Our Common Welfare

by John W.

Each member is a small part of a great whole.

“No rules,” just like Paul Newman’s character Butch Cassidy said was true in a knife fight, as told to the opponent he vanquished with a markedly low blow. I was enthralled to find there were no rules in A.A. Having minored in college in political science, steeped in philosophies of government, organization and how systems worked, I thought I had a pretty good handle on the subject. I learned quickly I was a “newcomer” when I confronted A.A. and my place in it.

I was confused at first by who was running the meeting and why it was done so inefficiently. People introduced themselves at some meetings, but no one ever took roll. The ones with the prime seats nearest the secretary did not seem to do anything to earn them. They just showed up. Then there was this business of newcomers being “the most important people” at the meetings. The first time I said I was a newcomer, because I had lied about it for the first several months of regular meeting attendance interspersed with daily drinking, I was “volunteered” to help tidy up the meeting room and put away the chairs.

I had to hang with this new posse or I was toast

Those folks sure had a funny way of letting me know how important I was. I heard, “We don’t drink between meetings. You ought to consider trying that.” And never, even after copping to being a newcomer who was really, honestly, trying to stop drinking but just couldn’t, did anyone ever say, “You must stop drinking now!” This was a relief because I would have rebelled and bolted if they had. And I know for certain I would not be penning these thoughts now, over a sober decade later. I’d be dead. A.A. was a new frontier for me which fit no mold I had ever studied.

Though bewildering, it kept me sober and saved my life. A.A. worked when nothing else had, as those I heard from the beginning said it would, if I followed their simple suggestions. After sober days became sober weeks and then sober months, the mystery of time started to intercede. I began to realize and learn that time has a wonderful way of passing in Alcoholics Anonymous. It passes One Day At A Time.

As this mystery of time passing unfolded daily before me, I realized this was the spiritual element of my disease. I was being healed by this daily reprieve I had unbelievably begun to experience and enjoy. As I became able to successfully confront the daily drink challenge, I started to hope this success would last. As time passed I began to really want this success to last. The longer I stayed sober, the more I understood that if my sobriety was to last I needed the group for help and support.

I slowly came to realize I had to hang with this new posse or I was toast. Throughout my process of awakening these A.A.s made only suggestions. They gave no orders. They suggested I be of service, helping someone who needed it, and said this would help keep me sober. Take what you can from the group, then give it all away, was their message.

It all got so simple one day when I watched a guy, very smartly attired in a suit and tie, grab a mop to swab the water closet which someone had left in a less than pristine state. Dressed in jeans with no place to go, I had offered to clean up the mess after I realized what he was doing. But he smiled in response, said he was a drunk as common as a spare tire in the trunk of my car and things like this task helped him keep life’s priorities in their proper perspective.

We needed to keep the place clean, he said, or they wouldn’t invite us back. He wanted to make sure we had a place to meet the next time. No one had said he must, he knew only that he ought to for the good of the group. This guy had what I wanted. He showed me just what I ought to do (he did not tell me what I must do). His example is one I have never forgotten.

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