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May 1990 - A.A. Grapevine

Many AA members would not be sober without the help of nonalcoholics. In this issue, we have invited six friends of the Fellowship who work with suffering alcoholics to share their experience, strength, and hope with Grapevine readers.

When I began working in the alcoholism field, the majority of my coworkers were usually older, recovering, and smokers. At the time, I saw myself as being a relatively young social drinker who was also a smoker and who, up until that point, had been very successful as a teacher and administrator. I looked on my involvement in the alcoholism field as an experience that would help me determine what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

I quickly found that working with alcoholics in a variety of settings, including courtrooms, drunk tanks, hospitals, and outpatient counseling programs, was a fascinating and exciting experience. This, of course, was much to the chagrin of my parents and, in particular, my father. He owned a country general store and I'm sure had the idea in the back of his mind that I would one day work my way into the family business and allow him to retire in comfort. "You mean to say you would give up a principal's job in order to work with a bunch of drunkards," he said to me once. It was always interesting in later years to remind my father that many times he, himself, kept the families of alcoholics alive--long before there were the sophisticated social service systems that we now enjoy. I remember many nights when my father would suddenly go over to the store to provide a family with enough groceries and clothing to get by. This was most often done on credit, which in many cases could never be repaid. There were also many times when the breadwinner of the family had stopped at the beer parlor on the way home with the paycheck only to show up in our store drunk, without funds, and looking for credit once again to buy supplies to take home to the eagerly waiting family.

Within the first week of my work as a junior counselor, I was asked by one of my older recovering colleagues if I was interested in going to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. I agreed immediately because I had heard from some of my other coworkers that this was a good thing to do. I knew that many of the people with whom I would be working in the future would have to attend such meetings if there was ever any hope of them remaining sober.

I must admit that my first impression of Alcoholics Anonymous was decidedly underwhelming. We met in a musty, low-ceilinged basement of a church with everybody in the room smoking continually. Someone handed me a cup of coffee and told me to be sure and wash the cup before I left. Then we were into the readings from the Big Book, the prayer, and the speakers. My thought was that this was more like a lodge meeting with all of its jargon and mumbo jumbo than it was a recovery process.

It was the next, day when another of my coworkers inquired as to how I had enjoyed the meeting the night before and whether a nonalcoholic would feel comfortable with such a group. I shared my first impressions and was informed that perhaps I would like to go to another group in a different setting with different people attending. I again complied and the experience was much the same although the setting was much more pleasant and we had disposable cups.

This pattern continued for many months where I would attend two or three meetings per week in order to familiarize myself with the disease of alcoholism through the eyes of those who were on the road to recovery. I was always welcomed although when it became known that I was simply a visitor and not an alcoholic, some members were somewhat suspicious of my motives. While attending these meetings, I continued to do my counseling on a professional basis, all the while thinking that what I was doing was very much benefiting those who were coming to see me. I thought that if they wished to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in order to fill in their leisure time, it probably wasn't a bad idea.

I had a lot to learn. One night when I was visiting one of the group meetings, I came across a man who had come to see me once several months before and then had never come back again. When I mentioned this to him he allowed as how he found it interesting talking to me but didn't feel he had found the right place and was well on his way to feeling better and recovering. I was thunderstruck! How could discussing one's problems in a smoke-filled room--a public forum consisting of testimonials and confessions--possibly be better than the well-thought-out and scientifically researched counseling methods that I was using?

I went on like this for several more months, attending meetings four and five nights a week, and all the time trying to make sense of and determine how this AA program could possibly work. I analyzed it from every conceivable angle and was still no wiser as to why it worked. The other perplexing part of this was that I was continuing to see, on an increasing basis, that more and more people in my counseling activities were attending these meetings and seemed to be doing quite well.

It was at this point that I had what I consider a brilliant, though simple, revelation. It did not matter whether or not I understood why or how the program worked. In fact, not only did it not matter that I knew or understood the program, but I now accepted that the program actually did work. In fact, the program worked so well that there was no point in my trying to analyze it any further! It was at that time in my life and career in the alcoholism field that I came to accept that the Alcoholics Anonymous program works and works well. If I did nothing more than to bring people who were looking for recovery to this program, I would have come a long way in this field.

Once I had accepted this, I felt a huge weight was removed from me. I no longer had to spend a whole lot of time thinking, worrying, and analyzing the pros and cons of AA. I could instead concentrate on providing the people who were coming to me for assistance the best advice and direction possible.

I continued to attend open meetings and found one meeting in which I was particularly comfortable. I still attend that meeting fairly regularly. I realized that the twelve-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous could be applied to anyone's life. As a result, when attending meetings I found that virtually everything that was discussed was applicable to my own situation and that if one applied the Twelve Steps, excluding the alcohol, to one's own life, one would be much more content, accepting, and serene.

I found that my involvement with Alcoholics Anonymous and its members helped me a great deal in my various vocations in the alcoholism field. The contacts were invaluable. The Steps, Traditions, and experience of those participating in meetings were consistently positive. Invariably, those who attended AA achieved recovery while those who did not attend usually experienced recurring problems. Also, my continued involvement in Alcoholics Anonymous as a friend enables me and my coworkers to maintain our focus on the individual with the problem as being paramount in everything we do and every move we make. Without that clarity of focus, it is very easy to once more become analytical, skeptical and discouraged.

I still find that there are times while working in this field when all does not seem well and often it is difficult to pinpoint exactly why that is. Then, attendance at a meeting lets me focus on the importance of extending a hand to those who need help in this program of recovery--a program where success is second to none.

Leonard Blumenthal
Edmonton, Alberta


Back to the A Talk with Leonard Blumenthal page.


Last updated 2005/08/26

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