The inward focus I had as a drinker was not introspection, it was obsession with myself, a constant preoccupation with my own needs, wants and fears. I was “in my head” a lot. I missed lots of conversations, whether or not I was under the influence. The outside world was like television – I either stared at it, or turned away. As a sober person living a spiritual solution to my alcoholism and all the maladaptive behavior that goes with it, I must have a different kind of inner life. The bounty of the interior includes honesty, clarity and perspective. It also brings peace, resiliency, and enhanced intuition. If I do not go within I go without.
Alcoholic amnesia, forgetting the truth and permanence of my disorder, is the greatest risk to my sobriety. If insanity consists of drinking again and hoping for something other than the usual outcome, then amnesia is the long-term version of insanity. The very benefits conferred by sobriety become the blinders that threaten to cover my eyes and convince me that I can be a sober drinker now. I’ve got it together. I’m not the same person I was before. While I may be very different because I have worked the Twelve Steps, I will be the same person I always was if alcohol is added. No matter what my relationship to the world and to a higher power may be, my relationship to alcohol will never change. We are not the kind of couple you invite over for dinner. For me, there are two primary benefits to attending AA meetings and working with other alcoholics. First, you remind me who I am. I hear your story and I remember mine, because they are the same in so many ways. Second, I tell someone else what it was like, what happened and what it is like now. When I tell this story, I refresh my recollection. I push away the cobwebs of forgetfulness. I clean the window panes and see the truth again. This is why I stay. And this is how I stay.
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Back in the drinking days, I used to let my mail pile up in stacks of unopened trouble. I somehow assumed that if I really needed to know about something, the envelope would be bright red and be followed up by a phone call. Not that I answered the phone, mind you. I ignored many basic obligations like renewing my drivers’ license, showing up for jury duty, paying bills on time. Every now and then I got the checkbook out and sent random amounts of money here and there as if feeding pigeons. Maybe they would get full and fly away. Occasionally I would realize how out of control my life had gotten, and that was very disturbing, so I drank some more.
Well into a sober life, I still resist certain basic responsibilities. I silently protest that I must brush my teeth before I go to bed. I grouse when I hear that it is time to visit the doctor. I let out a huge groan when I see jury summons. When the car maintenance light flashes I swear at it and smack the steering wheel a couple of times. My refrigerator spends a long time being empty while I subsist on beef jerky and popcorn. I’m not the best at taking care of business. But I am a long, long way from where I started. Getting stuff done is another principle of AA – it falls under the heading of right feelings following right actions. I’ve discovered the beauty of the wood grain at the bottom of the in-box. The sound of the paper shredder is as lovely as a canary’s song. Taking care of business . . . every day.
Nothing is forever, except alcoholism. It can even endure beyond the grave, in the scars it leaves on others’ lives, and the patterns it sets into motion for generations. The permanence of my intolerance for alcohol and drugs is a fact I can never evade. Although I deal with life on life’s terms on a daily basis, examining my conduct and motives 24 hours at a time, I cannot entertain the thought that I will someday outgrow my condition. It is part of my personal fabric, an indelible feature of my identity. Alcoholics Anonymous has shown me a world of good that can come when I put my permanent distinction to good use. Not only can my affliction help other alcoholics and addicts, but my commitment to living the AA principles allows me to spread a message of personal responsibility though my own example. I can also be a living embodiment of tolerance, patience, and understanding if I remain true to those principles Every day I have a chance to turn my permanent feature into an opportunity for change and a message of hope. Therein lies a curious beauty.
According to some dream interpretations, if you are going downstairs in a dream, you are headed in the wrong direction. Sometimes I dream that I am racing down many flights of stairs, able to skip several at a time, leaping and dropping down many floors quickly. It feels great in the dream. But maybe it means I am skidding my way toward some kind of trouble. It reminds me of doing things the “easier, softer way” that is described in the chapter How it Works in the Big Book. It is easier and softer not to make the effort to go to meetings, greet others, share, and welcome Newcomers. It is easier and softer to stay home or do something recreational instead. Coasting works best when I’m going downhill. Coasting in sobriety can get me drunk.
Everything is work. Even play is work. Loving someone in a spiritually enlightened way is work. Being a good friend and family member is work. Even rest is work, if I do it right by carving out time, removing distractions, and keeping my mind from drifting to daily preoccupations. I can “skate by” for brief moments in life, but if I do not keep up my energy and momentum, I will lose ground, and take a downward slide. Trudging is a steady upward climb. It is not to reach the penthouse, the top floor or the summit. It is to stretch myself toward the heavens, to reach, climb, extend and push out of my emotional cocoon. If I keep looking up, I am bound to at least stay level. If I seek my Higher Power’s will for me on a daily basis, I am bound to transcend my tenuous and dubious manipulations. AA keeps me moving in the right direction, despite the view that sometimes beckons from below.
There are various prayers suggested throughout the Big Book, but Step Eleven says we are to pray “only for knowledge of [God’s] will for us and the power to carry that out.” I have tried to stay true to what is suggested in this Step. In my experience, this kind of prayer works consistently. The word “prayer” itself is open to interpretation according to various spiritual practices. For me, it is an intense connection with a higher form of wisdom and guidance, achieved through deep concentration and focus. When I am troubled, I find someplace to sit quietly, undisturbed. I summon this invisible force through stillness and calm, asking for the connection to be made. When I feel the beginnings of tranquility approaching me, I offer up all my worries and uncertainties, as if releasing them into the atmosphere. When my spirit has spoken all of its troubles, I make a silent request for direction and insight. I open my mind and my heart to receive what may come in answer to this prayer. When the process is complete, I reaffirm my trust in the higher power, and I wait. Usually, I do not wait for long. Whether the answer is inside of me, brought by another person, shown in a sign, symbol or dream, its meaning becomes clear to me. Some kind of magic happens when I stop trying to attack my problems with my brain power alone. I avail myself of magnificent and brilliant clarity that the universe has to offer. All I need to do is ask.