Bob S. reflects on how we recover by sharing our personal experiences
When I arrived at the doors of AA some time ago, I had no knowledge of the Program, so one of the biggest surprises for me was to learn that I would be hearing and reading a lot of stories. In fact, one of the primary methods of carrying the AA message is through the telling of personal stories. I've learned that these individual stories are vitally important to my own recovery and the recovery of others.
The importance of relating our stories is stressed throughout the Big Book. Most of our literature, including Grapevine, contains numerous members' stories. In the chapter called "The Family Afterward," we read, "The alcoholic's past thus becomes the principle asset of the family and frequently it is the only one!" And later on the same page, "Cling to the thought that, in God's hands, the dark past is the greatest possession you have—the key to life and happiness for others. With it you can avert death and misery for them." The AA Preamble says, "We are a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope…"
During my time in AA, I've heard tragic stories, humorous stories, emotional stories and very spiritual stories. The one thing these stories have in common is a happy ending because every story I've heard at an AA meeting concludes with a period of sobriety, even if it's only one day.
I'm still amazed that my past—with its years of hurt, heartache, sadness and despair has now become my greatest resource. To me, it's another of the AA paradoxes: what I thought of as a great liability instead has become one of my greatest assets.
Most of us alcoholics did not arrive at the doors of AA because we are good speakers. In fact, many of us find speaking at an AA group, or even one-on-one, to be somewhat uncomfortable and stressful. However, we usually agree to the request because we understand that in addition to possibly helping another alcoholic, sharing our story may be crucial to our own sobriety.
So how am I to tell my story? The beginning of Chapter 5 of the Big Book explains: "Our stories disclose in a general way what we used to be like, what happened and what we are like now." "Our stories disclose in a general way…" reminds me that when I'm sharing my story I can do so without a lot of specifics and detail.
In the part, "what we used to be like," I try to concentrate on what I was like, not necessarily what I was like. To me, this means I'll be talking about my feelings and attitudes and personality as a practicing alcoholic. Of course, my drinking experiences are included in my story too. This is where the identification with another alcoholic often really starts. I remember that identification when I first heard someone else tell my same story. For me, the speaker's feelings of fear, anger, dishonesty, remorse, regret and shame were what I could identify with even though the actual circumstances of my life were much different.
The "what happened" part is the most important part of an AA talk and also often the most emotional. We are listening to a miracle in the making! Not one of us would be in AA if nothing had happened. In Bill W.'s case, it included a flash of light followed by a feeling of ecstasy and a sudden and spectacular upheaval. Dr. Silkworth told him, "something has happened to you that I don't understand."
Often this period is precipitated by a crisis of some kind--a car accident, an arrest, a DUI, or perhaps a hospitalization. In my case it was a single moment of clarity.
Of course, many unfortunate alcoholics had something happen but never made it to AA. They died in the traffic accident, succumbed in hospital, were incarcerated or committed suicide. So those of us who are in AA and are able to tell our stories are truly the fortunate ones.
Now comes the wonderful part of my story—the "what we are like now" section. Finally a free man! I'm released, on a daily basis, from the bondage of my disease. I'm free to participate in life, to make my own decisions, to be for the first time truly happy, joyous and free.
Yes, there are Steps to be taken, meetings to attend, amends to be made, and a conscious contact with a higher power of my understanding to develop, but the rewards are too numerous to mention.
So what kind of person am I now? The conclusion of my story includes the journey toward being a good husband, father, and son and to becoming a useful and contributing citizen. I also include an explanation of how I stay sober one day at a time, how I use the tools for living that I have been so freely given, and also relate my feelings of spirituality, gratefulness, and honesty. Yet, I still suffer from many shortcomings and character defects but with the help of the program, and the people in it, I try to be a better person each day. It is a lifetime of progress, not perfection.
All editions of the Big Book have included the section for personal stories. Though they are not read as often as the first 164 pages, they too provide an important role in our recovery.
Ever since Ebby first shared his story with Bill W. and then later Bill shared his own story with Dr. Bob, this program of recovery has been working because one alcoholic is willing to share his experience, strength and hope with another.
Bob S. – Barrie, Ontario
George B. Tells about being 'TheFather of the Bride'
Once too drunk to walk down the aisle, a newly sober dad finds there's something amazing to cry about
Men don’t cry!” “Drink like a real man.” “Work hard and long and don’t whine.” These are all lessons I learned from what I now know were alcoholic parents who did the best they could with what they had to work with. It’s how they were taught to live, and what they thought was the proper way to raise a boy to be a man. Turning my life and my will over to a Higher Power seemed so alien and against everything I learned growing up.
So what was the miracle that allowed me to embrace Step Three and AA? There have been many. They are usually small and could have been missed had I not been open to seeing and accepting them. One in particular stands out early in my sobriety.
I have three daughters, and along with that normally comes three weddings, three receptions, three sons-in-law, three walks down the aisle, and three father/daughter dances. Because of my drinking, my first daughter asked me not to walk her down the aisle, not to dance with her at the reception and to stay away from her new in-laws as much as possible.
I allowed resentment, anger and self-pity to overcome me and was drunk during the entire event, not remembering much of it. I had the right, the reason and justification to drink, damn it! I came to accept that I was out of the traditional wedding picture for the rest of my life, and I expected the same treatment from my other daughters. They hated me.
Fast forward about a year and I was divorced, living alone and in rare contact with my daughters. But I was 80 days sober and working the program in AA. On April 1, I received a call from one of my daughters. She wanted to meet with me and take a walk. A little surprised, I accepted and thought what a miracle God had just given me. I wasn’t even close!
During our walk, she told me that there was something different about me. She said that she felt something in my voice, something in my eyes, and something in my smile had changed. With tears running down her cheeks, she said, “Dad will you walk me down the aisle and dance with me at my wedding? It would make me so proud.” Then she paused for a moment. “The only way my wedding day would be complete is with you in it,” she said. “Sober, of course.” Then she smiled.
I didn’t lose it per se, but I know her hair was soaked with my tears while we hugged there in the park. I still cry even while writing this. For me this was a miracle, and I felt it was God’s will for me, at this point in my sobriety, to accept this miracle as a sign I was on the correct path. The wedding went off without a hitch, as my drinking obsession was removed. This was yet another miracle.
Things are good today, and my relationships with all my daughters are growing. I am not new to AA, but I am new to working the Steps with my Higher Power, a sponsor and the friends I’ve made in the rooms. I’m a beginner and have made Step Three part of my daily routine. It’s progress, not perfection. And it’s one day at a time with one small miracle thrown in here and there, if I look for them.
George B. – Toronto Ontario
She had nothing to lose and everything to gain
I NEVER KNEW the meaning of communication sharing, before becoming a member of Alcoholics Anonymous. I am only now, after three years in the program, learning how this inability has cheated me of the real meaning of fellowship.
I have been married for twenty-two and a half years. When I was drinking, I relied entirely on my husband to approve or disapprove of my actions and thoughts. I accepted his approval, but his criticisms became festering sores on my ego. The vicious alcoholic symptom of denial extends to feelings also, I have found. In my excessive sensitivity, it seemed safer to pull the shroud of silence around me than to face possible disapproval. After all, what would he think of me if I allowed him to know how I really felt?
Fear and isolation became integral parts of my personality. I did not dare express myself on anything, in case it might be suggested that my drinking was a part of the problem and I might be expected to do something about it.
The misdirected good intentions of the family in covering for "Mom's bad days" finally came to an end, and I was confronted, for the first time, with the word alcoholic. My surrender to the disease of alcoholism began when my depression was so great that I cared nothing about my family, myself, or even life. All avenues of help had been closed, with the exception of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Bit by bit, my self-confidence was reborn. I thrived on AA members' love and understanding and on the Steps. The sharing of experience, strength, and hope was offered freely from that very first day, and I began to respond. Shortly, I found myself able to walk up to a friend and ask easily, "Can I talk to you for a minute, please?" There seemed to be nothing I didn't feel free to talk about with another person.
But after two and a half years in the program, my progress in being able to talk with my husband was negligible. I was allowing little angers to build up, and I had to work at keeping them from turning into resentments. I had been using (abusing) the part of the Tenth Step chapter that says, "Nothing pays off like restraint of tongue. . ." Nagging discomfort was turning into real pain. I was still talking with a number of AA members, but this time the pain wasn't going away. I was afraid that I might discover the truth of the saying "Stinking thinking leads to drinking." Among all the many suggestions I received, the consensus was basically this: "Talk to him. What have you got to lose?"
"Courage to change" is one of the greatest challenges I have found, but I have learned this does not mean change is easy. After indulging in a great many assumptions and projections about what my husband was going to say and what he was going to do, I asked myself the question "What do I have to lose?" I had nothing to lose and everything to gain, particularly peace of mind.
So I took the plunge, and our conversation revealed that my husband had no idea of the many things bothering me. How could he, when I wouldn't tell him? He was amazed that I should have any fear of talking with him about anything! I have a new awareness that love and understanding are not confined to our AA rooms, that there are friends everywhere if I will just share with them.
B. J. – Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania
Bill Says A Saturday Night a year ago, it would have been different
IT WAS LATE on a Saturday night, after midnight, and I had just crawled into bed. I was tired, and the thought of a few hours' sleep was especially pleasant, because I knew that when I woke up in the morning, I would feel rested and revitalized. As I lay there in the quiet darkness, my mind wandering around in the hazy area between drowsiness and sleep, I began thinking of the past twenty-four hours. I found myself comparing the events of the day to the events of any given Saturday roughly a year ago.
Last night, Friday, I came home from work tired, of course, as most guys are at the end of the week. But a year ago, I would have come home from a bar, instead of from work (if I came home at all); and I would have been exhausted, instead of merely tired.
I got up this morning while it was truly morning, instead of lying in bed until nearly noon as I did when I drank. I was actually looking forward to the day, rather than agonizing over some dim, half-remembered something or other from the night before.
I had breakfast today--a real breakfast of ham and eggs and fruit juice, instead of cigarettes and coffee royal.
I went out and mowed my lawn this morning and actually enjoyed doing it. The smell of the grass and the drone of the engine, along with that little bit of satisfaction when it was finished, gave me a good feeling inside. A year ago, I would have hired a neighborhood kid to do it, because I didn't have the time; and then I would have run off to some nice, quiet place, because I couldn't stand the racket he made when he trimmed close to the house. And then I'd have spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the "peace and quiet" of the misadjusted TV set, the blaring jukebox, and the clattering shuffleboard in the crowded barroom.
This afternoon, I spent a few hours with some guys, watching a friend put the finishing touches on a remodeling job in his home. Afterward, we sat around the kitchen table for a while and rapped over a cup of coffee. When it was time to leave, I left, even though there was still some coffee in the cup. A year ago--well, it wouldn't have been coffee in the first place; I would have left nothing at all in the glass; and I doubt if I would have even been aware of, much less cared about, what time it was.
This evening, my wife and I went out. Together. We had a nice, quiet dinner and took a leisurely drive through the country to an out-of-the-way place, where we knew we would be sure to have an enjoyable evening. A year ago, I would have been heading for a much different kind of place on a Saturday night: driving alone, hurrying to get there before the prices went up, nervously watching the rearview mirror, fearful of sirens and flashing red lights. And the good time I was searching for would surely have been elusive. But tonight, the out-of-the-way place wasn't a nightclub or tavern, but the basement of a church in a small central Illinois town. Instead of listening to a rock band, we listened to a young woman tell a touching story of newfound hope, and instead of hearing a loud, rowdy crowd of fun-seekers, we were listening to such now-familiar phrases as "one day at a time" and "Higher Power."
After the meeting, during the drive home, my wife and I talked about the kids, tomorrow's Sunday dinner, and a lot of simple, uncomplicated things that people who love each other talk about. We talked about AA, Al-Anon, and earlier meetings we had been to. Quite a change from the screaming, insulting tirades of a year ago.
A year ago, I would never have admitted to myself or anyone else that I was an alcoholic. Tonight, I restated that fact before a roomful of people, some of whom I had never seen before, but who were not really strangers. I haven't found all the answers to my questions yet, but I know now where the answers are. I can find them at meetings, such as the one we attended tonight. I have learned that this program is built upon a foundation of actual experiences--of lessons learned (sometimes from costly errors) and passed on to me by an exceptional group of instructors. Some of these people have stood at the doorway to hell, and have returned to sobriety and sanity and are now sharing their strength with people like me. I believe I am absorbing, little by little, some of that strength simply by being near them and listening to their stories.
Things are different from the way they were on many other nights in the past. I know it takes time, but the peace and serenity are slowly moving in, just as the sunshine slowly melts away the fog and bathes the world in warmth and light. AA did this for me. Twenty-four hours at a time.
Bill E. – Shelbybille, Illinois
Carl Says That This Is A Most Unusual Disease
WE ALWAYS NOD in agreement when we read or hear, "No person likes to think he is bodily and mentally different from his fellows" (Big Book, page 30). The reluctance to admit our alcoholism while we were drinking turns to eager acceptance when we come to Alcoholics Anonymous.
In AA, we can become actually elated about the unique qualities of our disease. When we measure alcoholism against the array of other ailments from which mankind suffers, we exchange self-pity for gratitude and trade in a feeling of being unfairly treated by fate for a sense of being downright lucky with diseases.
From my viewpoint, not as a scientist but as a sober member of AA, I find that our disease abounds with unusual aspects.
While we are actively riding our addiction through a sea of intoxicants, alcoholism is the only disease that constantly tells us that we don't have it. Yet over a million men and women have been able to start their recovery after being told that they are the victims of a disease and are not weak-willed, immoral persons.
I am eternally grateful for this: Alcoholism is the only disease demanding--as a requirement for recovery--that its victims grow spiritually, with the possibility of early death as the ultimate penalty for failing to diminish the potency of character defects.
Since we alcoholics must learn to live comfortably without the use of alcohol, emotional balance is a necessity. In most cases, the physical side of our disease is controlled by simple resistance against taking a first drink. But growth in our inner selves is needed to subdue those long-nurtured shortcomings we bring with us out of drunkenness. To stand still emotionally invites the destructive elements of our characters to drive us into depressions. From there, it can be a short step to an uncorked bottle. I am sure that a return to drinking would be an act of suicide for me. So failure to work at righting my personal wrongs would lead, step by step, to my death.
I believe sincerely that another unique facet of my disease is the secret, almost subtle building-up of a conscience within me when I drank. Beneath that stubborn denial of my disease, there were guilt, remorse, and shame. They remained closely guarded until I felt accepted, in AA.
Ironically, that alcoholic conscience became my ally in fighting for sobriety. The deep-rooted regrets that incubated my conscience created in me, as a recovering alcoholic, a burning desire to think and act in the most fruitful and rewarding ways. The suffering our disease brings to us makes the tools of AA so miraculously effective that we keep them while we are living sober so they can help us to do better "in all our affairs."
How grateful I am that my disease does not demand continual medication and treatments. I need only adhere to one rule: Don't drink. If I handle the physical part of alcoholism, AA takes care of the spiritual part.
Ours is the one disease that sends us for recovery to folks who were as sick as or sicker than we. To escape the ravages of our disease, we must realize that we are all people who need people. We say, "We can do what I can't." We receive by giving.
Our disease qualifies us for a "club" where the initiation fees have been high, but where there are no dues other than love, service, participation, involvement, and carrying the message.
Luck had little to do with my getting to AA. It took surrender to motivate me. But each of us can ask, with deep gratitude and humility, why he or she is one of the very few alcoholics who are sober today. When I think of my good fortune to be in AA, I also remember my fellow alcoholics still clinging to a disease that can be friendly only after it is arrested.
How thankful I am to have learned in AA that I must enjoy growing old, because countless millions are denying themselves that privilege.
Carl C. - North Hollywood, California
A Miracle Happened That Day - At her first meeting, she lost all desire to drink
SEVENTEEN YEARS ago, I was a patient in a state mental hospital, committed there by my mother, who had been given no hope at all for my recovery. I didn't even know who she was during the commitment proceedings, much less who I was. I had no memory of the past, no thought of the future. The road to this hell had taken three years. Prior to taking the road to insanity, I had been a housewife, mother, and church worker. Sang in the choir, played golf on Tuesdays, flew my own plane, and raised my children. In less than three years, I had become a lush, working as a truck driver for a winery to keep me in wine.
At the end, full of self-loathing, I had tried suicide by drowning. I was hauled out of the water by the Coast Guard and taken in handcuffs by plane to the mainland. The oblivion I sought was complete. Unable to reach me otherwise, my psychiatrist prescribed shock treatments. Three attendants held me down, one by sitting on me, and the wires came closer, and the shock poured through my body. When I woke up, I was naked in a room full of naked women, eating oatmeal. I looked at all the fat women around me, and I shuddered. I looked at myself--I was fat, too. I shook my head--I couldn't understand any of what was going on. I didn't know who I was. I didn't fight the shock treatments anymore. I accepted them docilely, like a lamb going to slaughter. This went on for weeks--the shock treatments, the memories flooding back, the fears, the horrible shakes, and then oblivion again through tranquilizers. Gradually, however, the routine--the same thing day after day--brought a sense of security. I began to feel safe in my little world. No one could hurt me anymore.
Then, my little, safe world was threatened with collapse. My doctor said it was about time for my release and sent me home on a test run. I was so doped up with tranquilizers, everything was very hazy and blurred. One thing caught my eye--the cold, frosty beer in the refrigerator. I had one, I had two, I drank several, and I was deliriously happy. Now, I knew what I had been missing in the hospital. Now, I wouldn't be afraid to go out in the world again. I was ready for that outside world now; I had almost forgotten the alcoholic delights that awaited me out there. I had absolutely no knowledge of the fact that alcohol had been the cause of my hospitalization, that I had the fatal disease of alcoholism, a progressive and insidious disease.
My lovely lady psychiatrist saw my change of attitude about returning to the outside world. She saw the gleam in my eyes as I thought of the fun I had had, and she saw that I had forgotten the beatings I had received from alcohol. She said I should go to the AA meeting held in the hospital. I laughed at her and told her I was too "intelligent" to be an alcoholic. In the back of my mind, I felt that somehow the AA meeting might prevent me from doing all the drinking I planned to do the minute I was released.
I went to my first meeting in the state mental institution that day seventeen years ago. God's hand reached out and touched me at that meeting--a true miracle occurred. Medical science had restored me to the point that I knew my name and recognized my mother, but it had not restored my desire to live. AA did that; God's love reached out through the persons who were at that first meeting. Understanding was there, and friendship, but especially love. I felt that these people were my true friends and wanted to help me. They shared their experience with me, and as I listened to their stories of mental hospitals, prisons, psycho wards--of the awful things they did during their drinking days and how they didn't need to drink anymore--I identified with them. I wanted to hear more.
I call it a miracle, for I lost all desire to drink that day. I was released that weekend and warned to continue to take my tranquilizers or "You'll be back." The refrigerator was still full of beer, but I didn't touch it. I felt absolute rejection by the people of the small town where I had lived most of my life--the rejection felt by many returning mental patients or former prisoners. This rejection would surely have turned me to drink had it not been for the acceptance, the love I found in AA meetings and the wonderful sponsors who helped me every step of the way that first year. To this day, I have not touched that first drink, and this is the miracle. If it can happen to me, it can happen to you or your loved one. Where all else had failed--psychiatrists, physicians, ministers, understanding at home, imprisonment in a mental hospital--AA worked. I see miracles happen in AA every day, for it is a program of love, of helping our fellows as we have been helped.
There is no end to my story. Before starting to live the rich, full, abundant life that God wants for all His children, I was so sick emotionally, physically, and mentally that I did not recover overnight. I had many seeming setbacks, feelings that would lead me to the very brink of self-destruction again, yet never did the desire to drink return to me. I found courage in AA, courage to face life again. I found the courage to throw away my tranquilizers and face up to, and live through, some soul-shaking experiences.
Gradually, step by step, day by day, I have approached a maturity I never knew before. My sense of humor is restored, and I can laugh at myself. I am a useful member of society again, active in church, AA, and civic affairs. And I get down on my knees and thank God every day for the countless blessings He has heaped upon me, for the family He restored to me, and most of all, for the beautiful program of Alcoholics Anonymous, without which I would be dead.
Paula B. – Douglasville, Georgia
Richard Says - "We can do it now"
I'm twenty-seven years old, and I've spent three and a half years of continuous sobriety in AA. I've entered reading the different stones in Grapevine over the last few years. They've helped me immensely. I identify with other alcoholics now instead of comparing my story to theirs. If I stay around AA, keep active, and stay away from the first drink, I won't have to go to prison, or I won't have to end up in a hospital like others have done.
Another wonderful thing about AA is that there is no age barrier. Anyone is accepted. I meet so many young people in AA now. I think it's a good thing for a young person to know that he or she doesn't have to go through thirty or forty years of hell before joining AA. We can do it now before it's too late.
Once again, I would like to thank my Higher Power for a second chance at life, and to thank AA for helping me, one day at a time.
Richard.B. – Guelph, Ontario
Fred Says - But for the Grace of God
I received my latest issue of the Grapevine and immediately sat down to devour it, as I do with every copy that arrives. I really love to read about the true miracles that are constantly going on around us. There never fails to be a warm feeling come over me through those who share, in writing, their strengths, hopes, and experiences; and I am truly grateful as I read on. However, something new happened to me today as I was reading the magazine that caused me to put it down and start to write these words.
My story is a garden-variety type, as one of my early sponsors used to say. I was just a thirty-three-year-old salesman with a wife and two young, beautiful children. All of us in a crash dive with my illness, and nobody could see it, until a fateful day in March 1969 when I succumbed to my powerlessness. An overwhelming amount of blessings have come to me since that day, along with some heartache. Today, I sit and reflect on my grateful feeling for AA and all that it stands for.
The fact that really jolted me while reading was suddenly being aware of those thousands of people like me who come to AA with a desire, and even a sincere desire, to get their lives turned around. They seem to want what we have, but for reasons that I do not understand, return to the darkness of drinking. They will never have their story in the Grapevine, nor will they ever experience the sheer joy of sobriety. A larger issue of the Grapevine could be published each month with stories that were concluded in an emergency ward, on a dark street in the countless skid rows, or behind the wheel of a wrecked automobile.
My God, I am grateful that what You gave me I have held on to as tightly as I am able to. I pray that my Higher Power will let me live out my story to a desirable conclusion, whatever that may be.
Fred D. – Argo, Illinois
Ron Tells About The Miracles That Came After Working The 12-Steps
When I finally found my way to AA, I was a complete wreck. That was three years ago; I was then sixty-three, with nearly thirty years of drinking behind me; and my beloved wife was in the hospital suffering from terminal cancer. These last three years have certainly not been the happiest or the easiest, but they have been the most exciting and, in a certain sense, the most rewarding years in my life.
I have changed completely. I have become entirely another person. No more cheating and lying; I have begun to manage my affairs again, to become honest with myself and other people by surrendering wholeheartedly to the program.
I succeeded beyond all hope and expectations in making amends to the three people nearest and dearest to me, my wife and my two grown sons. I managed to help my wife bear her terrible illness, and we spent two and a half years in most beautiful harmony and deepest love. She was happy with my sobriety and the change in me. She had several remissions, and we went abroad three times, and celebrated our fortieth wedding anniversary. At her inevitable end, I was able to help her die with dignity.
I had not lost the friendship and love of my sons, but I most certainly had lost their respect, which I am happy to say has been won back.
I could not have achieved these changes on my own. AA had existed in Israel for only one year when I was fortunate enough to find it. I was helped by the deep understanding of the members of my group, by their unstintingly given friendship and love by day and night, for which I am and shall be forever grateful more than words could express.
Ron D. – Tel Aviv
Sam Says - Today I can count hope as one of his strongest gifts
I HAVE GONE through many changes in the four years of my sobriety. I came into AA with a feeling of absolute hopelessness and despair, and could see no purpose to life. I now am able to count hope as one of my strongest gifts. And I believe that, while things do not always work out the way I would like them to, they always work out the way they are supposed to.
I have learned that I have no more right to condemn myself than I have to condemn other people. I have gone from self-loathing to self-acceptance; from dwelling on the faults of others, to looking for the good that is in us all; from literally cringing every time I heard the word "God" in a meeting, to the absolute conviction that there is a power greater than myself that loves me and will guide me if I let it; from severe depressions in the last year of my drinking and the early part of my sobriety, to feeling good most of the time.
I have learned the importance of trying to place principles before personalities, although I don't always succeed in doing so. I have gone from mental confusion to relative stability, and from being literally at the mercy of my emotions to a sense of peace most of the time. And I have learned not to try to fix something that already works.
I remember some of the thoughts that used to race through my head at meetings during the first six months of my sobriety, thoughts like "Well, maybe I'm really not an alcoholic; after all, I drank mostly beer, and everyone knows that alcoholics are people who are hooked on bourbon," and "Do I have to go to these meetings the rest of my life?" I finally decided it didn't matter whether I was an alcoholic or not. I knew I couldn't not drink by myself. Sometimes, I wondered if staying straight was really worth it, but I can say now that I have never regretted one minute of my sobriety, and every year sober has been better than the year before it.
I remember being five months sober and very confused, thinking that if I couldn't find out what made me an alcoholic, I would drink again. There was an old-timer around who recognized my hang-ups. Every time he saw me, he would say two things tome: "Alcoholism is caused by drinking alcohol," and "If you don't drink, you won't get drunk." That's all he would say to me. I reached the point where I would look for that man as soon as I walked into a meeting so that I could avoid him. I did not want to hear what he had to say. About the one hundred and first time he said it to me, everything fell into place. All I needed to do was not drink and go to meetings, and things would be revealed to me. I learned that I could solve my drinking problem by not drinking and that my other problems might or might not get resolved by that, but that as long as I didn't drink, I had one less problem to worry about.
I did not leap to embrace the Steps. I was motivated into action on every one of the Steps when the pain of not doing them became too great to bear. There are no shortcuts. AA is indeed a way of life and is aptly described in the Big Book as a Fellowship of the spirit. With every passing day, my debt to the Fellowship becomes greater.
Sam S. – Leesburg, Virginia
Tom Tells - How the Program Worked the Second Time
I DID NOT realize that AA would offer me a new life and a renewed way of living. At first, I just wanted an escape from drinking. When I surrendered myself for help, I walked into that first meeting, after tipping a few to get the courage to go, without knowing a soul or having any idea what to expect.
Finally, I made it through the door, into a room full of strangers. Soon, someone came up to me and shook my hand and welcomed me there. I was introduced to others; then the meeting started. I listened to people tell their stories and wondered if I belonged there. "Am I an alcoholic? Do I have these kinds of problems? Maybe if I stay long enough, I can learn how to be a social drinker. I sure hate to give up all that good stuff and fun."
After a few meetings, I opened my ears and began to identify with what I heard. I soon learned that I was not the only one who had those particular problems, and that others were ready to help.
Now, I know there is no way that I can be a social drinker. But then, I still thought I could get by with a couple. I soon ended up right back where I started.
Coming back to AA was harder than coming the first time. "What is everybody going to think of me? Will they accept me back?" When I faced the painful, humiliating fact that I had had a slip, I was ready for what AA had to offer.
I learned to do away with my stinking thinking. I learned that I didn't need the "friendship" in bars, that my best friends were here in AA and most of all, that I didn't need booze to function and live a normal life.
I have learned to live a day at a time, and not let things get the best of me. I try to keep my cool and work things out. I have learned how AA can help me and anyone in need, how the program gives us strength against that first drink. I am thankful for that strength. I pray that others who need help to come through the doors for the second time, as I did, will find it. It is here for the asking.
Tom.M. – Newport, New York
Robert Says - It is A Small Price to Pay
LITERALLY hundreds of times in the past few years, in gatherings of various sizes and compositions, I've said, "My name is Robert, and I am an alcoholic." Usually, I've said it at meetings of that anonymous Fellowship of which I am a member, but also, occasionally, in other groups. Whatever remarks may follow, whether mercifully short or of longer duration, whether foolish or full of wisdom (as they sometimes are, no thanks to me), they're prefaced by that comment.
Why do I say that? I don't say, "I'm Robert, and I'm an attorney," although I am, and have been for many years. Nor do I say, "I'm Robert and I'm a CPA," though I'm that, too. And I don't say, "I'm Robert and I'm a fifty-year-old divorced father of fourteen children." I don't even say, "I'm Robert, and I'm a Christian," though I am. And the last is something I'd never have become, I believe, if I hadn't been granted the humility to make that first comment, and to understand what it meant.
Why is the statement "I'm Robert, and I'm an alcoholic" so important to me? Why must I say that first, rather than any of the other things?
Because that statement means many things to me. I'm still an alcoholic, and I have to keep remembering that, particularly as my active addiction and its results fade into memories. I'm not a long-timer in AA, though I do have some consecutive birthdays. But, after observing the experience of others, I believe it's necessary for me to keep remembering. Real long-timers, with ten, twenty, or even thirty years of seemingly serene and successful sobriety, have slipped, back into that mess from whence we came. And some of them--my friends--have died drunk and miserable. I know I'll die someday. But I prefer to die sober and happy, when my time comes.
"Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom," and I've been granted freedom--freedom from the thralldom of my active addiction, which lasted for some twenty-eight years--and not only that, but freedom from other forms of obsessive-compulsive behavior that extended to all areas of my life, including work and sex. So if the form that my vigilance must take is active participation in AA and a continuing, honest attempt to work the program, that's a small price to pay.
It is no price at all, really, because the "sacrifices" involved are infinitely less than the rewards. I've been allowed to trade an old way of life for a new way; insanity for sanity; slavery for freedom; pride for humility; dishonesty for honesty; and my belief in my own "uniqueness" and "superiority" for some understanding of the marvelous interdependence of God's creatures, including me.
I lost some things through my alcoholism. Among them was some of my intelligence. But in return, I gained a little wisdom. And the beginning of that wisdom lay in the First Step of AA, recognizing that I was powerless over alcohol (and everything else) and my life was (is) unmanageable (by myself).
The end of that wisdom lies in the Twelfth Step: "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."
Robert F. – Jordan, Montana