majority, if not all, of
use the expression intend the same thing. Yet, I still feel
little uneasy with the expression because of certain overtones
often accompany it.
can be reduced to two exaggerated versions of it. The
first is that of the people for whom A.A. now represents
the whole of
life, the whole of their daily living, the be-all and end-all
their existence. The other is the raising of A.A. to the
status of a
religion or something very much like it. Perhaps there is
no difference in the two views. And it will not matter for
wish to say, if they are considered identical. Because I
interested rather in the effects thereof both on individual
and on A.A. itself.
might be useful at this point, to describe in somewhat
greater detail the people to whom I refer. A representative
might be such: he had reached bottom, lost wife, children,
friends, respect of others, self-respect. There was nowhere
Up? He had nothing to get him up ! Down? There was no lower
him to reach.
A.A. came into his life. He was fortunate in getting a sponsor
who shepherded him to meetings every night, was available
for a chat
during the day, introduced him to others who had the same
himself. He accepted willingly all suggestions; he concentrated
the "one day at a time," he began to hear and
to heed what was said
by speakers. Gradually, he had come a long way. He got back
self-respect, the respect of others, a job, friends, home,
children. Most importantly he had faith in a Higher Power,
And all this through A.A. and, he said, the grace of God.
not appear to him as two distinct things or experiences;
the grace of God, he found A.A. Through A.A., he found
God. They are linked intimately and indissolubly in his
heart. With them, he needs nothing more; with them he has
In his own thinking and in his talks at A.A. meetings, he
further. He may specify that it was not a doctor nor a psychiatrist
nor a marriage counsellor nor a clergyman nor a church,
him to sobriety. No; he may have tried some or all of them
them wanting - each and every one of them. Thus A.A. is
light of his life; A.A. is his life; A.A. is his Way of
Life. In it
he finds the answers to all his problems; here are all the
he needs or will ever need.
far, so good. I shall offer one comment on the member
himself. Let me pose it in the form of a question. Beyond
what? Is this the end of the thing? Isn't there something
fundamental - the purpose of human life itself? Is this
goal, one bound by the limits of one's span on earth? This
whom he believes: Is He Creator - Has He set a goal to each
life? Is that goal in some way Himself or linked with Him?
destined for life beyond the grave? - a life of happiness
Is He the "Our Father" to whom he addresses the
prayer at the close
of each meeting?
does the phrase of the third step mean to him: God as we
understand Him? Is He bound within the finite and imperfect
A.A.? After all, this is a fellowship of men and women.
is something more; surely, God transcends A.A. Granted that
graciously and wondrously given us this marvellous fellowship;
even this only a means to bring us to Him, to a striving
in our lives the basic goal God set for man when He created
Enough. I merely wished to enter the caution, offered in
to the member who may tend to exaggerate A.A. beyond any
the program itself.
us consider then the effect, at any rate the possible
effect, on other members, with special reference to newcomers.
are certainly some people who recognize that they need help
their alcoholic problem. They are grateful that they were
to A.A. They are prepared to accept the entire recovery
have no problem about faith in God nor about turning over
and their lives to the care of God. But they are not prepared
accept A.A. as totally embracing their lives; they cannot
sleep, breath A.A. 24 hours a day. They have very definite
responsibilities are serious moral obligations to them.
will attend as many meetings as they can; they will read
much A.A. literature as they can; they will try to carry
out in their
daily lives the principles of A.A. (which they discover
perhaps to be
in no way different from what they were taught at home,
in school, in
church) as best they can. But they will not accept the proposition
that henceforth A.A. is to absorb their total thinking,
willing, their total living. They will accept it as a means
end; an admirable means, a necessary means, a helpful means,
means. They know their "whither"; they accept
A.A. as a way to that
they will not exalt A.A. to the pedestal on which some
misguided persons would put it.
now of A.A. itself? I know no more dangerous enemy to the
fellowship and to the great good it accomplishes than the
notion of A.A. entertained by the people I referred to earlier.
tend to put A.A. in the place of medical science, which
intended by the early members and which appears in no place
recovery program nor in the A.A. traditions. They tend to
put it in
place of psychiatry, of marriage counselling, of the clergy,
religion. They tend to substitute A.A. for all of these.
want to make it co-extensive with human living and the
purpose of human living. And they are wrong, frightfully
though perhaps unconsciously and unwittingly. They do no
A.A. but a great disservice, when they speak disparagingly
medicos, head shrinkers and the like; when they ask "Why
do you go to
a clergyman? What can he tell you that we can't tell you?"
rant against any person who takes pills of any kind, even
medicine, even though prescribed by a competent physician.
I could go
on and on with similar such exaggerations.
is important to grasp is the simple fact that these people
are in danger of making A.A., it principles, its traditions,
spirit, its purpose, its whole essence, distasteful, unpalatable,
repulsive, not only to the general public but more importantly
sick and suffering alcoholic who needs A.A. - but does not
personal and untypical brand of it.
has said that our vices are the excesses or the defects
of our virtues; that virtue always holds to the middle road,
via media, avoiding extremes. A.A. to me is such a via media,
middle road. The people I have referred to have carried
it to excess
on the one hand, first, in excluding the often necessary
other fields dealing with the alcoholic and, secondly, in
make A.A. a cure-all. They have also erred by defect on
hand, by not realizing that a spiritual program, in itself
general character and thus having the appeal of universality,
the concrete assume a religious aspect.
trust my meaning will not be mistaken; I know A.A. is not
religious program. But individuals do have religious obligations.
very word religion bespeaks obligations, principally to
derivatively to self and one's neighbor. And a man by his
and origin and destiny has obligations to his Creator. That
is why I
say that, in the concrete reality of human living, individual
women, if they are to live spiritually, must do so within
context of religious beliefs and practices, however diverse
be in themselves. A.A. does not prescribe any such specific
beliefs and practices. They are derived from another source
antecedent to and independent of A.A.
A.A. does prepare the raw material if you will; it does
prepare the mold on which can be imprinted the religious
life of its
individual members. A.A. is, if you wish, of itself neutral
respect to religion. But individuals may not be nor does
they may. As far as A.A. is concerned, each member is free
respect to religion. But the member himself is in no way
accept or reject religious obligations.
think it can be safely said that A.A. members are reminded
through their spiritual A.A. awakening of their previous
commitments or they undertake to formulate such according
temperament and dosposition if they had done before. But
in no case
does A.A. substitute for religion. And any member who makes
substitute and so lives is doing harm to A.A. itself, to
members, and to the public image of A.A. which is vital
to its very
being and purpose.
rejects nothing that is good, embraces everything that is
good. And it is good that individual members embrace religious
beliefs and practices. This is the surest way to turn our
our lives over to the care of God. This is the surest way
oneself in closest harmony with our fellow alcoholics and
non-alcoholics. This is the surest way to make ourselves
person possible and thus the best possible alcoholics anonymous.