Confessions Of a Reluctant Newcomer – Grapevine Article March 2003 by W.B.

He didn’t know that AA was not a spectator sport

Newcomers, God love ’em, can’t be beaten with a stick. They stand up at speakers’ meetings and talk for six minutes or for fifty-six; they’re live-wires or numb as rocks; egomaniacs (like me) or doormats. They’re the lifeblood of the program; the pigeons who carry the message. What would the rest of us do without them? Newbies keep the grass green–their presence is a good “remember-when.” They’re like me, they sit in the back of the meeting or in a corner, scared to death that someone will ask them to speak, and when no one does ask, they feel insulted. At six months, they know most of the answers to life’s problems; at a year, they know all of the answers. At two years, or five, or twenty, they realize that, like the rest of us, they know only a little and that more–a lot more–will be revealed in time.

I too was a newborn. I went to our local Sunday night speakers’ meeting every week. (I had to; I was court-ordered.) I sat in a corner in self-imposed isolation. Instead of listening to the speakers, I took inventory of the people nearby (always to their detriment). One night after the meeting, when I had been in AA for two months, I happened to cross paths with Eddie B., an old-timer. “When are you going to join the group?” he shouted in a voice as loud as a foghorn. The question shriveled me. I felt hurt. What was the dirty old so-and-so talking about? I came to the meeting every week. What more did he want? I did not know then that AA was not a spectator sport. I also expected (and feared) that someone would ask me to join. (I planned to tell whoever asked that I’d think about it.) So sick was I and with so inflated an ego, I thought that the people in AA were lucky I had decided to come to meetings. I felt sorry for them, for the poor AAs–they could not drink anymore. I wondered if I’d be able to help any of them–like I helped the people in barrooms–before I went on my merry way back to drinking, which, with help from the courts, I was on a kind of sabbatical from. In three months, or six, or whenever (after my court case was settled), I’d go back to drinking–healthy and full of pep–and after another fifteen years or so, if things got bad again, I’d come back to AA if I had to.

The day after my court case was settled (I received probation instead of jail time), I rewarded myself for my five months of “sobriety” with a slip. It was Veterans’ Day, and although I am not a vet (my father was, though), I thought I would honor the veterans by having a little drink (or two). I went to the VFW and drank one draft beer every twenty minutes. After five or six beers, satisfied that I could control my drinking whenever I wanted to, I began to drink like I always drank, one beer after the other as fast as I could drink them.

Later that night, I wandered into another bar and tried to pick a fight. Nobody would fight me. I yanked one of the yellow-bellied chickens off his bar stool. People piled onto me like hungry rats onto a corpse. I cleared a path through the pile to the door. I ran from the joint and down the street and into an alleyway. I heard a siren shriek in the distance. I ran as fast as I was able across a parking lot and between two buildings and suddenly I was in mid-air twenty feet above the river beyond the stone wall I had run off of. The ice cold water hit me like a sucker punch. Instantly sober, I began to swim upriver, intent on escaping the cops. I crouched in the dark beneath a bridge. I would wait, I thought, until things cooled down before I climbed out (the water was hip level), but my fingers began to freeze so I decided to climb, cops or no cops. Halfway up the stone wall, I lost my grip and fell back into the river. Things were taking a serious turn. I began a second ascent. This time, I almost reached the top before falling back into the drink. My coat now weighed about fifty pounds. My hands were like chunks of ice. I no longer had the energy to climb. I screamed for help. Two nearby apartment dwellers–a man and a woman–threw me a rope and pulled me out of the river. Back on terra firma, I asked the woman if she would go out with me. She said no.

I walked back to my room (a spacious five-by-ten-foot cubicle), shoes squishing all the way. A day later, the police came for me. My parole officer no longer thought that I was such a wonderful guy.

Offered treatment or jail, I chose treatment. (Good choice!) After treatment, I became, for the second time, a newcomer to AA. A little more desperate than I had been during my first “visit,” I made a little more effort to, as Eddie B. said, join the group. In time, I made the shocking discovery that I had little to offer anyone in AA. I knew a lot about books, philosophy, and politics, but nothing about staying or living sober. And until I acquired a degree of humility and became a student, not a teacher; a patient, not a doctor, I would remain ignorant. Intellectually astute (though not as astute as I thought), I was, and sometimes still am, an emotional basketcase. I discovered that I was emotionally disturbed, my personality discolored by my reactions to the things that happened to me. I applied the ointment of the Twelve Steps to try to bring my emotions to maturity (and have made progress, but little perfection). No longer a newcomer, I now know through experience that with the help of the Fellowship, the Twelve Steps, and a higher power who I believe has my best interests at heart, I do not have to be a newcomer again.

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