AS A PRACTICING “heavy drinker, I’m no alcoholic!” I was noted for my exaggerated enthusiasm and for my temper; I laughed easily and could become angry just as quickly. I suppose it was a matter of swinging between exhilaration and depression; there was an attitude of contempt for whatever was “moderate.” “All or nothing at all” could have been my motto. Today, for me, that draws a picture of emotional instability and immaturity.
Whether my instability and immaturity were caused by my drinking or vice versa is beside the point. I need to accept both shortcomings as part of me and go on from there. That attitude gradually soaked into my thinking as I floundered about in the Twelve Steps. My stumbling eventually settled down into some sort of coherence as the Steps sorted themselves into their proper sequence. I found that someone had taken the time and trouble to number them, that One came before Two, and that there were some Steps to take before Twelve was practiced. Fortunately, the First Step took precedence, and I didn’t drink. Today, I realize I didn’t have to listen to everything told me during those first bewildered and chaotic months of my new and strange AA experience, but I’m glad I did listen to some of it. Evidently, I was still capable of counting to One.
Then there were the “dry” people who didn’t really have sobriety as such. Many of them had rather attractive stories, which were told well and humorously. Most of these referred lightly to, or omitted completely, the spiritual aspect of the AA program. I went along with that. I was at least an agnostic and thought all that stuff was the spooky part; if I didn’t pay lip service to it, you people would throw me out. With time came healing and understanding. In the process, I must have changed, though I was aware only that people about me were different from what they used to be. (“Where did all the decent people come from?” flashed through my mind one day.)
Eventually, I was struck by the revelation that “moderation in everything, even in moderation,” wasn’t a definition of mediocrity but the essence of maturity. It took me only about ten years to catch on to that. But I need to have patience with me as well as with thee; I need to give myself a break, too. And it seems I am doing so and doing it without the “selfishness” so many of my well-meaning fellow members espouse.
It’s a measure of maturity for me to accept the contradictions in living in or out of my program. I’ve come to realize I’ve won by surrendering; I can find myself through other people; and I need to give something away in order to keep it. If I try to hang on to love and understanding, they tend to fester into a self-centered self-love, which can breed arrogance and/or self-pity, intolerance and a tendency to criticize, and finally resentments.
Now, I can see the logical way to work the program is to follow the suggestions in the Big Book and the “Twelve and Twelve.” But that takes a healthy and logical person, and it seems to me very few, if any, of us were healthy when we first came into AA. I know I was sick, miserable, and “deflated at depth.” But apparently we have to be in that condition in order to be ready for our program; especially, our egos have to be deflated. Perhaps this is done to us in order to get our attention.
It also seems to me that as my physical and mental/psychological health got better, the spiritual part of the program began to come into focus. It dawned on me that there had to be a Higher Power. Now, as I became more aware and awake, I knew I had experienced things I couldn’t put into words. There’s something in my life today I’ve never known before. An area that had always been empty, which I had tried to fill with booze, is now filled.
My program is one of discovery as much as recovery. Carl Jung, who influenced Bill W. so profoundly, points out to me in his writings that the first part of the term ” psychology” derives from psyche, meaning soul. That helps me understand why those many sessions during my drinking years with so-called academic psychologists left something to be desired. With most of them, mention of God was taboo; it wasn’t scientific. I went along with that view, drink in hand.
I had to stumble in among a bunch of nonacademic alcoholics in smoky, ill-ventilated rooms, often in basements of churches, in order to become aware of that which always was, is, and always will be. I like what a speaker said one evening: “I looked everywhere for God, and that’s where he is!”
All this, somehow, leads me to poetry, art, and nature–God’s world, with all those rainbows and towering cumulus clouds and soaring seabirds; the laughing porpoise playing and leaping through crystal clear surges of the ocean; the sun penetrating down into blue, infinite depths, causing me to have a sneaking feeling my life is something more than that which I can measure by the less than one hundred years of my finite existence. I can’t help but feel gratitude instead of pride in my sobriety, because something wonderful has been given me which I hadn’t bargained for. Could it be the grace of the infinite, the grace of God?