Aided by the “limitless hope and boundless grace” of AA, she took the Step that changed her life
I often hear at meetings that Step One is the only Step that must be practiced perfectly. But is practicing perfectly oxymoronic? As a perfectionist and as an alcoholic, I had a problem with this. Fortunately, my sponsor was a careful reader and led me to the Twelve and Twelve. It reads: “Only Step One, where we made the 100% admission that we were powerless over alcohol, can be practiced with complete perfection.” The Big Book also tells us: “There must be no reservation of any kind, nor any lurking notion that someday we will be immune to alcohol.” This frightened me when I first got sober. I was certainly at the jumping off point but believing in the program required a huge leap of faith. My faith was barely audible, and the disease and I had a rich history. I wanted recovery more than I wanted to drink—but just by a nearly imperceptible hair. A civil war ensued.
Didn’t Bill W. have times where he nearly reconsidered? Don’t we all? I still do! While I am no longer compelled to drink, once in a while the disease comes knocking. I have a disease that tells me I don’t have a disease, and, to me, this is the singularly most frightening aspect of alcoholism. It is cunning, baffling and powerful and I am grateful for the gift of enduring vigilance. I learned earlier in sobriety to “tell on myself.” I did with considerable repetition and I must still.
I remember a program friend of mine who relapsed often, sheepishly confiding that she admired me because I’d “gotten it.” She’d say: “When you’re done, you’re done.” At a year or so sober, I wasn’t so sure I was done. How could I be trusted to foresee beyond twenty-four hours? We don’t swear off forever. I also remember getting a huge resentment over a woman in the program telling me she thought I had a First Step problem after hearing me bemoan that I’d been driving myself crazy with questions. But she was right! I did have a First Step problem. I couldn’t imagine my life with or without alcohol. I was at the jumping off point, but I had no idea where I was going. I didn’t want to live any longer as a drunk, yet I couldn’t shake the pangs of desire.
Beginning at age 12, I’d abused alcohol with more dedication than anything else in my life—in good times, bad times, to numb, to celebrate, to augment, to feel, not to feel, to be social, antisocial, out of love, hate and indifference, obsessively and compulsively. Without help, it was too much for me.
But if I was done, why continue with a program? I needed help with being done, that’s why. I needed reminders, fellowship, literature, tools, and a spiritual program of action. This addiction steadily told me that I’d never amount to anything, that I was predestined to fail and that I had chosen to drink each and every time. When I quit and drank again, I believed, I was just changing my mind! Advantage: disease.
Personally, it was easy to concede unmanageability. However, I was not able to make the connection that if my life was chronically unmanageable I may have lost the power of choice. This understanding required Step work with a sponsor and time. It took grace, compassion and patience from sponsors, friends and professionals to hold my hand as this became clear. I finally had allies to quiet the addiction. Advantage: program.
By moving through the rest of the Steps, help from a Higher Power of my understanding and without physically picking up a drink one day at a time, I was slowly able to gain some perspective and moments of clarity. It took years to even believe that life was worth living. My sponsor repeatedly promised me that more and more peace would come, and I believed her just enough to think that maybe, maybe this could work for me, too. I had tried everything else and I was at the fork in the road—this AA thing just might work for someone like me or I might surrender to an alcoholic death, or worse, an alcoholic life.
It has been ten years now and I still occasionally refer to my invaluable First Step list where I catalogued every time (that I can remember) that I had been powerless over alcohol or that my life had become unmanageable. I do it when I entertain the delusion that I could both control and enjoy my drinking. I look at it when anger fuels a sick desire to run and hide. I look at it because I still have thoughts of drinking. I am still an alcoholic. I don’t “have” this program. I practice this program 24 hours at a time. Through the Steps, my sponsor, professional help, painstaking honesty, service and trusted friends in and out of the program, I can see, more and more, that I am powerless over alcohol. What I needed was the people I heard in AA, some of them with 25 years, coming to meetings, and sharing a desire to drink. These people were my educational heroes. They gave me the courage to be rigorously honest. If they could do it, I had a chance. I didn’t need quantifiable certainty. I needed, and I found, the limitless hope, boundless grace, and growing faith, love, and levity of Alcoholics Anonymous.