We know what works. Why don’t we always do it?
A lot of people have trouble with the sanity clause in the Second Step. “How can a higher power restore me to sanity when I was never insane?” they protest.
Not me. As I often tell my home group: When the attendants let me out of the fourth-floor ward at the hospital, they gave me a little certificate attesting to my insanity.
But even if the protesters don’t have certificates like mine, some old-timer can usually persuade them that they need to be restored to sanity. Usually it just takes the old standby: “We demonstrated our insanity by doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result.”
I sure did that.
Now I have come to believe that my drinking insanity is only one form of the craziness to which we AAs are prone. I call it Insanity A. Insanity B is finding out what works for you–and then not doing it.
I’m not one of those wise AAs who decided one day to surrender. I came crawling into my first meeting because I was whipped, beaten. My marriage was going under. I had been fired from a job for the second time. I had barely recovered from a suicide attempt and had just been released after ten days in a psych ward.
For the first few weeks, I sat through meetings, comprehending little. After a while I dimly gathered that I was supposed to get something called “a sponsor.” I asked John G. because he was an older man and might help me save my marriage. And he was an industrialist and might help me get a job.
In our first meeting, John G. talked tough. “Forget about saving your marriage,” he said. “Forget about getting a job. Just don’t drink, go to meetings, say your prayers, and be grateful.”
I saw immediately that he didn’t understand my problems so I patiently explained them more clearly. He interrupted me with, “Forget all that. Just don’t drink, go to meetings, say your prayers, and be grateful.”
“You,” I blurted, “are the meanest (bleep) I ever met.”
John G. did not become my sponsor.
But his words never left me. I picked up my attendance at meetings, chose a sponsor for no other reason than I thought he had something I wanted, and worked the Steps.
I also remembered something else John G. said to me. “It’s all right to make a gratitude list,” he said, “but never forget that the things on that list can go away. And when that happens, be grateful anyway.”
My marriage of thirty-eight years did break up, by the way. And even in sobriety, I got fired from another job. I’ve had some more ups and downs. But the Promises have pretty much come true for me.
It’s been years since those first AA meetings. I haven’t had another drink. I’ve resumed the career of my youth as a news reporter. I’m now an international broadcaster living overseas with my new wife in one of the most beautiful cities of this world. The Promises after the Ninth Step in the Big Book have–it’s worth repeating–pretty much come true for me.
Most of the time I have a long gratitude list, but even when it runs short, I’m grateful. So why do I have these periods when my serenity is disturbed, when I long to be a big shot on the job or when I get inexplicably irritable with my wife?
I was visiting my old haunts in Washington, DC on a trip a few years ago, and I went to a downtown meeting. I heard someone say, “I used to pray and meditate every day and work my program. And I felt great. But now I find I’m not doing those things so much. And I feel awful. What should I do?”
I laughed inwardly, and I was still chuckling as I walked down the street after the meeting. But then I suddenly realized–that man was speaking for me.
Fairly often, I forget John G.’s admonition, “Just don’t drink, go to meetings, say your prayers, and be grateful.” I stop doing those things. I become grasping, worrying about things that hardly matter, critical of my family and friends. And it’s my serenity that fades.
I know what works for me, but sometimes I don’t do it. Insanity B.