Pay Attention – Grapevine Article May 1980 By B.M.

MANY YEARS ago, when I was trying to integrate constant social drinking with happy personal relationships, this futile endeavor led me to consult a psychologist (who, I see in retrospect, was an outstanding therapist) and to take what he called a “course.” He did not diagnose me as alcoholic; but he did, after the first few interviews, order me to stop drinking while I was seeing him. He said his method required one to think, and often to “think fast”; and he told me bluntly, “When you drink, you can’t think.”

At the time, I was having trouble deciding whom or whether I loved. I have never forgotten what this man said about love: “It is simply interest. When you are interested in someone or something, you are giving it love. Paying attention to a person, a thing, an idea, or an activity is loving it.”

This was an entirely new concept to me, one that made sense.

Years later, after I had been in Alcoholics Anonymous for a year, another therapist whom I had been consulting previous to my entry into AA asked to go to a meeting with me, since he had never attended one. Afterward, he told me, “You stay with those people. They have done you more good in one year than I was able to do in six.”

Then he commented, “I have never seen such support. I watched the crowd; and every person there was with every speaker.”

I think this second doctor’s observation expressed in the word “support” the equivalent of the first doctor’s “interest.” I, too, have noticed this at AA meetings. Even if we’re bored or are privately disagreeing with a speaker, we listen politely and impassively. If we are, on the other hand, moved, amused, or approving, we are either misty-eyed, wreathed in smiles, or guffawing appreciatively.

We usually come to our first meeting ready to pay attention, even if we’re skeptical or resentful; but we are at least curious and usually passionately interested to learn what these people can do to help us. Most of us discover that in order to be permanently free from drinking, we have to continue to listen for help from “those people.”

The very circumstances of our situation dictate this “interest” or “support,” which, if my first psychologist was correct–and I believe he was–is an expression of love.

The “magic” or “healing power” in AA rooms that people speak of in mystified tones is, therefore, simply love–which we stumbled on, not from noble or spiritual motives, but by sheer animal desire for personal survival. If you prefer to call it a Life Force, you can make this power sound dignified and philosophical.

And those who have a need to make the whole thing even more impressive would say, “It’s God, because God is love.”

What it boils down to is that, out of what most people consider the most ignoble of motives–lust for one’s own individual survival, i.e., self-interest–springs what we think of as one of the most admirable of attitudes: interest in and concern for others. That is to say, love.

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