AA reconnected him “to the world, the infinite and to other people”
I had seen the change in my dad after he got sober in the early 70’s. He was immersed in AA, and I got to know his friends and “pigeons”—his sponsees. They were the first examples of what AA happiness looked like. Seeing the change in my father was a real epiphany, in hindsight. I recall discussing spirituality with him many times, but it was the change in him that was impressive. The man that I grew up being afraid of was completely different. Not perfect, but a great example of change. He did not come off like a zealot, but was steadfast and earnest about AA. He was a great role model.
At his funeral in 1987, I said that his understanding of God helped me on the way to my understanding of God. I knew and told myself for a long time before I quit drinking that I would have to quit “someday.” I also knew that once I really decided to do it, there was no going back. I knew then, and know now, that I can never safely drink again. In hindsight, seeing those happy AA people made a deep impression. I did not quit drinking until 1994, when I was terrified of quitting but terrified of continuing, seeing where my drinking was taking me.
I remember thinking beforehand that I would feel a spiritual emptiness or hunger when I quit, and sure enough, I did. So, I gave it my very best effort to search for God in the church of my forefathers, taking spiritual direction, seeing therapists, journaling, reading books. And although I could say I was an alcoholic, I did not think I was like my dad, and although I had a lot of respect for the spirituality of AA as it was expressed in those people’s lives, I did not think I was quite like them, I believed my case was different. I avoided AA intentionally.
Looking back, I now believe I was working the first half of Step One, knowing I cannot control how my body chemistry is different than other people in the way it reacts to alcohol, but trying desperately to manage the way I achieved spirituality. I didn’t see the ways in which I was being progressively more driven by a hundred forms of fear, even though I was diagnosed with anxiety (my wife thought I was depressed). A counselor helped me see how I put myself in the middle of my universe, and that perhaps I might consider putting God in the center. I was actually trying my level best to do so, but I could not see the driven-ness in myself, which I now recognize as one of the symptoms of my self-delusion. I can take perfectly good things like religious discipline, counseling, spiritual direction, and make them barren, as our literature suggests. The problem is not with those things, it’s within me and the relentlessness of my ego. I could have moral and philosophical convictions galore, but not live up to them.
Slowly, over time, I showed more and more symptoms of dry drunkenness: eg., humorless, critical, and impatient, especially with my wife. Initially, after not passing out every night, I thought it would be fun to banter about topics and be on different sides. The problem is I don’t know how to allow someone else to have a different opinion.
Over a period of years, I got fired from a job, (which never happened when I was drinking), had suicidal thoughts, and felt like nothing was working. If only I could figure things out. Again, in hindsight, I can see that I had been the actor, trying to stay one step ahead of the game in the most virtuous and humble of ways, but not seeing that I was a self-seeker, even when being kind. As I have heard AA speakers say, I was trapped inside what I thought you thought about me. I wanted to be prepared for any contingency. I would get up early before work, pray, meditate, journal, and then on the way to work my mind would start racing with all the potential issues. I had written my top things to accomplish in my day planner and prioritized them. Surely things would work out if I only managed well. But when interruptions to my little plans and designs occurred, I would feel threatened. I would lash out, either mentally or sometimes verbally. Because I could not see myself doing this, even with the help I was getting, I was becoming more and more a producer of confusion rather than harmony. In 2002, my wife and I were discussing something, and she told me we should stop talking about it, since we couldn’t agree. I said: “No, let’s keep talking.” She walked out of the room and I followed her and she wheeled around and told me she was not going to take this abuse. When she used the word “abuse”, I crumpled like the Wicked Witch of the West. I was face to face with my selfishness and its results. It was part of hitting another bottom, an emotional one. My wife has since said that I was never a mean drunk, but I became mean after I quit drinking.
Around that same time, we had dinner with my Al-Anon stepmother who is a wonderful example of spirituality. My wife told her our marriage was falling apart. She suggested AA for me. It finally sank in. (It turns out she had been suggesting AA for many years but this was the first time I was ready to hear.) I decided to give this program an honest try.
I owe my life to Alcoholics Anonymous. So many lessons. So practical. I need to sponsor and be sponsored in the Steps, to take a commitment in AA, to connection with other alcoholics who will help me stay honest with myself. The Three Legacies are that simple. Early on, I heard people say that the trick was to stop fighting, anything or anybody. Wow, I thought, how that works. Just. Stop. Talking. Right in the middle, if I have to. Then maybe I will learn to stop before the words come out of my mouth. That’s progress. This is one of the most practical things in my life. My behavior will convince my wife more than my words.
Tolerance, as one sponsor told me, can start with giving the other person the right to be wrong. As the concept grows, it can mean recognizing they have the right to be themselves, whatever they need to be. And they can have their own ideas which differ from mine. I have only skimmed the surface of these infinite principles, but, to the degree that I have been willing to apply them in my life, I now have more freedom, joy, and a life that is better and better all the time. I owe my great job to AA, my wonderful marriage to AA (she stuck with me) and every good thing in my life to AA. The quality of my life is equivalent to the quality of my relationships. I am now in a lifelong reconstruction of all my relationships. AA reconnects me to the world, to the infinite, and to other people, in a whole new way.
Living examples like these take the spiritual life out of its theoretical realm inside my head and give me a life that is beautiful and a faith that works.