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November 1984

Don't Get Too Far From the Boys In the Ward

From the June 1958 Grapevine

I HAVE NEVER before felt like expressing any views to the Grapevine on AA or on alcoholism. I have always felt the problem was amply and wonderfully covered by our magazine. Lately, however, two emerging problems have been presented--the old-timer, and articles that deal with what Bill and others call emotional sobriety.

A few years ago, the old-timer was a rarity--say, as short a time as ten years ago. Their natural habitat at that time was mostly the eastern United States; only an occasional one could be found in eastern Canada and in the western states. Today, however, old-timers are more numerous, but for various reasons are again becoming rare at meetings. This is a situation that is not good for old-timers and most assuredly not good for AA.

I have always been amazed at this statement so often heard in our Fellowship: "There is no seniority in AA." This saying should easily qualify as one of the most blatant understatements of our century. The person who coined this delightful bit of blarney should have explained that it applied only to the mechanics of the first drink. Otherwise, how explain the bit of daily progress promised us in the Big Book provided we accept and attempt to put into daily practice in our lives the Twelve Steps in their entirety?

There is plenty of all kinds of seniority in AA. The seniority of wisdom gained over the years. The seniority of understanding, of tolerance of sicker members' problems. The seniority of love given and received. The seniority of faith, which enables us to love and trust our God, to forgive and love our neighbor, and above all, to learn how to love ourselves and forgive ourselves.

In Dr. Bob's last major talk, our co-founder stressed what happened to him when he got too far away from "the boys in the ward," and I guess that is what happens to us all when we forget that our sobriety is conditional upon passing on to others what someone one day took the time to pass along to us. I do not think God gave us sobriety so we could learn to rationalize service to the community instead of service within AA. Old-timers need continuous association with AA to maintain that warm inner feeling of satisfaction they knew so well when they were ten months in AA and lost when they were ten years along the way.

The group needs their presence at meetings, for thus they proclaim to all present their own need to be there. Newer members in turn will remember their example and be there when they themselves grow older. Thus, AA will grow stronger and multiply.

If the new member is the lifeblood of AA, then the older member is the blood bank of AA. Let us face facts: The first elders wrote the Big Book, and their inspiration and wisdom became ours. AA in Manitoba was started by an AA from Minneapolis. He and his fellow AAs told us the things we could do, and the things we shouldn't do. He saved us years of trial and error, and what is more important, after eighteen years of sobriety, he still comes among us, and his presence proclaims louder than words what the Big Book in essence reiterates in every page: Our sobriety is granted from day to day and is conditional on our spiritual status.

Of course, old-timers are important, and let us tell them so. They are not needed to run the business affairs of the group, but if the old-timers in every area are faithful attendees at meetings, then we won't have to worry about new members--their future will be in good hands. Remember what "AA number three" said to his wife when Bill and Dr. Bob paid their second visit to him: "These are the fellows I told you about; they are the ones who understand."

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