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I am posting this on my 10,000th day of sobriety. My hope is that this post may shed some light on the mindset of alcoholics and addicts, that it may help in reaching desperate people, and those around them. There is a solution!
This is my experience and observations. I do not speak for A.A. as a whole, or other individual members.
A.A.’s Tenth Tradition: “Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the A.A. name ought never be drawn into public controversy.”
A.A.’s Twelfth Tradition: “Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.”
There are millions of recovered alcoholics around the world. There are those who can help people affected by addicts. There will be people near you who can help, if you are willing to pick up the kit of spiritual tools they provide. None of the following story was done alone.
The date of my last drink is August 6th, 1994
I woke up August 7th, 1994, and I realized I had been graced with the understanding, the feeling, and the desire to not drink alcohol. The realization finally sunk in… if I were to drink, it would lead to an untimely and tragic death; with plenty of misery along the way. The actual thought that came to mind was, “Those A.A. people are right, if I drink I’m screwed.”
The real revelation that morning was a bit subtler, and nowhere near my conscious mind. In my active drinking days, I was on a course of self-destruction and the consumption of alcohol was unpredictable and mostly uncontrollable. I had no self-worth (and perpetuated that feeling with despicable thoughts and actions) and was living as if I wanted to die. That morning in early August, working at the car wash, I had a strange understanding, I didn’t want to die.
I often asked myself during my active drinking, “How did I get here?” Well, here are some highlights.
August 6, 1994, was my 23rd birthday.
I grew up in Michigan, outside Detroit.
We were a churchgoing family until the early ’80s.
We stopped when my parents announced their divorce.
They also told my older brother and me the minister at the church and his wife were getting a divorce.
Within a year of finalizing the two divorces, my mom married the minister.
My dad got custody, mom wanted a new life.
I went from being a good student to a great student.
Dad remarried and she was terrible, but I got a cool younger brother out of the deal.
I was a good student-athlete in high school; football, baseball, and skiing.
I started weekend binge drinking late in my sophomore year. I added regular marijuana use my junior year.
I graduated 21st in my class out of nearly 350 students. That included a two-month stay in an adolescent psychiatric unit for depression in early 1987, during which my grades dropped slightly.
I promptly started drifting, in my mind, toward resentment and an obsession with alcohol.
After graduation, I took a year off, then attended Eastern Michigan University for three semesters. (I spent the last month there splitting a fifth of 160 proof vodka with a guy down the hall, nightly.)
Fast-forward a bit. April 1994, I came to in a cell, hosted by one of the local municipalities. I had been arrested for my second drunk driving charge a year and a day after my first. I was transported to the county jail, where I was given a pad to lay on in the gymnasium, it seemed to be a busy weekend for the county.
Laying there shaking I came to the conclusion that my life was going to change. I thought of my options. First, get out of jail, and run away. Pack the car, get all the cash I could and leave. Two, get out of jail, get out of trouble, then run away. I was so tired of my life to that point. It was hard to see a way forward as is. The last option was to stop drinking, it had been suggested enough times, but I wouldn’t hear it, that was never an option. As far as I was concerned drinking was the solution to my problems, never a part of them. Drinking had become a need … according to my mind. The immediate thought that followed “stop drinking” was to eat a bullet. I was at the end of the line for life as it was. None of the thoughts carried much of an emotional reaction laying on the floor, shaking. The intriguing thing to me is that I came to the determination that I was willing to follow through on any of the options. All I need do was wait to make bail.
Family had come to get me, I could see the “what the hell is wrong with you” look on their faces, but felt the love as well. I quickly realized I wouldn’t kill myself. I’ve never liked being in trouble, so the next step was to throw myself upon the mercy of the court. On suggestion of a lawyer, I walked into my first A.A. meeting May 2nd, 1994.
I remember only highlights of that meeting. I felt these people were a bit strange, and I was uncomfortable. I was led to a cup of coffee and a spot at one of the tables. The men there were all middle-aged. Just before the meeting started three teenagers walked in. The two men sat at the other table, and the hot blond sat next to me (woo-hoo!). There was a moment of silence and a prayer, things I had not experienced in a while. Being a newcomer the members at the table told their stories of drinking and of recovery. I only remember one thing that one man said. He said, “You don’t have to take another drink, unless you want to. You now have all the tools available to you to not take another drink, one day at a time, for the rest of your life.” Of course, at the time I had no idea what he was talking about, and I did take some more drinks.
I continued to go to meetings. Two a week, as the Judge ordered, no more, no less. I went a few weeks at a time not drinking, holed up at my dad’s house playing X-Wing on the computer, and alternately listening to Pantera and The Carpenters (It was a strange time in my head).
There were some experiments in drinking, planned and unplanned. The last one was planned, three beers to celebrate my birthday. The day did not end with only three beers. That experience was my realization of the first part of the first step.
- We admitted we were powerless over alcohol; that our lives had become unmanageable.
The second part of the step took a bit longer. I didn’t drink, I went to meetings regularly, and hung out with sober people. I did not however understand that my life was still unmanageable. It was certainly much better, but after several months, I was in a bad state mentally and emotionally. I had not taken any action to really change who I was, I was just a drunk who was dry. Drinking for an alcoholic is really only a symptom of a much larger problem. These days I refer to it as “Piece-of-S#!t-ism.”
I was at a crossroads, I had reached the second part of the first step. Go back and start drinking again, knowing the result, or ask for help. It was not an easy decision. I decided to work the program of A.A., as if it was going to work for me (I really had no idea if it would). I asked someone to be my sponsor, basically, take me through the steps.
- Came to believe a Power greater than our-selves could restore us to sanity.
I was working a midnight shift at a machine shop. I got out early one night and my sponsor picked me up. We were in his car outside my house at three in the morning. I was breaking down, sobbing, trying to figure out how my life was in such shambles despite not drinking. My sponsor asked if I believed in a power greater than myself.
I said, “I don’t know.” This was a major change from where I had been several months ago.
He said, “Do you believe that I believe there is power greater than us?”
“That’s enough to start. Go inside and when you go to bed, if you haven’t had a drink today, get on your knees and say, ‘Thank you for keeping me sober today.’ When you get up, if you don’t want to drink that day say, ‘Please keep me sober today.’ Do that for thirty days and if you don’t like the results you can go back and do whatever you were doing before.”
He was offering me a refund of my misery. (Unfortunately, sobriety is not about people who need it. No one can force an alcoholic to get sober, it only works when someone wants it. A.A. does not have a monopoly on sobriety, but it has a proven, repeatable process). At the end of the thirty days, I didn’t even remember I had made the bargain. Things got better quickly.
- Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.
There is a Third Step Prayer, which can be modified as needed to the individual, but the standard is as follows:
“God, I offer myself to Thee – to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relive me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of Life. May I do Thy will always.”
When I was ready, I prayed that prayer with my sponsor, and commenced with the remaining steps of the program. It was the beginning of a life focused on service, and I could not be of service if my life was not in order. So began the “House Cleaning.”
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
“Resentment is the ‘number one’ offender. It destroys more alcoholics than anything else.” This is found in the book Alcoholics Anonymous. It is true, I was in a perpetual state of mind of victimhood and anger. Writing my fourth step was actually somewhat easy. It was a grudge list. Although, for each person it included my idea of why I was angry with any particular person, and how it affected me. I was living in fear, utterly and totally. The next part was the difficult task.
- Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
I met with my sponsor, list in hand. We were in my car, in the parking lot of a local diner. We spent the next hour and a half going over my list. I described my anger at the people, institutions, and principles in my life. I told him why I was right in all the situations and how other people were just out to get me. In response to each instance, he was able to describe multiple other possibilities why people were “doing things to me.” Many were along the lines of those people not even taking me into consideration. Most of my behavior could be boiled down to, I thought you were going to hurt me, so I would preemptively strike out at you. I was wrong. My ego had been punctured. He made me realize, most people who I thought were out to get me didn’t even know I existed. Most importantly, I realized if I was in relation to these people and things, I had some part to play in the state of that relationship.
I had a great feeling of relief after that experience. I had told him things I had never told anyone. I thought I had done things no one had ever done before, that I was so uniquely bad I deserved to destroy myself. That is the depths of self-centeredness I had gone to, terminal uniqueness, the final stage of alcoholism … isolation. He asked me if the things I had done had a name. They all did. He told me that is because other people had also done them! Him included on most counts. Quite the revelation. I had made the first real connection to another human being in a long time.
The next instruction was to go home and contemplate my new perspective and “do” steps six and seven.
- Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
- Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
In early sobriety, there was not much to “do” for these steps. The work involved takes a lifetime. But, it was important to understand I was in the midst of a life-altering process. Relying on the power of God to keep me sane and sober. Again there was a prayer, alterable to fit the individual if necessary.
“My Creator, I am now willing that you should have all of me, good and bad. I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows. Grant me strength, as I go out from here, to do your bidding. Amen.”
- Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to amends to them all.
This seemed easy at first. Write another list. Most of the people on my fourth step list ended up on this list. My sponsor made it clear not to make any amends until we went over the list. I went over to his house (the first time in the year I had known him he let me know where he lived). We went over the list and “game-planned” what I would do to try to fix the relationships I had damaged.
It’s important to note there was a distinct transition from here to starting the ninth step. The second part of the eighth step talks about the willingness to approach these people and admit our part in the damage to the relationship. It was important to be in a state of mind where I could approach people and deal with my side of the street. I couldn’t worry about whatever they may have done to me, that’s their business. I had to forgive myself and them enough to not cause more damage. Some were easier than others, some took more time. If they decided to address anything they may have done at that point, great. This was not necessary to complete the process. This was not just an “I’m sorry” tour. I had insincerely said “I’m sorry” enough times that I had become quite a sorry individual.
- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
It would be of no good to me or others to save my soul at the expense of others. Some things I would need to learn to live with, at least until a revelation of misdeeds could be addressed, if ever. Making the transition from living in my universe to God’s universe is the solution.
I ventured out on my first amends. I had stolen gas from a former employer and I needed to admit that and pay him, if he accepted that solution. I drove by the driveway to his office twice. I prayed to a God I hadn’t yet fully believed in as I drove for the strength to go in. I did. I spent some time catching up with my old boss, then laid out my amend. He was shocked someone would do such a thing. He gladly accepted my check (which actually had money in the account to cover it).
Eventually, I left. As I drove down the drivewa,y I had the clear feeling of the presence of God. I understood if I continued to do the things I had done during this process, I would not drink, one day at a time, for the rest of my life. I had my Spiritual Awakening.
The remaining three steps are designed to maintain the Spiritual Connection.
- Continued to take a personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
- Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
- Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
Much could be written about these steps. Perhaps later.
Living my life by the principles I learned in AA has been incredibly rewarding. Most importantly I have been able to be present in my life and in the lives of others. I strive to be a constructive and positive part of society. This is practice, not perfection. I have a way of life that I enjoy, and the ability to do esteem-able things. I have the process, and the asked for strength to live my life, and not destroy myself.Published in