Step One

Exactly one week before I walked into my first AA meeting, I lay on a soft leather couch in a therapist's office whining about my life. I had just read -- skimmed actually (it was impossible to read anything of substance when I was drunk)-- a book that detailed midlife crises in a number of men about my age. In total denial about my real problem -- alcoholism, I concluded that this was what was wrong with me -- I was having a midlife crisis. This was the reason I had no energy or enthusiasm for much of anything, why my life was so mechanical and boring and why I could not seem to get it together to find a new job even though I was quickly running out of money. I wasn't so much there for therapy, but to confirm my own diagnosis.

After the therapist listened patiently to my sob story, she said something that shocked me. She said "I don't think I can help you Jeff, you are certainly welcome to come here once a week and pay me $80 to listen to you talk about your life, but I don't think I can help you." I swallowed hard, first because she didn't buy the midlife crisis theory, but mostly because deep down inside I knew I had no where else to go.

When I asked her why she couldn't help, she hit me with the truth, right between the eyes. "You have the emotional maturity of a thirteen year old, you don't have an ounce of humility in your whole body, and your thinking is so cloudy from your drinking that your couldn't hope to get any clarity on your life." I was still reeling from her comments when she looked me deep in the eyes and said "you're in trouble aren't you Jeff?" The voice of my ego screamed that I shouldn't admit to anything. I paused for a long moment and looked at my feet. What actually came out of my mouth was a whisper -- "maybe."

It turns out that little "maybe" was just enough of an admission of powerlessness and unmanageability to make space for my higher power to begin to work actively in my life. I have profound gratitude to that therapist who had the integrity to tell me the truth rather than string me along as a patient. And for the grace I received in somehow being ready for the truth when I heard it. Almost fifteen years later I can still act like King Baby on some days and true humility often feels out of reach, but my thinking has, in large part, cleared up and I make mostly responsible choices in my life today.

Great Events

The first great event of my life happened when circumstances forced me to surrender just enough to be open minded about AA and to follow suggestions. The second great event was a much, much deeper surrender. It happened like this...

I was 50 years old and I just lost a job that I thought was much too good for me. I hadn't worked for 16 months while finding my bottom and during the first part of my recovery. Then I finally found this job. I was working a good program but those pesky character defects raised their ugly heads in the workplace and, after only 15 months, I was out on my butt. I immediately went into a shame and fear spiral, taking me to the darkest place I had ever been to in my life. I was sure that I would never work again. I had very little money and no prospects to borrow any more. I was in shock, but I did what I learned in AA. Instead of picking up a drink I picked up the phone and called my sponsor. At his suggestion I went to a noon time meeting and shared what had happened. I didn't get much relief, but I didn't drink.

For three days the voices in my head kept screaming "What a loser you are Jeff!" and other choice commentary. The voices pointed out that no one would hire a person my age with my recent resume. I had to agree. I was in so much fear I couldn't breathe. The only way I could sleep was to run around the block as fast as I could until I was completely exhausted, then I had to repeat the Serenity Prayer for hours. before I would slip asleep.

Then on the fourth day another member worked me through steps four through nine on this work issue. He helped me see clearly my part in what happened. I made the list of all the people I had harmed. I wrote letters of sincere apology. I wrote a thoughtful letter to my boss telling him of the insights I'd had about what happened and asking him to reconsider. He decided it was best that I leave the company, but by this time the fear had disappeared completely. I can remember feeling that somehow (although I had no idea how at the time) I was going to be OK. I floated on a pink cloud.