His chance to impress everyone at the big event became a starring role for Step Seven
Finally, I would have my moment, if only a brief one, in the AA spotlight. Oh, never mind those leads at my local AA groups, wonderful opportunities that they were to share my experience, strength and hope. This would be big, a gala affair celebrating our cofounder Bill W.’s emergence from the darkness of active alcoholism to sobriety, with as many as 1,500 AA members and their guests present in the grand ballroom of a well-known New York hotel.
Ridiculously egotistical, you might conclude, but I take comfort in that part of our Seventh Step prayer that reads, “…have all of me, good and bad.” And maybe we are not the best “deciders” of what is good and bad. Maybe that is the province of HP. Maybe Bill is sounding a caution note that our actions cannot, in all cases, be reduced to one motive.
Beyond the introductory boilerplate needed to start off the event, I had added a few words built around the momentous visit Ebby, Bill’s childhood friend, paid to Bill in November 1934. Ebby, to Bill’s astonishment, was now sober. He shared with Bill the principles of the Oxford movement, a precursor of AA, and reliance on God, which he credited with bringing about this startling transformation. When Bill balked at the very mention of God, Ebby suggested he choose his own conception of a higher being. Ebby had planted a seed.
“I hope you too will see the hand of God as you read these pages.” So reads the inscription my longtime sponsor Cubby added to the book Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, which he gave to me on my first anniversary.
And what exactly do we see in reading these pages? On a December day in that same month, our cofounder Bill is drinking bottles of beer on a New York City subway en route to Towns Hospital for another round of drying out. And yet, within a week in the confines of that hospital, “a wind not of air but of spirit” is blowing through him and he is rendered sober.
Are we not all, in a sense, the children of Bill’s “white light” experience and all the wondrous good that has followed from it? Would any of us be here without that moment of surrender in which, on his knees and in complete despair, our cofounder cried out to whatever God there might be to reveal himself?
Such was the gist of my script, which I read at the mic, only to learn, from others on the dais, that they could not make out a word I had said. And so began my spiral down.
“Do my words mean nothing?” my mother would say, when exasperated with me as a child. That evening these same words went through my mind, not in the context of a willful child trying the patience of a parent, but as a 72-year-old man whose hope for his succinct and polished message to deeply move the masses had been dashed by either his faint voice or a betraying microphone or both.
I had not exactly blazed a path through life in my drinking years. From episodic bouts of drunkenness as a teenager, I passed my 20s increasingly captive to the bottle, with blackouts becoming a frequent occurrence. For a number of those years I was without gainful employment. My life marginalized by active alcoholism, perhaps it should come as no great surprise that I would seek to become famous, as I have heard it said, in an anonymous program. And perhaps I am not entirely alone in this futile pursuit. However, the sober path and life itself require me to make adjustments as I grow older. I am not sought out to lead meetings as I once was. Newer members do not come to me in the numbers they once did and ask that I sponsor them. The phone does not ring as often.
In his essay on Step Seven in Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Bill describes humility as “a healer of pain.” Though I gave the Step scant attention in my early years of recovery, the up and down nature of life has since compelled me to pray with increased earnestness for a measure of this essential spiritual quality each morning, so that I may accept myself as I am, with all my flaws as well as my assets, and seek patient improvement.
All of us want recognition in some degree, and it cannot be an easy thing, at least initially, to sense that we are not sought after as we once were. But being an elder in the Fellowship has its own rewards. A deeper feeling of peace and serenity has come to me in slowly learning what it means to be “a small part of a great whole.”
As I was leaving the dais following the end of the event, a man approached. When asked if I remembered him, I had to say no. However, my failure of memory did nothing to dampen his excitement. Some years before, he had attended his first meeting, at which I reached out to him with my phone number. Though he never called or saw me again, he said he mentions me frequently when he shares in the rooms, and even goes so far as to say that I was instrumental in his getting sober. Whatever benefit I was to him in that one brief meeting, he stood there as a timely reminder that it is nowhere written that sounding good at an AA meeting or AA event, or striving to become famous in a Fellowship that embraces the principle of anonymity, are priorities in our program of recovery, but relating ourselves to the alcoholic who still suffers will always remain fully half of our primary purpose.