There’s one for every problem that comes along
I grew up without tools that showed me how to live. When I was a teenager, I started getting drunk. This gave me immense relief from a lot of bad feelings and made me feel I needed only one tool: alcohol. Alcohol solved all my problems.
My friends, many of them, went on to college or into various businesses, married, and had families. Grew up. Learned how to deal with the real world. I stayed focused on drinking, which I did as often as possible, and my world got smaller and smaller. After a while, all I thought about was the next drink and where it was coming from. My relationships with other people deteriorated and disappeared. People and their reactions to my drinking were inconvenient and unpleasant anyway.
I stopped showing up for work on a daily basis and came close to losing my apartment. Drinking in a bar became too expensive and entailed talking to people, so I drank out of pint bottles of scotch while sitting in public bathroom stalls, sitting on a toilet reading the graffiti scratched onto the back of the stall door.
I felt there were two ways to solve my problems. One, kill myself. Two, somehow, magically, be rescued by kind people who would take me in and take care of me.
As it happened, I was rescued and directed to Alcoholics Anonymous. I immediately experienced the “love that has no price tag” that Bill W. talks about in the Twelfth Step essay in the “Twelve and Twelve.” It wasn’t what I expected or even wanted.
These AA people kept harping on the theme of not drinking. Nobody offered me money or a place to live. They talked about “tools of sobriety” and incessantly prescribed actions I could take, like getting a home group, asking someone to be my sponsor, or asking somebody else how they were feeling that day. I didn’t feel like doing anything, and no one seemed to realize that. I took very few suggestions and nothing changed. I continued to drink periodically and think about suicide.
About a year later, I attempted suicide by overdosing on some pills I’d been hoarding. I went into a coma, had convulsions, and finally came to on my mattress seventy-two hours later. I felt awful, but there was nothing unusual about waking up feeling awful. I was relieved I hadn’t died and couldn’t blame anyone for what I had done to myself.
I realized something else: I didn’t know how to live without alcohol. I realized that I should go back and ask those AA people how they did it.
That began my real AA journey. One by one, AAs offered me tools I learned to use, tools that solved every problem that came along.
The first tool I acquired was “act as if.” It didn’t matter how I felt as long as I did something. I had it backwards all along, thinking that I had to feel like doing something before I actually did it. I started, tentatively at first, to “act my way into right thinking.”
“Stay in the now,” someone suggested, “in the moment, on the twenty-four hour plan. One day at a time.” Whenever I am gripped by fear of an unknown future and all my projections are negative, I do what my sponsor directed me to do. I wriggle my toes and come back into the safety of the moment.
Writing down all the things I’m grateful for has been a helpful suggestion. Drinking is no longer a problem, but my thinking sure is. Writing a gratitude list puts the brakes on negative thoughts, turns me back toward the light, and helps me to see the beauty in everyday life.
Try to help somebody else, my fellow AAs suggested. So-and-so is homesick, why don’t you send him a card? Turn to the person next to you at a meeting and ask how they are. Call a member of your home group and see how their job interview went. I discovered that when I stopped thinking about myself all the time, I felt better.
However, being told to find a power greater than my own thinking and greater than alcohol, a power that could solve all my problems, was the best suggestion I’ve received. This is the purpose of the Twelve Steps, and I was fortunate to find a sponsor who took me through the process outlined in the Big Book.
I asked how to begin and was told, “Get down on your knees in the morning when you get out of bed and say, ‘Please.’ Before you get into bed at night, get down on your knees again and say, ‘Thank you.’ Turn toward that power and ask for help whenever you feel disturbed, or afraid, the way a plant turns toward the light.” I did these things and found that life could be faced, day-by-day, without a drink and with the sure knowledge that my Higher Power is here to help me through everything.
I’ve been fired in sobriety and offered a job I really wanted. I’ve fallen in love, had a good marriage, and buried my dear husband. Once I became ill, received an abundance of help, and now am completely well. Precious friends have moved away; new friends have come along. Every day I discover ways to be useful and things to be grateful for. I’m a long way from the person who thought the only solution was to destroy my life. My toolkit is full today and my cup runneth over.