Eighteen years ago I made a beginning in the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous. For nine years I’d hidden literature about AA in my bureau drawer before I finally began to learn what the words in these pamphlets really meant.
When I first came into the rooms of AA, I was a bit grandiose. I’d sit at a meeting and think about what comments I could make so I’d sound as though I understood the topic. Aside from this shortcoming, I did follow the gentle directions of my sponsor, and I trotted around to meeting after meeting. One day someone told me to shut up and listen, and so my comments became less frequent, a little less clever, and a good bit more honest. This was when my journey became a quest for strength, unshakable faith, and perseverance.
The perseverance that sustains me today was passed on by all the women who carried me through my first year. I treasure the wisdom they shared with me. One of these women was my sponsor, Jane. Without her transfer of strength and faith, I’d still be back there hiding the pamphlets, wishing they’d be eaten by moths.
When I’d been sober about a year, I gave my first lead in the Philadelphia suburb where I’d lived all my life. This experience left me so exhilarated that I wrote an article about my feelings, planning to submit it to the Grapevine. However, I had a pattern of seeking approval, so when I showed this piece to my husband and a close friend, and they critiqued it and changed a word or two, I couldn’t bring myself to submit it.
Very slowly, however, I’ve changed this self-defeating pattern, and during the past three years I’ve progressed so that I feel secure in my decision to share this seventeen-year-old article. My feelings about Alcoholics Anonymous haven’t changed since those early days of recovery. This is my article in its original form, dated October 27, 1975:
When I’d been in the program three months, a new friend asked me to be one of her speakers and I said no. “I could never get it all together,” I told her.
Remembering the many fine members I had heard tell their stories, I immediately began to compare their messages to how mine might sound. I placed all the emphasis on eloquence. Even though I knew AA was not a program of comparing but of sharing, I couldn’t apply this perspective to my situation.
My friend said, “If you don’t feel that you’re ready, I’ll understand.”
That’s all I needed. She gave me my excuse. After mulling over the pros and cons, I used this ready out (another fault of mine–procrastination). Thereafter, when asked, I had my beautiful excuse: “I’m not ready.” Jane, my sponsor, thought I was ready. But she didn’t press me.
Shortly after this, I had an opportunity to chair my first meeting. The date fell on my sponsor’s fifth anniversary, so she was my speaker. Subsequently, I chaired even more meetings, and this responsibility added confidence. I had found a home in the Fellowship.
In my eleventh month, Jane asked me to be one of her speakers. I knew I couldn’t draw upon my excuse again and agreed to the date set. I made notes and rehearsed what I would say, and worried about how it would sound.
On October 13, 1975, one year to the day after I had entered a rehab near Philadelphia, I began my lead by saying the only thing I didn’t need to rehearse: “My name is B.J. and I’m an alcoholic.” After about twenty minutes, I felt mysteriously energized, and pushed my notes aside. My words had wings.
Prior to speaking, I was so wrapped up in how I would sound that it didn’t occur to me to focus on the support I’d receive from the group. This is when I realized the rewards of sharing. The comments made by my loving audience echoed the theme of my message, which expressed how I treasured my sobriety and believed it was a gift from God. His grace was felt throughout the room that night.
In the days that followed, the impact of my speaking began to hit me. I felt stronger, my spirit soared, and my outlook toward the future became one of anticipation rather than projection. I now know without a doubt that God’s will is for me to be sober. Although I sometimes have trouble getting out of the driver’s seat, I know I can persevere and turn my will and my life over to God’s care each day.
So dear friends, it doesn’t matter what your story is or how you present it. The beauty is in sharing with people who love and understand you. I have added new joy and peace to my sobriety. Join me and speak. . .enjoy these rewards.
That is my 1975 article. Since that night I’ve been fulfilled by sharing at many meetings. I now live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where it isn’t the custom to have a discussion after a qualification. Sometimes after we all get up and leave, I feel a little empty and sad that we cannot hear each other’s “afterthoughts” as a group.
But truly, any little emptiness today could never surpass the emptiness I felt sitting on my kitchen floor on November 28, 1974, having my last drink. My emptiness has been filled with the enduring words in the book Alcoholics Anonymous. I have marched across the Twelve Steps again and again. My concept of them grows and changes as they lead me forward in my quest for greater faith.
One of my strengths is perseverance, and although that driver’s seat hasn’t always been vacant all these years, perseverance has been my hood ornament, and I have driven through many a storm into the sunshine. Thus far, I have been victorious in my journey, and the joy I’ve experienced through God’s everlasting love is a reward far beyond my wildest dreams.