Survival Comes First – Grapevine Article April 1983 by B.B.

MY FIRST YEAR of sobriety has been long, difficult, and painful. Looking back on it now, I don’t at all understand why I had such a hard time believing my patient and understanding sponsor when he’d keep repeating, “The first year is about survival.” It was definitely about that, even when I couldn’t recognize it.

If there is any single story in our Big Book to which I can relate, it is that of the mind-bound, intellectual playwright who contributed “He Who Loses His Life.” While the circumstances of our lives may differ in many ways, that drunken playwright and I share one absolutely central fact, a fact that has ruled my life for as long as I can remember–my head has always come before my heart. The end result was predictable: I drank, and drank some more, to still that chorus of voices in my head, to obliterate that overwhelming sense of isolation, to escape the self-imposed exile I always denied.

I spent my first several months in AA trying to come to grips with Step One. I had been able to admit my alcoholism from the start, but accepting it was something else again. And then came the “unmanageable” part: I still had the car, the house, the job, the advanced degrees, the résumé replete with publications and other professional accomplishments. And I also had a lot of false pride. But after completing an assignment for my sponsor–an assignment in which I was to detail, in writing, in what ways my life was truly unmanageable (a kind of mini-Fourth Step)–I discovered that I had always been unhappy, unaccepting, and unfulfilled, and had conducted my whole life as though I had a gun to my head. In short, I came to see that my entire life had always been unmanageable, mostly because I had spent all my time trying to manage it!

What I’ve since discovered was put very aptly one evening at a meeting by an AA member who said, “If you’re really working the Third Step, your life is no longer any of your business.” I didn’t get that then, but I sure do now. And the relief at not having to manage my life anymore is indescribable.

So what I’d suggest to other mind-bound, intellectual newcomers is not to despair; the first year–and for some, perhaps even a year or more after that–really is about survival. Relax, give it time, and keep coming back. It works!

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