IF LAURIE just wouldn't drink," said her friends, including me. Anyone could see that Laurie and drink didn't mix. After that second or third martini, Laurie turned into a Miss Hyde. Whether she was at a cocktail party, at a restaurant, or at home, she informed all within cannon shot of her husband's shortcomings, many of them intimate. At the finish of this recital, she would darkly hint at Reno.
Sober, Laurie was a good kid. She was attractive, intelligent, and warmhearted. But she seemed to be sober less and less. Finally, she threatened Reno once too often, and her husband bought her a one-way ticket.
Three months later, Laurie turned up again. She phoned. She said it was marvelous to be free and she had a wonderful new job in view. A week later, she phoned again. The job had fallen through, and she wondered if I thought her husband might take her back. I said I didn't know; I was busy trying to hold on to my own husband. After some verbal sparring for the right opening, I told her I seemed to be having a problem with alcohol, and my doctor (and my husband) wanted me to try AA.
I could almost hear the stunned silence at the other end. Then: "But you never drank much."
"Oh yes, I did," I said. "I sneaked it."
Another long silence. Then: "I used to sneak it, too. I wonder--would you mind if I went to AA with you?"
"Swell," I said. "I hate the idea of going alone, and there's a meeting tomorrow night in our neighborhood."
So it was that Laurie and I came to AA together. After our first meeting, I knew I had come to the right place. I wanted what they offered, and I wanted it badly. Laurie seemed to feel the same way.
We read the pamphlets. We bought the books and read them. We kept going to meetings, and we met people. Being married, and desiring to remain so, I concentrated on learning my ABCs from the women, but Laurie gravitated toward the men. This seemed natural enough to me. She was lonely and she was free.
However, there were murmurs from a couple of the women who were giving me a helping hand--mutters about "emotional involvement" and how it could be a stumbling block to sobriety. "Romance is one word for it," said one of my counselors. "There are others."
"What's suddenly so wrong with romance?" I wanted to know.
"It can be dynamite for the new person," I was told. "Emotional upsets. Rejections, maybe. Resentments. Slips."
Discreetly, I tried to convey this definition and the admonition to Laurie. "Oh, pooh," she said. "I know better than to get involved. I simply enjoy talking to men, that's all."
Nevertheless, it wasn't long before Laurie was going to meetings with one particular man. Then, they began to date steadily. He seemed a nice enough fellow, good-looking, well-dressed, around her age. He had been sober for a year in AA, and to me that meant he was as solid as Gibraltar. Surely, I thought, he would be good for Laurie--for her morale, anyhow, because I had learned from my husband that she had tried to persuade her husband to take her back, and he had refused.
But Laurie talked less and less about the program, and more and more about her great love for Joe. Then came the quarrel. After that came tears and hysterics, the frantic making-up, then more quarrels.
She didn't want advice, she wanted sympathy; but I suggested that she stay away from Joe for a while and concentrate on AA. After that, I didn't see her or hear from her for a few weeks. Finally, she turned up at a meeting with a black eye and a swollen jaw. She and Joe had gone on a binge together. He had turned out to be a rough customer, she complained--a real nasty drunk.
It was the end of the romance, needless to say. But from then on, Laurie was unable to maintain any length of sobriety. She kept grabbing at this man and that, hoping each one would make her both happy and sober. None of them did.
Laurie packed up and left town. I had brief notes from her now and then as she moved restlessly from one city to another. She had given up AA, she wrote. She was trying religion, health diets, yoga.
I don't know what she's trying nowadays. She never writes anymore.
Since Laurie, I have seen the same mistake occasionally repeated by other women with other men: too much, too soon; misdirected emotional drive. Most times, it just doesn't work out. We are sick females when we arrive in AA--sick emotionally as well as physically, mentally, and spiritually. Most of us have little, if any, good judgment left, and even less sound reason.
Now, anybody knows that when doctors discover that their patients have tuberculosis or diabetes, they seek to bring the disease under control; and until it is under control, the patients are under daily supervision and must follow the doctors' orders. "First Things First" means arresting the illness, before a patient undertakes anything else.
It seems to me that the same procedure applies to new "patients" in AA. It requires time, effort, patience, to bring our disease under control. It takes time until we can safely pick up the threads of "normal" living. As I see it, the trouble stems from the fact that we recover physically long before we recover emotionally. This physical recovery fools us. Because we feel better, look better, we begin looking around for rewards for all our hard work.
This is the time to watch out for trouble, the time to remember that attractive covers can conceal a garbled and only half-written book. It has to be rewritten many times before it is finished. A writer will often discard most of his or her material and start fresh. Even then, it will not be perfect; it will be merely a stepping stone of experience toward writing another and better book. So why should sick, confused human beings think they can rewrite their whole lives and correct all of their faults in a few weeks? They can't--of course they can't--but they can begin, and that's all they are asked to do.
When I first came to AA, I heard an older member state the things that AA was not. It wasn't a loan agency; it wasn't a lonely-hearts club nor an employment bureau. Yet there are many newcomers who are desperate for money, romance, jobs. And for many the greatest need, beyond the urgent need to get sober and stay that way, is love. Many of us have not known love for a very long time. Many want it but have not the slightest idea how to give it.
In my own case, most of the trouble in my life stemmed from one source: my self-centeredness. In AA, I have found I am not unique. We all suffer from this defect, in a greater or lesser degree. To my way of thinking, self-centeredness can foul up any relationship, and particularly a love relationship. We have to grow to the point where we consider the other person's good, the other person's needs. So let's try to be patient; let's go after sobriety and let love find us in its own time, when we are ready to give and receive it.
There are a lot of happy endings in AA. Many members find love, marry each other, live contented lives. For my own definition of love, I like the one offered by a psychiatrist, Dr. Erich Fromm: "Love is the active concern for the welfare and growth of that which is loved . . . "