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December 1956

That Honest Desire

IN A RECENT ISSUE OF THE GRAPEVINE[1] I not only read but carefully studied a sincere and well-written article concerning the application of the word "must" to AA; the inference that honesty as a basis for membership in AA needs revision; and, some confusion as to whether the program is simple or easy. While I concede and respect the sincerity of the writer and also his right to opinionate, I find that I have a contrary belief in the matters he has brought forth.

After nearly eleven years of AA, I still find no place for must. Perhaps I have missed the boat or have not been fully cognizant of the AA program. That I am sober today and have helped many others along the way may be purely coincidence. That "an honest desire" was the first thing that made an impression on me may have been because I was too sick mentally and physically to look up the word honesty. That I accepted the simplicity of the program may have been because I was naive enough to believe the case histories in the Big Book, and perhaps I was gullible enough to believe anything.

My career as an active alcoholic is just about, par for the course: jail, eight hospitalizations, broke, job dangling from a well-frayed thread, family ties just about untied, sick and despondent. My first letter to AA was written to the Alcoholic Foundation in New York. I didn't even know the street or PO address. I had just been discharged from a Panamanian hospital (the US hospital here would not admit me again as an alcoholic patient). So far as I know there were no AA groups in Latin America at that time (Nov., I945), certainly none in Panama. The letter I received in return was a personal masterpiece of human understanding.

What interested me most was the lack of "musts," "do's" or "don'ts". Previous experience with medics, clergy, loved ones and employers had certainly been star-studded with what I must or must not do, and--for all the sincerity behind them--only served to antagonize me to the point of rebellion and continued drunkenness. (Childish perhaps, but--as my Twelfth Step work has convinced me--not uncommon. Had I been honest enough in the beginning to admit they were right I might have saved myself a lot of suffering.)

After receiving my copy of the Big Book I read it from stem to stern, not once but many times. And I admit that my prime purpose was to find a gimmick that would tell me what I must and must not do. That I was greatly disappointed would be an outright understatement. I checked and rechecked for booby-traps; instead, I found complete honesty. I tried to analyze the motives of the founders, and I discovered nothing but simplicity.

After all, any drunk knows that he got drunk from drinking--why complicate the facts with a set of rules that he or anyone else might set up as conditions for sobriety? I may tell a child that if he sticks his finger in a fire he will get burned; if he doesn't believe me, he will find out for himself. I don't feel that it is necessary for me to explain to him the origin of fire, the mechanics of combustion or where the flame goes when It goes out.

Whether an individual is pushed, pulled or crawls Into AA can be of little concern as I see it. The fact is that contact has been made, willingly, hesitantly or unwillingly. Should we soft-pedal the keystone of AA which is honesty and let the newcomer find out for himself? Can we hand him a set of rules, or ask him to make his own? Would we be helping him through confusing the issue as to whether the program is simple or easy (or both)?

I, too, wholeheartedly agree with Bill's suggestions concerning the Traditions (page 11 in the 1947 "long form" edition) re: judging the newcomer. I feel that AA is exclusive only in the fact that it deals solely with the disease known as alcoholism. I would deny no one the chance at rehabilitation, nor would I ever stand in judgment of a fellow alcoholic. Yet, I am of the opinion that I would be betraying myself, the alcoholic individual who confided in me and AA, if I did not point out that an honest desire to stop drinking was one of the most important principles of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Furthermore, I make this point clear as soon as the individual is able to drink a cup of coffee without shaking seventy-five per cent of it out of the cup. If it be a horrendous thought he may entertain about stopping then he is placing the cart before the horse and is simply wishing to stop hurting. He has neither a desire to stop nor is he giving any thought to honesty. I did many years of wishful thinking myself before AA showed me that wishful thinking isn't enough.

The founders built AA upon a solid foundation. If they had not recognized from the start that an honest desire to stop drinking was of paramount importance, the Twelve Steps and Traditions might not have been forthcoming. I fail to see where any revision would help or alter the facts; they may dilute them, soften them, or break them up into many confused components--and that could take a lot of hodge-podge explaining both to the newcomer and to the old timer who has had a relapse.

My only stock-in-trade as an AA is an honest conviction that alcohol and alcoholics are not compatible together. I tell both newcomers and old timers this and let God and AA take care of my future. If I should take a drink it would be because I disposed of my stock in AA--not because I broke any rules or because of the question as to whether the program was easy or simple.

I certainly cannot go along with any contention that the desire to quit and stay quit comes from AA. There was no AA within a thousand miles when I decided that I had enough of the alcoholic rat-race. I got sober because I had an honest desire to. Remaining sober still depends upon how desperately I wish to remain so. God supplies the spiritual courage and AA the physical stamina. Continuous and faithful attendance at AA meetings keeps me constantly aware of this. I cannot honestly say that my continued association with AA makes me want to keep sober; I think it's a more personal matter--I want to stay sober, selfishly enough, because I'm happy at it.

That God has blessed AA is firmly demonstrated in the help He made available to me in starting the first AA group here in the Canal Zone some ten years ago. That AA is a way out of alcoholism has been proven by the generous amount of sobriety enjoyed by those who pitched in with me during those first shaky and hazardous years; and by those who followed and those who continue to enter.

Good luck and many more happy AA birthdays to the writer of the article who awakened me enough to put my thoughts in writing. If they don't make too much sense--at least I got them out of my system.

1*Ed. Note: see the July 1956 Grapevine, page 1.

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