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May 1994

PO Box 1980

Alcoholic and a. . .

A recent move from state to state reminded me how thankful I was Dr. Bob and Bill W. found each other that May 1935 day in Henrietta Seiberling's parlor. I arrived in my new home and soon found meetings to attend at all times of the day or night.

Some members welcomed me warmly while others stood by and offered quiet support. There were those, too, who found it necessary to tell me what I should be doing, a behavior that did not strike me as at all unusual since I engage in it myself still more frequently than I'd like to admit. Since the move, I have also paid more attention to the regional difference in AA. The format of meetings is unlike what I am used to and although still in the process of adapting to this difference, I think the observations I am about to make have little to do with this circumstance.

In the area where I now live, I've encountered many members with long-term sobriety who seem uncomfortable because I do not use the single identification, only alcoholic. One member came up to me recently, offered a hug, told me he loved me, and then proceeded to tell me that it was my responsibility to identify myself as only alcoholic so I could set an example for others to follow. Another member told me he would pray for me because of the manner in which I defined myself. I've watched some members make newcomers and other dually addicted members unwelcome at open meetings because they did not identify themselves as only alcoholic and I, too, have felt excluded.

I am a member of AA and also claim membership in more than one Twelve Step program. As such, I do believe I have the right to define myself as I see fit as well as the responsibility to adhere to the Third Tradition and to the "blue cards" at meetings that came out of the 1987 General Service Conference concerning the nature of my sharing. Therefore, when I share at AA meetings, I limit my remarks to my problems with alcohol and my alcoholism. Despite criticism of my behavior and the exclusion I experience I plan to continue to attend meetings and to define myself as an "alcoholic and a. . ."

Some have said this decision is because I am not open to suggestion or that I am being willful or defiant, a phrase I often hear when members with less sobriety don't do what members with more sobriety tell them to do. And then there are others who say that a single identification in AA offers members full benefits from the Fellowship. When newly sober, I believed most of those things and a few others. I was desperate to be liked and also had my eye on getting asked back as a speaker, a high profile position I coveted at the time. I listened well and learned the lingo, feeding it back with utmost sincerity.

But it has been six years since then, and among the many important lessons I have learned in AA is that I'm in if I say I'm in, even if the manner in which I define myself is unpopular with many. No person or group of members can vote me in or out of this community, for we are a Fellowship of equals. What disqualifies me from claiming my seat as a sober member of AA is picking up that first drink, and even then, as long as I retain a desire to stop drinking, I am welcome here.

Subtle or obvious attempts by members who claim the single identification, only alcoholic, to correct or exclude dually addicted members from groups or to exert pressure on these same members to define themselves as only alcoholic when they are more than that says more about the exertion of group pressure to conform than it does about adherence to a singleness of purpose or the importance of group unity. There is no cat bird seat sober members of AA can sit in just because they claim the single identification, only alcoholic. It is said that the highest we can get in AA is sober. From the story that is mine comes the experience, strength, and hope I can share with others. My story comes from the way I define myself, not from the way others would like to define me.

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