Old Ideas

McGinnis refers to these weekly meetings as workshops on alcoholism, and they are. At them he shares his experiences and what he has learned from them to help the newcomers and anyone who wants to listen what the  12 Steps and the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous say aboutsobriety and recovery.

The Rest Of Your Life by Allen Reid McGinnis

Summary of the Old Ideas

IT’S ALWAYS a drag to try to get through these preliminaries, but they have to be gotten through so that we all get on the same wavelength. Number one, I want to remind you of this again and again because there’s nothing more important in AA to be re- minded of that neither I nor any other member of this Fellowship speaks officially for Alcoholics Anonymous. We hear very often the book ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS referred to as our “only authority,” but that “only authority” constantly reminds you that it is meant to be suggestive only. What I’m doing up here is what every other member of this fellowship tries to do and that is to share my opinions, my convictions, my beliefs based upon my experience, with you. They are my opinions. They can be held against me but not against AA. If you keep that in mind, then nothing I say up here need distress you at all. So please, always remember that that is the premise upon which any member of AA speaks to you whether he remembers to tell you that or not. Number two, if you are a beginner and what I start talking to you about here tonight brings to your mind a question that sounds something like, “What in the hell is he talking about? I came here to learn how to stop drinking.” all you need to be told tonight or in any other meeting for a long, long time, is that you don’t have to listen to any of this if you don’t want to. If you’re a newcomer, all you have to do is stay away from the first drink. And you’re going to ask how that’s done. That is done in one way and one way only. You don’t take any booze through your mouth or any other opening that I know of. The only motivation that you can have for this that makes any sense at all is that you value being sober more than you value being drunk and we can’t give that motivation to you. That has to come from inside. But that’s all you have to keep in mind. That’s the only way any of us ever stayed sober. We did not come here and find a pill or some exercise or a diet of leafy green vegetables that helped us stay sober. We found out that we had to take the first step. We had to admit that we were alcoholics and we had to decide in our own minds whether or not we valued sobriety. And when I define sobriety, I mean the absence from the bloodstream of booze or any other chemical that will change your thinking.

What we started here the first Thursday of this month was what I like to refer to as a workshop on alcoholism. We tried to keep a theme going by asking ourselves certain questions, and I won’t get where I want to get if I try to review each one of them so I’m only going to review where we left off last week. We asked ourselves the question, “What are the old ideas?” that we heard about in the book. In the third paragraph of chapter five that you hear read in Southern California at all AA meetings, one of the most significant statements in the book, I believe, says, “Some of us have tried to hold on to our old ideas and the result was nil until we let go absolutely.” So we tried to define what are the old ideas because we found out we had to do it.

We had, in previous weeks, gone through the first, the second, the third, fourth and fifth steps. We had taken our inventory as well as we knew how. We had activated this by admitting to God, to ourselves and to another human being, the exact nature of our wrongs. And we found that it was a calming experience, but, to everyone, after the initial euphoria and practically a shedding of weight that takes place when this is done, the old drives, the old fears, the old neuroses, the old self-recriminations, the old troubles return little by little by little. So, last week, in working this out, we found that what really happened with these old ideas that started way, way back in childhood, was that we were really being motivated by an unholy trinity of, first, guilt. A subjective guilt that came from a feeling of unworthiness that had been passed on to us by our parents and the other giants of our childhood who shaped and molded our childhood. A feeling that we had failed to win the approval and the love to which we felt we were entitled and the reason that we had failed was because it was our fault. There was something either missing in us or we were doing something wrong.

When this guilt got to us pretty good, we tried to express it. We tried to test whether or not we could do anything about it because it aroused in us a great resentment and a great anger. We tried to express this anger because anger will not go away. Something has to be done about it or it finds an outlet even though it wears a thousand masks. We found that the child can’t express his anger because he’s not big enough. He can’t get away with it. Pigmies don’t win battles with giants and giants surround him. Since anger won’t go away, he found out that what he really begins to do very, very early, as a child is to mask the anger. He tries to express it in different ways but mainly he turns it in upon himself, chiefly because he does feel guilty because he feels that he has failed; because he feels that he is an unworthy person in his own right. And, to make the subjective guilt, which he has been haunted by real, he begins to rebel. He begins to be a bad boy, a bad girl. He begins to sin secret sins. He makes this guilt in his mind real because he can’t forgive himself for having incurred this guilt and he serves his anger. And now these two beget the final thing … fear…, which grows and grows and grows and is mainly of two varieties; the fear of punishment and the fear of discovery…the fear of being found out.