WE MEMBERS of AA do not have a monopoly on feeling uncomfortable. Over and over, I hear my fellows (and me, too, sometimes) lament some “alcoholic” discomfort or other. It seems to me that many of those feelings are not so much alcoholic as they are human.
A good example is contained in the promise found in the sixth chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous. It says, “That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear.”
All kinds of people suffer feelings of uselessness from time to time. To combat such feelings, nonalcoholics go to a movie or treat themselves to a little luxury. A woman might indulge herself in a new dress or an accessory. A man might buy himself a new sport shirt or go to a ball game.
With me, however, the feeling used to sink into my bones. It became all but a way of life. As I saw the apparent futility of things, self-pity would set in; once more, I was overwhelmed. Nor were those feelings of the sort that would yield to the purchase of a suit or a meal. In the final years of my drinking, food and clothing held no interest for me. The next drink was the only thing that mattered.
Have you ever noticed that nonalcoholics, generally speaking, seem to know intuitively that discomforts will pass? In the meantime, they are not content to sit still and hurt if they don’t have to. With so many of us alcoholics, though, who have behind us a lifetime of the foreverness of things, every new discomfort hits us with the threat that it may go on without end. When I finally made my decision to quit drinking, AA told me of a number of things to do about those feelings of uselessness: a candy bar, a phone call, a visit to our central office (intergroup), an institutions visit, a meeting . . .
As I look back on my beginnings, I am amazed to recall how that self-defeating feeling of uselessness was turned around and put to work in its reverse shape of hope. In Chapter Nine of the Big Book, “The Family Afterward,” the subject of usefulness is discussed. At the heart of the discussion is a statement to stagger a no-longer-staggering alcoholic: “We absolutely insist on enjoying life.”
I have never been able to enjoy myself and feel sorry for myself at the same time. Have you? Our co-founder Bill W. said that resentments were the number one killer of us alcoholics, after alcohol itself. Self-pity, in my view, takes a backseat only to resentments and may well be the number two killer. It certainly is a renowned enabler. How well I remember my perch at the bar where I daily damned the world. How unreasonable that I should not have been invited to sit at the tables of the wise, the worldly, and the witty. Oh, those double shots and six-digit dreams!
Self-pity was not left at the bar. I brought it with me into the front rows of our AA meetings, my first time around. Still drinking, I kept groaning and crying that I could never get well, because I was too bad. AAs were not very sympathetic to that routine. I got back at some of them, though, at two o’clock in the morning. One such phone call was made to a staunch AA who has since passed on. “Nobody loves me. Nobody even likes me” was my opener. “I don’t know what is the matter with me.”
“I’ll tell you what is the matter with you,” she said. “You’re drunk.” Her prescription for the poor-me’s was a dose of honesty. It was bitter, but it worked. Within one week of that call, I had my last drink.
Thus ended the drinking stage of my alcoholism, as of today. The drinking pattern was broken, but the pattern of self-pity went on. That and the feeling of uselessness did not disappear, because I refused to let them go. Actually, I was afraid to let go. They had become a familiar and safe refuge from the more-than-ever bewildering world of reality.
The way that I finally dislodged them was through a return to the first three Steps. I had to recognize that I was powerless over these feelings–that my life would remain unmanageable as long as I hung on to them. I had more than ample evidence to believe that since I could not get rid of them, “God could and would if He were sought.”
And so I set up a new pattern: a daily decision to be hopeful and helpful that day–a jingle-like counsel that eventually worked. On those days when I balked, hope was all around me in the faces of newcomers. A distinct feeling of usefulness began to grow. Among other things, people kept shaking hands with me, making me feel wanted.
I still think that a handshake is one of the most useful things we can do for one another.