Friday, July 9, 2010

A Grateful Recovering Alcoholic

In typical fashion for an alcoholic, I let slip a most significant date. June 10 marked the 75th Anniversary of the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous. While that sets a landmark for the most important organization in my personal history, it does take second place to the most important date for each and every recoveree. That would be the date, hour and—if remembered—the exact minute of his last drink of alcohol. It marks a coming of age in life which has no peer. Don’t believe me, ask any former drunk and he will gladly share his recovery date with you.

I shall spare you the “drunk-a-log” of the preceding night and simply state that I woke up in my car (pulling a 24’ travel trailer) on a side street in a neighborhood I didn’t recognize without any prior memory of why or how I got there. With some prior brief experience with AA, I vowed at that moment to attend a meeting that night. That was September 21, 1980. Thanks to God and the program of Alcoholics Anonymous I have not had a drink since. My every possession and that of my business was contained in the car and the trailer hooked on behind and I had put my all at risk; not to mention—my life.

In the nearly 30 intervening years I have attended thousands of AA meetings in churches, club houses, parks, civic centers, barns, bank board rooms, private homes, and restaurants with an attendance ranging from several thousand to as few as one lone attendee. Interestingly, that eight o’clock meeting didn’t disperse until we were about talked out near midnight. When last I saw him (3 years later) he was well on the way to recovery.

This post was provoked by an interesting and literate article by Brendan I. Koerner on the subject on the website, Wired.  It is long but well worth the time if you or one you love is afflicted by alcohol. He does cast some light on the scientific causes of the disease with some possible insights into gaining recovery. He does not claim membership in AA but that is not surprising since the organization is actually self-described as “anonymous.”

After 30 years I tend to disregard that anonymous label because anybody who has known me over the years knows that I was a very public drunk. While I don’t advertise it, I also realize that if my story is known, some drunk might just wander by and seek a little counseling from an “old hand.” Somehow, folks seem to respond better to the guy who has been there and lived to tell the tale. As for others; there is no chance that I would break their confidential relationship with a fellow member.

The success of Alcoholics Anonymous has been a source of consternation to the academic community for many years. In spite of BA’s, MA’s and PhD’s they cannot digest how a bunch of drunks with poor grammar, sitting on folding chairs and donating $1 per meeting can achieve a success ratio which they have difficulty matching. I can appreciate how they must feel. To cede the success of AA’s 12 step program compared to clinical experience has to be a bitter pill to swallow. With an estimated 23 million sufferers, there is a wide open market for a cure. With only 11,000 variously sponsored treatment centers, they are hopelessly outnumbered by the 55,000 meeting groups of AA. The secret to the success is not all that difficult to grasp—it’s the 12 steps.

The turning point in the program is wrapped up in the first three steps. Any person who lacks a clear understand of these is probably doomed to failure. For those who can easily identify with these three; recovery is on the way! Each must be done in order.

1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.

2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

The first step contains an admission which many are not able to make. If your ego is so great that you cannot recognize being directed by an external source, your life will absolutely become unmanageable and you will fail. This is borne out by millions of failed marriages, failed businesses, failed families, failed friendships, and premature death caused by this powerlessness.

Having made the admission in the first step, it is absolutely necessary that one acknowledge that there is greater Power which exists. Once the sufferer finally realizes that he is not the supreme master of the universe then he may continue his search for identification of that Power. It becomes a matter of subjugation to a universal truth. The committed narcissist will most likely fall by the wayside at this point.

In the third step, if he has a firm grip on the two preceding steps, he will freely accept the reality that the world he lives in is not of his personal creation. Unbelievably, this is difficult for many alcoholics to accomplish. Too often they misunderstand this to mean that they must don the cloth, start thumping on bibles and become a “holy roller.” In reality, it only requires that one acknowledge a “higher Power” and attempt to become familiar with It. Over the years I have watched many wretches fight this concept tooth and toenail to their ultimate destruction. “We understood Him” are the key words which are widely ignored in this step. As crudely stated in many meetings “you may call Him God or Fred or doorknob” but clearly understand “He ain’t you.”

If the tragic circumstance which brought the alcoholic to his first meeting is insufficient to convince him of the efficacy of these first three steps there is a distinct possibility that he may well not be ready for the program as a whole. As I sat in my car that fateful morning 30 years ago, I was blessed by prior familiarity with those first three steps. Each one took on a whole new meaning and resonated to the core. The popular concept in the meeting rooms is that there is a requirement to “hit bottom” before attempting the long road back. While this does have a dramatic result I’m not so sure that it is absolutely necessary. An open mind for self-criticism is indeed a valuable asset but is unfortunately, a rare quality to be found in a practicing alcoholic. Depending on prior usage patterns it could well be a springboard to success.

For those who can toss back a few and not wreck their car, their marriage, and their job—enjoy a toddy. For the rest of you—come on down and we’ll find an extra folding chair and urge you to “keep coming back.” Don’t worry about having a buck for the plate; we’ll get you next time.

Happy 75th Birthday AA!

In His abiding love,

Cecil Moon

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