Treating My Disease

I was 24 hours sober. Dean S., a counselor at the treatment center I was considering, said something right out of the box that changed my life. "Jeff, you are likely here because you have the disease of alcoholism and I want you to know it's not your fault if you have it." Being still toxic, I didn't fully comprehend what Dean was saying, but I do remember what he said next. "It's not your fault you have this disease, but if you fail to treat it, your life will become unimaginably painful."

I signed up for treatment and two days later I went to my first AA meeting to get my little card signed.  Being a lifelong isolator, I wanted to be left alone, to remain aloof, to stand outside the circle of life where it felt safe. But you guys wouldn’t let me. You pulled me into the center of Alcoholics Anonymous with handshakes, hugs and pats on the back. You invited me to coffee. You told me to keep coming back. Something in me believed you really wanted me to come back. My icy veneer began to melt. It wasn’t long before I really wanted what you had and I was graced with the willingness to do what you did.

It took many years in AA to realize that drinking isn’t my real problem. Like our book says: “Bottles were only a symbol.” My real problem is self-centeredness. The alcohol sickened my body and mind, but it is self-centeredness that blocks spirit from flowing into my being. I know today that regardless of the name I give it -- God, awareness, consciousness, recovery-- spirit is the vital life force. It’s what moves me and breathes me. It’s my connection to the power of the universe. When this life force is blocked, I become bodily, mentally and spiritually sick. I am powerless to act in my own best interest and my life is unmanageable.

The 12 Steps, sponsorship and being of service open me up for divine help. With God working in my life, I've come out of the cold into the unity of all there is. Today I'm a part of, not apart from. I still enjoy being by myself, especially in nature. I thrive on peace and quiet. It's a wonderful way to live. 

My First Spiritual Experience

I believed in God, but I did not believe God would do anything for me. Thirty years of trying to control every aspect of my life had left me spiritually dead. I had no energy or enthusiasm for anything except drinking cheap wine, smoking expensive marijuana, and watching stupid TV hour after hour. I was getting desperate when a therapist suggested treatment. I received sufficient grace to say yes.

Something very curious happened on the day I signed up for treatment. I was getting ready for bed that night and realized I hadn’t thought about a drink all day. And I didn’t think about a drink the next day or the next or the one after that. In fact, I have not really thought about a drink for more than 26 years now. I don’t know how this happened or why this happened. I just know it happened. Without much effort on my part, God had removed the obsession to drink clean out of me.

Two days later I floated into my first AA meeting feeling positive about my life for the first time in years.  It felt like a bag of bricks had been taken off my shoulders. I was still unemployed and running out of borrowed money, but I had the sense that somehow everything was going to be OK. I
didn’t know how. I just knew.

I heard that trying to get spiritual is like standing in water up to neck trying to get wet. I am already 100% spiritual. God, as I misunderstand God, has been with me every second of my life. I just haven't fully realized this yet.

First Step

I was unemployed and spending most of every day drinking cheap wine and watching stupid TV. My checking account balance was nearing zero, but I couldn't find the energy to send out a resume or take any other positive actions. I awoke every morning with a growing ache of fear. I just couldn't understand how my life had become so pathetic. I didn't realize I had the disease of alcoholism that was killing me from the inside out.

Finally, I went to a therapist who had helped me quit smoking a few months earlier. I lay on her comfortable leather couch and whined about my life for the better part of an hour. When I was finished she said, "Jeff, I don't think I can help you. You are welcome to come here once a week and pay me $80 to talk about your life, but I don't think it will help." I was shocked. Then she lowered the boom. "From what I know about you, I don't think you have ounce of humility in your whole body, your brain is so cloudy from your daily drinking that you can't hope to get any clarity on your life, and you seem to have the emotional the emotional maturity of a 13 year old."

The voice in my head screamed, "You can't let this bitch talk to you this way!" but somehow I was able to keep my mouth shut. Then she looked right into my eyes -- like she was looking directly at my soul -- and said, "you're in trouble aren't you Jeff?" The voice screamed "don't admit anything, don't let her know." I looked down at my shoes. After a long pregnant pause, I whispered "maybe."

Without knowing it I had just worked the first step. For the first time in my life I admitted there was something I couldn't handle. As it turned out, that "maybe" was just enough ego deflation to allow God to come into my life and work His magic. Three days later I floated into my first AA meeting on a pink cloud of hopefulness and began, for the first time ever, to take responsibility for my life.

Letting Go

My best thinking was that if I had a new high paying job I would get a new girlfriend, get out of debt and live happily ever after. Of course I completely ignored the fact that I had had high paying jobs before and wasn’t anything close to happy or fulfilled, but this time would be different. I wanted God to change my outsides--to fix me--but I never really thought to pray to be changed inside. After all I was a pretty good guy.

It’s still hard for me to see that my life experiences are nothing but a reflection of my inner state of mind. Can’t I get away with holding on to resentment, anger, jealousy and fear--just a little? Nope. Sooner or later pain results and the pain morphs into suffering and the suffering continues until I become willing to let go. Pain is the only way the universe has to get my attention--to remind me that I’m swimming against the current of life. Without knowing it, I lived in spiritual pain for most of my life until I a moment of clarity guided me to Alcoholics Anonymous.

I’m coming to believe that it’s all grace, everything in life is grace. Alcoholism is grace; resisting spiritual help is grace and the resulting pain is grace--all gifts from a loving universe that wants nothing more for me than my highest and best good. I don’t have to learn anything new to receive the keys to the kingdom. All I really have to do is to be willing to let go: let go of everything I think that is right and everything I think that is wrong; let go of big things; let go of little things. Let it all go. The problem is I don't have the power to let go of anything. The best I can do is loosen my grip by working the Twelve Steps to the best of my ability and allow God to do the rest on God's time.

Becoming Ready

I’m coming to believe I needed every single painful experience to become ready for the miracle of recovery. I needed to drink every drink, take every drug, and tell every lie. I needed the two drunk driving arrest with nights in jail; the divorce; the bankruptcy; all the arguments with loved ones; the stupid decisions; the job losses; flunking out of college; and all the rest. I couldn’t have done with one less of anything. Which drink could I have passed up?

The Bedevilments on page 52 of our book describe what it was like for me before AA.  I was having trouble with personal relationships. I lived with the loneliness I believe only alcoholics truly understand. I was filled with resentment and simmering anger. I was taking Prozac for depression. I was unemployed and running out of money but unable to muster up the energy to look for work. I woke up every morning with an ache of fear in my gut. I wasn’t any real help to other people because I didn’t really care about other people unless they had something I wanted. I had no energy or enthusiasm for anything other than drinking and using. I was dead inside. Toward the end, everything was shades of gray. I drank for technicolor.

I’m so grateful for the “what it was like” part of my story. I needed all the pain I suffered over my thirty year drinking career to become ready to receive the priceless gift of willingness. Today I consider my alcoholism a blessing. There’s no way I could have traveled from where I was twenty five years ago to where I am today without having a disease that was going to kill me unless I treated it spiritually.


I heard a young man was filling out a job application for work in a department store. On the first page he put down all the necessary information about himself including past employment. Then he turned the application over. The first question on the back was, “Have you ever been arrested?” The man checked the box marked, “No”. On the next line was the word, “Why?” Meaning if he had been arrested what was the reason. The young man wrote, “because I’ve never been caught.” That young man was me.  Until I could learn to catch myself saying and doing unloving things, I could not change.

I went through the better part of my life on auto-pilot, totally unaware of my words and deeds. I lied, cheated and stole. I judged, criticized and condemned most everyone on the planet. I rationalized, justified and minimized my actions because, in my mind, I was a pretty good guy. Only in the past few years have I realized that the self centered fear behind my actions separated me from you, God and everything good in the world. It’s no wonder I ended up in extreme isolation suffering a loneliness that I believe only an alcoholic truly understands.

It was in this painful state that God graced me with a moment of clarity that led me to Alcoholics Anonymous. I felt at home for the first time in my life and the obsession was removed on the first day. I wanted what you had so I did what you did. Slowly I began to change.

I’m no saint, but today even the perfectionist in me must admit that I have changed in some deep meaningful way. Today I look people in the eye when I'm talking with them. I’m quicker to forgive because I understand that, like me, people don’t have a choice but to do what they do. I don’t always have to flip off a driver who does something stupid. Mostly my life feels peaceful and serene. I often catch myself feeling happy for no particular reason. I realize God is doing for me what I could not do for myself.

Others First

When I was new, there was an old timer in my home group who shared often about the spiritual love one alcoholic has for another. I had no idea what he was talking about. The only kind of love I knew back then was the kind of love you see in the movies -- sticky, demanding, conditional love. Today I know spiritual love makes no demands, expects nothing in return. This is the way I was sponsored and the way I try to sponsor others.

Spiritual love is Grace--a gift from a loving universe. There is nothing I can do to earn this gift, but there are things I can do to experience this gift in my life. The most powerful mindset I can have to experience Grace in my life is to put others first. I always thought the secret for a happy life was to be loved. In Alcoholics Anonymous I learned the secret is to be loving.

Spiritual love does not begin or end with me. It begins at the source, with God, and flows through me out into the world. My job is to become a channel for this love.  Putting my hand out to newcomers, passing on what was so freely given to me, and being of service in any way I can open my channel  for spiritual love to flow through me. When the love is flowing, there is no possible way I would drink. No possible way.