We have learned courage by trying, and through AA we can channel it into new and beautiful ways
ACROSS THE YEARS of sober living in AA, I must have said and heard the words “grant me the courage” several thousand times. Yet only recently did I sit down and figure out exactly what courage means to me.
I had thought about it vaguely in the past. I might picture a soldier charging up a hill into the teeth of enemy gunfire. The idea of physical action overcoming bodily danger was about as far as I ever went in thinking about courage.
It never occurred’ to me in my drinking days that I did have one kind of courage common to many drunks who slid along their bottoms for some time before floundering into AA. That is, I kept trying. I kept trying to quit drinking.
When a man opens his eyes each morning on a frightening reality and rises through sweaty nausea, his bones rattling and his nerves screaming; when he stumbles through the day like one in a pit of despair, wishing he could die, but refusing to die; when he gets up the next day and does it all over again–well, that takes guts. That takes a kind of real, basic survival courage, a courage that can be put to good use if this man ever finds his way to AA. He’s learned his courage the hard way, and when he comes to AA, he’ll find ways to use it, new and beautiful ways.
Someone has said that the only difference between a saint and a sinner is that the saint is still trying. The main attribute of courage is to continue trying.
One of the greatest examples of continued trying I’ve ever witnessed happened at an AA participation meeting. There were about a dozen of us present. Each of us spoke around the table until the turn fell to a man who shared with us the news that he had terminal cancer. He’d been given only a few months to live, but he seemed to be at peace, and his voice was underlaid with a great strength. “If these Steps are good enough to live by, they’re good enough to die by,” he said. “Dying sober, working these Steps, is the greatest thing that can happen to any of us in AA.”
During the next few months, he continued attending that meeting and making an effort to work the Steps as he understood them. His manner remained cheerful, even though he suffered almost continuous pain. Clearly, he had made his peace with his God. Then he was confined to bed. A few weeks later, he died–sober. I never even learned his last name, but he left a mighty heritage. He had kept trying. And what else is there to courage except this?
In partnership with my Higher Power, I discover my directions and the way to pursue them. As long as I keep spiritually fit, I can follow my dreams. This is the great promise of AA. Whenever I’m discouraged about my failure to make the progress I think I should be making, whenever I reach the point where I want to throw up my hands in despair, feeling that I’ll never be able to change, I remember this man. And then it’s all right. I’ll never be perfect, so it follows that I simply need to keep on trying. And that’s exactly as it should be. The AA courage to try got me sober and kept me sober, and anything that can do that has got to be worth living by for the rest of my life.