Listening…and Hearing

“When I came around I used to walk from Lantzville to Brechin Church to a meeting because I wanted to stay sober”

Interview with Steve B, an A.A. old-timer

How and where did you get sober?

I got sober in Nanaimo…here in Nanaimo in 1983. And I’ve been sober going on 29 years. It was very difficult in the beginning because I had no skills and no education and so I started coming to A.A. For the first five years it was go to a meeting every day and I needed to learn about the Steps, Traditions, and the Big Book. The Big Book is a textbook, so I studied the textbook and did the Steps and have been sober ever since.

What was A.A. like in the early days?

In the early days A.A. was far more…I think far more better than it is today because there were smaller groups and it was more intense. And sharing…everyone got a chance to share because I’ve been at meetings where there were two and three people. And it really got into depth about the emotional sobriety and how to deal with different emotions that came up.

Seeing I was angry when I got here I had a difficult time believing because my first introduction to A.A. was in 1961 and with a fellow and we were working in Timmins, Ontario. We went into a restaurant or a bar…I just forget…to get a meal after a work day and he ordered beer for himself and for another friend and they started drinking. Then when they were getting quite inebriated he asked me…he said, “When we get back home, don’t tell anybody that I’ve been drinking.” And I thought it was very strange because I didn’t understand about A.A.

So initially, when I finally got to A.A., I had a difficult time because of trusting people and believing that they were sober. Some people were saying they were sober a year or five years or whatever and it was very difficult for me because I thought, well they drink for a while and then they come back to A.A., and then when they feel like drinking again they go out again.

As time went on in A.A. realized that this was not so. I ran into old timers that told me, “Just keep coming to meetings and study the literature and things will be fine.” But it takes time…as time went on, I got a year and then I got drunk and then I got two years and got drunk. Then I got just about four years and I got drunk. And then the last time I drank…it was in ’83…and I haven’t drank since.

I remember you talking, or sharing, about walking a great distance to get to the Brechin group when you talked about how few meetings there were in the early days.

When I came around I used to walk from Lantzville to Brechin Church to a meeting because I wanted to stay sober. I think there was one more meeting at a house…I forget the fellow’s name. And there was a meeting at the Library. And that’s the only two that I remember at that time. They were once a week. During the week sometimes it was difficult because we didn’t have a lot of meetings to go to. But as time went on it grew and grew and today it’s grown enormously and there are meetings every day of the week.

What advice do you have for the newcomer?

For the newcomer today…get a sponsor, join a group, and pay attention to Step One and Tradition One. Go to meetings every day if possible…every day until the magic happens…until you want to go to a meeting. There’s times when I was going to A.A. I didn’t want to go because I thought that maybe I was much smarter than they were. Sometimes I didn’t want to go to a meeting. But there’s times, after a while, that I was accustomed going to meetings. I got lots of help from meetings by listening and hearing what people were saying. Some opinions were valuable to me because they changed my point of view.

I think for newcomers it’s a little difficult today with the drugs and the alcohol. I’ve sponsored many people and I think if they just keep coming to meetings…keep coming every day and listening…time is their best friend.

How has the Big Book been part of your recovery and your sobriety?

I studied the Big Book and I realized, when I read The Doctor’s Opinion and Bill W’s story and the stories in the back, that it was good for me, because I studied it. I didn’t just read it. I read it once—164 pages—and I really didn’t get any value out of it because I didn’t study it. When I started studying the Big Book I always looked for an action word pertaining to a sentence which helped me immensely because then I could understand. I know that in How It Works…they say it every day at meetings…they say “Here are the steps we took which are suggested as a program of recovery.”

I’ve asked many sponsees what was the action word, and they always go to “suggested.” But I always try to explain to them the first one hundred in A.A. took the Steps—and it says, “Here are the steps we took…”. The first one hundred did that. And it worked for them, and that’s where A.A. began.

I listened to oldtimers because they knew what the book was about and they helped me a great deal in learning about the book and learning how to stay sober.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I think A.A.’s of great value to people if they listen…if they listen…because some people come to meetings and they listen but they don’t hear. I think the valuable thing is to hear.

I remember being in a meeting where I guy used to rattle a bag of peanuts and I was listening to the speaker and it was really important for me to listen to that speaker; he was well-spoken and he really knew what he was talking about about the Big Book.

I told the guy to stop rattling the peanuts and he said, “Why?” and I said, “Because I’m trying to listen to him and I can’t hear him with this rattling going on.” And I said, “You’re disturbing me—because it’s very important that I hear what he has to say. And what he’s been talking about has really helped me this evening.”

He never rattled peanuts again—and he’s been sober a number of years.

—Steve B is a long-time A.A. member from Nanaimo, B.C.