“Well,” says the newcomer, “I know you’re telling me thetruth. It’s no doubt a fact that A.A. is full of people whoonce believed as I do. But just how, in these circumstances,does a fellow ‘take it easy’? That’s what I want to know.”“That,” agrees the sponsor, “is a very good question in-deed. I think I can tell you exactly how to relax. You won’thave to work at it very hard, either. Listen, if you will, tothese three statements. First, Alcoholics Anonymous doesnot demand that you believe anything. All of its TwelveSteps are but suggestions.
It is a tremendous satisfaction to record that in the following years this changed. Alcoholics who still had their health, their families, their jobs, and even two cars in the garage, began to recognize their alcoholism. As this trend grew, they were joined by young people who were scarcely more than potential alcoholics. They were spared that last ten or fifteen years of literal hell the rest of us had gone through. Since Step One requires an admission that our lives had become unmanageable, how could people such as these take this Step?
For anyone who doesn’t follow my details, I was 16, almost 17, when I went to my first AA meeting. I called AA on my own, because I knew I was in trouble. I achieved lasting sobriety when I was 21, almost 22. For years, I was almost always the youngest person in the room at meetings. At times, it was hard to relate, for sure. I hadn’t yet acquired a family, a car, or a job to lose. But I was more than a potential alcoholic. I was quickly, after I first started drinking, the real, full-blown thing. That doesn’t happen to everyone. It happens to hardly anyone. But it happened to me, and I’m grateful.
Back then, I knew on some level that I was an alcoholic. I had a very shallow understanding of alcoholism, but my father had died very young from it, so I knew there was that. I knew that I quickly broke the rules I had set up to, for example, never drive drunk. I didn’t know then that the very setting of rules proves the alcoholism. Normal drinkers don’t do that. And I wouldn’t have lasted another ten or fifteen years, not at the rate I was going.
That’s just my experience. It doesn’t match the experience of most people in the rooms, but it does match some. One of the wonderful things about AA. My life became quickly unmanageable, and when I say I’m grateful, it’s because I’ve gotten to spend so very many years sober in AA.
No other kind of bankruptcy is like this one. Alcohol, now become the rapacious creditor, bleeds us of all self-sufficiency and all will to resist its demands. Once this stark fact is accepted, our bankruptcy as going human concerns is complete.
–these are the permanent and legitimate satisfactions of right living for which no amount of pomp and circumstance, no heap of material possessions, could possibly be substitutes.
And, for me–and, I kid you not–no amount of “slight buzz,” the type of which I chased relentlessly almost literally to the gates of hell and the jaws of the death. The actual gate, and real jaws.
The exact satisfactions came earlier in this paragraph and the previous paragraph. I’m no longer (not that “I” was ever doing these exact things, though surely I did my own version of all of them and still do to a lesser degree)
- striving to dominate or rule
- trying to gain self-importance
- seeking fame, honor and praise
I am now
- understanding that leadership depends on love, service, and able example
- gladly rendering service
- squarely meeting obligations
It continues on.
I’ve recently talked to two women, one who is new to the program and one who has struggled. The new one is on work release from jail, because one of the few things she has left is her job. The struggling one hasn’t yet lost her job. The new one is about ten months sober. The struggling one stops drinking for several weeks at a time, then drinks again. Both are over 40.
I just leave these encounters with such a feeling of gratitude that I got so sick so quickly. The work release one is optimistic. She’s been forced into trying a life of sobriety and, as difficult as her situation is, I can whole-heartedly assure her that she is on the right path, that things were bound to get worse for her the way she was going, but that now, though it’s very difficult, things will get better. I’m just about as sure that things will get worse for the struggling one.
The choice between a drunken-stuporous life and a spiritual existence seems so silly now. Of course I would choose this path. If only the other way lead to the drugged semi-consciousness I craved. It didn’t. It’s not like I even ever had an actual choice.
. . . obligations squarely met . . .
A list of my obligations, off the top of my head:
- the care and feeding of one dog and three cats including food, shelter, vet visits, discipline, exercise, affection, stimulation, and cleaning up after, whether I’m the one doing it, or I’ve engaged someone else to
- paying all the bills of living in suburban USA
- working at the job I’ve agreed to do – what that entails could fills book
- being a good neighbor
- being a good sponsor
- being a good mother
- being a good daughter
- being a good wife
- being a good employee
- being a good supervisor
- being good to all of my clients
- being a good co-worker
- sharing the upkeep of the house
- taking care of myself
- taking care of the environment
- being a good AA group member and treasurer
- being a good home-owner
- being a good example of some of the groups I can represent – gay person, woman, alcoholic, AA member, Democrat, developmental disability professional
- taking the field of developmental disabilities forward, or at least not taking it back
- being a good driver and commuter
- being a good friend
I meet some of these obligations more squarely than others. I will have to give this list some thought.
But today, in well-matured A.A.’s, these distorted drives have been restored to something like their true purpose and direction. We no longer strive to dominate or rule those about us in order to gain self-importance. We no longer seek fame and honor in order to be praised.
It humbles me, first of all, to consider myself a well-matured AA whose distorted drives may have – should have been restored to something like their true purpose and direction. I know that time is only a number, that if I don’t drink today I’ve won, that everyone has their own time and pace and etc but really. If, after 28 years of sobriety in the program, I’m not a well-matured AA, I should consider giving it up.
I never tried to dominate or rule in order to gain self-importance. I don’t like being in charge, and I’d much rather follow orders and have it be your fault when it goes wrong. There are a few things, however, about which I am very certain that I’m right, and it should be done my way.
I have some opinions at work, and mostly my problem there is that I am right, and I’m called to judge, assess, and lead others in the right direction. It’s a responsibility I need to constantly take more seriously. I need to do it more, and better, and not consider my own dislike of conflict so much when I direct others. Oy.
At home, it’s more complicated. There are a few things I feel right about and really can’t change my opinion, even if I don’t get my way.
But I think those things are few. Seeking fame and honor – that has never been me. I don’t like praise, it brings attention to me, and I don’t like attention. My dislike of attention is more than it should be. Thanks to AA, I know it is a kind of twisted “pride in reverse.”
Boy, “a well-matured AA” is quite a thing to think about. Honestly, I don’t like the ‘progress not perfection” kind of cop-out I so often hear. For me, personally, it is just as true that I can always, always, step it up a bit.
This came crashing home for me as I prepared myself to go to my co-worker’s visitation. She had died, and was cremated, and there was a two-hour time when people were invited to the funeral home. I would usually refer to this as a “viewing,” but there was no body to view. All of sudden that’s become much more common where I live – a cremation and a service. I think the last three I went to had no body, just an urn.
It was Saturday afternoon and Carole was away. Usually, if my work partner isn’t going with me to these things, Carole will go with me. Not usually, always. I really hate going no matter who has died. A few years ago, my work partner and I went to the viewing of the body of the husband of one of our co-workers. It felt really wrong to me, somehow intimate and like I was intruding.
But in this case, on Saturday, I did know the deceased and I did want to show up at least to add to the number of people who cared enough to show up. But getting ready, going alone, I was very very anxious. There were other reasons for me to be anxious (Carole gone, the heat, having to leave the dog) but I was very anxious about going, being there alone, what to wear . . . What to wear! Who cares!
I didn’t know Gina’s (let’s call her Gina) family, and my co-workers and I had been mourning and grieving at work and we will continue to. As a manager of sorts, I wanted the people I work with, who mostly work under me, to know that I cared enough to attend. I did care enough to attend. But I didn’t want to actually be there. I didn’t want to talk to anyone and I didn’t want to be there stupidly not talking to anyone. Arg.
What I ended up doing was going in, signing the book so that others would see I had been there, and leaving. Just writing about it now, I can feel how self-conscious I felt and I can cringe again. And that’s just one recent example, and an upsetting one at that.
I have a dress that I want to wear to work tomorrow. But I’m not going to, because I hate it when people comment on how I look, and wearing a dress will make at least one person say I look nice (even if I know that I don’t, I just look different, but some people perceive dress=nice). I hate to get my hair cut because people will comment. I’ve been at the same work place for 14 years, and I know who will comment or ask if my shoes are new.
Seriously. I cannot identify in the least with the people who make these nice comments. I just wouldn’t ask someone about her shoes unless they were ruby slippers or something.
I hate to have that attention drawn to me.
It was so uncomfortable Saturday and I began to mentally search for a way out. An excess of negative emotion makes me eventually, hopefully, turn to the tenth step, and try to figure out what I’m doing wrong.
This self-consciousness is all about me. Worse, it’s all about what other people are thinking of or about me. Which I will never, ever, actually know. And to add craziness to my craziness, I dislike it just as much when I think that people are thinking good things about me. Please don’t like my shoes!
So, pride, and the AA concept of pride in reverse. I won’t be moving on from this one for a while.
In the years since, however, most of us have come to agree with those doctors. We have had a much keener look at ourselves and those about us. We have seen that we were prodded by unreasonable fears or anxieties into making a life business of winning fame, money, and what we thought was leadership. So false pride became the reverse side of that ruinous coin marked “Fear.” We simply had to be number one people to cover up our deep-lying inferiorities. In fitful successes we boasted of greater feats to be done; in defeat we were bitter. If we didn’t have much of any worldly success we became depressed and cowed. Then people said we were of the “inferior” type. But now we see ourselves as chips off the same old block. At heart we had all been abnormally fearful. It mattered little whether we had sat on the shore of life drinking ourselves into forgetfulness or had plunged in recklessly and willfully beyond our depth and ability. The result was the same–all of us had nearly perished in a sea of alcohol.
Included for completeness, and because, if I continue for a few more years, I’ll have transcribed the entire book!
Included for thoroughness, because this ain’t me.
Let’s here take note of our improved outlook upon the problems of personal importance, power, ambition, and leadership. These were reefs upon which many of us came to shipwreck during our drinking careers.
Practically every boy in the United States dreams of becoming our President. He wants to be his country’s number one man. As he gets older and see the impossibility of this, he can smile good-naturedly at his childhood dream. In later life he finds that real happiness is not to be found in just trying to be a number one man, or even a first-rater in the heartbreaking struggle for money, romance, or self-importance. He learns that he can be content as long as he plays well whatever cards life deals him. He’s still ambitious, but not absurdly so, because he can now see and accept actual reality. He’s willing to stay right size.
I was more the “hide beneath the heap” kind of person.
This is on my mind. I have a friend who, with a few years sober, keeps doing fourth and mini- fourth steps. She said that none of her sponsors ever talked to her about steps 10, 11 and/or 12. Another woman I know has repeatedly slipped over several years, and has had two sponsors, and though the sponsors talked to her about a fourth step …… well, the way she put it is that when she asked them what she’s doing wrong, they couldn’t tell her. Yet her fourth step remains a huge mountain her mind that she has yet to climb.
I was listening to a “Clancy” CD on the way home from work and he said that repeated and constant fourth steps are a socially acceptable way to stay completely self-absorbed. He also said, as I guess we see every day, that many many people who climb the first three steps fail to do a fourth step and beyond.
As for my personal experience, I’ve done three formal fourth steps over 27 years of sobriety. This has worked for me. I anticipate that if I live long enough I will do another many years hence. I wouldn’t call these constant or repeated.
My understanding of the tenth step is that there are two distinct and important parts of it. Continued to take personal inventory is one part, and when we were wrong promptly admitted it is another part. Often the parts go together, but not always.
It was a great relief and revelation to me to promptly admit when I’m wrong and I know that, compared to the way I was before the program, it has saved personal relationships, especially at work. It was a freeing proposition when I first employed it.
But the continued inventory is almost more important. If, for example, I am jealous, this is a character defect and I want to list it on my daily inventory. If I fumed and stewed and made myself miserable with my jealousy, I don’t think I necessarily have to apologize to anyone, depending on what I did that day, or failed to do. But for the sake of my argument say I had no responsibilities that day, and rather than enjoying the free time, I made myself miserable feeling jealous. No harm done to anyone but me.
But say in my jealousy I snooped somewhere I shouldn’t. Then I might owe an apology and and amend (a change). Now I could wonder if the person I snooped on is better off not knowing I did that but that is beside my point.
I try to look out for excess negative emotion and in a daily (or more frequent) inventory think of which character defect is at play resulting in my excess negative emotion. If the problem is bad enough or frequent enough I also try to think about how to do away with the defect, how to ask God to remove it and be able to let it go. I don’t want to do the same thing over and over again, expecting and getting the same result. All that, to me, is tenth step, not fourth.
Now all that confused me but I think I’ll go with it and move on to something simpler . . .