Christmas, Christians, Lepers, and Alcoholics (Revisited)

Christmas Ornament

By bob k

This is a terrific time of year, but not for all of us. Alcoholism is an illness of loneliness and of loss, and these already powerful emotions are easily intensified by our perception of overflowing joy in others. Fortunately we have each other, and those “enduring” the holiday are wise to cling tightly to the safety net.

As Ken L. used to say, “There’s nothing so bad in my life, that drinking couldn’t make it worse!” The great good news of the program and fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous is that remarkable change is possible. Sadly, for lovers of immediate gratification (you know who you are!), these transformations rarely come in one night of life-altering dreams, as in Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”

What we call a “spiritual experience,” although generally less theatrical than that of Mr. Scrooge, and infrequently instantaneous, is nonetheless quite real. Why such writings on an “agnostic” website? The “Big Book,” in its Appendix II explains these “personality changes.” As the result of the 12 Step healing process, an alcoholic who once felt hopeless, can experience “a profound alteration in his reaction to life.” As with Ebeneezer, change in “response” is the life-changer.

On this we can agree – believers, atheists, doubters, and seekers (albeit our debating of the “how”). In much the same way, both Christians and non-Christians can come together in a shared celebration of the spirit of Christmas – selflessness, kindness, the love of our fellow man. Perhaps, above all, is the gratitude over having arrived on the shore of a “brave new world.” There is wisdom in the old chestnut – “Try to identify rather than compare.”

And is it not our great gift that, far more than most, we are able to carry with us throughout the year the sentiments so inextricably bound with what is the best of Christmas? Alcoholics Anonymous has religious roots, a fact fully acknowledged in articles on this very site. Some of the best of the teachings of Christ are about the love of our fellows – even those who are different – He even walked among the lepers! In principle, AA supports this humanitarian concept.

In the Twelve and Twelve’s discussion of the third tradition – “The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking” – early members were faced with a difficult decision regarding admittance of an “unconventional” seeker of recovery. Potentially, this “pariah” could do great harm to the reputation of the fledgling organization thus affecting “AA as a whole.” The simple thought, “What would the Master do?” decided the matter. “Not another word was said. What more indeed could be said?”

Speculation abounds as to the exact nature of the pariah – black, blond, gay, drug addicted, cross-dressing – all the more shocking in the era of our grandparents or great grandparents. Very image-conscious, the general thinking was that “beggars, tramps, asylum inmates, prisoners, queers (sic), plain crackpots, and fallen women were definitely out.” Of course, AA members are very human, sometimes xenophobic, and have not always adhered to our own code of inclusiveness. Blacks, women, gays, young people, the dual-addicted, and the incarcerated have had to fight for a seat at the banquet.

The lessons of including atheists and agnostics were learned early on. Regarding the very abrasive and outspoken atheist “Ed,” it is with embarrassment that Bill Wilson looked back at the prevalent “Get him out” attitude of 1938. At that time, AA had begun preparation of our now iconic book, and the bellicose “Ed” (clearly Jim Burwell) read from the proposed Foreword – “The only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking... When you guys wrote that sentence, did you mean it, or didn’t you?”

In each case above, there was certainly some nobility to the motives of those favoring “exclusion.” There was an underlying desire to “protect AA.” Much the same has been the case in the actions taken by Toronto Intergroup regarding the agnostic groups – the great difference being that, unlike in the teaching stories in the 12 and 12, they did not stop short of banishment. A palpable fear pervaded these meetings. There was also some sentiment that our third tradition protects unconventional individuals, but not heretical groups. A fair point, and worthy of consulting Bill Wilson, author of our traditions:

So long as there is the slightest interest in sobriety, the most unmoral, the most anti-social, the most critical alcoholic may gather about him a few kindred spirits and announce to us that a new Alcoholics Anonymous Group has been formed. Anti-God, anti-medicine, anti-our Recovery Program, even anti-each other — these rampant individuals are still an AA Group if they think so!

AA’s vision has always been a masterful one: a fellowship for all seeking refuge from the pain of alcoholism. Christmas is the perfect time for us to share in that vision by reaching out to all seeking help, regardless of the minutia of creed: that, my friends, is the masterstroke of AA.

Merry Christmas to all,
And to all, a good night.

Looking forward to coal in my stocking!

3 Responses

  1. Gord A. says:

    I was curious as to the source of Bill’s statement “So long as there is the slightest interest in sobriety…” above. Google led me to where the source is stated as a 1946 Grapevine article. You already have a link to the London South website. Good work.

    Christmas is obviously a challenging time for many of us. Over the years I’ve learned to use tools of the program to not only survive but to thrive through these celestially darkest days of the year. Of course the steps and meetings and extra gatherings help.

    The holiday edition of Box 459, the bi-monthly newsletter from AA’s General Service Office, always carries a page with “Twelve Tips on Keeping Your Holiday Season Sober and Joyous.” Here’s a link to them: Holiday Tips.

    Merry Christmas to my fellow AA’s.

    Gord A.
    Nelson BC

    • bob k. says:

      I must confess to ‘cribbing’ this FASCINATING quote from this very website, which elected some 18 months ago, to give the honor of its initial blog to Bill W.

      “This is a quote from the principal author of Alcoholics Anonymous (the “Big Book”) and cofounder of AA, Bill W. It appeared in an issue of the AA Grapevine in July of 1946 (Vol. 3 No. 2). Its meaning is so clear that it hardly needs to be explained or interpreted.”

      The full piece can be viewed here – Anarchy Melts. It is the name of the Grapevine essay.

      Thanks for posting Holiday Tips. All the best!

  2. John M. says:


    Wonderfully, well, and to my eyes and ears, beautifully written!

    You have captured the spirit of Christmas and the A.A. program of recovery and its fellowship equally well. You have used some words and expressions not normally spoken by your fellow atheists and agnostics to acknowledge this time of gratitude and need. And yet so poignantly!

    As my Grandpappy used to say (or was it Brett Maverick’s Grandpappy), words are important but context is everything.

    Thanks for taking the time to put all of this into a meaningful context.

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