The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous makes promises on pages 83 and 84. At the New Year, let’s see how these promises are coming true. We can all take inventory of these promises.“We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.” I have no compulsion to drink or use. My first experience of happiness came when I was 40 years old, and seven months sober. I have had many more experiences of happiness since.
“We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others.” My past was incredibly painful, due to child abuse. Some of that abuse involves injuries that have consequences to this day. Even though a brain injury causes a migraine headache every day, I feel as though I have serenity and peace, and my experiences do benefit others.
“That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear.” When I was drunk all the time, I felt useless because I WAS useless. That feeling was not a mistake. It was accurate. I gradually improved by becoming less drunk and by becoming a functional alcoholic, but the feeling of uselessness and self-pity didn’t disappear until I was many years sober. It disappeared when I lost interest in selfish things and gained interest in my fellows, just as these promises said.
I used to joke about my selfishness. I’d say, “I may not be much, but I’m all I think about.” I had a selfish friend. We’d joke together, and say “Well, enough about me, what about you, what do you think about me.” Then we’d laugh together.
The next promise is that “self-seeking will slip away.” I couldn’t just not think about myself. It’s not that I thought about myself less, I just started to think about other people more. There is a spiritual gift available, and that is the gift of a kind heart. I identified such a lack of kindness growing up, and knew that I needed it. To get it, I married it in the form of Priscilla. To have more of it, I needed to cultivate it in myself. It had been there, partially hidden by the alcohol and drugs. Now, in sobriety, it could come forward the way that God intended.
Our book says, “Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change.” I think of my major change in recovery as pulling a giant lever, and shifting from “gimme” (as in give me what I want) to seeing what I can contribute to life and to others. It’s the move from selfish to unselfish. It’s the change from demanding love to becoming loving.
When I was growing up in a violent, alcoholic home, I was afraid all the time. There are just two people in my home today, Priscilla and myself. There’s no alcohol, and we have an agreement to love and support each other. As a result of our commitment and my sobriety, this promise has come true: “fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us.”
Priscilla is in Al-Anon, and we have both been applying all twelve steps to our lives for more than twenty years. As a result, the final promise has come true: “We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.”
When the question is read aloud in A.A. groups “Are these extravagant promises?”, the group answers “We think not.” In my experience, at five years, some of the promises had come true. At ten years, most of the promises had come true. At fifteen years, all of the promises had come true. They will, as the Big Book says, always materialize if we work for them.
John MacDougall is the Spiritual Care Coordinator at The Retreat
He will be speaking at The Retreat’s Breakfast Club on Thursday, January 18th.