There are days when I’m not happy, but I don’t want to be drunk.
IT is a strange, yet comforting, truth that whenever we hit a low period in our life in AA, when we find ourselves depressed for no apparent reason, sooner or later something outside ourselves brings us back up to the old feeling of joy in our sobriety. It’s a feeling of cleanness, like talcum powder after a shower. It is the warmth of sunlight through rose-stained window panes. It is love that has forgotten to be jealous and self-seeking.
Over the past few months a number of seeming chance impressions have worked together to create such an impact on me. And now I am at peace again.
I was given an article by Paul Tillich to read. I found this: “Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness, when we feel that our separation is deeper than usual, when our disgust for our own being, our indifference, our weakness, our hostility and our lack of direction and composure have become intolerable to us. When, year after year, the longed-for perfection of life does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joy and courage. Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: ‘You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you.’ We may not be better than before, we may not believe more than before. But everything is transformed and nothing is demanded of this experience. . .nothing but acceptance.”
That thought, like water to a dried-out sponge, seeped through my being and made me feel soft and gentle and kind again. And in the days that followed I kept thinking: “I am accepted. Just as I am, I am accepted.” All the joy of sobriety came back just as it was in the beginning, when the members of AA welcomed me into the group and I knew that I had at last found the place where I belonged.
The next small link in the chain was the day I ran across a paragraph from something Dostoevsky wrote: “Life is only given to me once and I shall never have it again. I don’t want to wait for the ‘happiness of all.’ I want to live myself, or better not live at all. . . . Where is it I’ve read that someone condemned to death says or thinks an hour before his death, that if he had to live on some high rock on such a narrow ledge that he’d have only room to stand, and the ocean, everlasting darkness, everlasting solitude, everlasting tempest around him, if he had to remain standing on a square yard of space all his life, a thousand years, eternity, it were better to live so than to die at once! Only to live, to live and live. Life! whatever it may be!”
I thanked God that I had been given a tremendous will to live. I know that all people are not so blessed. It takes the will to live to be willing to go to any lengths for sobriety, which entails, among other things, facing reality. The idea of facing reality used to conjure up in my mind a picture of someone with eyes like a magnifying lenses designed to enlarge all the dirt in the cracks of the sidewalk. Or someone with telescopic vision who could see that the moon was not really beautiful, but only a gob of craters and dust, which didn’t shine at all except by courtesy of the sun. I have come to believe that although reality is not always pleasant or pretty–there is dirt and mud–there are fresh new violets, too, pushing up out of the earth and they are just as real. There is pain in reality, but there are moments of surging, buoyant joy in just being alive and sober.
After all, even in the physical and mental anguish of drinking, I clung to life. I have heard some members say that if they were not happy sober, they would rather be drunk. I suppose I have said it too, but the more I think about it, the more I realize I do not agree. There are days when I am not happy, but I don’t want to be drunk. It is a matter of survival. With us, to drink is to die, and I want to live. Live happily if I can; but if not, I still want life, the AA way of life, for this holds the only possibility of happiness for me. Dostoevsky’s words reminded me to thank God that I still want to live, still want life, whatever it brings!
Then came those inspiring letters in the January, 1963 Grapevine between Bill W. and Carl Jung. It was Jung’s opinion that an alcoholic’s “craving for alcohol was the equivalent, on a low level, of the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness.” He went on to say that one of the ways to counteract our obsession was by the “protective wall of human community.” I thought how well this phrase described the life-giving fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous; it is a “protective wall of human community.” I was once alone and afraid. I proved over and over again that I could not stay sober on my own; without help I was doomed. Then I found AA and was not alone anymore. Suddenly I was surrounded by people who understood me, knew all about me and loved me anyway. If my steps faltered, the group was all about me to share its experience, strength and hope with me. Never in all my life had I felt so safe and protected, so much a part of the living stream of life.
Seeing the moving picture, “Days of Wine and Roses” at about this same time somehow made me realize that I had lately been forgetting I was not alone in the world with “my problems.” More and more I had been dwelling on personal concerns, reverting to the attitudes of a person whose life does not depend on not taking that first drink.
I was forgetting the meaning of fellowship. The things I wanted for myself were not wrong, but wanting them so much that everything else was being blotted out was wrong. I need to remember that I am “part of a lifeline reaching into a morass,” and that I have no right to allow anything to cast me down. For if I do, not only will I suffer, the people I love will suffer. New AA members I am trying to help will suffer and the hundreds that they might in their turn help will suffer. My life–much as I value it–is not my own. It is a joy to remember that it belongs to Him who gave me life and to those who need me.