He came up to me after the meeting, as we were all folding up the metal chairs and placing them on the racks in the back of the room. After the usual pleasantries he got down to it.
"I have a resentment against this meeting." He said.
"Okay." I said. I have a very small service commitment at the meeting, but I knew that's not why he was telling me this. He stood there, waiting for me to ask about his resentment, but I am way too wily an old fox to be suckered in that easily. The silence played out and I looked at him with what I hoped was an expression of pleasant patience (but for all I know made me look like I had gas.)
"Do you want to know what my resentment is?" He finally asked.
"Well," I said, "Alcoholics Anonymous suggests you write your resentments out in an inventory."
That certainly wasn't the answer he was looking for. And that wasn't why he was telling me this.
"Yeah, but my resentment is..." and he went on to tell me his resentment anyway.
"Okay," I said, "AA suggests that you write your resentment out in an inventory, then you can take a look at your part in it before doing anything about it."
"But I'm telling you my resentment."
"Yes, I know. But what AA suggests you do is write out your resentment in an inventory."
"But I'm telling you so that you can..." and he outlined the course
of action he wanted me to do about his resentment. For that was why he
was telling me about his resentment.
"Have you ever done a four column inventory?" I asked
"Yes, yes ... " he waived his hand dismissively. "But I'm telling you about it."
"Yes. I know. I'm standing right here." This dry jibe sailed right over his head, so focused on delegating his resentment and what he wanted done about it over to me. "But what AA suggests you do is write your resentments out in a four column inventory, to get clarity on the who and the what -- and then you can look at your part in it." And then you can see that it's you who has to do something about it, I added to myself.
This wasn't going the way he wanted at all, and his frustration began to rise, masked by a gigantic smile worthy of any glad-handing politico on the campaign trail.
I won't detail the rest of our circular conversation, but it will surprise no one reading this that I am not going to be doing anything about his resentment, and it is a sucker bet to think he went off to write out a mini-inventory and actually possibly learn something about what was running him in this.
But here's the thing. This gentleman is a semi-regular at one of the meetings I think of as my Home Group (to the new kids, your "Home Group" is a casual designation one makes about a meeting, equal parts affection and commitment. I, greedy so-and-so that I am, have decided that I can have as many Home Groups as I want, so I have three. I am, after all, the man who, when a child, was told the expression "You can't have your cake and eat it too" responded with a tart, "Well then, bake two cakes." But as usual, I digress.)
And this gentleman has been coming to AA for many years now, and is, yet again, in his "first" thirty days or so. He has a very difficult time with relapse.
All the way home from the meeting my mind has been turning the conversation he and I
had over and over, worrying at it like you do with your tongue when you
have that bit of food stuck between your teeth. There was something
there that I wasn't seeing ...
And it hit me, not moments ago, in one of those grand, cliche,
light bulb inspirations: The dismissive hand wave when I asked him about
having written an inventory before. I am not going so far as to say
that he did not actually ever write one, but the way the suggestion was treated, it
struck me just now that he doesn't see any value in it. That is to
say, he doesn't believe it will actually accomplish anything worthwhile
-- he doesn't believe writing an inventory will work.
And maybe that's a key element in his relapse cycle ... because believing that the Steps, suggestions though they are, can help you, while not required, is perhaps the essence of the Second Step.
If Step One, to paraphrase very broadly, is "Drinking has me beaten, and it has ruined/is ruining my life" then Step Two could be, at heart, "But I believe that doing these Steps, trying what AA suggests, will help me." (And then of course Step Three, to complete my paraphrase trifecta, would be something like "So I have decided to do them.")
I think the 12 Steps can work if you don't believe in them at first, but eventually... you come to believe, yes?
So ... and I'm connecting these dots almost as I type this ... maybe for some people who are deeply chronic relapsers, part of why they cannot stay sober is not that they are stuck at the First Step, but that they are somehow stuck, through a kind of lack of belief in the process, at the Second.
Of course, if you're brand brand new to AA, I know in my heart that the process will work for you whether you believe or not -- that is to say, don't worry about understanding the process or let some intangible belief criteria stand in the way of actually doing the Steps. This is more about those tragic and challenging people who blessedly (and often very bravely) keep coming back but are unable to stay sober.
IF I am right in this instance, now the question becomes ... do I invite him out for coffee and share this line of thought with him in an effort to be helpful, or do I just sit back and see if the Universe offers me a cue.