What About Fred?

alone in a field

by Chuck S.

Have you ever felt like you don’t belong in a meeting because you can’t relate? You’re not alone. It may be that you are not the problem, but that you have a problem on top of a problem. You might be like a guy named Fred and never knew it.

Most whiz right past his story in the heart of the Big Book. He was an important part of AA, though less celebrated than Bill, Bob, Ebby, or Marty. In chapter three, “More About Alcoholism,” Fred is the one example who they actually name the character in the story, though it really wasn’t his name.

He was an accounting firm partner doing well in life, but Fred had to stop drinking. He never hit rock bottom, didn’t get arrested, and met his obligations. He simply had to stop, but he could not on his own. Silkworth wrote about people like Fred since the 1st edition. It’s a paragraph on page XXX (The Roman numeral thirty) of the 4th edition. It describes Fred perfectly. “…Then there are types entirely normal in every respect except in the effect alcohol has on them.”

How often do you hear about guys like Fred in a meeting? I’m guessing you’d say hardly ever. That certainly was my experience until this week in an online secular meeting. The meeting topic was the initial actions in recovery, and to my surprise there were handfuls out of the fifty some participants who had a very similar story to Fred. That included me. We weren’t perfect – far from it, but we were also very far from skid row. That’s right: we did not have powerless, unmanageable lives before AA.

The AA program through its Oxford Group roots was designed to capitalize on the biblical concept of the fallen human condition enslaved in sin. The belief is that the mind, the emotions, and the will of men are all lathered in evil and selfishness. We are broken beyond repair. AA Steppers say we can only be saved by a higher power, and their 12 steps to righteousness under their superior, immutable guidance is the only recipe for emergence from our standardized and irrefutable addiction hell on Earth.

What the Big Book, and a majority of the traditional meetings that I’ve attended, doesn’t readily do is include more relatable stories to the Freds of the world. They weren’t the proverbial actor/director that metaphorically crashes and burns. They weren’t the guys who got in bar fights, drove their Harley across the state blacked out, nor slept under the bridge in bankruptcy and bathed in the river for months.

We Freds don’t naturally fit in well with the traditional AA recovery. If we want to fit in, we are not completely truthful with others. We have to lie to be a part of it. Not only did I have to lie and confess to being ‘hopelessly broken’ to get out of rehab, as an atheist I had to lie about believing in a ‘higher power.’ If we can’t be honest, recovery is that much harder. I had one more problem on top of problems. The Freds of the world have to pay the price of having lived an otherwise good life by not mentioning it to Steppers or traditional sponsors if they stay in traditional meetings. If you go in and tell them you never hit rock bottom, the Steppers will add the word “yet.” If you tell them your life truly never was unmanageable and you were never completely powerless, you will never get passed step one with your sponsor. If you tell a tale about drinking that doesn’t end with a punchline about jails, hospitals, and institutions, they don’t want to hear about it. “Take the cotton out of your ears and put it in your mouth.”

That’s not going to help. That causes resentments on top of the resentments we already had. There’s a trend of multiple compounding issues in all of this. So, we Freds don’t tell our stories because they aren’t adventurous, glamorous, or scandalous. We don’t profess our need for salvation nor fabricate a superstitious agent to fix the hopeless lives we never had. We still have our problems like others in the room, and our lives are not all roses. Our stories won’t make traditional Friday night speaker’s meetings, yet we want to be there for others in the ways that we can, no matter what our story is.

You too may be a Fred of sorts, or at least a little like him. Your life may have been rather average outside of losing consumption control. You may have had some really bad things happen that were related to drinking, but there weren’t truly dire consequences. What was bad was consequential enough that you had to change your life, but you weren’t on the Devil’s doorstep. That’s okay. You’re not the only one.

I served honorably and dutifully as a military officer, husband, and father, but I did have a problem during the end of that period for which I got help. My recovery path was, at best, on the edge of the typical recovery grounds. I was on the group periphery in detox, rehab, and the traditional rooms. I could not relate to the different kind of hell others went through, rather only what was related to our common addiction issues. When in the traditional rooms, I don’t distance myself from anyone so I can serve others, but I keep like-minded allies in the program nearby for safety. Also, I look for others like me who I can support with true empathy. AA was founded in the principles of relating to and sharing with each other. No one who has the desire to stop drinking should ever feel left out. We agnostics are no exception, no matter how good we had it before.

“I have since been brought into a way of living infinitely more satisfying and, I hope, more useful than the life I lived before. My old manner of life was by no means a bad one, but I would not exchange its best moments for the worst I have now.” Fred’s quote in AA’s Big Book

3 thoughts on “What about Fred?

  1. Scott W. says:

    I do recognize Religion in my life but relate with Fred so much.
    I have struggled in AA because of my manageable life but know I have a unmanageable drinking problem. So glad to of found this article. Hopefully one day we can reach the other Fred’s like us life.

  2. Michael says:

    This is me. Not really high bottom. More like no bottom until my wife confronted me with the ultimatum. Because I had no blackouts, no detox, no shakes or nervousness when I quit it was easy for me to think I was not an alcoholic. (I am.) But the thought of drinking still slithers its way into my mind. No lasting compulsion, just the thought. But it slips away. The recurring thought is my proof that I’m addicted. Best thing said to me is that we are on an elevator. We can step off at any time. We don’t have to go all the way to the bottom.

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