SUSPECT that many people drift away from AA because
they become too bored with meetings. I suspect also
that many others are tempted to try another group, but
stick it out of convenience, or sheer determination
and the fear of what might happen if they slow up their
AA activities. And I suspect finally that AA is in no
danger at all from the usual moochers, deadbeats, gossips,
phonies, Lotharios and loafers, but it is greatly
imperiled by the great blanket of boredom that stifles
many meetings from coast to coast.
remedy lies with AA's members who have allowed this
condition to develop and are the direct cause of it.
Though most AA's are lively, lovable and really interesting
persons in normal life, something happens to many of
them at the moment the chairman opens the meeting. Abruptly
they become terrible bores, reciting AA phrases almost
by rote and acting as if they are enduring some sort
of penance until the meeting adjourns. The result is
then a spiritless hour of stagnation which leaves nobody
wiser or stronger.
often results because a person represses the way he
really feels about the program, and does not allow his
true feelings to shine through. He is afraid to reveal
himself for the fine, loving, sensitive creature that
he really is or the angry, indignant, sensitive creature
he sometimes is. Instead, he allows the group
to see a faceless robot who mutters dull platitudes
about "how nice it is to be sober" and "how much peace
of mind" he has found and "how grateful" he is to be
here at the meeting. He may be saying what he mistakenly
thinks the group wants to hear, not what he really feels.
This robs his story of the feel of truth and
the battle against boredom is not won by eloquence or
verbal sophistication. Were that the case, few of us
would have a chance. Actually, eloquence and sophistication
have little to do with it.
a member who may never have had experience in speaking
develops a very interesting message, and has lots of
important things to say around a table. It may be that
his voice is poor, his grammar atrocious and some of
his logic quite immature. But people listen, intently.
When he speaks of gratitude, they know that he
means it. When he speaks of happiness, they know
that he has found some of it. And when he states that
he loves his new-found state of sobriety, they are certain
that he speaks from the heart. It is the way he feels,
and the way he expresses his feelings that puts boredom
arrived at the conclusion that boring meetings and groups
were caused by boring members, I began to look for some
means of identifying just who these members really were.
Surprisingly, they were the same fellows I have seen
in my own bathroom shaving mirror from time to time.
there is Drink-by-Drink Dave! And I don't care
how new in AA you are, you have met him! Dave is a well-meaning
soul, and I love him like a brother, as do all the other
folks at the meeting. But there are some of us who would
rather face the electric chair than hear once more about
all the drinking that Dave did in Panama or in Albuquerque,
or in Los Angeles, or when he was drafted into the Army.
Dave seems to feel that he has to prove how severe his
alcoholic problem was, and that this proof can be established
by demonstrating not only the continuity of drinking
but the quantity as well. It is not unlike Dave to pause
in the middle of a talk to ponder whether he was drinking
whiskey or wine the morning he woke up in Denver without
any shoes. "Let's see, I think I was drinking whiskey
that time! No, wait a minute, I think it was wine! Yeah,
by gosh, it was wine!"
us move on to Mumbling Myron. He is an
old group standby whose loyalty and sincerity are unquestioned.
He has peace of mind, and he is grateful.
But for reasons that are probably too painful to explore,
he simply isn't able to tell convincingly just what
AA has done for him. Moreover, he meanders monotonously
through much detail, somewhat in the same manner of
Drink-by-Drink Dave. A bleary-eyed and shaken newcomer
cannot help experiencing, with fleeting guilt, the dark
thought that AA hasn't really done too much for Myron.
Older members know that he has a fine message, when
he's able to deliver it with fire and feeling. But they
usually tune out when he begins to speak. No, this is
not unfair! Were Myron an incurable bore, we would discreetly
make no mention of it at all. There are rare moments
when his convictions come sweeping up out of his heart
to put aside his dullness and his shyness, and it is
at that time that the real message comes pouring out.
Myron has vast resources to give AA, but he alone holds
the key, and usually he prefers to keep the door shut
take this third character, Sour Sam. He sounds
sour, looks sour and feels sour. It always shows. His
face became wreathed in turned-down creases a long time
ago, and he carries a perpetual sneer, which irks some
people, because they think Sam doesn't like them. If
he smiles, it comes out as a sort of recalcitrant grimace,
as if he's conferring a favor.
Sam is a bearer of gloom. When he talks at meetings,
he tells of his many troubles and the way Sam
does it just seems to make everybody feel worse. Now
why should that be? Perhaps it's because everybody secretly
recognizes that Sam likes to indulge in a lot of self-pity
and rarely takes the blame for anything that goes wrong
in his life. Usually the fault is with his wife or the
#*%!#@# he has to do business with or something else.
Rather belatedly, and almost as an afterthought, he
admits that his old "alcoholic resentment" or his "stubborn
alcoholic ego" causes him some trouble.
his years, Sam has yet to learn that AA is not just
a sounding board for his grievances against the world.
After being with him a few minutes, almost anybody else
seems cheerful. Even Pollyanna Pete.
Pete tries to see the bright side of everything. If
you've just had a car wreck, Pete points out that you'll
now be able to collect on your insurance. He's always
joking, always smiling, always pumping somebody's hand.
Everybody imagines he likes Pete, but few people actually
do. Most of them think they like Pete because the rules
of the game say that a person who jokes and smiles and
shakes hands is a likable guy. But when Pete talks you
always find that people are jittery and irked and galled,
because he gushes through a lot of experiences without
real feeling or purpose. In other words, Pollyanna Pete
has an automated voice-box that churns out cheery prattle
any time, any day, in any amount. Pete often exclaims,
when addressing a group, "Ain't it great to be sober."
Greeted with a blast like this, even the most dedicated
listener can't suppress the heretical thought that for
the next hour he might prefer to be drunk.
they are, four well-meaning souls who, though they do
not actually exist as portrayed here, do seem to exist,
in part, almost everywhere. It would be pointless to
identify these character types if the conditions described
could not be remedied. But they can be, quite easily.
The answer is not in speaking courses, inspirational
books, or psychiatric counseling. It is in the simple
telling of our stories, of how we found AA, and finally
what it has come to mean to us.