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Audio Version

We AA’s can suffer terribly from hardening of the ‘oughteries’ – we ought to do this, we ought not to do that. If we treated a newcomer the way we treat ourselves sometimes, we’d be locked up! Of course, ‘the rule is, we must be hard on ourselves, but always considerate of others’ (Big Book, p74), but that’s in the context of making amends. In the ordinary daily discipline of staying sober I believe we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves. Early on in AA I was told, “Wear your sobriety like a loose cloak – not like a straitjacket.” And one of our slogans is ‘Easy Does It’, with the unwritten coda ‘... but do it!

I’m glad that in each generation the Big Book is revised to include new stories from members whose experiences might not tally with the fewer than 100 pioneers who compiled the first edition. Nearly 80 years later society has changed; more and more of our members are dually or even multiply addicted. They tend to be younger too. The first members wrote, ‘We know but little’, and ‘More will be revealed.’ And Bill W. pointed out that, ‘Every AA has the privilege of interpreting the programme as he likes.’ (As Bill Sees It, p16).

So we don’t have to treat AA literature like holy writ to be followed to the letter. For example, the Promises (Big Book pp 83/4) say, ‘We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.’ Well, I certainly do not wish to shut the door on my dark past because it is my ‘greatest possession – the key to life and happiness to others’. (Big Book p124). But I do have genuine regrets, some less important than others; for example, I regret not learning to play a musical instrument –one of my ‘yets’ perhaps! But I do profoundly regret depriving my children of a happy childhood because of my drinking; I regret the heartache and loneliness endured by my wife - and I would be a heartless psychopath to feel otherwise. But I’ve made amends the best way I could and have been forgiven, though I know that is not always so for other members.

I used to go to a meeting that had a card on the table with the message ‘Not Guilty’. As we say, I am not responsible for being an alcoholic – but I am accountable. Regret is not the same as remorse; I do not endlessly punish myself for the consequences of my drinking. I realise I was very sick and though I still have my character defects I would not behave the way I did drunk when I am sober. So I’ve come to terms with my past and in general don’t regret it - indeed it has helped to make me who I am and I today wouldn’t change places with anyone.  But there are honest regrets about some of the consequences of my drunkenness and that seems right for me.