DO TELL STORIES!
II came home from school one day and told my mum that the Queen mother had visited the school that day and I had sat next to her at the lunch table. Mum just smiled and said, "Don't tell stories". When I was drinking, a man called across the road to me, "How's the Morris dancing going?" Morris dancing? What was that all about? My blood ran cold. In blackout in the pub, I must have made up a yarn that I was a Morris dancer - I had no memory of it. I was a congenital liar, a fantasist. Sometimes, that was harmless enough, just day dreaming, building castles in the air but, mostly, I lied because I was afraid to tell the truth or to protect my fragile ego; to pretend I wasn't me - the person I couldn't live with. Like the author of the last story in the Big Book, I lived in a dream world but, mercifully, 'AA led me gently from this fantasising, to embrace reality...'
In his essay on Step Six, in 12 Steps and 12 Traditions, AA co-founder Bill W. writes that a few of our character defects might be lifted out of us, just as the obsession to drink was, but that, 'with most of them, we shall have to be content with patient improvement'. That has been my experience. I'm grateful that when I hit my rock bottom, as well as stopping drinking, I stopped being a compulsive liar. Oh, don't get me wrong! Sometimes, I still embroider the facts to make myself look better, or someone else to look worse, but now I recognise it and don't try to justify it - a lie is not the first thing to come out of my mouth. Pinnochio is still part of my persona, but my nose has come down to the right size.
Our pioneers couldn't escape this elaborating tendency altogether, either. The Foreword to the first edition of our Big Book claims, 'We of Alcoholics Anonymous are more than one hundred men and women who have recovered from a seemingly hopeless condition of mind and body'. We now know that when that was written in 1939, there might have been as few as 60 or 70 members, none of whom had more than four years' sobriety. Maybe they decided to round up the figure because 100 sounded more convincing than, say, 67 or 73; or perhaps they thought that by the time the book was in print, there would be more than 100 of them.
I still tell my story but it is an honest story today and I belong to a Fellowship of storytellers. 'Our stories disclose, in a general way, what we used to be like, what happened, and what we are like now.' Some members refer to the Big Book as a textbook, but a textbook gives instructions and AA only makes suggestions. The first members, who compiled the book, said it was 'our basic text' – it's on the cover. In fact, the Big Book is a story book; it says so on the title page: 'Alcoholics Anonymous: the story of how many thousands of men and women have recovered from alcoholism' (Fourth Edition). The inside cover page of my Big Book includes these words from Bill W.: 'The story section of the Big Book is far more important than most of us think. It is our principal means of identifying with the reader outside of AA; it is the written equivalent of hearing speakers at an AA meeting; it is our show-case of results.' I've heard Bill's own story in the book described as 'a 12 Step call in print'.
It was hearing speakers at my first AA meeting that got my attention. The Steps and Traditions read at the start of the meeting went over my head, though they are the principles upon which I live my life today; rather, I was riveted by the stories that people shared. For example, my ears pricked up when I heard a man say he drank in one of my local pubs. He told how, one night at closing time, he secreted himself in the cellar and, when the landlord had locked up and gone to bed, drank himself into a stupor from bottles of spirits he found on the cellar racks. When he came round in the early hours, he found that he'd soiled himself. I was shocked - and embarrassed for him. I thought to myself that there was no need to share such humiliation, in a public meeting like that. But the thing I still remember - and it was over 30 years ago - was that the AA member himself was not embarrassed or ashamed. He could talk frankly about something that most people would want to take to the grave with them. It had lost its power over him because he had recovered from that 'hopeless condition of mind and body' that the Big Book talks about. It taught me that, as the Big Book also says, our dark past can be our most prized asset, because it can be the means of deliverance for other sufferers; and that, after all, is why we share our stories – to stay sober and to help others recover.
Stories are narratives of experience; I can argue with your opinion, but I can't deny your experience. The last line of page 18 in the Big Book says, 'No more lectures to be endured'. What a relief! I was sick and tired of being lectured to about my drinking and I don't take kindly to being lectured to in AA meetings. I believe that it's best when we tell our stories – sharing experience, strength and hope, what it was like, what happened and what it is like now.