My name is John and I’m an alcoholic. Sober by the grace of God, the application of the 12 Steps and the fellowship of the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, I haven’t found it necessary to take a drink since July 22, 1978.
My drinking got me kicked out of school; it got me into trouble with the law; I was put on probation; I was court ordered to counseling and I was fighting constantly with my parents. I hated what I was doing to them and I loathed what I was doing to myself, but I didn’t know how to stop. I finally got honest with my probation officer one day and she suggested I go to a Young Peoples A.A. meeting.
The National Council of Alcohol and Drug Dependence founded Alcohol Awareness Month in 1987 in an effort to reduce the stigma widely associated with alcoholism by spreading information about alcohol, alcoholism, and recovery. Each year, numerous groups around the country work to break down barriers to treatment and recovery to make the option of seeking help more readily available to those who suffer from this disease.
In the 1970’s and 1980’s, I attended open AA meetings for 13 years without figuring out that I was an alcoholic. This was odd, because I seemed to have a natural affinity for alcoholics and other addicts. As a pastor, I had conducted more interventions than anyone else in my town. Many evenings, I brought people to detox, and then sat up late at night learning about this disease. I taught college and graduate school courses on addiction without figuring out that I was an alcoholic and addict. I went to twelve step meetings because I really wanted to be with the people. My home group tolerated me well, because it was an open meeting. Occasionally I’d overhear someone whispering “He almost admitted it,” but I never did.
All of us, or nearly all of us, are sober when we read this essay. For us, getting sober is no longer the issue. Staying sober is. Alcoholism and addiction are chronic illnesses, and relapses are common. Staying clean and sober requires an ongoing participation in recovery. The best recovery is in Twelve Step programs. Meetings are good. Step work is better. Working with other alcoholics to help them get sober is best. A.A.’s “Big Book”says "Nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics. It works when other activities fail.” (p.89) I know that this is true for me.
The Import of a Word: Some years ago I called the research library of AA International and asked one of the librarians if he knew why Bill W. wrote “turn our will and lives over to the care of God” rather than simply “turn our will and lives over to God” in the third step. He said he would research the question and get back to me soon.
“I DON’T HAVE TO ATTEND EVERY ARGUMENT I’M INVITED TO.”
Alcoholics are naturally argumentative, but Alcoholics Anonymous is a remarkably peaceful program. The reason for this is that Alcoholics Anonymous is built on the experience, strength and hope of its members, rather than resting on doctrine or beliefs. The first draft of the Twelve Steps invited alcoholics to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God. The final draft, which was published in the first printing of the first edition, invited alcoholics to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.
One of the great challenges for those still struggling with alcohol and drug dependency - and even for those in long-term recovery - is surrendering to a power greater than ourselves. Giving up the internal battle to control our own lives and letting someone else guide us to a path of sobriety can often feel like the hardest thing we have ever done. Until we do completely surrender, however, we will never fully know the joys that a sober life can bring. The process of surrendering our lives to a power greater than ourselves must first begin with the realization that alone, left to our own devises, we cannot solve this problem. For most of us this was a painful, lonely and at times embarrassing process to reach a point in our lives where we are truly humble and teachable. Our self-centered out of control ways drove us to a point of utter despair.
Yet, for the fortunate of us, this it what was required to reach a point of absolute surrender. We had exhausted all of our will to beat this disease and reclaim our lives. Throwing our hands up in defeat we were finally given the gift of receptivity. We are now ready and available to receive the guidance and support that will lead us to a happy, sober and meaningful life. Whether it be with an AA sponsor, professionals in the recovery field, a spiritual guide or fellow members in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) we find that we are no longer alone and that there are many, who have come before us, that can show us the way.
At the age of 23, after a nine-year battle with alcoholism and drug addiction that nearly killed me, two old-timers in AA plucked me out of my misery and put me on a one-way airline flight from Cincinnati Ohio to Minnesota. I knew when I got on that plane that there was no going back. I had burned all of my bridges. All of MY efforts to change my life resulted in more pain, more loss, more trouble. I was utterly powerless to stop drinking and using on my own and my life was a mess. I was terrified of what may lie ahead, but I was completely willing to let someone else direct the next steps of my life. I adopted a posture of a student, looking at everyone who came into my life as teachers who could show me a better way to live my life.
This willingness to go to any lengths led me to two months in treatment, eight months in a halfway house and a year and a half living in a sober house, surrounded by a community of fellow travelers who taught me how to live the spiritual program embodied in the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous in my day-to-day life. I was introduced to a “Program of Living”, a community of support and a spiritual connection that for the past thirty-nine years, one day at a time, has given me an opportunity to live a whole, meaningful and productive sober life. And all I have to do to keep it is stay sober, live the Twelve Steps in my day-to-day life, stay grateful and teachable and help others.
Family Recovery Series: 6 Things You Can Do to Help an Alcoholic Loved One.
Part One: Educate Yourself About Alcoholism and Addiction
Even though the first step in Al-Anon tells us we are powerless over another’s drinking or addiction, we know there are things we can do to help the situation. In the coming months, we’d like to discuss 6 things you actually can do to help an alcoholic loved one.
Everybody wants a good life. Who doesn’t want health, happiness, connection and fun? Walking straight at that seems reasonable enough. And too, none of us are surprised when ambivalence dogs our progress. Positive change is still change. We don’t know how, don’t think we have the resources or are too distracted to keep moving in that general direction.