THE SPEAKER at my group’s closed meeting recounted her sponsor’s advice for dealing with her fears: “Don’t drink, go to daily meetings, and nothing bad can happen to you.” Not long before this meeting, dear AA friends who don’t drink and do go to many meetings had experienced probably the worst thing that can happen to anyone–they had lost a beloved child through a tragic accident. Consequently, I was seriously put off by the remark. But it set me thinking nonetheless, and I have continued to ponder it. As I see it, everything both good and bad can happen to us no matter how conscientiously we practice the program, but that steady practice makes it possible for us to cope with whatever comes.
We are told from the beginning that AA is a simple program for complicated people, but to make the simple simplistic can lead to seemingly unyielding complications down the line. In our zeal to help newcomers cope with fear and anxiety, do we hold out unrealistic expectations and magical answers that bear little relationship to life and the world and people as they really are–a seemingly inseparable mixture of good and bad, true and false, just and unjust, creative and destructive forces?
When I had been sober in AA four months, the secretary of our group was murdered by an insane husband, who immediately killed himself. In a kindly effort to calm and soothe, an older member of the group told me that I should try not to question what happened and should instead accept it as God’s will. This was not the answer to me then, and it isn’t now. The God of my understanding suffers and grieves with me and is not the cause and source of my pain.
The beginning of maturing for me was becoming willing to try to face the realities of my own life, a day at a time, and letting go of my childhood fantasies of living happily ever after in a perfect world made up of perfect people.
AA’s Twelfth Step speaks of having a spiritual awakening as the result of practicing the first eleven Steps. This awakening is experienced in countless different ways by AA members. For me, it was a gradual realization that I was emancipated from the comatose state of my drinking years, so that I could respond to and perceive the world without the anesthetic of alcohol. In a sense, we are more fortunate–better armed, better prepared–than most people are in facing the suffering and problems that no one can escape, because we, in our own deep sickness, have already experienced the darkest kind of trouble and have been led out of it by a Power greater than ourselves and, by way of the Twelve Steps, into the light.
We have a proved way through the AA program to face whatever life sends us, a day at a time, with the hope that the way will be smooth and with the belief that we won’t walk the rough spots alone.