Happy March to all!
Today’s reading was a personal story from the book Alcoholics Anonymous (“The Big Book”) entitled “It Might Have Been Worse.” This story is an excellent read for a variety of reasons. First, it describes eloquently the progression that is the disease of addiction. Equally convincingly does the author describe the role denial plays into alcoholism, and the various ways denial manifests itself into the life of an alcoholic. Finally, and perhaps most compellingly, the author describes how he came into the 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous in order to stay sober, but found he received an entirely better way to live his life.
I got a lot out of the reading this morning, and I was surprised to find this to be so. I actually walked into the meeting this morning doubtful I could keep my head in the game for the hour the meeting took place. I’m having “one of those weeks,” the kind every single human being on the planet has. And truly, the fact that I can easily identify having a lot going on is progress, as is taking my mental inventory on a regular basis. But still, knowing that I’m dealing with life issues the same as everyone doesn’t actually take those life issues away, and so I was distracted this morning.
But I also know that sitting around and ignoring responsibilities is not going to take the worry away, so I go where I’m committed to going. And as is always the case, the meeting helped.
What I related to most in the story… well, actually, I related to a lot. The author developed a problem with alcohol later in life, as did I. The author could clearly remember a time when he drank without problems, as can I. The author initially heard stories within the 12-step fellowship that made him think his problems were not relatable… so did I.
Unlike the author, who took to the principles of the 12 steps from his very first meeting, it took me a little while to buy into the 12 steps. But once I got on board, I found the same result: I went to meetings and followed suggestions initially to stay sober and nothing more. But once I started following the suggestions, I realized that staying sober is only the beginning of the miracles that take place; every part of my life is enhanced by practicing the principles of the 12 steps in all my affairs. The very reason I write this blog is to show that the 12 steps are really a blueprint for a better life!
The reading was a great selection for this particular meeting, as we had several people new or newly returning to sobriety. A story that gives such practical advice as this one is sure to help anyone at any stage of sobriety, and it seems like the story resonated with everyone as much as it did me. Here are some other great take-away’s:
- There is an excellent description in the reading about what it means to be powerless over alcohol:
We admitted we were powerless over alcohol- that our lives had become unmanageable. This didn’t say we had to be in jail ten, fifty, or one hundred times. It didn’t say I had to lose one, five or ten jobs. It didn’t say I had to lose my family. It didn’t say I had to finally live on skid row and drink bay rum, canned heat, or lemon extract. It did say I had to admit I was powerless over alcohol- that my life had become unmanageable. Most certainly I was powerless over alcohol, and for me my life had become unmanageable. It wasn’t how far I’d gone, but where I was headed. -pg. 354, Alcoholics Anonymous
- Denial is the most insidious symptom in the disease of alcoholism, and it is the one element that can come back no matter how much sober time one has. There aren’t many diseases in the world that have denial as part of the condition. A way to combat the return of the symptom of denial is to continue to treat the disease… go to meetings, read literature, share with others, develop a spiritual life, work the 12 steps. By staying close to the things that got you sober you insure against denial creeping back into your life.
- The reading talks about the use of alcohol as a form of self-medication. Life gets rough, and the first thought is how to take the edge off, and of course alcohol is the go-to solution. A big part of successful recovery is learning how to face life on life’s terms, without needing to chemically alter ourselves when things get stressful.
- There are a number of AA expressions that the author references as helpful, and many in the meeting this morning agreed that these simple phrases have a powerful effect on living a peaceful life. “First things first,” “Easy does it,” “24 hours a day…” these are all things that help us to get sober, but over time they help us to live our lives more effectively and peacefully as well.
- The story distinguishes between the two components of the disease of addiction: the allergy of the body and the obsession of the mind. The first component has a (relatively) simple fix: if you don’t take the first drink, you will not suffer the consequences of the “allergy.” In other words, if you don’t take the first drink, you won’t crave the next dozen or so after! The obsession of the mind is a little harder to grasp, and takes quite a bit longer to heal, but the 12 steps go a long way in restoring peace of mind, and thus removing the obsession to drink.
So much great stuff, and I’m thinking I still failed to cover it all. Happy Monday!
Today, hitting publish on this post is going to count as today’s miracle. Here’s hoping that this time next week I have all sorts of positive news to report from my life issues!
Thanks to the American holiday of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, my Monday meeting had a nice-sized turnout, and I was able to reconnect with some people I don’t normally get a chance to see. Great way to start the week!
As it is the third Monday in the month of January, today’s literature selection came from the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. We read the chapter that covers Step One:
We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable
Lots of great insight shared this morning, so I will keep my perspective brief: I struggled mightily with the premise of this step. At first, I scoffed at the idea that my life was unmanageable. As a matter of fact I was managing just fine, thank you very much. As my addiction progressed, I was forced to recognize that yes, if I continue along this path, the path where I insisted that I was okay to drink, and no one had the right to tell me otherwise, I could see the manageable parts of my life dwindling to zero. With the clarity that only sobriety can bring, I can now see that even when I was insistent my life was manageable, it really was anything but: the unhealthy fixation on when I could next drink, the guilt and the shame when I overindulged, the broken promises I made to myself, and the time and energy expended on the whole process. What part of that seemed manageable to me, I don’t know!
But even while conceding the unmanageability component, I was still unconvinced on the powerlessness. It made no sense to be powerless over something that had no power in and of itself. It cannot force itself into my body, so don’t I ultimately have the power by choosing to ingest it? When it was explained to me that I was powerless over the effect it had on me, that made a lot more sense. There were occasions that I was able to “drink like a lady,” have one or two glasses of chardonnay and gracefully decline the third. But for every one time I did that, there were many more times when I started drinking and I simply did not want to stop. Or, worse yet, when I knew I should stop and did not do it. So it was basically a crap shoot on how an evening would turn out if I were to drink. Now, if that’s not powerlessness, I don’t know what is!
On to even better insights:
- A newcomer to my meeting (but not to the Fellowship) said what stands out to her even more than “powerlessness” and “unmanageability” is the word admit. For her, “admit” necessarily implies “the truth,” and it took her a very long time to actually admit that she had a problem… even to herself. The denial was so deep and powerful, she used to hide alcohol in her own home, and she lived by herself! For her it took some strong-arming to get her into the rooms of the 12-step fellowship, but once she did she was flabbergasted. These people were telling her story! It was not long after her first meeting before she could finally admit, “Yes, I am an alcoholic,” and that admission freed her in a way she never thought possible.
- One of the regular attendees of the meeting said he too struggled initially with the concept of powerlessness. “But I can control my drinking,” he argued with his sponsor, “Maybe not every time, but enough that I can’t admit to being powerless.” His sponsor said the words that turned his thinking around nearly 30 years ago, “If you are working on controlling your drinking at all, you are already admitting you have a problem. Moderate drinkers do not have to control their drinking.” That was all it took for him to see the issue for what it was: alcoholism.
- Another friend shared how she resolved her issues with powerlessness. As she pondered step one, she realized that with almost any doctrine, there is a paradoxical premise: Buddhist’s teaching of self-effacement begetting enlightenment and Christianity’s Holy Trinity are just two examples that she cited this morning. Powerlessness as a way of claiming power is the paradoxical premise of the 12-step doctrine. Within this framework she was able to embrace it. In so doing she is able to see that in accepting the “defeat” in not being able to drink she has been given the greatest peace she has ever experienced.
- Finally, another eminently wise regular attendee talked about how she struggled with the idea of a Higher Power, and the only way she could get around it, in the initial stages of sobriety, was to use the collective wisdom of the people in the rooms of the Fellowship as her higher power. As stubborn as she was, even she could see that this group had something she wanted and could not seem to get on her own. She acknowledged that her best thinking was what landed her in the rooms of a 12-step meeting in the first place, and that by continuing to defend her reasons that she is not an alcoholic, she is closing her heart and mind to any other possibility. Just that small change… my own thoughts are keeping in the same place I don’t like, maybe I could try to open myself to another possibility… was enough to start her on a journey of sobriety that has served her well for the past three decades.
Since it seems that I am also powerless over the bickering of my children and their friends, all home for the holiday, I better sign off and see how best I can mediate. Happy Monday!
Both kids had a friend overnight, and all four made it through the evening in one piece, and, as a bonus, were still alive when I got home from my meeting, so that’s a miracle right there. Here’s hoping the good mojo continues through the rest of the afternoon!