Steps to remove the desire to drink
I arrived at the doors of AA in 1983 with a problem; I just wasn’t sure what the problem was. I thought I had a drinking problem. Then someone suggested that maybe my drinking problem really reflected a thinking problem. I was sure he was wrong; I just needed to get my drinking under control, then I would be all right. Still, I had to admit I had done a lot of crazy things in my past. But that was just because I was under the influence of alcohol. Right?
Someone suggested I work the Steps on the wall, and things would improve. About this time, I heard the word “program” being thrown around a lot at meetings. I was sure I knew what that meant: Just don’t pick up the first drink, and go to meetings. Yet, when I checked out those troublesome Steps on the wall, I found mention of the word “alcohol” in only the first half of the First Step, and no mention of meetings whatever! I was perplexed. Still, I white-knuckled my way through the first few weeks and virtually “lived” in meetings. Things did improve–primarily because I was no longer living in fear of the law, and I now had a supportive family of fellow recovering alcoholics.
I got a sponsor who was stumbling his way through the Steps as I was; it was a little like the blind leading the blind. But we continued, nevertheless, in the right direction, feeling our way along in the dark.
After a while, I realized I had not drunk for several months. Surprisingly, I no longer even desired a drink. I must have done something right! I had refused to pick up the first drink; I had gone to many meetings in which I ran my mouth as if I knew something about recovery, and I had made a token effort at working the Steps. I could stop here, feel self-satisfied, and rest on my laurels. But something was still wrong.
I was still the same old guy. And, on the inside, I knew that I would drink again given the right set of circumstances. My decision-making was still just as erratic; my emotions, just as uncontrollable; my behavior, just as unpredictable; and my life, just as inconsistent as it had been while I was drinking. I was still crazy despite some length of sobriety.
The Big Book tells me that my Higher Power will “constantly disclose more” as I continue in recovery. At this point, what was revealed was that I still needed to be restored to sanity. In Step Two, I accepted the possibility of this miracle, but it had not yet occurred. Then, I found what I came to call the Tenth Step promises: “And we have ceased fighting anything or anyone–even alcohol. For by this time sanity will have returned.” Reading on, I was promised that the problems of alcohol would, by now, have been removed. They would no longer exist for me. How is this possible? I thought. Alcohol consumption defines an alcoholic. Fish gotta swim; birds gotta fly; and alcoholics drink. That’s who we are! Then, I focused on that one simple phrase, “For by this time sanity will have returned.” There’s the answer, I thought. The alcohol problem has been solved because its cause has been treated.
I can’t recall how many times I had heard the old-timers say that “the problem is centered in the mind.” Still, I was convinced that the problem was centered in the bottle. As I reviewed my past, I never remembered saying to myself, I’ve thought it over, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it would be the logical, rational, and reasonable thing for me to drink at this moment. But how many times I do recall saying, “I feel like having a drink!” Suddenly, I realized that I had not been using my mind–I had been using my emotions to make decisions that affected my life and the lives of others. That was insanity. Emotion and intuition have a role in recovery, but I had been using them in the wrong way.
So, how was I to regain sanity (assuming I had any to begin with)? As I read on, I was told that “we are not cured of alcoholism. What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition.” I knew there was a daily component to the program, but I thought it was in just not taking a drink for today–postponing the drink. In my early days, this thought troubled me because I assumed I was being told I would have to fight the urge to drink every day for the rest of my life. But that is not the message of AA. The message was that I could have the alcohol problem removed if I maintain my spiritual condition, as outlined in the Eleventh Step, on a daily basis. Having tapped into an all-powerful source, I could be assured that I would never have to drink, nor fight the urge to drink, again–ever. What a promise! This understanding did not make me reckless and cocky; it didn’t even make me self-confident. Rather, it instilled within me God-confidence.
Now, coming up on twenty-two years of sobriety, I can say that I’ve finally got it: “Liquor is but a symptom” and “bottles were only a symbol.” And even we old-timers, with years of sobriety under our belts, can still be guilty of “working” the Steps, instead of letting the Steps work us. We can become bleeding deacons trying to manipulate and control others, rather than serving as examples of mature recovery. We can be so dry that we dry up, and become stark raving sober. In these cases, we resemble the title of an old Paul Simon song: “Still Crazy After All These Years.”
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