The AA Life Ring

I didn’t know I was dying. If I had really seen the truth about my life, who knows what I might have done? Thank God for denial.  I was right up against hopeless, but I didn’t know it. I knew something was wrong, but I refused to admit getting drunk two or three times a day had any thing to do with it. Alcohol was not my problem. It was my solution.

My own best thinking was that a new job would make everything all right. But every potential job looked beneath me. (After all, I was a seasoned veteran with a vast reservoir of skills.) Paralyzed to take any job hunting actions, my checking account plummeted and I awoke every morning with an ache of fear. The best I could do was wait until 10:00 am for the first drink.
I didn’t wake up one morning and decide to get sober. It was grace pure and simple. I was led to AA after God whispered to me that there was a softer, easier way to go through life than the way I was going. Powerful grace broke through the thick wall of denial and allowed me a glimpse of the truth about myself. I saw I was drowning. AA threw me a life ring and I’ve been holding on ever since.

Today the AA program for living is supporting me through the most difficult, painful experience of my life. Thanks to AA I am able to show up for my wife instead of hiding out in a bottle like I did with my mother. I don’t dwell in the future. Instead I simply do the next indicated thing and turn the results over to God. It works. It really does!

Cunning, baffling, powerful!

My disease wants only one thing from me — to take one tiny sip of anything with alcohol in it. My disease doesn’t care if I get drunk or even if I finish the whole drink. Just one tiny sip. That’s all it wants. Then it will have won. I stay away from the first sip by showing up for my recovery regardless of how I feel, regardless of what my head is telling me, regardless of what’s going on around me.

Spirit keeps me sober. I can’t be connected to spirit when I’m hiding from life. I hid from life with alcohol and drugs for thirty years and ended up spiritually bankrupt. I’m in dangerous territory if I try to hide today. I cannot allow myself to decide to stay home and rest just because I feel a little tired. Or to listen to my head when it tells me I don’t need a meeting today because I feel good. I can’t let a little thing like low energy or a blue mood keep me from showing up for my recovery. Once I allow my emotions or my thoughts keep me from taking recovery actions, the door cracks open for my disease.

In one of my first meetings an old timer said, “I woke up this morning feeling depressed. I rolled around for a while, then asked myself, what would I do if I wasn’t depressed? I’d get up and come to this meeting. And that’s what I did.” I also heard old timers in my home group encourage us newcomers to “show up even if your ass is falling off!” These are lessons I haven’t forgotten.

I’ve been taking care of my sick wife and haven’t been able to get to as many meetings as I like. Sometimes sadness rolls over me like a gray fog. My disease tells me to stay home with her instead of going to the meeting. Taking care of her is my primary focus, but first things first. I'm not much good to anyone unless I'm in fit spiritual condition and meetings are key for me. I can’t be practicing Step Three if I’m sitting on my couch eating Bon Bons when I ought to be at a meeting. But that’s exactly what my disease wants me to do.

Learning to Love More

I heard an Indian tribe on the Amazon cursed their enemy by saying, “stay just the way you are.” They know that if humans don’t change and grow, death is right around the corner.

Staying the same was exactly what I was after while I was drinking. I never saw the need to change. I wanted you to change. I wanted life to change. But not me. After all I was a pretty special guy. I had been winning at the game of life. I was just having a run of bad luck is all. Besides, change is uncomfortable. Why would I want that when getting comfortable and staying that way was the only thing that mattered?

When water doesn’t flow it becomes stagnant and starts to smell after a while. I was real stinky when I stumbled through the door to my first meeting. The twelve steps helped me get a good whiff of myself.

The doctor says in our book I need to change or I’ll drink again. One old timer in one of my first meetings put it more bluntly, “change or die, M-Fer!” The doctor goes on to say this change can’t be a “self-help” change. Change has to happen deep down in the center of me. That’s God’s territory.

I can’t change myself in any real,lasting way. I’m pretty sure I could sit and meditate on a mountaintop for twenty years, but unless God (or Life, or Consciousness, or whatever you call HP) has changed me I’ll still be basically the same schmuck I was twenty years earlier. In the same way, AA doesn’t change me. The AA program connects me to God. God changes me.

I invite God into my life first by really, really wanting to be changed. I keep God in the center of my life by remaining willing to take the recovery actions suggested to me in my first week. I seem to grow automatically when I consistently practice the principles. Most days I’m willing to practice. Some days I’m not.

If God gave me a two word job description for my life on earth, it would read, “love more.” Growing along spiritual lines is long hand for learning to love more. As I grow through the years in AA, I come into fuller expression of the loving God seed in the center of my being. Life is pretty darn good most of the time. 

Escaping the Pig Pen

I love the story in the other big book called the Prodigal Son. It’s the story of a young man who took his inheritance and wandered away from the father’s house. He went out into the world in pursuit of wine, women and song. After he squandered his inheritance he slept in the pig pen. He ate what the pigs left behind. As the story goes, he “came to himself” and remembered his father’s comfortable house. He realized that even his father’s servants had a nice warm bed and plenty to eat. He got up out of the pig pen and made his way home. His father saw him coming and ran out to greet him. This is my story.

People share in meetings that alcohol stopped working for them. That’s not what it was like for me. I could still get drunk all right, but the fun was gone. Toward the end drinking was just medicine for me. I went through the motions, but in truth I was living in the land of the half-dead in almost complete isolation in my dirty messy apartment. I was getting drunk twice a day, but I couldn’t see drinking was a problem for me. I needed to drink. Not having a job was the problem. I awoke every morning with an ache of fear in my gut.

My moment of clarity came when I sought help from a therapist. After I whined about my life for thirty minutes she took my inventory. Her exact words were, “From what I know about you Jeff, you don’t have an ounce of humility in your whole body, you have the emotional maturity of a thirteen year old and your mind is so cloudy from your daily drinking you cannot hope to get any clarity on your life.” She looked deeply into my eyes and said, “you’re in trouble, aren’t you Jeff?” My ego screamed not to admit anything, finally I whispered “Maybe.” Unknowingly I had worked the first step. I walked into my first AA meeting six days later.

During the last twenty years my whole attitude and outlook have changed, just like the promise in our book. Somewhere along the line I began to enjoy working with other alcoholics more than building up my 401 K Plan. Today my life feels useful and content. I feel abundant. I never had these feelings even when I was at the top of my game. I have never tried half measures because a whole new life has opened up for me and I don’t want to lose it. Besides, I saw plenty of evidence to know what happens to those who don’t fully commit to our simple program.

As I continue my journey back home to my father’s house, I am filled with gratitude for the blessing of alcoholism. If I didn’t have a disease that was killing me, I might still be eating what the pigs left behind.

Living in the Solution

Before I began my spiritual journey in Alcoholics Anonymous, I had only one tool in my tool box — a rusty old claw hammer of self-will. It’s a good thing I had this hammer because back then my life was filled with nails that needed pounding. I lived in a sea of problems. Relationship problems, work problems, financial problems. The people closest to me caused most of my problems. Whenever I faced any kind of problem I’d yank out my hammer and begin to pound away. I pounded day and night trying to get life to follow my script. After a long day of pounding, I needed a few drinks to relax. Once I had a few, I needed a few more. Then…

Thankfully I was blessed with the disease of alcoholism. God made it baby simple for me: Seek spiritual help or die a lonely drunk. Something in me chose life and I began to live in the solution that is neatly written down in the book, Alcoholics Anonymous.  Since I was unemployed (unemployable, really,) I made AA my job. I went to more than 400 meetings in my first year. I got myself a great sponsor and began to make my way through the steps. I allowed the men in my home group to get to know the real me, I put my hand out to newcomers, set up chairs, picked up cigarette butts in the parking lot and brought the donuts to the meeting Saturday morning. I was a little over a year sober when a man asked me to sponsor him. I was hooked on recovery.

As I continued to follow the AA program of action I began accumulating new tools for living and growing along spiritual lines. Today I have tools to connect with others and with my higher power, inventory tools to grow in self-awareness, tools for keeping my side of the street clean and tools to deal with resentment and disappointment. I also have tools in the form of slogans which help me remember simple wisdom in moments of stress. Of all the tools, the one I rely on the most is connecting with another alcoholic. The most important instruction in the Big Book for me is, “ask Him in your morning meditation what you can do for the man who is still sick.”

The AA promise — I will intuitively know how to handle situations that used to baffle me — has come true. Today I intuitively know what tool to take out of my tool box and apply to my life. When I am living in the solution, life goes on pretty darn good without me even thinking about it. I still take out my rusty hammer every now and then, but not nearly as often and I don't do nearly the damage.