After years of intensive work with other alcoholics, I feel compelled to share with you the Truth as I now see it. My story begins in a small town in north eastern Pennsylvania. I was raised in an upper middle class family, where neither of my parents drank and both parents worked even though mother didn’t need to. Moral fiber, work ethic, and the reinforcement that I could accomplish anything that I set my mind to, where the guiding principles in the home. Under these conditions, I spent my youth excelling in a number of directions. I was a standout academically, and athletically, I was always dating the prettiest girl, I had more friends than I could possibly hope for, I was a young man brimming over with confidence. My love for baseball filled a room full of trophies, while I spent my football career rewriting record books. I always took my intelligence for granted, when I was tested and told how bright I was, I would think to myself, that’s great, can I go play baseball now. And let’s not forget about the pretty girls, some of my earliest and fondest memories are filled with thoughts of them. I can remember, as if it were yesterday, being 4 years old in kindergarden and my eyes lit up when I was sat at the same table with an angel. Her name was Lori, and she was beautiful! We sat three to a table, and I remember playing a game where me and Lori would have to kiss before the other person turned around and caught us. Life was good, and the good life continued until right around the age of 14. At this time I was dating a gorgeous girl, I was crazy about her, she meant the world to me. One day she left me for an older guy. Now this is very typical activity among high school students, however it had never happened to me. I was devistated, and I didn’t know what to do about it. This may sound like a very trivial problem, however it was literally the first real problem I can remember having in life, and unfortunately for me, that’s all it took, was one problem, to bring on my alcoholism with a force that would tear my world apart for the following 18 years. For the first time in my life, I was alone, and the FEAR that came with that thought, hit me like a wrecking ball. I started drinking heavily at this point in an attempt to rid myself of the emotional hell that the FEAR of being alone brought with it.
I feel that it is extremely important to address this now! There are countless theories about what causes the disease of alcoholism, but there is only one Truth. Alcoholism is the direct result of a fragile minds inability to cope with difficulties, primarily FEAR. It is not genetic, it is not hereditary, we are not victims of circumstance or enviroment, it is not nearly as complicated as most of the world wants to make it. I GOT SCARED, that’s why I drank. I got scared and I didn’t know what to do about it and I didn’t ask anyone for help. It took me 18 years and 12 steps to establish this FACT, and if you listen intelligently to the story of any alcoholic you will hear, even when they can’t, this same FACT repeated over and over in every single one of them. It’s so simple that our complex minds almost refuse to accept it, however, I can prove this FACT to anyone who really wants to know the Truth.
Back to the story. I was so focused on this FEAR that I couldn’t focus on anything else. My grades went down hill, I quit baseball, half heartedly continued football for FEAR that I would let my father down if I quit, and stumbled miserably through 3 more years of school only to drop out half way through my senior year and got my GED later, so much for my above average intelligence. So I dropped out of high school, got my girlfriend pregnant, couldn’t hold a job, cause I didn’t really want to, drank constantly, and couldn’t figure out why my life sucked. My first attempt at a solution was the military. Although I enlisted ultimately to run away from all the problems that I HAD CREATED FOR MYSELF, I still took great pride in the fact that I was a 3rd generation veteran. My grandfather was in the Army in WWII, my father the Airforce during the Vietnam War, and now me, the Navy in the midst of Desert Storm. Yes I was proud, and I was being rewarded constantly for my stellar performance on the job. My military career was turning out to be a success. Unfortunately however, this overwhelming FEAR of being alone still existed, in fact, it was greatly intensified by being stationed overseas, 3000 miles away from family and friends. And because the FEAR still existed, the drinking continued, in fact it was getting worse. Anytime that I wasn’t working, I was drinking. I very rarely slept, unless I passed out, which is another important medical FACT in my life, the best sleeping pill on earth is a clear conscience & clean hands. This continued on everyday for the three years that I spent in the military. I was engaged to the mother of my child, but that arrangement fell apart just before I returned home from overseas. I was full of delusions about what life was going to be like when I got home. I thought that I would get a good job, I thought I would make good money, I thought I would find the perfect girl, I thought I would be respected as a vetran, I thought a lot of things were going to happen, but none of these things happened. Was it because life gave me a raw deal? Or was it because I thought that all of this was going to happen all by itself? I guess I thought that while I sat on my couch drinking and druging that Bill Gates was going to show up and offer me a job, and then a supermodel was probably going to come knocking on my door, and then all the people in my town were going to line up outside my house to pay their respects. How could you respect someone who doesn’t work because he is too busy drinking? I didn’t even respect myself. I was 21 when I came home and I spent the next 11 years destroying everything worth while in life, while continuing to lie to myself about it all. I was convinced that I got a raw deal, I was unlucky, God was punishing me for past mistakes, etc, etc, etc… I was all too willing to blame everyone and everything in this world except MYSELF! At the age of 28 life had become so unmanagble that I was contemplating suicide, and as I sat with a gun in my hand, I gave myself an altimatum, change or die. Continuing on the way I was, was no longer an option. I kept myself from pulling the trigger and I tried everything that I could think of to end this nightmare, but nothing was working. I got involved in yet another twisted relationship, which was my patern, I was convinced that the right woman would make everything OK, this was the biggest lie that I told myself and I told it many, many times. She was an admitted drug addict and I wanted to help, although I couldn’t even help myself at the time. So I got in touch with a friend that was in AA. He suggested a meeting, so I took her to one. While there I bought a Big Book to try to help her. I woke up the next morning and started reading it to help her. She wanted no part of it, but I was in tears, it seemed as though they wrote this book about me. I woke up the next morning, read a little more and got the same result. I became convinced that I was an alcoholic and that the unmanagability of life was abundantly clear. But I still had one more attempt to try to prove to myself that I could drink like a normal person. I woke up on the bathroom floor after taking a handful of xanyx and washing them down with numerous beers. This incident, thank God, was the end of the suffering, it took 18 years but I had finally completed my 1st step. I ended the relationship and called my AA friend to ask for help. I knew that I had to stop but I still didn’t know how. My friend suggested that I show up at his house Saturday morning, with my Big Book. Keep in mind that my AA experience consisted of one meeting. The first thing that we discussed was the meeting that I went to. I said we read a story and then went home, I felt very discouraged because I assumed that was AA, I thought that was it. Happily my sponsor cleared this up very quickly. He explained that AA meetings are part of the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous, but the program of action in Alcoholics Anonymous was laid out in the Big Book. I had already read a good portion of the book on my own, the problem with that was that I was reading it like a mystery novel, I didn’t know what I was looking for. When I did sit down with my sponsor he said open your book to page 29 and we read “further on, clear-cut directions are given showing how we recovered.” I guess I missed that while reading it by myself. The analogy that always comes to mind here is this; I didn’t go to high school where they issued me an algebra book and then sent me home to figure it out for myself. There is a teacher, a student, and a text book, that is the way that almost everyone on the planet is educated, why should this be any different? So we sat down, one on one and started to read. The first thing I learned was that every drink I took in the past 18 years was part of my 1st step. It took every single one of those drinks for me to finally admit that I couldn’t drink like a normal person, and that my attempt to do so had made my life completely unmanagable. Now, being 100% certain that I was done, I could leave this step behind me, never to be revisited.
The 2nd step helped me understand that for the past 18 years my thinking was somewhat insane, for example, to drink 40 beers and get behind the wheel of a car is not something that a sane person would do. This step also taught me that the solution to this insanity was to become willing to believe that a power greater than myself could restore my sanity. This talk of a higher power made me uncomfortable, but my sponsor eased me into that with thoughts like these; IF there is a God, would He drink 40 beers and then drive His car around? I considered myself an agnostic and this was a brilliant tactic to take with me. I didn’t even have to decide if I believed in God or not. It was simply suggested that I start asking myself these questions, “IF” there is a God would he do this herion? The answers, when you ask like this, are so abundantly clear that not even a raging alcoholic could argue them. I could now, very clearly, see right from wrong using this very simple tool. Then we took this step to the next level. My sponsor said “look out the window at the world around you, did you create all of this?” Of course the answer was “no”. “Would you agree that something more powerful than you created all of this?” Of course the answer to this was “yes”. And that was it, I was on my way. Whatever this power was it had, almost instantaneously, restored some sanity to my life. Believing now that this power exists, the 2nd step asks me to make this decision: either God is everything or else He is nothing (Pg 53). Sounds drastic, but all it really means is that I should be asking myself, as often as possible, “is this what God would have me do right now?” and to the best of my ability, live up to the answer. Not so complicated after all. Now, having established this God thing and coming up with a sane idea of what it means to me, it was time to move on to step three.
Having established, in step 2, that there is a God and that I’m not Him, step 3 asks me to act accordingly. The first part of this step says “stop playing God” (Pg 62) which very simply means, stop demanding that everyone do what “I” think they should do. Then it pointed out the fact that it didn’t work, no one was doing what I said they should do anyway. In fact the more I tried to control people, the less they listened. So by me playing God, I was producing the exact opposite effect of the one I wanted. Instead of lining up, in accordance to my will, I was driving people away from me. Then to take this step even further, it suggests, now that I’ve decided that it was a bad idea to try to run everyone elses lives, that maybe I should even seek some guidance for my own life, and judging by the mess I had made of my life, this sounded like a pretty good idea. So to sum up step 3, it’s time for me to stop trying to run the world, that’s God’s job and I should let Him do it.
Now on to the infamous 4th step! The thought of this step terrified me. I was the type of person who found it terribly difficult to admit when I was wrong. So much was the case, that I can remember a number of times in life when I knew I was wrong & still wouldn’t admit it. I forced myself to sit down & write one 4th step, being as honest as I knew how to be, & when done, it felt as though the weight of the world had been lifted off of my shoulders. The relief that came as the result of admitting MY mistakes was unbelievable! This feeling changed EVERYTHING! No relief ever came from the false belief that “you” caused all of my problems in life, that just made me more angry. Now that I knew that I caused the problems, I was equally positive that, with God’s help, I could correct them. You see when I was under the delusion that other people, or perhaps even God Himself, were causing my problems, there was absolutely nothing I could do about that. As I already established, in the 3rd step, people were not going to change just because I said so, not to mention the fact that God certainly wasn’t going to bend to my will. In short, if someone else was doing it to me, it could not be fixed, but if I was doing it to myself, it could be. So you see, the fact that it was me that caused it, was great news, now I simply needed someone to tell me how to fix it. That someone was God, with a little help from my sponsor. There is a question on Pg 69 that asks “what should I have done instead?” God helped me answer that question and when I put it on paper, as the instructions suggest, it became concrete and definite. I had my answers, now it was just a matter of living up to these new ideals that God and I had put into place. I beg of you not to be scared off by the 4th step. Not only is it not as much work as it sounds like, but it also was the single most liberating experience of my entire life, the path to freedom if you will.
The 5th step turned out to be a giant leap forward in humility. It was difficult enough admitting my mistakes to myself, much less God and another human being, but once I tried it, little by little, I began to realize that humility just might be the single most attractive quality that a human being can possess. The definition of humility is; having or showing a consciousness of one’s defects; modest. When I acknowledge that I made a mistake and admit that to others, I ALWAYS get a favorable reaction. For example: I was late coming home from work one night and my girlfriend called me, pretty upset, wondering where I was. I started to explain why I was late and in the midst of this long winded explanation, she said “you could have called to let me know you were going to be late” now at this point I had to make a choice, I could continue to fight and make MY point clear or I could admit the truth which was “you are absolutely right, I should have called. I apologize and I will do my best to not make the same mistake”. The instant that I admitted my mistake the situation was defused and anger disappeared. Once I admitted that I wasn’t perfect, that I too was capable of making mistakes, life became infinitely easier. As long as I remain humble, life remains simple.
Steps 6 & 7 work hand in hand. In the 6th step, I become willing to let go of the defects of character that I uncovered in steps 4 & 5. Once willing, I simply ask, God as I understand Him, to take these defects from me. I have then completed step seven (Pg 76). Don’t let the brevity of these two steps fool you, although the directions on how to take them are brief, they are packed with meaning & power. In the 12 & 12, the 6th step starts by saying “This is the step that separates the men from the boys” and then proceeds to remind me how much I loved to feel superior to others & it might be tough to let go of that. And then the 7th step, for me, required a truck load of faith. It basically says “Ask and ye shall receive”. I had been asking all my life & wasn’t receiving anything that I asked for. Why was this going to be any different? Perhaps it was because I was finally asking for the right things. When I ask to win the lottery, nothing happens, but when I ask to get rid of my problems so I can help someone else, like magic, that prayer gets answered.
In the same way, steps 8 & 9 work together. The 8th step, like the 6th, is a willingness step. I have to become willing to make amends before I can go out and do it. Sometimes this step is really easy & sometimes I have to be persistent in my appeal to God because I’m afraid to face someone. But either way, I must first become willing in order to move on to step 9. Once willing, I’m ready to get to work. The first thing that stood out to me was this “A remorseful mumbling that we are sorry won’t fill the bill at all.” (Pg 83). The word amend means to change, not to apologize. I can say “I’m sorry” but that in & of itself is not nearly enough, I need to prove through my ACTIONS that I am sorry & that’s what making amends is all about. My sponsor always said “there are a number of amendments to the constitution & none of them say I’m sorry”. The next thing that stood out was “there faults are NOT discussed. We stick to our own.” (Pg 78). “If YOU didn’t do this….” is the WORST way to approach a 9th step. Once I’ve got a good handle on practicing steps 6 thru 9 then I start experiencing “The Promises”. It doesn’t seem to be common knowledge in AA but there are a lot more than just “The Promises”. Actually steps 1,2,3,4,5,10,11 & 12 all have their own promises. Not to mention all of the promises that encompass the entire 12 step process.
So to this point we learned in step 1 that we were powerless, step 2 introduces us to the idea of a Power Greater than ourselves in order to remedy the powerless problem, step 3 we begin to tap into & utilize that Power in our daily lives, steps 4 thru 9, commonly referred to as the housecleaning phase of our development, are designed to spot, admit & correct our past mistakes. Now that we found God & cleaned up the mess we have made of our lives, let’s find out how to keep it clean.
Now let’s talk about step 10. This absolutely is a maintenance step although many people, for some reason, don’t like to call it that. The step reads “Continued to take personal inventory & when we were wrong promptly admitted it.” The words “continue” & “maintain” are very, very similar words, not to mention that on Pg 85, were it is explaining how to practice the 10th step, it says “what we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the MAINTENANCE of our spiritual condition”. Why is this important? Because I have to choose whether I’m going to believe a bunch of peoples opinions or the facts laid out in The Big Book which is the instruction manual on recovery. The 10th step, in my mind, is our watchtower. The place where I can keep a close, watchful eye over the days events. It is literally our lookout & when we spot something that doesn’t belong like selfishness, dishonesty, resentment & fear, we can immediately move towards their correction. But if I fall asleep in the tower these things can sneak up on me & fortify their position, making them far more difficult to get rid of later. So I must be vigilant with step 10.
Step 11 is the growth portion of this way of life. Just as “continue” & “maintain” are the same, so are “growth” & “improve”. So these are the steps they are talking about on Pg 66 when they say that our hope is the maintenance & growth of a spiritual experience. We “grow” or “improve” our conscious contact with God in the 11th step & “continue” or “maintain” that growth all throughout the day via the 10th step & hopefully grow a little more the next day & maintain that growth too. I spent most of my life taking 1 step forward & 2 steps back but when I let these 2 steps work together, the way they were intended, there is no backsliding. The 11th step was tricky for me in the beginning because I walked away from God & religion at an early age & therefore I didn’t have any real solid experience when it came to prayer & meditation. I’ve since given the matter much study & attention & I’ve come to the simple understanding that prayer is me expressing to God what I believe that I’m in need of & meditation is me listening while He tells me what I need to do to get it. Page 86 is the place to find the instructions on how to improve your conscious contact with God. On that page you will find 1 place where it says “when we retire at night” which is probably what I should do before I go to bed at night & another that says “on awakening” which is probably what I should do when I wake up. On Pg 62 it says “most good ideas are simple” & the 10th & 11th steps are a great example of that fact. They explain exactly what to do when I wake up in the morning, exactly what to do all throughout the day, & exactly what to do before I go to bed at night.
The 12th step is EVERYTHING! The absolute FACT of the matter is this: THE ONE & ONLY WAY TO HELP MYSELF IS BY HELPING OTHERS!! That’s why it says this on Pg 109 in the 12×12 “even the newest of newcomers finds undreamed rewards as he tries to help his brother alcoholic, the one who is even blinder than he”. I was told, as a newcomer, that I got too sober too fast – NONSENSE! There is no such thing! I went to 1 AA meeting, went through the steps in about 3 weeks & was teaching the steps to others before I was even done learning them myself. One of my favorite authors, Emmet Fox, said this “There is such a thing as taking the Kingdom of Heaven by storm”. If I was going in for a treatment for cancer would you tell me to “go slow – take your time – take a step a year”? I recovered in exactly the time frame that me & God decided was right for me & I suggest that you do the same. Having been through the steps 1 on 1, there is only one reason for me to go to an AA meeting. To find someone to help. I NEVER go to meetings because I need help. That’s why I have God & a couple of close mouthed understanding friends, which is how the Big Book describes a sponsor. I go to meetings to offer fellowship & a solution to your problems, if you care to have it.
In Bill’s Story, right after he gets done explaining the steps, on Pg 13, he says “My friend promised when these things were done I would enter upon a new relationship with my Creator; that I would have the elements of a way of living which answered ALL my problems.” I have found this to be dead on accurate! The program of action laid out in this book gave me all of the tools that I could ever possibly need to solve any problem that I could possibly dream up. All I have to do is use those tools & I’m guaranteed success. On Pg 181 Dr. Bob says “It NEVER fails, if you go about it with one half the zeal you have been in the habit of showing when you were getting another drink.” This book is absolutely the key to success when it comes to permanent sobriety & a contented, useful life. I have been following the instructions in it, to the best of my ability, for over 8 years now & not a day goes by that I don’t learn something, not a day goes by that I don’t help someone, & I don’t know that words could express the peace, happiness, & contentment that have come as a direct result of the practice of the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous in my daily life.
If you made it all the way to the end of this story, I’d like to say thank you for reading it!
God Bless & Good Day To You!