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July 1964

I Hated 'Drunkalogs'

Do gruesome stories about our drinking experiences really help anyone?

HOW do we bind newcomers into our fellowship? There are many ways, I'm sure, but several things that helped to hook me may be worth repeating. They are things that I once supposed I had outgrown. I even tried, after some sobriety, to abolish them in my own group. I have a different thought now.

Take, for instance, this business of the drunkalog, a talk that gives a blow-by-blow description of the horrors of drinking and ends with a brief "then I came into AA and am grateful that I don't drink any more." Speakers with long recitations of lost jobs, broken homes, bar-to-bar progression, eventually bored me; so at a closed meeting I tried to persuade the group conscience that we should have only speakers who, along with brief identification as an alcoholic, explained how they worked the program. "Good AA," I called it.

Well, the group conscience spoke, but it spoke to enlighten me. "Speaking in AA is not a performance, it's part of our own recovery. If it helps someone else, that's a dividend."

"True," I answered, "but how about the newcomer?" The overwhelming consensus was that the talks in the beginning that had helped most of us to identify our alcoholism weren't necessarily the type that satisfied us later on. Our frame of reference at first isn't much larger than our drinking experience. It takes time to sort out the significant facts in our own case, to understand such AA basics as the fact that alcoholism is a disease, a compulsion, and that after the first drink an alcoholic can no longer control the amount he'll take. Drunkalogs help nail down these facts for many of us.

When we're new, we also need to feel a part of something bigger than our isolated selves. Laughter draws us into the family circle. Laughter at ourselves, at the ego-centered way in which, as practicing alcoholics, we had "handled" most of our human relationships. Laughter is a meaningful communication we share with one another.

Remember how wonderful was the first realization that we were understood, that others had felt the same guilt and remorse and could joke about fractured family relationships and lost opportunities? Remember how it felt to find that AA members weren't solemn-faced crepe-hangers, but gay people not averse to jokes? Irreverent jokes, too--not always appreciated by non-alcoholics, or members intent upon remodeling the group's behavior into a more conventional mold, but jokes that help create an emotional atmosphere of relaxed self-acceptance as alcoholics.

Our alcoholic behavior has, I believe, set us apart from conventional society, for a time, at least. At meetings, we hear this openly discussed, but in such a way that our very difference from civilians makes us feel more a part of the AA tribe. This belonging to AA was for me the beginning of self-respect.

Here's one saying I no longer believe to be true, but it gave me a feeling of purpose, even of destiny, when I first heard it: "Only an alcoholic can help an alcoholic." It was deeply satisfying to me to think that I could turn the liabilities of drunkenness into assets in order to help another. I don't now begrudge a newcomer the grace period when AA and alcoholism seem that simple.

Slowly, I have come to understand that the permissive attitude of an AA group is a healthy factor in our recovery. It makes it possible for us to offer brotherhood to every alcoholic without any reservation. It also makes it possible for me to continue to grow, to find new attitudes and to outgrow old ones, so that I may learn more about the art of loving and the art of healing.

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