An Alcoholic Urges AA to Take One More Step

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You’ve helped me save my life. But I feel like I have to stand up and say something because I think I may be “getting a resentment.”

It’s about me and the book titled “Alcoholics Anonymous,” usually called the Big Book.

I am a woman. I am a feminist. I am accustomed to reading about mankind and chairmen and everybody putting his pants on one leg at a time and thinking that those words apply to me, too.

And yes, the book’s concepts also speak to me, in the universal language of our allergy. It doesn’t matter whether a man or a woman says: “My idea of a normal world was among people who drank–teetotalers excluded,” or “I can’t find my middle road in life,” or “I was an extremely sensitive person and so self-conscious that I hurt all over.”

But really, the book doesn’t have enough women’s stories and the ones it does have don’t sound like me. Or Stacy. Or Brandy. Or Mary.

In 1939, when the bible of the movement was written, there were what, two of us? You revised the book in 1955, when membership in AA was 15 percent female and again in 1976, when it was 25 percent.

Yet the stories in the Big Book never reflected most women’s lives: It has the story of a woman born in a castle in Europe who knew how to use a terrapin fork (what IS that?), a “Flower of the South” whose servant brought her bourbon on her wedding day so she could walk down the aisle “like Mae West in her prime.” We read about the “career girl” and the finishing school debutante who grew up during Prohibition and ended up in an “asylum.”

All of them write about feelings we have.

But this is a new age, the contrast between the stories and reality have become more apparent. Women make up more than a third of the AA membership. Most of us are not “The Housewife Who Drank at Home.” We work for pay, in dental offices and department stores, for law firms and elementary schools and construction companies.

Stacy struggles to raise two little boys alone and have time to work on her steel sculptures. Brandy, with a new career in sales, just got a divorce and lives in a real party town. She wonders how to entertain buyers and keep her Diet Coke lifestyle. Mary is a young woman with breast cancer whose mother and grandmother died last year in the space of a month–during which she relapsed.

These women have had to turn to contemporary authors to find their stories, in books such as Caroline Knapp’s “Drinking: A Love Story,” Bantam/Doubleday, and Susan Cheever’s “Note Found in a Bottle,” Simon & Schuster. But we still follow AA’s basic text and it needs our stories.

In the Big Book preface, you say that all revisions had the same purpose: to represent the current membership of AA more accurately, and thereby to reach more alcoholics. Now might be a good time to include businesswomen as well as businessmen; chairs instead of chairmen and drop the housewife references all together and refer to stay-at-home moms (no one ever married a house, as far as I can tell, not even during the 1950s).

One of my African-American friends, Dominic, says he liked going to a school that had a portrait of Thurgood Marshall in the entryway. Some wealthy white guy could have had ideas that were just as good, but it wouldn’t have felt the same to him.

Well, we women think that’s a good point.

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