WHAT is this ‘personality change’ we talk about in AA?” the leader asked by way of introduction. “We keep on referring to it but no one seems to explain it. Let’s break it down. Joe, do you have some thoughts on this subject?”
“Well, I’ve thought about it a lot over the years. It isn’t easy. It is tied up with a lot of things–humility, egotism, serenity, ‘Live and Let Live’ and so on,” Joe said.
“You mean, I gather, that the alcoholic is basically an egocentric person?” the leader prompted.
“Oh yes, in most cases at least. He thinks the sun rises and sets in him. He may play the big shot or he may be shy. But even the shy guy thinks every one is looking at him so he is nervous and ill at ease. He may be a stinker but he will claim to be the biggest stinker that ever lived,” Joe continued.
“Where does the humility fit?” queried Fran in the back row.
“I’d like to have try at that,” spoke up Lucy, who had been working on a humility article lately.
“When the alcoholic is having trouble–well in fact most of the time–he is self-centered. He projects himself into the middle of everything. If his boss and one of his associates are whispering together, they are of course talking about him. The alcoholic is selfish. He may be generous with money but he craves attention and praise,” Lucy went on.
“Now when he gets a little humility, the alcoholic begins to break away from these egocentric faults. Let me say that humility does not mean doormat subservience. It is merely a realistic understanding of our own talents and liabilities, giving credit to others where credit is due. Some people are smarter than we are, more talented, more beautiful, more successful. So we accept life as it is.
“As we come to realize that many persons are more richly endowed and that even the humblest and least talented can do some things better than we can, we begin to get humility. Then the personality change sets in,” Lucy added.
“I think you put that very well, Lucy. With a little humility it becomes easier to live with others. Life itself becomes easier. Humility is a sort of lubricant for the wheels of human relations. With humility, we can let the other fellow be wrong–let him be wrong, why correct him and start an argument? That’s tolerance, you say. Yes, but it is better than tolerance. With tolerance you struggle with yourself to let the other fellow have his way. But if your tolerance springs from humility, it is no longer necessary for you to spring to your own defense, to prove you are more right than your opponent. Tolerance is a struggle. Humility is a mighty inward power. Yes, Phil,” the leader said, pointing to a new member up front.
“This has been very illuminating for me. I always thought that humility meant bowing down and letting other people run over you. Now I see it is really an absence of unjustified pride–a sort of self-orientation. I can take that. In fact I can use a little of it.”
“Thanks, Phil. Now I want to get back to the serenity that Joe mentioned. Serenity, in a way, is the ultimate reward in AA. In turn, it also tends to insure continued sobriety and a growing quality of sobriety. Joe, do you want to carry that a little further?” the leader asked, bringing the discussion back to the first speaker.
“Well, in a sense, serenity is the personality change, or the result of it, depending on your point of view. When we came in here we were scared, nervous, depressed, ready to give up. Then gradually we calm down, begin to see life in its proper proportions and ultimately get a fair degree of serenity–most of us.
“Some members never get serenity–or think they don’t. Actually they probably have more than they suspect. Some people are natural worriers–alcoholics and non-alcoholics alike. You cannot completely change them into relaxed, happy-go-lucky, devil-may-care men about town. That is not AA’s job. But we do try to change from the deplorable persons we were into something more like the responsible upright citizens we want to be.
“With that outward change goes an inward growth, the lessening of egocentricity, the increase of humility, more consideration for others, the gradual calming down, the enjoyment of a more relaxed and, if you will, more serene way of life.”
“Very good, Joe. By serene, I’m sure you mean relatively serene, for we continue to be humans with problems and worries. AA does not relieve us of our humanity. All we hoped for when we came to AA was to solve our drinking problem and perhaps to get back to normal, not to become angels without bodily or mental difficulties,” the leader said.
“I came in here a few weeks ago to stop drinking–well, really not even that, to do something about my drinking. Now I’m beginning to see that this program has depth as well as breadth,” broke in Terry B.
“We learn not to take the first drink. Then we start working on ourselves–eliminate personal faults and more serious stuff. Soon we are no longer struggling with liquor but for a better way of life. The liquor moves further and further into the background.
“Yes, I see that. The nervous, jittery guy craves a drink, a cigarette, food, something. The serene individual, at peace with himself and the world, has no urge to drink. His eye is now on life–normal life. I get it. Yeah, I think that’s OK. I’m glad I came,” Terry concluded.
“Well, our time has about run out,” said the leader.
“We’ve touched on quite a lot of things. Any one of them merits an evening of discussion. By way of summary, let me say first that AA promises only sobriety. If your problem is alcoholism and you faithfully follow our suggested program we think we can promise you sobriety. All the other things mentioned here tonight are plus values. We don’t promise them but they are here for those who will strive to get them.
“Personality change, in one sense, is the essence of the program. In another it is the fruit of the program, the reward, the ultimate achievement. Once we get sober, our eyes are opened and we see many things we want and some things we don’t want–in ourselves. We try gradually to change from what we are into something approximating what we want to be. Humility is a great aid in this process. It takes us out of ourselves, helps us to understand and like others, to rejoin the human race, if you will.
“As we become less self-centered we become better integrated human beings. We calm down. We get a little serenity. Our personality has changed. Maybe these are only minor changes but we are a little easier to live with, and life is worth living again. Who could ask for anything more?
“Shall we close the meeting in the usual way?”