This is an audio recording and transcript of a talk that life-j gave at his home group on April 17, 2018. In this talk, life-j does a great job laying out succinctly and clearly a case for change within the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous.
00:00: I’m life. I’m an alcoholic.
00:03: I’ve been writing a lot this last year—a couple of years actually. So, if you get tired of listening to me, I’ll send some of my writing around so you can sit and peek at it. Anybody who’s interested, I’ll try to find a way to get it to you. I got some old pictures too that I’ll send around.
00:19: Nice to see so many people here tonight. When I came here 16 years ago, we’d usually be about five over there in the lumber yard. Kenny was there, as often as not, drunk and belligerent.
00:35: And now you got twelve years sober, right?
00:40: Congratulations and… Yeah, sometimes it’d be another member drunk and between us, we could pretty much run the meeting. And there was old Tom and there was Peabody and Bruce who are both dead now. I don’t know that they died directly from alcoholism but probably the same demons that made them drink killed them somehow.
01:03: Yeah, and then Joe and Shawn showed up at some point, and came for a little while, and then they stopped showing up, and then when I called them up and said, “Why?” They’d say, “Oh, well there’s not really much recovery here.”. And, I said, “Well, then you gotta bring it.” And they did and they’ve been coming ever since, and that’s a good thing.
01:24: I don’t want to talk a whole lot about myself here, I’d rather talk about AA actually, but the way my days would go, is I would get three or four bottles of wine, and the whole case of beer, and go home and start drinking about 4 o’clock. Then I’d drink until two or three or four or five in the morning, however long I could stay on my feet and throw up a few times in the course of it. I’d go to bed and if I could get up early enough, after a couple hours to where I’d still be drunk, I’d be okay and maybe I could even get some food in me, and and get some work done. But if I slept in until eight or nine and the hangover set in, I was done. Maybe I’d go out and get a couple of double espresso mochas or something like that, drive by the job about noon and say that “I can’t make it today, I’m going to have to go home.” I forgot one thing, in the morning when I got up I would say, “Today, I’m not going to drink.”. And then by 4 o’clock, I’d say, “Tomorrow, I’m not going to drink because I really need a couple of beers tonight.”
02:30: That’s how it went for me, and I got sober a little over 30 years ago, down in Berkeley and Oakland. I went and got an “I am responsible” sign. “When anyone, anywhere reaches out for help, I want the hand of AA always to be there, and for that I’m responsible”. If I can shut up early enough to have other people talk, that’s going to be our topic.
02:56: AA works for those of us that are here tonight, and you all know somebody who came here a few times, and then we didn’t see them any more. Some of them come back every once in a while, and stay for a little while, and then we don’t see them again. There’s a lot of people who come here, and they don’t stay. Now, “The Big Book” sold 30 million copies, and there’s 2 million members in AA. We probably, each of us, have a couple of them so that accounts for about 5 million of them, right?
03:29: Then probably another 5 million have gone into libraries and so forth, right? So we got 20 million “Big Books” that we can’t really account for. People came in, and they were serious enough about their recovery, to where they at least got a “Big Book”. Then they came to a couple of meetings and they didn’t show up anymore. Or somebody else gave them a “Big Book” that cared enough about them. But that’s 20 million people that are not here. I think some of those people just weren’t serious about their recovery and all, but I’m thinking that we need to do something different to see if we can’t help all those people who came and couldn’t stay.
04:18: We do a real alcoholic thing in AA. We kind of say, “It’s our way or the highway.” If you want to recover, we have some suggestions here. If you don’t want to do the suggestions, that’s okay, go back out and drink until you’re sick enough to where you come back and will do it our way. That’s not good either.
04:40: Bill was sober three years when he wrote “The Big Book”, and it was a good thing that he wrote “The Big Book” because if he hadn’t done that, I don’t think we would have been able to pull the Fellowship together the way we did. Other than that, there were eight people that were sober more than six months when he wrote “The Big Book.”, and there were another 100 men and women, it was probably more like 70 or 80 who had an average of three months.
05:07: This means that I, for instance, probably have about as much sobriety time as all those people together who put “The Big Book” together. And there’s a bunch of other people in here that do too. And, here tonight, we probably between us, have about five times as much sobriety as all those early AAs. I think that’s important because I think that maybe it’s okay if between us, we start thinking for ourselves a bit instead of just saying, “Okay, here’s “The Big Book”, read the Doctor’s Opinion.”
05:44: We do have a book here that tells us how to not drink, what to do to change our lives. Living Sober, that’s a really good one. The other books, they’re our founding documents and therefore, they do deserve some respect, but I think they should more or less be retired. I don’t know. You probably all seen Ron’s washing machines, right? Beautiful, right? But don’t you have a modern washing machine in the house? Yeah. But those machines are still beautiful, and they are still a great thing.
06:21: I think we should treat our literature the same way. Have respect for it, but we need to start doing something else. There’s hundreds of books on recovery out there and many of them are much better than the ones we have. Now of course, we all did get a lot of things right. Not only are there some brilliant passages in “The Big Book”, “More About Alcoholism”, and other passages, but he made a bunch of really important discoveries. An alcoholic will trust another alcoholic before they trust just about anybody else, their parents, their kids, their spouse, their doctor, their clergyman, whatever. Of course, we don’t trust probation officers and cops or any those guys, but we trust each other and it’s because we understand each other. Every once in a while, it comes up at home. I tell my wife, “Yeah. I used to drink three, four bottles of wine in a night.” She’s dropping her jaw, “How could you do that?” You all know I have a problem with sweets, I go buy a box of cookies and she wants to hide it, right? Because she knows I’m going to eat the whole box. “So why can’t you just have one?” because she doesn’t understand that kind of stuff, right?
07:47: Another thing Bill discovered was that, helping another alcoholic helps us stay sober, and that’s a really great thing. We need a tribe to belong to. We have the fellowship and it’s really a great thing that we all sit here and get together tonight. I used to not belong anywhere, and that was one of the nice things when I went to AA, I could sit down and say, “I’m an alcoholic.” And I could say, “Okay, so that’s my problem. Okay, now we got it defined. Now, I’m cool.” And I’m here with all these people who are alcoholics too. I sat next to this really big guy at our second meeting and he started talking about fear. He was afraid of people and I was afraid of people and it took a long time before I got over that.
08:40: Another thing is, we do it one day at a time or an hour at a time, or five minutes at a time, whatever. If I had had to never drink again, I don’t know if I could have done that, but just taking it one day was okay.
08:52: Larry likes to say after I’d been here for a few months. It wasn’t that I could never drink again, it was… I don’t ever have to drink again. And that’s a big difference. Another one is, don’t take that first drink because that’s the one that gets you drunk. That’s something you need to be around for a little bit before you understand it, because I’d always say, now the first one didn’t get me drunk, so I’m going to have to drink three or four just to get started, right?
09:20: Anyway, the really important one is that we have to work on ourselves. It’s not just enough to quit drinking, but to work on ourselves in many ways. The Steps is one way and they can be helpful to a lot of people if you just need to sit down and be told what to do, or somebody who is religious, but there are people who it’s not that great for, in part because of all the God stuff.
09:44: The principles that really work, whether you do them in the steps or you do it some other way are honesty, open-mindedness, willingness, humility, service, and living by the golden rule, and gratitude and acceptance. Those are the real basic principles and you can build 12 steps around it or something else.
10:17: But there are problems in our program. Probably the reasons why those 20 million people aren’t here. One problem of course the God stuff, and I know that there’s religious people here, and for them it’s a great comfort to have a God and all this and that’s good with me, I’m fine with that. It’s just, there are a lot of people who don’t like it. Well, there’s about 20% agnostics or atheists in this country, so that’s not enough to explain why 90% percent of the people who come here don’t stay. There’s more, there’s more. I don’t have all the answers, but I’m not going to go on and on about the God stuff. I do enough of that for everyday purposes, right?
10:58: But there’s another thing, when Bill wrote “The Big Book”, most of the people who came and participated in AA in the early days, they were failed businessmen, they were type A people, they were people who probably needed to have their egos taken down a peg or two, [chuckle] including Bill, right? He was an egomaniac. I think these days, it’s probably even the majority who come here with low self-esteem. We hate each other, and we hate ourselves…
11:37: What good is it going to do for somebody who comes in here with low self-esteem and be told that they need ego deflation. Many of us were abused as children. Some just violence and some sexually. I wasn’t abused sexually but a lot of people have been, especially women. So they come to AA and we say, “So what was your part in it? I got born into the wrong family. I should have thought of that before I was born but…
12:12: People are downtrodden when they come in here, they don’t need ego deflation, they need empowerment, they need encouragement to blossom. We don’t have that built into AA. We really need that somehow.
12:33: Another thing I’d like to talk about a little is acceptance. That’s a really an important thing. Now, it’s not because nothing absolutely nothing happens in God’s world by mistake. That’s not the reason why you would accept everything. Now if everything in this world happens by chance, don’t I have every much as a reason to accept it? Whether God did it, or chance did it, I had no part in it. It’s there, I have got to accept it. It doesn’t make any difference, but acceptance is the first thing if we want to change anything.
13:07: If I don’t accept my alcoholism, I’m not going to be able to change it, because I’m saying it’s not there. I have to accept it, then once I accept it, then I can ask, can it be changed? Is the effort worth the outcome? Is it just for myself or are there other people who are going to benefit from it?
13:35: I had surgery four years ago, so I went and I talked with the surgeon and I said, “Could you please do the surgery the way they did it in 1938, because that was a really great year.”
13:42: And so he said, “Yeah sure, you got a 5% or 10% chance.” And so I said “That’s really great odds. I’ll take it.” This is how we do it in AA. Those of us who are here, we recovered, even me who doesn’t have a god. I put up with all that stuff, and I recovered. I learned to lose my fear of people, I learned to love everybody instead of hate everybody. I’m grateful to be here, make no mistake about that, but I just think there’s a lot of things we need to do different. A 5% or 10% chance of getting sober in here, that’s not good enough. Society keeps changing and we keep doing the same thing. The United States has grown by 30% since the early 90s and AA has decreased by 20%. That doesn’t add up very good.
14:46: AA is kind of like a bicycle with training wheels, and we don’t want to take the training wheels off. We want to keep rolling with them, we don’t want to think for ourselves. We don’t need to leave our brain at the door. I would like to see AA work for those other 20 million people. AA has worked really hard to become the only game in town, and that’s what they do at all the recovery places. They give people a Big Book and keep them there for 30 days and charge some ungodly sum and then send them back home again.
15:27: Part of the problem and why it doesn’t work, is that they go back to the same environment they came from. At least if we are in AA, we are in our regular environment all the time, and somehow or other, either we learn to stay sober in spite of it, or else it doesn’t work. But those people that go to recovery centers, that’s a rough deal, it is. In AA, we are taught that we can’t keep doing the same thing over and over and expect different results. That’s very important towards us individuals and I think it’s every bit as important for our Fellowship.
16:01: If we don’t make some changes, AA is going to keep on going down and become some funny little sect that nobody goes to. That would be a real shame, we got a great Fellowship. Even if we only are 2 million out of the 30, that’s still a lot. We’re everywhere. I’ve gone to meetings in a dozen other states and a couple of other countries, and it’s everywhere. I’ve gone to a meeting in Las Vegas at 2:00 in the morning. People there were just going about their daily business.
16:31: That’s a place that never sleeps. It’s pretty wild. Yeah, AA has saved my life. There’s no question about it. When I walk out of here tonight, I have 2 million people walking behind me shoulder to shoulder. It doesn’t just give me courage not to drink, but to go out there and hold my head high and be part of the real world, which I couldn’t do when I was drinking, I couldn’t do it when I was young either. I was just a fuck up.
17:10: So, I just want to ask you all to join me in looking for what there may be in the way of changes we can make to this program. That would be a good thing. I want AA to be here for the next alcoholic who comes in here. Not just tomorrow and not just next year, but 50 years from now too. So that’s our topic. “When anyone anywhere reaches out for the hand of AA for help, I want the hand of AA always to be there. For that I am responsible.”
17:40: Thank you all.