I had a surprising thought last night. As I listened to fellow AA members share, those initials AA took on a new meaning for me–Aliens Anonymous.
I don’t know if every alcoholic feels like an alien, but I certainly have. Sometimes I still do. I’ve often said it was as if my second-grade teacher had a special lesson on what it means to be a human being, and I was sick that day. By the time I got back, everybody else knew something I didn’t know.
Oh, the pains of being an alien! In school there was the unspoken code that everyone else seemed to understand. Football was cool, so why did it bore me? Dances were fun, so why did they scare me? Taking showers was no big deal, so why did I suffer the agonies of embarrassment that no one else seemed to suffer?
In time I learned how to cope as an alien. Books were a great hiding place and movies a sure-fire escape. And as for that naked agony in the shower room–well, I learned how to have my own private out-of-body experience. That was just my body there; no one else could see me. If I wasn’t there, I didn’t have to feel.
But somewhere deep inside I did feel; so I burrowed deeper and deeper into myself. There I existed on hate. I hated you because I envied you; and I hated me for being defective, alien.
What a surprise bourbon turned out to be. It had been forbidden; drinking was a sure sign of being bad, sick, evil. But when a fellow is alien enough, it doesn’t matter anymore what he does. So I drank.
The spiritual relief was instantaneous and miraculous. I stopped being an alien. One drink, and I was part of the whole human race. It was astounding, and so easy. I could talk glibly. I could talk profoundly. I could just plain talk, and it was wonderful.
Instead of being an alien, I was a part of everything. Chairman of this, volunteer for that. There was scarcely a worthwhile project in town that didn’t bear my fingerprints on it somewhere. And I was happy.
Only the alien in me was more alive than ever and the fear of exposure was becoming unbearable. Every phone call was a knife stab to my heart, every ring of the doorbell like the trumpet of doom.
One drink was not enough; two were scarcely better. Three was the magic number. Three drinks and the numbness would begin. The fringes of reality would cloud and I could feel safe. Unfortunately I also felt lonely. I was an alien all over again; only now alcohol began to intensify the loneliness. Yes, I was different, I always had been different. And no out-of-body experience was going to help this time.
What a mixture of torment and hope I was when I drove to my first AA meeting. Well, not my first–in fact, I had attended many. I am a minister, and my church was the meeting place for the local AA group. But I didn’t go there to seek help. How could I–the prominent and successful minister-about-town, 1973’s Man of the Year–how could I risk exposure like that?
So I drove forty miles to a neighboring town to seek help and anonymity at the same time. Part of me looked forward to being able to help poor suffering alcoholics; after all, look how much theology I knew, and how experienced I was in reading the Big Book and listening to AA talks.
But, the alien in me cringed in fear. What if they rejected me, said I’m not good enough for Alcoholics Anonymous? Because I wasn’t. The alien is never good enough.
So when I arrived at AA, I was another kind of alien. I hadn’t drunk the way you drank. I hadn’t gotten arrested as you had. I hadn’t made a public spectacle of myself. What could I say that would let you know I belonged? I couldn’t belong in the normal world, and I didn’t fit into the AA one. When people ask me if I believe in hell I can answer “yes” without a moment’s hesitation. I can describe every shape and color of it. It’s a piece of highway in west Texas that had no home at either end.
A young man once remarked, “If a flying saucer landed in my backyard, and little green men got out of it and came up to me and said, ‘Come on, we’re taking you home. You don’t belong here,’ that would make sense to me.” I knew what he meant!
In time, AA stopped being alien. It became home. It was one place where what was crazy in me didn’t sound so crazy anymore; where what worried me seemed to worry others too. I still couldn’t make much sense in the real world, but neither did my AA friends, so I began to believe maybe I could survive after all.
Many is the time I’ve heard AA people comment about “earth people” or “civilians.” Who knew what to call them, that strange breed of people who could drink, and cope, and make decisions, and sleep at night without worry and without a guilty conscience? I was not of their race, never had been apparently. But neither were my friends in AA. We were “Aliens Anonymous,” glad we had found one another, and ready to help each other make it through another day. Good-bye “real world.” Who needs it?
Yet, as I sat in that meeting last night, listening to the other men share their thoughts and feelings about the Tenth Step, I was struck by the way each of us was living in that real world. We were coping with jobs and business contacts, with family members and financial woes; we were learning new levels of information about ourselves and trusting feelings in a way we had never dreamed we could.
If we were aliens, we no longer worried about it the way we used to. We’re allaliens, we human beings, all wondering what to do with our self-consciousness and our need to matter, to be important, to belong. This AA Fellowship provides us with a safe place to experience our strangeness, our oddness, our peculiarities, and come to see them as our unique gifts to the world.
The Steps give us a way of seeing ourselves more clearly and finding the courage and strength to deal with whatever we find. No more escaping, no more hiding in fantasy, no more out-of-body relief so we don’t have to feel. We can cope most of the time. And when we can’t, most of us have learned to rely on each other to get us through till we can.
But AA is not a separate country, cut off from the mainland of the real world; it is the schoolroom I missed somewhere along the line. Today it is a treasure house of other people’s experience, strength, and hope that transforms this alien into God’s child.