I got caught up in a discussion online recently regarding the failings and hypocrisies of Bill Wilson. It reminded me of something I observed over the years growing up in AA. I got sober when I was 18. Came to the rooms at 22. My home group was pretty big and had some pretty Big Personalities that set the tone of things around there. It didnt take long to discover that they were human; they had failed marriages, poor business ethics, tempers. But man could they pitch a sermon and could they ever roll up their sleeves and jump in with a wet one. Accepting that the two personas werent mutually exclusive was tough for me. I was alternately inspired and let down by my heroes in AA.
About 10 years ago I found myself sitting at a big table at dinner with several friends after the funeral of one of those Big Personalities. This particular crew I’d known most of my sobriety. We came up together and now all had close to 15 or 20 years yet most of us had yet to see the age of 40. We all had worn several hats to each other over the years; friend, lover, confidant, betrayer, enemy, wing man, all of it. We looked around that table and realized that we were the next wave. That like it or not (and most of us didnt) *WE* were the next Big Personalities bobbing to the surface in our little sober piece of the world. And just as importantly, that *we* were all we had! It was time to set aside the petty grudges and grievances, to learn to laugh at each other’s quirks and be there for one another.
Over the last decade those old timers who taught me how to work with others also taught me what not to do. As I got older in my sobriety and came into my own, so to speak, I was invited to have a ringside seat for their lives outside the meeting halls and rumors. What I saw were some gentle souls, trapped by their personas, unable to be seen as human. It scared the bjesus out of me because I knew just how damn human I was! I had also resigned myself to the idea that ‘the Joy of Living’ that the book talked about was going to happen if I quit thinking about me and just simply started giving this thing back – making Love & Service the theme of every aspect of my life.
My current sponsor likes to say that sobriety is living well with unresolved problems. To that end I think part of why I have never been happier (in the midst of losing a leg, and a career, and the girl I thought would be at my bedside when I died, and nearly doing so 3 times in the last 3 years) is because I learned from those Big Personalities to not shy away from my failings and flaws. Hell, I often lead with them. I am prideful and vain, lousy with money, fairly lazy, perverted, and when in fear I seduce like a motherfucker. And then I laugh. Because everybody that knows me knows these things about me. I claim progress and own failure just like I ask my sponsees to do. My frankness lends credibility instead of undermining it. It inspires those around me to live freely by doing the same – and laughing.
I keep counsel with every one of those friends from that dinner table a decade back, and very often do so in full view of the future next wave. I want them to see what I’ve figured out; that the 12th tradition that everyone likes to chant, that “…principles before personalities” isnt about that snickering tone most have when they’re parroting it (thinking of someone they tolerate in the group). It’s about the steps and the principles in them. It’s not about Bill or Bob or John C. or Jim B. …or Neil L. It’s about one drunken bum helping another. No more, no less.
The way to saving my ass and my face at the same time – expose them both. For free and for fun.