Misunderstood – Grapevine Article February 2021 by Michael E.

The man he met said he was “naturally incapable” of grasping what we have. This member doesn’t agree

During my time in the rooms, I have met people who can quote from memory every page of the Big Book from cover to personalized leather-bound cover. I’ve also met people staying sober for years who rarely, if ever, will pick up our text. No individual is more qualified or adept at maintaining sobriety, or explaining it, than any other. There are no experts in AA. Collectively we are a group of drunks learning and doing the best we can to help and support each other.

When I was only a few months sober, I took a walk through a park early one morning while awaiting the start of a nearby AA meeting. On my walk, a complete stranger in a very familiar condition approached me. The desperate man looked at me and said, “Excuse me, can you help me out, man? I need some money and I’m not even going to lie to you. I need it to buy some beer.”

I remember becoming flush with excitement and concern. Here was a man in a situation that I had been in just a few short months earlier. I wanted to help, but I didn’t trust that I knew exactly what to say. I did not feel well-versed in the program, being so new. During my most desperate times in active alcoholism, I was prone to seizures if I didn’t get a drink. I feared this might happen to the man, so I gave him some money.

I then attempted to explain to him that I had been right where he was and that I could take him to a meeting just up the road where people could help him. I asked if he would like to come. I was so eager to help I wanted to drag him with me, but I knew enough to know that the program had to be sought and not forced.

“Yeah, I’ve tried that AA many times,” the man told me. “It’s just not for me. I guess I’m one of those ‘naturally incapable of grasping’ or whatever they say in the meetings.”

Unfortunately I didn’t know how to respond to that, so I wished him luck and reminded him where we would be if he changed his mind. I proceeded to my meeting, thinking about what the man had said. The quote was familiar, but I felt like he had it wrong. I heard the quote in full as “How It Works” was read in our meeting:

“They are naturally incapable of grasping and developing a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty.”

I felt so stupid. The man felt that the reading pegged him as someone incapable of getting sober, when his actions had proved exactly the opposite. When he asked for money, he didn’t make up some lie about what it was for. He was honest about it. I wanted to run out of the meeting and find the man, but I never saw him again. I beat myself up for a long time and felt I had not honored my Twelfth Step duties, though at the time I had yet to go through all the Steps.

Years later, in my home group a young kid introduced himself. He told us at length about his history of relapses. He explained that he continued to try the rooms but also continued to drink. He told of some embarrassments he was dealing with and that he didn’t feel he could cope. The young man said solemnly, “I think I’m just one of those the text talks about—‘naturally incapable’ of getting this.”

I have never been one to quote from the Big Book, but I nearly leapt out of my seat at this chance even if it meant a little cross talk. I explained what happened years ago in the park and I explained that the line in the Big Book does not refer to types of people who are just not capable of becoming sober. Rather, it refers to the fact that, to achieve sobriety, we must be completely honest with ourselves.

I told the newcomer that everything he had just shared with the group was honesty from the heart and proof that he was indeed capable of success in the program.

No one among us is any more or less qualified to help a fellow alcoholic. Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help them. Paired with our progress-not-perfection attitude, this entitles us to merely do the best that we can when we can.

I no longer blame myself for not doing more for that man I met in the park. I instead look forward to what else I might learn in this program that will help me and the people I meet who need help.

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