The essence of AA
I HEARD the question “Do you think you can stay away from a drink for 24 hours?” on my first exposure to AA.
My answer was quick: “Sure I can. I’ve done that many times.”
Then came the simple and surprising reply: “That’s what we suggest in AA–that you stay away from a drink for 24 hours.”
I’m not sure that this idea made too much sense then, but I used the suggestion anyhow, and it worked. I was then finishing a five-day hospitalization period which had been preceded by a five-day binge. Four days had been absolutely blanked out. I was 3,000 miles away from home, out of the job that had supported me well for twenty-four years, carrying an empty checkbook without a single note on any of its stubs. I was mad at everyone and scared stiff. Yet the AAs told me only to avoid the first drink and confine myself to a day-tight compartment of 24 hours. Yesterday could not be changed; tomorrow was too uncertain. My job was to take care of this 24 hours. Often, they said, it was necessary to fight through those first days by the hour and even by the minute, so that, regardless of circumstances, we would not take a drink this 24 hours.
I think that is the way all of us have attained our sobriety in AA. As time passes, the pressure of the compulsion to drink and the habit of drinking lessens a little. We clean up some of the mistakes in our living. With help, we get some things straightened out; we begin to face ourselves and our lives a bit better.
Now, when I try to face life and handle its problems, the desirability of living within a 24-hour day is still attractive and necessary to me. This AA suggestion took on new meaning long after it had aided me in the struggle to avoid a drink. When I ask, “Give us this day our daily bread,” I know full well that the bread or strength I ask for is sufficient only for this day and for this day’s needs. I cannot afford to waste that strength on regrets over yesterdays or fears and vain hopes for tomorrow.
While I know that I am given strength only for today, possibly two-thirds of all of my troublesome thinking comes from my tendency to let the past or the future interfere with what ought to be my sole occupation and interest–the moment through which I am passing, the 24 hours I am now living. This troublesome thinking includes, not only regrets for what might have been and feelings of guilt and remorse for what did occur, but also anxieties, fears, and worries about what might happen tomorrow. This kind of thinking creates the uneasiness and confusion which so frequently can lead to the first drink.
AA suggests that my concern should be confined to this present day. All that I have and all that I have to handle is in the present. Yet this fact is hard to keep in mind. I tend to indulge in foolish fantasies about what might be. This living within 24 hours is probably the hardest thing I try to do.
There are, of course, some things I can gainfully do today that concern my past and my future. For these, AA offers the Twelve Steps to recovery. The practice of Steps Four and Nine gives me an opportunity to adjust present and past relationships with myself and with others. These Steps are intended, not for the purpose of digging up the past needlessly, but rather to serve as an inventory in order to adjust my present-day mistakes, some of which may persist from the past. I should concern myself with the mistakes of the past only if they continue to trouble me today.
In order to benefit from these Steps, my approach is twofold: I consider and practice them as best I can 24 hours at a time; I do not try to do everything at once. Easy Does It. This practice helps to keep me within the limits of my 24 hours’ strength. These Steps can truly help me to put my past behind me.
Then there comes the time to plan and provide wisely for the future. Surely, if I owe a hundred-dollar debt, payable in ninety days, it might be wise to put a dollar aside today and every day. Also, if I plan a trip a month hence, I can make reservations and preparations today. But this is doing today what should be done today, without worry or fear about a task that can be done only at a later date.
Steps Ten, Eleven, and Twelve outline a plan of daily living, confined to this 24 hours, which enables me to concentrate my strength and abilities on the only truly important time–now.
There is little doubt that fear of the past and the future can prevent me from living happily in the present. Also, I know it is dissatisfaction with the present that impels me to escape to the past and future. Should I be dissatisfied today, I can be sure of one thing: Conditions–or I–will change. I can help to bring this about by action, by doing something today–practicing Steps Ten, Eleven, or Twelve or using the Serenity Prayer, the meetings, or one of the many other resources of AA–but doing it today.
AA has rediscovered a truth about the world and man which none of us can live without. It is this: The past had better be forgotten; the future is a mirage until we come to it; but today is the day for which we have asked and been given strength.