by JAMES R.
Currently, the highlight of my spiritual practice is the Big Book study that I run on Wednesday mornings at a local recovery house. Two weeks back, we were reading a bit of the book More About Alcoholism. Just after Jim, just before Fred. The insane idea won out.
The book was introducing “mental obsession,” and the residents didn’t seem at all impressed. Nobody volunteered anything. No one, apparently, identified. So I put it like this: “The book starts out by telling us that we can’t drink safely; we have an allergy. Now it’s telling us that our minds are broken and will make us drink even if we don’t want to. So what do we do about that?”
I didn’t expect anyone to answer that question. But they did. Everyone did.
They all had something to share, some idea about how the mental obsession could be handled:
- “Meetings, meetings, meetings. That’s what I need.”
- “You just have to pick up that ten thousand pound phone.”
- “Next time, I’ll just have to play the tape through to the end.”
- “No one ever drank who got on their knees and prayed in the morning.”
- “I know that if I stick with the winners, I’ll be okay.”
- “I think I’ll take a coffee commitment.”
- “Think, think, think . . . ”
On and on they went, these residents, none with more than thirty days on the wagon, but each with a firmly entrenched idea of what staying sober was all about. Many of them were cycling through the house for the second or third time, still selling the same garbage they collected on their last run through.
Not an unusual experience. Many groups go this way. The program isn’t an easy thing to catch hold of. It’s simple, but hard on the ego. So it’s no surprise that a roomful of drunks and drug addicts would have a skewed view of the program. What struck me that morning, though, was the fact that each solution they came up with was something accepted by most AAs as good program. Everything I heard that morning from the mouths of the newly sober was something I’d heard many times from clubhouse old timers, the guys with their own mugs hanging from hooks on the wall.
But it wasn’t keeping these guys sober. And it wasn’t program. If you can’t drink and you can’t not drink, and somebody asks you what you’re going to do about it, there is only one right answer: Nothing.
Bill used to talk about a thing called “deflation at depth,” and this is exactly what he meant by that: there isn’t a damned thing you can do to keep yourself sober. It’s a terrible blow to the ego. But if we can take that blow fully, if we can let it knock our egos to the mat, even for a short count, it opens up the very real possibility of contact with supernatural power.
Short of total defeat, there is no possibility of contact. If we aren’t defeated, then we’re still trying to make a go of it on our own. Anything, absolutely anything, we do to keep ourselves sober immediately closes that window of opportunity. Even going to meetings. Even working the Steps. Even helping other alcoholics. Even prayer. The ego is a subtle foe, and it will use anything it can get its hands on, even the best parts of our program, to haul itself back up into the saddle. The only appropriate response to temptation is to stop everything and just take a minute to be doomed.
Let it sink in. Let it wash over you. And for God’s sake, don’t fight it.
I haven’t had a drink or a drug in seven years. In 2001 my sponsor took me through the Big Book, and I had a powerful, transformative experience. This experience did not make me immune to lapses in judgment, fits of unwillingness, or even occasional temptation.
At two years sober, I saw a guy smoke pot in a movie and it gave me the shivers. At five years, I was in a bad way and caught myself planning a trip to the bar.
Then at seven years, just a few days before this particular Wednesday morning, I was transfixed by a realization of just how much I enjoyed getting high. That’s three times in seven years that I should have fallen off the wagon and didn’t.
At two years, my response was to run into the next room, get on my knees and pray. Then I wrote a bunch of inventory, read it, and made an amend.
At five years, my response was to force myself to go to meetings I hadn’t been to before. Then I wrote a bunch of inventory, read it, and made an amend.
Each response was the very best program I could come up with; each response was a panicked one, an act of desperation. And I remained shaken for weeks afterward, questioning my program and my connection with God. What was wrong with me? Where was I screwing up the program? What could I do to get it right? Maybe it’s easier to be doomed on day one than on day 1,958. Maybe getting some time under my belt made me think I ought to know better and should have had this thing handled by now. After all, I had all the tools, right? I just had to use them to put myself back together again.
Only that’s not how the tools work. These tools don’t work if you’re the one using them.
At seven years, my response was to stop everything. Sit quietly. Be doomed.
No “think, think, thinking” about anything at all. No panicked race for a notebook or a church basement. No phone calls.
I cannot fix this.
It’s a terrible feeling. But it joined me, hard and fast, to the presence of God.
Source: Recovering Faith: Words for the Way, Volume 1 [Kelly Hall, ed]