FOR THE FIRST five or six years of my sobriety, I thought it–well–unfair that we alcoholics could not afford anger or resentment. Popular literature of the time was full of the value of “venting.” Other people, it appeared, could indulge in volcanoes of molten fury and emerge purified and refreshed, their relationships clearer and richer for the experience.
But not me. The Big Book told me that indulgence in even the tiniest spark of resentment, much less the full-scale fire, would get me drunk.
Well, like many a drunk before me, I began to nip on the sly–not drinks at first, but just little sips of anger. I practiced this controlled resentment in the private closet of my own mind, usually as I retired for the night. Then, as I tossed off to sleep, the world became a courtroom. I stood pitted against those I felt had aggrieved me. The judge rarely ruled in my favor.
The anger disease progressed. My nipping became obsession. Every night, some new person–my boss, my mother, my sister, my friend–had trespassed against me. Sometimes I had trespassed against them, and they had the audacity to tell me about it. So off to the dream trial we went, and when I awoke each morning, the resentment smoldered stronger brighter than before.
In those years, I never spoke of such things in meetings. I was bright and chirpy as a bird, and I suppose I saw the tables as yet another courtroom. If these people knew what I was really like, they would reject me. And then where would I be?
The result, of course, was that I blocked off the chance to be honest in the one arena where only honesty must reign. One day, a man in my home group blew up at me after a meeting. “You’re just stupid,” he said, “and nobody in the group likes you.”
How could he say that when I was always so sweet and smily, greeting newcomers at the door, raising my hand like a good girl to be called on? This, then, was the final hurt. I was betrayed even by AA.
My disease had found the perfect excuse to stop attending meetings. I didn’t know it then, for this disease is indeed “cunning, baffling, powerful,” but I began to work the Twelve Steps backward. The first to go was the Twelfth Step work. I didn’t drink; wasn’t that enough? With several years’ sobriety under my belt, I figured I had a fine grasp on God’s will for me, so prayer and meditation and checking out my divine inspirations with others soon fled as well, as did daily inventory and the outmoded notion of saying, “I’m sorry.” Without benefit of meetings, I continued to work my personal program backward until the only thing keeping me sober was the belief that I was powerless over alcohol. And one day, a week after I would have celebrated my eighth year in the program–if I’d stayed in the program–I decided that the concept of powerlessness, too, was probably a big mistake.
I had been one of those who proclaimed at meetings that I would never drink again, because I had only one recovery in me. If I went back out again, I claimed, I would die.
I suppose I did die, in a way, if death means a kind of profound surrender. Five months into the relapse, I called AA for help, and it was the hardest call I ever made in my life. I still saw the world as a courtroom in which I would be found guilty. I careened to a women’s meeting, trying to summon up the bright, cheerful exterior I’d cultivated to mask my pain. But when the chairperson called on me, all my defenses vanished. There, for the first time in my life, I wept in front of strangers.
Did those strangers point at me? Did they tell me I’d had my one recovery and didn’t get another chance? Did they point toward the door and tell me, “Out”?
No. The AAs took me into their arms and their hearts. Then, they started me walking once again. They stayed with me through the hell of two months of treatment–for I was sicker after five months of drinking now than I’d been eight years before. They remained with me daily through the loss of husband, home, car, job, and money that followed as I began to reconstruct my life.
When the fog and pain started to lift, I found myself staring at the same character defects I had carried with me through those first eight years in (and out of) the program. Before, my intellectual mind had proclaimed that the notion of character defects was outmoded and archaic.
This time, I was willing to listen. If the Big Book said resentment could kill, I didn’t have to understand or even accept. I just had to change. About nine months into my new recovery, the nightly courtroom scenes began again. As the list of those aggrieving me began to grow, I knew that I was in trouble and that my old ways would no longer suffice.
I climbed from my bed and pulled out the Big Book. Turning to Steps Ten and Eleven in the sixth chapter, I noted a lack of underlining compared with the rest of the suggestions. Apparently, something crucial had escaped me. Now, I read that as I went to bed each night, I should review my day and ask God to take it.
I read and reread the section. Part of me still rebelled. Hadn’t my husband left me when I really needed him? Wasn’t my boss a shrew by anyone’s standards? Weren’t my creditors selfish to want to collect from a poor drunk who had been as sick as I was?
I started to laugh. The “evidence” I had so carefully garnered to prove once again that I was right stood clearly before me. I returned to the dreaded bed where my personal courtroom usually raged. I allowed each person against whom I bore grudges to appear. Then, rather than pursue the fantasy arguments in which we all ended as losers, I simply envisioned sending each of them love from my heart, just as the AAs do for me as I sit flawed before them.
The test was in the waking. As I climbed from bed the next day, I felt free, lighter than I’d ever felt in my life. I woke ready to greet a new day, a new life, rather than still carrying the burdens of the old. Today, I no longer yearn for a courtroom in which to try the world, and ultimately try myself. I’ll give that one to my higher power, too, and I’ll practice gratitude, so that when I become truly willing to change, my defects will be lifted from me in ways I could never have imagined on my own.
As it says on page 88 of my Big Book, “It works–it really does.”