First Things First

No matter how well or badly things are going, my sobriety must come first.  I may have to juggle my schedule from time to time, but I must never become too busy or too important to attend AA meetings.  I may have to care for children or elderly parents or friends or pets, but my first responsibility is to stay sober.  Without sobriety, I cannot help anyone.  And when I am tired, frustrated, depressed and discouraged and I just want to stay home and hide from the world, I cannot afford to indulge myself.  Happy or sad, motivated or bored, I must continually work the Steps, avail myself of meetings and fellowship and read the program literature over and over again.  In early sobriety, the choice often consisted of neglecting a social obligation or risking relapse in a heavy drinking environment.  I  had to choose the safest path.  As time goes on, the choices have a different flavor, but they still come down to doing what is right in the big picture.  That is the only way the picture will stay bright and my feet will stay on the path of sanity and serenity.



When I looked around at the people in my first AA meeting, I realized they were the ones my mother always warned me not to hang around.  Little did she I know I was more likely to be the corrupting influence.  In the beginning I would go to the meetings, sit in the back, cringe through the holding hands part, then scurry out the door.  After hearing more and more of my own biography in others’ shares, I began to suspect these people might have something worthwhile to say.  So I tolerated their overtures after meetings and eventually let a few of them corner me for a good long chat.  This eventually led to cups of coffee and real fellowship.  This part of the Program proved to be vital for me.  Unlike the insular shares in meetings that could not be linked together or clarified with cross-talk, conversations in fellowship could be a one-on-one dialog.  This is where I could articulate my doubt, confusion and discouragement and have someone else help me see where my perspective was tainted by invalid assumptions and faulty reasoning.  Even when working with a sponsor, I gained a lot of insight from casual conversations with old timers after my meetings.  They never hesitated to give me their candid assessment.  They told me to get off the pity pot.  They told me to stop trying to be perfect.  In my second year of sobriety, they even told me it was time to quit smoking now.  It is remarkable how AA can transform a once unsavory character into a sage advisor and guiding light.  It is amazing that daily education from “the wrong crowd” has saved my life.

An image of fellowship courtesy of SMB

Pause, Pray, Ponder and Proceed

The Four P’s are a good roadmap for handling life’s unpleasant surprises and confusing twists.  They help me with the big decisions, such as which door of opportunity to open when another has closed.  They also help with the small upsets, such as a thoughtless word tossed at me by a friend, family member, co-worker or stranger.  Pausing lets me set the gun on the table while I think things through.  Holding my finger on the trigger while I try to make sense of things does not bode well.  Praying is usually an invocation for calm, patience, wisdom, tolerance, acceptance and compassion.  These are my greatest allies when I am disturbed about something.   When the weapons are down and I have prayed for the right frame of mind, then and only then is my brain ready to participate in the conversation.  It starts to say things like, “is it really worth getting upset about?  If I let this guy get to me, I will end up owing an amends which will only double the humiliation . . . this probably isn’t about me.  He’s probably having some personal problem and taking out his frustration on me.”  Finally, when my emotional stampede has been calmed and the cows are all grazing again, I can proceed.  Sometimes, proceeding is as dramatic as shrugging my shoulders and going back to what I was doing.  Pausing, Praying, Pondering and Proceeding are sometimes Painful because my heart is Pounding and I would really rather Pounce, but trial and error has showed me that the Four P’s are essential ingredients for Peace of mind and continued sobriety.

Thanks to MX for the topic and this lovely place to sit and ponder.


Looking for Easier, Softer Ways

I once heard someone share that all you have to do to get sober in AA is “not drink one day at a time, and change your whole [expletive] life.”  When I read the Twelve Steps for the first time, I heard myself respond to each one with words such as “maybe,” “doubt it” or “hell no.”  When I saw the phrase “we thought we could find an easier, softer way,”  I realized how well AA understood me.  I certainly had tried many easier, softer ways – counseling, reading self-help books, roller skating, eating more vegetables, drinking wheat grass juice and many other physical and mental health regimens, none of  which cured my alcoholism. Even after the arduous effort of making it through the Steps, I try to find “easier, softer ways” of doing the maintenance steps of Ten, Eleven and Twelve.  My inventories become the drive-by variety, where I just process a few random thoughts rather than sit down and take a clear look at things in an orderly way.  I begin to mistake worry and rumination for prayer and mediation.  And rather than call an alcoholic whom I know is having a tough time, I am tempted to send a text message instead: “U good?”  Lastly, as much as I enjoy online forums and the wonderful internet connections I have with other alcoholics, I still need to get my butt in a chair at meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous.  My head still only follows where my feet are willing to go.  Soft and easy has its place, in frozen desserts for example, but it does not contribute much toward my being “happy, joyous and free.”

Soft and fuzzy place courtesy of AinV

Going to Any Length

“If you have decided you want what we have and are willing to go to any length to get it – then you are ready to take certain steps.” Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 58

Few alcoholics can really anticipate and appreciate the length they will need to travel to achieve and maintain sobriety.  And so a certain desperation, or hitting bottom as we say, must happen before the first attempt to try the program of AA.  I have heard it said that Step Zero reads “this sh*t has got to stop . . ”  I knew I had run out of options by the time I arrived at the rooms, but I did not know how desperate I had become until this program began to pry open my heart and empty the poison that had accumulated there.  Coming through the doors, I could never have imagined the pain I would feel in this metamorphosis.  I could not foresee how much darkness would precede the dawn of my spiritual awakening.  AA makes many promises.  But the first promise comes from the alcoholic – to be willing to go to any length.  Many times, it was my own pride that kept me here – I wanted to show everyone that I could take it.  I cringe as I recall some of my early shares, sobbing in self-pity, pounding the meeting table, the old timers trying not to burst out laughing.  Today I must continue going to any length – reaching out to other alcoholics when I don’t have the desire or the time – finding ways to be of service in and out of AA – practicing these principles in all my affairs.  Life is short, but the road to happy destiny is long.

Highly willing succulent courtesy of MX

Through the Doors and Into the Rooms

I don’t hear many people recall arriving at their first AA meeting, elated, saying “Wonderful!  The moment I’ve been dreaming of my whole life!”  I hear a lot about feelings of doubt, confusion, denial, resistance, or for the lucky few, a complete emotional breakdown. Many of us come flying through the doors, into the rooms because we have received a mighty kick in the ass from spouses, shrinks or courts.  Regardless of whether we run, crawl or get shoved inside, we are made welcome, admission is free and nothing is required of us.  But once we are all here, at the reunion of strangers, the end of the line, the “last  house on the block,” if we wish to stay, the price begins to climb.  To say sober in AA I have had to pay the gatekeeper my pride, my self-sufficiency, my self-centeredness, my shame, my secrets, some of my old friends, my old ideas and my way of thinking about how to live in this world.  Some of these were far more difficult to toss in the trash than the bottle was.  After making the enormous non-refundable deposits, I find the daily room rate to be pretty reasonable.  But if I fail to pay it, the interest and penalties add up fast.  Nor can I sit in the rooms and soak up the hospitality.  I must stand by the gate and look for you, show you where the baggage goes, and point you toward reception.

Learning to Trust

I was very short on trust when I came to AA.  I suspected everyone of ulterior motives – altruism was a fairy tale.  I scrutinized every kind or helpful word, looking for manipulation or condescension.  My entire view of human relations, from parenting to marriage to mentoring, was colored by cynicism.  Of course, the one I really could not trust at all was myself.   And there was no God to trust as far as I could see.  Fear walked beside me everywhere, a cowardly bodyguard whispering in my ear.  Some of the slowest and most important progress I have made in Alcoholics Anonymous is to learn how to open up to others with honesty and vulnerability.  The warrior that I was resisted this at every juncture.  To offer myself up for judgment and ridicule felt like laying down my arms on the battlefield.  But I found trust in the hearts of former drunks and derelicts.  The most unreliable people in society turned out to be pillars of stability for me, allowing me to form the first honest relationships I had ever known.  And through this Program I found a Higher Power that I trust implicitly to guide me through every twist and turn of my life.  Today I can testify that the Ninth Step Promise is real:  “fear of people . . . will leave us.”   And today I know the supreme importance of this gift.

Oggy and Zuzu Spend a Day Together