Recently, at an A.A. meeting, I introduced myself and qualified by saying the following:
“My name is Cameron F. and I am a member of Alcoholics Anonymous.
I say I am a member of Alcoholics Anonymous because I believe there is an important difference between being an alcoholic and being a member of Alcoholics Anonymous.
As an alcoholic, I could not stop drinking. Even when my doctor diagnosed me with liver disease, I could not stop drinking. I admitted my drinking was injurious, yet I knew, as right as the sun would rise tomorrow, I would drink again. I can’t stop drinking. This is the horror and hopelessness of being an alcoholic. Yet, here I am, as a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, many years sober! How is this possible if I be an alcoholic and everything in my experience tells me I will drink again?
Well, I found a way out. By working the Twelve Step program as described in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous and living in the disciplines of Steps 10, 11, and 12 everyday, I am able to remain, almost effortlessly, abstinent from alcohol and all mind-altering substances! I have had many spiritual experiences due to the Twelve Step program and I now know how to live without alcohol. The obsession to drink has been removed. My progressive alcoholic illness has been arrested. My alcoholic disease has been put into remission. I have recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body.”
This of course is not your typical A.A. introduction. In fact, I was interrupted by the chairperson of the meeting and was told quite curtly, “we have no time for this kind of sharing” and promptly asked someone else to share.
“Hi, my name is…and I’m an alcoholic”.
“Hi, my name is… and I’m an alcoholic” is of course the more traditional way of introducing oneself at a meeting. However, I have never been comfortable with this approach. The language of this approach is negative– it reinforces the problem rather than the solution.
A description of what an alcoholic is can be found on page 44 of our Big Book which states:
“If, when you honestly want to, you find you cannot quit entirely, or if when drinking, you have little control over the amount you take, you are probably alcoholic.”
An alcoholic is someone who cannot stop drinking, no matter what they do. They are beyond human aid — they are hopeless — powerless to stop.
How did the early members of A.A. introduce themselves when gathered together?
If you listen to recordings of the original A.A. pioneers, none of them identify themselves in this manner. If you listen to recordings of Bill W. and Dr.. Bob, you will hear that they never used this approach to introducing themselves.
If you search the A.A. Grapevine archives online, the earliest reference of member identification is: September 1944, Vol. 1 No. 4, entitled “Points of View”.
“Dear Grapevine: Today I received my first copy of Grapevine, and have just enjoyed reading it through. I am a member of Alcoholics Anonymous–Quincy group.” – George L., Quincy, Massachusetts
This is the approach that our Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous suggests.
In the Forward to the First Edition of the Big Book, Alcoholics Anonymous, it defines an A.A. member as:
“WE, OF Alcoholics Anonymous, are more than one hundred men and women who have recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body.”
“When writing or speaking publicly about alcoholism, we urge each of our Fellowship to omit his personal name, designating himself instead as “a member of Alcoholics Anonymous.” (p.. xiii, A.A. 4th Ed.
“The only requirement for membership is an honest desire to stop drinking”. (p.. xiv, A.A. 4th Ed.)
This was the unique distinction that gave A.A. such an overwhelming notoriety — seemingly hopeless alcoholics who could not stop drinking were recovered as a result of A.A.’s simple program.
The tradition of identifying oneself at a meeting as an alcoholic is referenced in an early article from the A.A. Grapevine, March 1948, Vol. 4 No. 10, entitled, “Bottoms Up!”
“A friend who has had quite a bit of speaking experience in A.A. recently ran into an amusing situation because of the same A.A. speaking habits. He was attending a business convention of all the important bigwigs of his firm and was unexpectedly called upon to address the convention. Unprepared but unflustered, he stood up and spontaneously said, “My name is Joe Doakes and I am an alcoholic!” — A.P.
This humorous note would seem to infer that the tradition of introducing yourself as an alcoholic started early in A.A.’s history. Are there any old-timers out there that know the answer as to why members switched from introducing themselves as “a member of Alcoholics Anonymous” to “I am an alcoholic”?
Perhaps, it was hard in those early days for someone to admit they were an alcoholic. After-all the Big Book devotes the first 43 pages to the subject of Step One. Maybe it was helpful in those early days to hear A.A. members declare themselves as alcoholics in the meetings, thereby creating a safe environment for the newcomer to declare their Step One.
Today, I do not think there much stigma attached nor resistance to announcing yourself as an alcoholic. In fact, in some societal circles such as Hollywood and the music industry that it is the trendy thing to do. From a marketing standpoint, the artists spin doctors certainly seem to exploit it to garner publicity. Remember Mel Gibson, Amy Winehouse, just to mention a few celebrity types?
Lately, I have been introducing myself as an “intelligent agent — a spearhead of God’s ever advancing creation” but that’s another article.
How do you introduce yourself at meetings? As a “Member of Alcoholics Anonymous”? As a “Recovered Alcoholic”? As a “Recovering Alcoholic”?