This morning we read from the book Alcoholics Anonymous. I selected the reading “The Keys to the Kingdom,” written by a woman instrumental in starting the Chicago chapter of our 12-step program.
As always, there is loads of great stuff within the reading, but one paragraph in particular stood out to me:
A.A. is not a plan for recovery that can be finished and done with. It is a way of life, and the challenge contained in its principles is great enough to keep any human being striving for as long as he lives. We do not, cannot, outgrow this plan. As arrested alcoholics, we must have a program for living that allows for limitless expansion. Keeping one foot in front of the other is essential for maintaining our arrestment. Others may idle in a retrogressive groove without too much danger, but retrogression can spell death for us. However, this isn’t as rough as it sounds, as we do become grateful for the necessity that makes us toe the line, for we find that we are more than compensated for a consistent effort by the countless dividends we receive. -pg. 311, Alcoholics Anonymous
This is a great reminder for me to keep active in my own journey of recovery. And when you think about it, it is counterintuitive to most things in our lives… if we are on a diet we restrict calories to lose weight, get to the desired number on the scale, and then set out on a maintenance plan. Or we decide to stop smoking, and put a tremendous amount of effort into that process until it becomes more natural to not smoke than it does to pick up a cigarette, then we can more or less hit cruise control. Even expanding out further, we work towards a retirement, we raise our kids until they are able to take care of themselves. In most areas of our life we are working towards a goal that allows us to “graduate” in one way or another.
But this is not so in recovery. Here we seek to grow, endlessly. And sometimes this feels like the biggest curse in the world. I’m guilty of these thoughts myself, on numerous occasions. I’ve even said it out loud, “How come I have to always be the bigger person? How come that someone gets to be a jackass without repercussion just because they’re not an alcoholic?”
But in reality this program is far more a blessing than it is a curse. Because for the minimal amount of work it requires, if offers blessings a thousandfold.
Here are some other excellent points made this morning:
- Not only are we lucky to have a lifelong program of learning, we are even luckier to have a fellowship of people on the same path. These people are the foundation that keep us sober.
- In the story the author talks about coming into the program and wishing for only a part of the peace and happiness she saw displayed among its members. That sentiment is true for so many of us… we come in and think we’ll never be as happy as the members we see, but if we can be half as happy, and stay sober, we’ll be satisfied. And of course the dream becomes a reality for a lot of us.
- The story talks about the many ways the author attempted to control her drinking, to no avail. Most of us in the meeting this morning could relate to the various ways someone can try to control drinking. And in most cases, once you start planning ways to control your drinking, you’ve already lost control!
- The story talks about the many blessing sobriety brings. All of us present this morning have blessings we can list, but none so great as the blessing of healing a fractured relationship with your children. It is the greatest gift of sobriety to be present and engaged in the lives of your children.
- Some of us marvel, like the author, at how competent we were while in active addiction. And if you can accomplish so much while not sober, imagine how much more productive you can be once you’re sober? Active addiction takes mental time and energy that could be put so so much better use!
Sitting down and writing. I know I’ve used that one before, but it still counts as a miracle to me!
Somebody astutely pointed out this morning that last night’s Super Bowl excitement took a good chunk out of our usual attendance. It was strange at first to see such a low number of meeting attendees, but by the end of the meeting I was grateful. I forget the intimacy a smaller meeting brings. Every single person got to share on his or her take on the reading, and a few of us shared twice. It was a lovely, nostalgic hour for me.
Being the first Monday of the month, we read a personal story from the book Alcoholics Anonymous entitled “Crossing the River of Denial.” A compelling tale of a woman whose ability to deny her alcoholism knew no bounds, this story touched a nerve with each of us in the meeting this morning.
I was hooked from the synopsis of the story, located directly below the title:
She finally realized that when she enjoyed her drinking, she couldn’t control it, and when she controlled it, she couldn’t enjoy it. – pg. 328, Alcoholics Anonymous
That line took me back to the thick of active addiction. Many a time I convinced myself that I had no problem, because when I chose to I could control how much I drank. What I failed to notice that on those occasions (that, by the way, became less frequent as time went on) when I controlled my drinking, I was generally not enjoying the occasion at all. I was too focused on keeping my drinking at pace with someone else, or counting the drinks I had, or making sure I drank water in between glasses. It’s fairly difficult to stay present when you are that preoccupied with the amount of liquid you are consuming.
Another theme of the story is the depth of denial one is capable of experiencing. The author suffered rather dire consequences, and hit lower and lower “bottoms,” and continued to deny her responsibility for her behavior. It was always someone else’s fault, there was always someone whose problems were worse than hers, there was always a justification for her actions.
Again, this theme brought back painful memories for me, as I was an expert at dodging blame. Either it wasn’t as bad as you were making it out to be, it wasn’t your business to be noticing, or why are you talking to me when you should be talking to (fill in the blank, someone whose behavior was far worse than mine).
Of course, all personal stories in the Big Book end happily, and this one was no exception. Once she was able to hear for herself that she was not alone in her thoughts and feelings, that others had gone before her and changed the course of their lives, she knew she wanted what they had. She jumped in with both feet, and her life is dramatically different today. She’s not sure which part of her 12-step work is keeping her sober, and she doesn’t really care. All she knows is that it works, so she keeps at it, one day at a time.
What a message of hope, and a great reminder not to get too caught up in the “why’s” of any given situation. Do what works, and give the result up to the Universe.
Some other great insights from this morning’s meeting:
- One of the great lines from the reading speaks to the idea of doing the next right thing:
“… the Big Book had no chapters on “Into Thinking” or “Into Feeling” – only “Into Action.” -pg. 336, Alcoholics Anonymous
- Some of us think that the great hope is to control our drinking, but upon further investigation we realize it’s not that we wish to control our drinking, but to drink as we wish and escape consequences. And when we are able to honestly acknowledge that, we are well on our way to choosing sobriety.
- The story is a good reminder of the value of keeping things green. It is easy to forget, as time goes by, how difficult and painful active addiction truly is. By reading the depths this woman experienced before choosing sobriety, we remember ourselves how painful it was for us.
- The unacceptable becomes acceptable is yet another theme of the story that is poignant for those of us in recovery. Almost all of us can point to a time where we said that we are not alcoholic because we didn’t (fill in the blank). As time went on and we continued to drink, those same statements became null and void. Because this is a disease of progression, all those things we claim we haven’t done become a “yet…” things that will eventually come true if we continue to live in denial.
- The word denial itself can be used as an acronym:
Happy Monday to all!
Learning from, and being inspired by, a small group of trusted friends!