BEGINNINGS are always exciting but not always clearly perceived at the time. That is the way it was with my beginnings in AA. As I approach the entrance to my twentieth year of sobriety, I am embarked on an odyssey of discovery and rediscovery of those beginnings. Visit with me awhile; together, maybe we can bring into sharper focus some of your beginnings, too.
Tucked away in Chapter 6 of Alcoholics Anonymous are eleven “extravagant promises.” The first says, “We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.”
Our co-founder Bill W. wrote about freedom in an article published in the Grapevine in 1960. That was the year of AA’s silver anniversary. “In its deeper sense, AA is a quest for freedom–freedom under God,” Bill wrote. “Of course, the immediate object of our quest is sobriety–freedom from alcohol and from all its baleful consequences. Without this freedom, we have nothing at all.”
One of my first big revelations came when I identified with what speakers described as their bitter longing for freedom in their drinking days. That same longing for freedom had dogged all the years of my drinking, too. What a relief to find out that others had lived in that same box of space and time. They, too, had been powerless to fight their way out. But now they were free. And so was I.
I had no identity that I could describe as my own when I was drinking. It was only through stolen identities that I knew what I thought was freedom. But once invested with someone else’s identity (and someone else’s freedom), I had to keep drinking to hold on to it. I had to get very drunk to get very free!
By and by, the idea of freedom grew murky. I wanted to be free of having to listen to the hopes and aspirations of loved ones. I wanted to be free of the body that bound me to the earth.
Finally, I drank for that most merciful of freedoms, oblivion.
Since I came into the Fellowship, there have been countless, constructive freedoms made known to me. It would take a special issue of the Grapevine to itemize them. To list a few: AA freed me so that I could find my own identity and become myself; it freed me from the inescapable allure of escape itself; it freed me from the fear of growing up. AA freed me, eventually, from my long and deadly romance with oblivion.
There is another major freedom, which does not come for some of us until long after the freedom from alcohol. It is the release from the obsession with alcohol. For me, these two freedoms were granted simultaneously. The obsession that had driven me by daylight and by dark was snatched from me at the height of my last drunk. The impact of those twin freedoms was so overwhelming that I was barely able to cope with it. On top of that, intellectual arrogance made coping even harder.
But what about happiness–the “new happiness” that the Big Book talks about? Did you notice that the book doesn’t say we will find it? It says that we will know it. Could it be that a state of happiness might come about through osmosis instead of through high adventure?
“I’m sober now,” I used to exclaim. “When am I going to get happy?” I thought AA would grant me the kind of happiness that I imagined was inherent in fame or wealth or romance. But none of that came my way.
My new happiness proved to have very little to do with worldliness. It turned out to be a by-product of simply doing what I was supposed to be doing as a sober member of society at large. Without my realizing it, my strong sense of gratitude to AA was automatically generating a sense of happiness that was already pervading my whole being in much the same way that hopelessness had done before. It was a slow process. Emotionally, I was a whiner. I continued to resist the grace of happiness, even though it was the one thing I wanted most, next to sobriety itself.
That brings me to still another freedom, the freedom from denial of myself. By staying away from one drink for one day at a time, I made it possible to accept myself as a worthy and deserving person. In what ways? Socially, sexually, professionally, and just plain, everyday me. As it says in Chapter 5, “What an order!”–except that, in this case, I positively can go through with it. With lots of help, of course.