The spiritual growth we enjoy in Alcoholics Anonymous is a product of the never ending school for living which our Fellowship provides. The subject in that school that opened my eyes most quickly and filled my heart most fully was love.
I really never knew what true love was until I began my recovery in AA. My schooling in that emotion began early and led me to the conclusion that love is what creates in the attitude of a sober AA member the outer show of an inner glow.
I misunderstood the mutuality of love so much that when I heard a husky guy at a men’s stag meeting say, “You can just feel the love that fills this room,” I leaned over to whisper to my sponsor, “I think I’ve got to go outside and throw up.” He whispered right back, “Go ahead, then rush back and start learning about love.” I did and I’ve kept learning ever since.
Discoveries about love started when someone explained that AA love is basically wishing someone well. We wish those who share our disease and solutions “the very best,” which is continued sobriety. No one will ever wish a fellow alcoholic a return to the bottle, even one whom he may dislike. I was told, “getting sober means you don’t have to like someone to love him or her.”
I had come to AA from forty years in a cutthroat business where it was considered stupidity to do a favor for someone who would never be in a position to return that favor a hundred times over.
So it was a revelation to find it easy and rewarding to care and share, to know that it is impossible to lovingly give without receiving or to get without giving with love.
I was moved deeply when I read and accepted the reality of Dr. Bob’s statement that our Twelve Steps simmered down to resolve themselves in two words: love and service. And I became aware how well those two words blend, for love without service is sentimentality and service without love is an empty gesture.
The role played by love in our program emerged even more clearly when I was told, “Let us love you until you can learn to love yourself” and “Live in our hearts and pay no rent.” How well I knew then that I belonged in AA, that I was at last home, that I would never again be alone, that I would, as our book tells us, make lifelong friends in an atmosphere where there is always love.
My class in love continued. I learned that love is the motivating force behind the attitude of gratitude and the emotion that makes true the shortest paragraph in our book: “It works. It really does.” It is the force behind the reality in another sentence from the book: “The age of miracles is still with us.”
The love I found in AA assured me that there are no strangers in our Fellowship, only friends we have not yet met.
The truths came surely and rapidly in the class on love. In AA there is no recrimination and no lecturing of those who drink and then return. They are lovingly told, “There is no disgrace in falling. The only shame is not getting back on your feet and trying again.”
Our love is both the result of, and the motivation for, such emotions as humility, gratitude, honesty, faith, hope, tolerance, and trust. It produces togetherness and friendship. We find in our book that “patience, tolerance, understanding and love are the watchwords of our recovery.”
How easy it was to find love in the words, “We can do what I can’t” and “We alcoholics are people who need people.”
Long-timers suggested I do an act of love each day without boasting about it. That brought a lesson in humility for a guy who always wanted credit for things done–even some things I had little to do with.
Loving people remind us to “pray for the SOB” who angers us. We are told to live life with love for ourselves, love for others, and love for life.
We really do learn much about love in AA. Love encourages us to count our blessings when we feel rejections, failures, inadequacies, and unworthiness. And life in AA is full of blessings.
It is easy. We learn to love the naturally lovable, but when we concentrate on loving those we think are unlovable we find out how expansive love is.
As time passes in AA, we hear or read much about love: Love is as simple as becoming always available. Love is a sincere interest in others. Love is a desire to be of service. Giving love is more important than being loved. Love is an ability to understand others and their problems.
Love is always positive and constructive. It does not tolerate negativism. It must be given and received unconditionally, without reservations, with no strings attached. When we love, we will see in others what we wish to have in ourselves. We will know that love is a privilege given to us by God. When we love, we will never be bored with life or with our program. It is what impels us to be active and to get involved in service.
Love will teach us values in life. It shows us that the things that count are never held in the hand but always in the heart. And people who are loving always live in the now. They cannot afford to live in the past or project into tomorrow. People who love laugh more and believe that a day without laughter is a lost day. Love is the cement for the unity we need in AA. It joins the power of the mind and the heart for emotional growth. It promotes lasting attachments, never divisive controversy.
The love we find in AA is always warm, never cold. It is firm, not loose. Companionship is a result of love. And love cannot be taught but is developed naturally.
Anything is possible if done with love. I’m sure that our big no-no–taking another’s inventory–is justified if done with love to help someone avoid a slip.
If we ever doubt that love in AA does not bring unity, we can remind ourselves that most meetings end with a firm joining of hands and recital of the Lord’s Prayer or the Serenity Prayer.
One of my favorite stories is about two men who, on an evening stroll along a street, came upon an open door through which they stopped to look. Inside, an AA meeting was about to start. One man asked, “What do you suppose is going on in there?” The second man shrugged. “Must be a big family reunion. Everybody’s hugging and kissing each other.” Obviously with love.