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All Things to All People?
From the March 2000 Grapevine

I would be dead today if I had walked into a meeting and heard people introducing themselves as belonging to every part of the addiction spectrum. Never would I have discovered in such a milieu that what I am and always have been is an alcoholic. By that I'm not talking about anything except that my physical makeup is totally unlike that of my husband who is definitely nonalcoholic.  

I'm alive today only because I was able to identify with every single person in those first meetings I attended. No other reason. The understanding that alcoholism was also a spiritual and psychological disease came later. I am alive today because in a blinding flash of understanding, I finally knew what was wrong with me. When I take alcohol into me, my reactions are those of an alcoholic. And I do believe there is a genetic factor to alcoholism, even though the disease does not fully manifest until alcohol is imbibed.  

Sure, I used a painkiller and I used marijuana and I tried cocaine--but I could stop the painkiller and the marijuana and the cocaine at will. I could choose whether or not to take more drugs. If I took a drink? Choice fled. Today I might have one drink, tomorrow a dozen. I identified with the people in that first meeting because when they talked about what alcohol did to them, I knew exactly what they were talking about. And because I knew that, instead of the one to five years of life the medical profession projected for me, I am still alive today, almost twenty-two years later.  

And this doesn't mean that people who are still struggling with the question of whether or not they are indeed alcoholic don't belong in closed meetings. But that struggle has to be there--even, "I'm so-and-so and I don't think I am an alcoholic, but the judge ordered me here because I just got my third D.W.I." Hey, that person might be in the right place! But someone who says, "I am an addict. I have never had problems with alcohol"? When it comes time to talk about what brought us to Alcoholics Anonymous, what experience does that person have that I will be able to understand as though it were mine?  

I tried once to sponsor a young woman who attended AA meetings and introduced herself as an alcoholic/addict. She talked briefly to me about what six beers had done once, and then went on to talk about the horrors of her drug addiction. She was not an alcoholic; she was an addict. Her counselor had told her to call herself both so that she could attend AA meetings. When I say I tried to sponsor her, I really did. But I soon realized that I simply did not identify with her drug experiences. They were not mine. I am an alcoholic, and I identify with alcoholism not with drug addiction. Sure, the "feelings" may be the same. But they do not spring from the same well, and I find definite differences, sometimes subtle, sometimes obvious.  

I feel safe in closed meetings because I know (or should be able to know) that when I talk about the humiliation, the utter degradation, the horrors of being a woman alcoholic, I am understood at gut level, that those are shared experiences and that nobody will sit in judgment on my past. I will never forget these words of a good friend, a nonalcoholic, who attended an open speaker's meeting. After the speaker had shared the "how it was" part, my friend leaned over and said, "Pretty awful! How can he talk in public about such things! And laugh about them!" I know that no alcoholic will say that to me about my own sharing. I cannot know for certain that I am understood in depth when the listener has never been in those spaces. My safety is at stake. Sure, a nonalcoholic addict could say, "Gee, I know how you felt," but I would know that to be untrue. He has not walked that other sloshing mile.  

If AA opens to everyone, I suspect AA will go the way of the Washingtonians, who also thought they could be all things to all people. AA has offered sobriety to alcoholics precisely because of its singleness of purpose. I am an alcoholic who also suffered from brief encounters with drugs. I found my salvation, my coming home, in Alcoholics Anonymous precisely because its membership consisted of others like me. Dual addiction? Fine, but the primary disease to be addressed in Alcoholics Anonymous is alcoholism.

Mimi M.
Ridgecrest, California

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As in so many things, especially with we alcoholics, our History is our Greatest Asset!.. We each arrived at the doors of AA with an intensive and lengthy "History of Things That Do Not Work" .. Today, In AA and In Recovery, Our History has added an intensive and lengthy "History of Things That DO Work!!" and We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it!!

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