. . . the unease that makes us want to do a better job of living – From the June 1965 Grapevine
IT IS AMAZING and a little depressing to see so many of our members drive themselves like madmen for perfect peace of mind and absolute serenity. Bags under their eyes, frowns on their foreheads–driving, driving. They act as though absolute peace of mind were the answer to life. Where do they get such a ridiculous idea? The Big Book doesn’t mention it. Neither does Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. I can’t find it in our other literature, either.
I haven’t the slightest idea what the words “peace of mind” mean! I haven’t the remotest concept of serenity. Contentment is simply another word to me most of the time. Now and again, after a particularly rough emotional interval (and I have them constantly) I repeat the Serenity Prayer or say “Easy Does It” or “First Things First” or any of our other slogans, and peace and serenity come over me. I feel glorious and wonderful and calm and loving and giving. I even wonder what I was so upset about. I think that I have at last found the answer to life, and vow to hang on to my ecstasy for the rest of my life. And I mean it!
“Now you have it. Hang on to it. You fool, do you mean to tell me that it took you all this time to tumble to the real meaningbehind the AA program?” I murmur to myself. And I’ll hang on to what I have for about sixty seconds–sometimes longer, maybe a day or even two–but not much longer. Inevitably, the same old drag will come over me, and I’m off to the races on another tangent, fighting, struggling, snarling, and making a mess of things for myself–inside, that is. On the outside, I’m the epitome of discipline and control.
At our closed meeting, unsigned questions are submitted and then tossed out to the group by the chairman, for discussion. Any question or any answer is accepted. Sometimes, there is a hassle about the proper answer to a question, but usually no one especially cares if a hodgepodge of answers pile up, and everyone seems to have a pretty good time. For several years, I have saved the questions. The other day, I went over them. I wasn’t at all surprised to find that over half of them were queries about peace of mind. For instance, I was talking to one of our old-time members recently. He said that in spite of his years of sobriety, he feels terrible most of the time. He told me that he is continually fighting one thing or the other. He wanted to know if I thought that he would ever find contentment or peace of mind. I told him that I doubted it–maybe snatches of it, but contentment for long periods was probably out.
We are a bunch of malcontents. The alcoholic is never satisfied for long intervals. Probably no one, alcoholic or not, is satisfied for long intervals. Otherwise, how would we learn and grow? The bottoms that I have hit since coming into AA have been far worse than anything that I dreamed possible when I was drinking. Why? Because when I was drinking, I could always dive into the bottle and forget, but I don’t want that anymore. I want to remember! I want to live life to its fullest, and if this means lack of peace of mind, that’s all right with me. Never in my blackest moments have I had the slightest desire to drink. I’m too busy fighting and struggling and feeling and seeing to want to erase life with booze.
An AA member needn’t concentrate on finding serenity! What would he do with it if he had it? Probably curl up and die. The drunk is never satisfied. That’s the way he grows. He fights and loses and learns, or he fights and wins and learns. But the point is that he loves the fight. He may complain about it, but take it away from him and he’s in trouble. He didn’t sober up to find peace. He sobered up so that he could live life to its fullest. And this means struggle and unrest and worry and concern, sprinkled here and there with snatches of peace. But these snatches of peace are just rest periods before the next fight begins.
We love the combat. Our trouble is that we linger under the delusion that we are supposed to be happy. So, when we are unhappy and deluged with troubles, we feel that we are not on the program. Any member who is in a state of constant placidity may be on the program, but I do not believe he is living life to its fullest. He may be sober, but he’s static.
Part of the fun in life is the misery of the battle. If I had my life to live again, I wouldn’t change one single second of it. I would live it exactly the same way, because every second that I have lived has brought me closer and closer to what I have now. And I like what I have now. I like being a malcontent. I wouldn’t give it up for the world. Discontent is my greatest friend. I told this to one of my friends recently, and he said, “You sound like you are in a constant state of despair.”
I grabbed him by the coat and said, “If I am, thank God for despair. I’ll take some more of it. Happiness is great, but it’s like ice cream–I get tired of it. If the meat and the potatoes of life are despair and if despair has brought me what I have today, I want more of it. I’ll give you a scoop of my ice cream if you’ll give me a plateful of your meat and potatoes.”
Live, and you change. But you can’t change until you have wholeheartedly accepted yourself exactly as you are. You may not like what you accept. But you must accept it if you want change.
Now, if I am a guy who is thirsty for life at its fullest, and if I am moving from one level to the next by way of despair, I hereby announce that I will accept all of the despair that you can pile on me. I need it. I yearn for it. I love it. Not because I like feeling tied up in knots, but because I am obsessed with learning and living and feeling and growing, and apparently, discontent and despair and unrest are the very ingredients of the fuel that I need.
I can understand that a resentment at not having a constant state of serenity might lead to disillusion and then to a drunk, but I wholeheartedly disagree that diving into life and wrestling with it leads to a drunk. Malcontents don’t slip; they change! They fight it out, and they love the struggle.
If, however, they demand that life be easy for them and if they demand that they be spared unrest and discontent and despair, they are in for trouble. God help the sober drunk who thinks that he has it made. God help the sober drunk who thinks that, because he has found the AA program, all clouds will remain pink. I like the color pink myself, but it palls after a while. Give me a good black one that I can get my teeth into.
The AA program gives us tools to work with, measuring rods to level our lives with. The AA program is basic stuff. We all need basic stuff as a leveler. But if the AA program meant that once we found it, our troubles would be over, what would be the need of our meetings, our Big Book, our Twelve Steps, and our Twelve Traditions? We need these things as levelers because we lose our way easily as we build and grow. And when we build and grow, we despair easily. It’s our nature to do so. But to refind the program–to refind the Twelve Steps and the Twelve Traditions, to refind the deep significance of our AA slogans, to refind one another at meetings–means that, having had enough of despair, we have come home once again, in order to prepare ourselves for the next fight. We try. We lose. (Sometimes we win.) But the point is that we try. And in the process, we struggle and despair all over the place. Don’t worry about it.