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Posted: March 26, 2009, 9:14 AM
In Dec of 1984, I had been sober for 2-1/2 years, and working with my sponsors Bob and Sybil Corwin since Jan of 84. Sybil had gotten sober in March of 1941, so at the time she was 43 yrs sober. We were driving home from a meeting and she asked me the date
(to her it was just Sunday). I told her it was Dec 8th, and that yesterday (Dec 7th) was the anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day.
She said 'Matt, have I ever told you about Irma Livoni?'
'Nope, who is she?'
She said, ''Well, when we get back to the house, come in for coffee and I?ll tell you
a story about AA history and some of the reasons we have tradition 3. Oh, and by the
way Matt, did you know that the literature specifically protects 'queers, plain crackpots,
and fallen women,' and since you and I are at least two out of those three, we should be
especially grateful for tradition 3? I'll show you it when we get home."
I laughed out loud, as Sybil had a great sense of humor, and she had been a taxi dancer, back before she got sob er, you know one of those '10 cents a dance' ladies, and she was
divorced twice, was a single mom, as well as an alcoholic back then, so the term 'fallen
woman' was something that hit close to home.
She had told me that it was very different back in the 30's and 40's for a woman to be
an alcoholic. Sybil said It was a time when women wore hats and gloves, and 'respectable
women' were not usually found in a bar, or at 'whoopie parties.'
Our Thursday night step study had voted to not cover the traditions after we got to
step 12, so I figured they must not be very important and thought I?d probably be bored
with the conversation, but she got my attention telling me that 'queers, crackpots and fallen
women' were mentioned, so I agreed to come in for coffee.
Besides Sybil had been sober longer than I had been alive. I didn't argue with her very
Sybil got down her copy of the big book. She said, I want you to find the traditions in
there, and read me tradition 3. It was a 1st edition Big Book. Thicker than mine.
I said, 'Is this why they call it the Big Book?'
She said, 'exactly, Bill had it printed on big paper, with big margins around the type,
so that people would think they were really getting something for their money.'
I looked in the back of the book, where I thought the traditions were, but couldn't
find them. 'I can't find them, Sybil.'
'Exactly. That's because we didn't have any traditions back in 1941 when I came in. And
Matt, AA was in mortal danger of destroying itself, which is why we have traditions now.'
Then she had me find them in my 3rd edition and in my 12 & 12. I didn't read it all,
just the caption heading, and then she started telling me the story of IRMA LIVONI.
Irma was a sponsee of Sybil's. She also became a member in 1941, just after Sybil.
Sybil took her into her home. (Sybil told me that many people's bottoms were very low then,
no home, no job, no watch, no car, nothing).Sybil said it was different then for a woman
to be an alcoholic. That most of them had burned all their bridges with their families,
and were looked down upon, even more so than male alcoholics. Sybil said she watched AA help Irma get sober, watched AA help Irma get cleaned up, watched AA help Irma get her first job in sobriety, and watched AA help Irma get her first apartment in sobriety.
Then she said that on Dec 5th, 1941 a self-appointed group of the members signed a letter to Irma & mailed it 2 days before Pearl Harbor, on that Friday, Dec 5th. Here is a copy of the letter:
------------ --------- ----
Post Office Box 607
December Fifth 1941
Irma Livo ni
939 S. Gramercy Place
Los Angeles, California
Dear Mrs. Livoni:
At a meeting of the Executive Committee of the Los Angeles
Group of Alcoholics Anonymous, held Dec. 4th, 1941, it was
decided that your attendance at group meetings was no longer
desired until certain explanations and plans for the future were
made to the satisfaction of this committee. This action has
been taken for reasons which should be most apparent to
yourself. It was decided that, should you so desire, you may
appear before members of this committee and state your
attitude. This opportunity will be afforded you between now
and December 15th, 1941. You may communicate with us at
the above address by that date.
In case you do not wish to appear, we shall consider the matter
closed and that your membership is terminated.
Alcoholics Anonymous, Los Angeles Group
Mortimer, Frank, Edmund, Fay D., Pete, Al
------- ----- --------- ----
I was stunned. 'How could they do this, Sybil?'
'Because we didn't have any guidelines, any traditions to protect us from good intentions. AA was very new, and people did all sorts of things, thinking they were protecting the fellowship.'
Sybil then said to close my eyes and imagine my being in the following setting. Sybil
explained that Dec 7th, 1941 was Pearl Harbor Day (a Sunday). She said that that Sunday
night everyone in LA was afraid that Los Angeles would also be attacked and bombed.
There was a citywide blackout, people were so terrified. She said that on Monday Dec 8th,
President Roosevelt gave the speech that talked about 'the date that will live in
infamy' and that we were now at war with Japan and Germany.
She said, that was the day that Irma received her letter. There was only one meeting in the entire state of California when Sybil came in, in 1941. By December there may have been two or three, but Irma had nowhere else to go, no one else to turn to. No other Group in California that she could ask for help.
Sybil said, 'Imagine only one or two meetings in your entire state, and being shunned by
your family, and by society, and by the only group of people who were on your side, your AA group. Imagine them shutting the door on you and sending you such a letter, Matt.'
I shivered at the thought of it. It was Christmas time, the stores were decorated and now poor Irma was all alone.
I thought about how it was in 1984 with 2000 meetings a week to choose from in Southern California. and then I imagined having no other help for a hopeless alcoholic.
Sybil told me that Irma never came back to another meeting, left AA and died of alcoholism.
She wrote to Bill about the incident, and I cannot tell you that this is the reason that
the following is a part of the 3rd Tradition, but it certainly seems to apply.
From Tradition 3, page 141:
... that we would neither punish nor deprive
any AA of membership, that we must never
compel anyone to pay anything, believe
anything, or conform to anything? The answer,
now seen in Tradition Three, was simplicity
itself. At last experience taught us that to
take away any alcoholic's full chance was
sometimes to pronounce his death sentence,
and often to condemn him to endless misery.
Who dared to be judge, jury and executioner
of his own sick brother?'
------------ --------- ----
JUDGE JURY AND EXECUTIONER
I remember looking at those words again and again, and they seemed to get larger and
JUDGE JURY AND EXECUTIONER
JUDGE JURY AND EXECUTIONER
JUDGE JURY AND EXECUTIONER
I hadn't really noticed EXE CUTIONER when I had read it the first time at my 12 & 12
study group. Again I felt so bad for this poor lady. Wow, those words really had a different meaning than when I had read the traditions before. So here it is, 23 years
later, and each December 7th & 8th, I always think about Irma Livoni, and how lucky I am,
that we have traditions now. I also think of how lucky I was to have met Sybil and so lucky that she appointed herself my sponsor.
Years later I realized how everything she ever taught me was like gold. But in 1984 I had no
idea who Sybil really was or how lucky I was to have her as my sponsor. She was like a
piece of living history, but I really didn't realize how valuable that was in explaining WHY we do some of the things we do (like the story she told me about how they never said
'Hi Sybil' and no one said 'Hi my name is Matt and I'm an alcoholic' back then).
Besides being one of the first women in AA, Sybil was the first woman west of the Missis-
sippi. She also became the head of LA's central office for 12 years, and she became close friends with Bill and Lois. She and Bob even used to go on vacation with them. She used to tell me all sorts of stories about Bill Wilson and things he said to her.
He was very interested in how AA would work for women, as there were very few women
worldwide in AA back in 1941. Marty Mann came in before Sybil did, but very few stayed sober.
I learned that night that no one can get kicked out of AA. We can ask a disturbing wet drunk
that he needs to settle down or we might have to ask him to step outside for that day, but
we don't vote to kick anyone out forever. And we don't shun people because our guidelines,
our traditions tell us that no one has to believe in anything (they don't have to be like me) and they don't have to conform to anything(they don't have to dress a certain way, or have no facial hair, or pay anything). Even if I get drunk again, I am still welcome at any AA meeting.
So that's the story about Irma Livoni. Feel free to pass this along to anyone you know who might be interested in knowing a bit about how and why the traditions got started. I think it sort of puts a face on tradition 3: the face of a woman I never knew, who got kicked out of AA. Who got drunk and died.
Thank God for Tradition 3, and thank God for all of you. I truly appreciate and cherish
all the people in this group.
Best AA love to you all.
Thank God for what you have. Trust God for what you need
Posted: March 26, 2009, 10:23 AM
wonderful story, Pirate. I appreciate your posting it. Actually, I saw something similar occur just a few years ago with a manic depressive who was threatening people at a meeting. It was a difficult time for the group, and in the finest tradition of the alcoholic, they barred him from meetings at that clubhouse. Beware of Club Houses.
All the best,
Posted: March 26, 2009, 10:29 AM
Thanks Pirate. That was very interesting. Thanks for sharing.
Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.
Its not the Hello, its the goodbye you remember.
Posted: March 26, 2009, 11:10 AM
Awesome post, Marie....
Even if I get drunk again, I am still welcome at any AA meeting.
And I thank God for that as I'm one that had a little AA in '97 but didn't stick around and was welcomed back in '06, no judgement, no criticism, just love and acceptance...
I've heard before at meetings "we don't shoot our wounded"....
Happiness is not in the bottom of a pill bottle. It's inside you.
Posted: March 26, 2009, 11:46 AM
I don't understand. What should be done when somebody's threatening people in meetings? I sympathize with the guy's mental illness, but I guarantee you I would think more than once about going to a meeting where I felt like my safety was in jeopardy.
Posted: March 26, 2009, 12:20 PM
That was a great story pirate; I passed it on to some of our AA group members out here in germany....thanks
Posted: March 26, 2009, 12:30 PM
Thanks Marie for posting this. Facinating read. I would have to say that this experience to Irma seemed to be the imepetus of Tradition 3.
AW...do you mean like the Alano Club or Fellowship halls? Why do you warn people to stay away? Just curious.
Happy Thursday to all!
The image in a mirror doesn't always reflect the condition of a soul - LN
Posted: March 26, 2009, 1:57 PM
Can't speak to all of them, but the clubhouse I got involved with became like a second home to me.
There was good sobriety, and in the beginning it was just a group of AA'ers who purchased some real estate to hold meetings. As the meetings got bigger, it was decided to buy a house for meetings, then a bigger one and then a bigger one.
Then came the decision to raise a lot of money to build big addition. I had 6 months when I got hit up to make a $5,000.00 contribution, and then they wanted me to call others to solicit money, which seemed not too "anonymous" to me, particularly when they gave me a list of names to call and I saw the name of a colleague who would have been mortified if the word got out. Of course I never said anything about this, but I backed away from the fund raising side of things.
The money got raised by charging "rent" to the meetings equal to all but a small portion of collections for coffee, which did not seem like it left much for service. Each year they raised the rent, and actually began sending around board members to join our group to influence group consciences about rent. Alkies acting like control freaks? Perish the thought!
After a while, the head financial guy would show up each day to collect that day's rent. Seemed little heavy handed to me. Then we learned that all the money had been stolen by the financial guy to pay for his mistress and her apartment. He got 3 years on the embezzlement charge, but the sense of betrayal was terrible. Gee we put an alky in charge of money and then we were shocked when he stole it, oh the horror of it all!
In short, as "money, property, and prestige" became increasingly important, I think that many at that clubhouse were diverted from their primary purpose, to help the alcoholic stay sober. There seemed to be an increasing focus on being one of the "insiders," and this reminded me a lot of many of the things that I disliked about high school.
I think some club houses do it right, but this one in particular was set up with too many overlapping interests between the members of AA and the organization that held the real estate. I hear they do it better in other parts of the country. I only know that this one started out with some bad thinking in setting up the organization. Perish that thought of a bunch of alcoholics accepting suggestions as to how to do it better, and as the result, they kept "doubling down" on their initial errors, and the results got predictably worse.
Later, a guy came in who was disruptive and difficult to deal with. These are always thorny issues and there is no good way to handle them. However, because of the highly incestuous nature between the trusted servants in the meetings and the board of directors, they banned this guy on a trumped up charge that he was threatening to others. This guy was very annoying but not threatening. It had more to do with the social popularity of the accusers and their desire to not be bothered by this individual. I did not like the guy that got kicked out, but I felt he had been treated unfairly.
It all reminded me of the worst parts of church when I grew up. My grandfather was a prominent minister in a small town and I got exposed to a lot of "church lady" types and nasty politics early in life. I had hoped that AA would be different, but the clubhouse politics seemed be as bad or worse. I had to divorce myself completely from the business side of AA. I think the 6th tradition is there for a reason, and my background in the corporate arena is such that I do not think you can side step it simply by putting the real estate in a corporation.
Getting sober at a clubhouse is fine, but I would be wary of relying too heavily on clubhouses for long term sobriety. They can start to resemble, well, social clubs. If I did well in that kind of environment, perhaps I would not have slipped into alcoholism.
Money, property and prestige are bigger triggers to me than being around an open bottle of booze or a line of cocaine. I had to learn to live a humble, right sized life, and advancing in AA politics is not a good thing for me. People who run clubhouses tend to be the social advancement types. They are also the church deacons of the world and the middle manager trying to claw his way up the corporate ladder. I am done with all of that.
For me, it is better to keep it simple.
I would rather my dollar go to literature and coffee than rent on a nice meeting place. If I want to get involved in nasty politics, I can always join a condo homeowners association. I prefer AA to be really simple. If here is someone at a meeting that annoys me, I suppose I can talk about tolerance, or I can find another meeting.
Sorry for the long answer. I generally get paid by the syllable and it bleeds over sometimes.
Posted: March 26, 2009, 2:12 PM
That sounded like a cult August that they were trying to disguise as the fellowship of AA. The control the power the turning over of money. jmho
Live In Blessings Not Blame.
Your Inner Peace Begins With Sobriety.
Posted: March 26, 2009, 2:44 PM
Just for clarification...is August West 2004 and AWest one and the same? :)
The image in a mirror doesn't always reflect the condition of a soul - LN
Posted: March 26, 2009, 3:50 PM
Zipper, A West and August West are the same person. I was active on the board a while back but ceased looking in during the drama years. I upgraded my computer system and lost the passwords on one, so I just made up another.
I'll have to work on the whole "sloth" character defect sometime, but have not gotten around to synchronizing my two "puters.
Posted: March 26, 2009, 3:56 PM
I got sober in a club house. I love the 12 Step House and am very grateful to everyone there. I tried getting into the politics (board of directors) and found it not to my liking so I bowed out. I go to meetings there and that's it. I stay out of what goes on behind the scenes. As long as there are meetings there that are open to everyone I'm happy. I have seen people that are banned from the club after the police have been called repeatedly. I don't know the whole story on why people are banned (not my business) but they are and I'm assuming there's a good reason. I'm also assuming that the banned were in some way threatening the club attendees. Most are banned for a certain time period and are then allowed back in meetings. Some are allowed in meetings only and are not allowed to hang out afterwards. Like I said, I stay out of club politics and only go there for meetings now. To tell someone to stay away from club houses is absolutely ridiculous. If it wasn't for a club house I don't know where I would have gone to meetings. But now I see the post I was referring to is gone. Let's think before we post, huh? If it's not for a newcomer to read, let's not post it.
If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you;
that is the principal difference between a dog and a man.
Just because the monkey's off your back doesn't mean the circus has left town
Laugh because it shows people that you have what they want and what they need: a hope in things unseen, a peace that passes understanding, and a God of miracles who also has a great sense of humor.
Posted: March 26, 2009, 5:58 PM
that is a great story Pirate.
but the rest of you have lost me - what in the hell is a clubhouse?
Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Matthew 6:27
May the Force be with you.
Women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should just get used to the idea....Robert Heinlein.
You can spend the next 24 hours reaching your true potential or sliding down into your own particular hell. the choice is always yours.
Posted: March 26, 2009, 6:03 PM
Years Ago in Hokitika there used to be a mental institution and we had a meeting in the depression/detox wing of this hospital and some of the patients would come to meetings..some for smokes, biscuits, company and some just to get well and go on and be very active in recovery and the little room could be chokka at times and add ciggy smoke and the smell of coffee and she was an alkies heaven:)
Some of the people sharing were really out there and i had to remind myself there but for the grace of god go i as a lot of the head injury cases were due to alcohol and we learnt a system of sharing and safety at the meeting so no one felt threatened and the oldtimers were always there
One guy who has been sober for 30+ years stepped all the men at our thursday night meeting outside for a fight because they were all sharing about him or so he thought and they must of been talking to his wife because they knew what to share that had to do with him LOL and he shares this in meetings when someone is a bit agitated etc
The biggest problem i have had was i was sponsoring a guy who i knew a little about and i later found out a lot more of what he hadnt told me about his child molestation charges i had an idea that these were only accusations etc and he was in our house with our then young son
He went on to try it his own way ended up trying to shoot a lady who was the wrong person anyway as he got the name wrong of the lady that told people he was a paedophile, so he goes to jail, gets out then re abuses his little girl....sometimes the rowdy ones are the easiest to handle
Always be aware and be safe in recovery and 12 stepping and go in pairs when you can and do a bit of research.....if it doesnt feel right trust your intuition
light and love zac
Endless Hope can be found when I am ready for acceptance mixed with spirituality and ask for the courage to change.
Posted: March 27, 2009, 11:23 AM
Great story Pirate... I attend a couple of different clubhouses here in Florida.. One is HUGE, the other is not as big however, a lot of long-timers there which is where my brain gets fed the most..However, with saying that, I can learn from anyone, including the newcomers. I just have to remain teachable today.
Love to all. Thanks for the post Pirate..
This post has been edited by butterflywings37 on March 27, 2009, 11:25 AM
"Live Free, Be Free, Or Die"
"Free From My Own Prison"
Posted: March 7, 2021, 10:09 AM
does anyone know what the group's objection to Irma was?
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