As we made spiritual progress, we saw through these fallacies. It became clear that if we ever were to feel emotionally secure among grown-up people, we would have to put our lives on a give and take basis; we would have to develop the sense of being in partnership or brotherhood with all those around us. We saw that we would need to give constantly of ourselves without demands for repayment. When we persistently did this we gradually found that people were attracted to us as never before. And even if they failed us, we could be understanding and not too seriously affected.
When we developed still more, we discovered the best possible source of emotional stability to be God Himself. We found that dependence upon His perfect justice, forgiveness, and love was healthy, and that it would work where nothing else would. If we really depended upon God, we couldn't very well play god to our fellows nor would we feel the urge wholly to rely on human protection and care. These were the new attitudes that finally brought many of us an inner strength and peace that could not be deeply shaken by the shortcomings of others or by any calamity not of our own making.
This new outlook was, we learned, something especially necessary to us alcoholics. For alcoholism had been a lonely business, even though we had been surrounded by people who loved us. But when self-will had driven everybody away and our isolation had become complete, it caused us to play
the big shot in cheap barrooms and then fare forth alone on the street to depend upon the charity of passerby. We were still trying to find emotional security by being dominating or dependent upon others.
Even when our fortunes had not ebbed that much and we nevertheless found ourselves alone in the world, we still vainly tried to be secure by some unhealthy kind of domination or dependence. For those of us who were like that, A.A. had a very special meaning. Through it we begin to learn right relations with people who understand us; we don't have to be alone anymore.
Most married folks in A.A. have very happy homes. To a surprising extent, A.A. has offset the damage to family life brought about by years of alcoholism. But just like all other societies, we do have sex and marital problems, and sometimes they are distressingly acute. Permanent marriage breakups, and
separations, however, are unusual in A.A. Our main problem is not how we are to stay married; it is how to be more happily married by eliminating the severe emotional twists that have so often stemmed from alcoholism.
Nearly every sound human being experiences, at some time in life, a compelling desire to find a mate of the opposite sex with whom the fullest possible union can be made--spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical. This mighty urge is the root of great human accomplishments, a creative energy that deeply influences our lives. God fashioned us that way. So our question will be this: How, by ignorance, compulsion, and self-will, do we misuse this gift for our own destruction? We A.A.'s cannot pretend to offer full answers to age-old perplexities, but out own experience does provide answers that work for us.
When alcoholism strikes, very unnatural situations may develop which work against marriage partnership and compatible union. If the man is affected, the wife must become the head of the house, often the breadwinner. As matters get worse, the husband becomes a sick and irresponsible child who needs to be looked after and extricated from endless scrapes and impasses. Very gradually, and usually without any realization of the fact, the wife is forced to become the mother of an erring boy. And if she had a strong maternal instinct to begin with, the situation is aggravated. Obviously not much partnership can exist under these conditions. The wife usually goes on doing the best she knows how, but meanwhile the alcoholic alternately loves and hates her maternal care. A pattern is thereby established that my take a lot of undoing
later on. Nevertheless, under the influence of A.A.'s Twelve Steps, these situations are often set right.
When the distortion has been great, however, a long period of patient striving may be necessary. After the husband joins A.A., the wife may become discontented, even highly resentful that Alcoholics Anonymous
has done the very thing that all her years of devotion had failed to do. Her husband may become so wrapped up in A.A. and his new friends that he is inconsiderately away from home more than when he drank. Seeing her unhappiness, he recommends A.A.'s twelve Steps and tries to teach her how to live. She naturally feels that for years she has made a far better job of living than he has. Both of them blame each other and ask when their marriage is ever going to be happy again. They may even begin to
suspect it had never been any good in the first place.
Compatibility, of course, can be so impossibly damaged that a separation may be necessary. But those cases are the unusual ones. The alcoholic, realizing what his wife has endured, and now fully understanding how much he himself did to damage her and his children, nearly always takes up his marriage responsibilities with a willingness to repair what he can and to accept what he can't . Her persistently tries all of A.A.'s Twelve Steps in his home, often with fine results. At this point he firmly but lovingly commences to behave like a partner instead of like a bad boy. And above all he is finally convinced that reckless romancing is not a way of life for him.
A.A. has many single alcoholics who wish to marry and are in a position to do so. Some marry fellow A.A.'s how do they come out? On the whole these marriages are very good ones. Their common suffering as drinkers, their common interest in A.A. and spiritual things, often enhance such unions. It is only where "boy meets girl on A.A. campus," and love follows at first sight, that difficulties may develop. The prospective partners need to be solid A.A.'s and long enough acquainted to know that their compatibility at spiritual, mental, and emotional levels is a fact and not wishful thinking. They need to be as sure as possible that no deep-lying emotional handicap in either will be likely to rise up under late pressures to cripple them. The considerations are equally true and important for the A.A.'s who marry "outside" A.A.
With clear understanding and right, grown-up attitudes, very happy results do follow.
And what can be said of many A.A. members who, for a variety of reasons, cannot have a family life? At first many of these feel lonely, hurt, and left out as they witness so much domestic happiness about them. If they cannot have this kind of happiness, can A.A. offer them satisfactions of similar worth and durability? Yes--whenever they try hard to seek them out. Surrounded by so many A.A. friends, these so-called loners tell us they no longer feel alone. In partnership with others--women and men --they can devote themselves
to any number of ideas, people, and constructive projects. Free of marital responsibilities, they can participate in enterprises which would be denied to family men and women. We daily see such members render prodigies of service, and receive great joys in return.
Where the possession of money and material things was concerned, our outlook underwent the same revolutionary change. With a few exceptions, all of us had been spendthrifts. We threw money about in every direction with the purpose of pleasing ourselves and impressing other people. In our drinking
time, we acted as if the money supply was inexhaustible, though between binges we'd sometimes go to the other extreme and become almost miserly. Without realizing it we were just accumulating funds for the next spree. Money was the symbol of pleasure and self-importance. When our drinking had
become much worse, money was only an urgent requirement which could supply us with the next drink and the temporary comfort of oblivion it brought.
Upon entering A.A., these attitudes were sharply reversed, often going much too far in the opposite direction. The spectacle of years of waste threw us into panic. There simply wouldn't be time, we thought, to rebuild our shattered fortunes. How could we ever take care of those awful debts, possess a decent
home, educate the kids, and set something by for old age? Financial importance was no longer our principal aim; we now clamored for material security. Even when we were well reestablished in our business, these terrible fears often continued to haunt us. This made us misers and penny pinchers all over again. Complete financial security we must have--or else. we forgot that most alcoholics in A.A. have an earning power considerably above average; we forgot the immense goodwill of our brother A.A.'s who were only too eager to help us to better jobs when we deserved them; we forgot the actual or potential financial insecurity of every human being in the world. And worst of all, we forgot God. In money matters we had faith only in ourselves, and not much of that.
This all meant, of course, that we were still far off balance. When a job still looked like a mere means of getting money rather than an opportunity for service, when the acquisition of money for financial independence looked more important that a right dependence upon God, we were still the victims of unreasonable fears. And these were fears which would make a serene and useful existence, at any financial level, quite impossible.
But as time passed we found that with the help of A.A.'s Twelve Steps we could lose those fears, no matter what our material prospects were. We could cheerfully perform humble labor without worrying about tomorrow. If our circumstances happened to be good, we no longer dreaded a change for the worse, for we had learned that these troubles could be turned into great values. It did not matter too much what out material condition was, but it did matter what our spiritual condition was. Money gradually became our servant and not our master. It became a means of exchanging love and service with those about us. When, with God's help, we calmly accepted our lot, then we found we could live at peace with ourselves
and show others who still suffered the same fears that they could get over them, too. We found that freedom from fear was more important than freedom from want.
Let's here take note of our improved outlook upon the problems of personal importance, power, ambition, and leadership. These were reefs upon which many of us came to shipwreck during our drinking careers.
Practically every boy in the United States dreams of becoming our President. He wants to be his country's number one man. As he gets older and sees the impossibility of this, he can smile good-naturedly at his childhood dream. In later life he finds that real happiness is not to be found in jut trying to be a number one man, or even a first-rater in the heartbreaking struggle for money, romance, or self-importance. He learns that he can be content as long as he plays well whatever cards life deals him. He's still ambitious, but not absurdly so, because he can now see and accept actual reality. He's willing to stay right size.
But not so with alcoholics. When A.A. was quite young, a number of eminent psychologists and doctors made an exhaustive study of a good-sized group of so-called problem drinkers. The doctors weren't trying to find how different we were from one another, they sought to find whatever personality traits, if any this group of alcoholics had in common. They finally came up with a conclusion that shocked the A.A. members of that time. These distinguished men had the nerve to say that most of the alcoholics under
investigation were still childish, emotionally sensitive, and grandiose.
How we alcoholics did resent that verdict! We would not believe that our adult dreams were often truly childish.
And considering the rough deal life had given us, we felt it perfectly natural that we were sensitive. As to our grandiose behavior, we insisted that we had been possessed of nothing but a high and legitimate ambition to win the battle of life
In the years since, however, most of us have come to agree with those doctors. We have had a much keener look at ourselves and those about us. We have seen that we were prodded by unreasonable fears or
anxieties into making a life business of winning fame, money, and what we thought was leadership. So false pride became the reverse side of the ruinous coin marked "Fear." We simply had to be number one people to cover up our deep-lying inferiorities. In fitful success we boasted of greater feats to be done; in defeat we were bitter. If we didn't have much of any worldly success we became depressed and cowed. Then people said we were of the "inferior" type. But now we see ourselves as chips off the same old block. At heart we had all been abnormally fearful. It mattered little whether we had sat on the shore of life drinking ourselves into forgetfulness or had plunged in recklessly and willfully beyond our depth and ability. The result was the same--all of us had nearly perished in a sea of alcohol.
But today, in well-matured A.A.'s these distorted drives have been restored to something like their true purpose and direction. We no longer strive to dominate or rule those about us in order to gain self-importance. We no longer seek fame and honor in order to be praised. When by devoted service to family, friends, business, or community we attract widespread affection and are sometimes singled out for posts of greater responsibility and trust, we try to be humbly grateful and exert ourselves the more in a spirit of love and service. True leadership, we find, depends upon able example and not upon vain displays of power or glory.
Still more wonderful is the feeling that we do not have to be specially distinguished among our fellows in order to be useful and profoundly happy,. Not many of us can be leaders of prominence, nor do we wish to be. Service, gladly rendered, obligations squarely met, troubles well accepted or solved with God's help, the knowledge that at home or in the world outside we are partners in a common effort, the well-understood fact that in God's sight all human beings are important, the proof that love freely given surely brings a full return, the certainty that we are no longer isolated and alone in self-constructed prisons, the surety that we need no longer be square of things--these are the permanent and legitimate satisfactions of right living for which no amount of pomp and circumstance, no heap of material possessions, could possibly be substitutes. True ambition is deep desire to live usefully and walk humbly under the grace of God.
These little studies of A.A.'s Twelve Steps now come to a close. We have been considering so many problems that it may appear that A.A. consists mainly of racking dilemmas and troubleshooting. To a certain extent, that is true. We have been talking about problems because we are problem people who have found a way up an out, and who wish to share our knowledge of that way with all who can use it. For it is only by accepting and solving our problems that we can begin to get right with ourselves and with the world about us, and with Him who presides over us all. Understanding is the key to good living; therefore the joy of good living is the theme of A.A.'s Twelfth Step.
With each passing day of our lives, may every one of us sense more deeply the inner meaning of A.A.'s simple prayer:
God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change,
Courage to change the things we can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.