A “Real Bad” Alcoholic
Copyright © The A.A. Grapevine, Inc. – 1979
At the age of thirty, I knew I was an alcoholic, but it took another ten years to find a way to the front door of AA. Only the real bad alcoholics had to go to AA. After six months of daily meetings, I knew I, too, was one of those “real bad” alcoholics.
In those first meetings, eighteen months ago, there was a man who had a saying, “They told me when I came that AA has a wrench to fit every nut that walks through the door.” That seemed humorous at the time, but it couldn’t apply to me. Today, I’m grateful there’s a wrench to fit every nut that walks through the door because I sure need a wrench to fit me.
Nine years in the seminary, followed by twenty years of daily church attendance while I was building a seemingly prosperous business, made me a tough nut to crack. Sure, I was an alcoholic, but not such a bad case. Hadn’t I quit drinking seven years before coming to AA? It didn’t seem worth mentioning that in the meantime I had learned how to get drunk on pills.
The Twelve Steps are the key to getting that wrench to work right. If the Steps won’t do the job, nothing ever will. I have tried enough other programs of recovery – spiritual, psychiatric, Oriental, mystical, and just plain commonsensical – to know they don’t work for me. AA is the last resort for someone who has finally reached the desperation of a drowning man.
Early on in AA, I thought I had a dual problem, alcohol, and drugs. After so many years without a drink, the drink problem seemed to be solved. It took a while to realize that a handful of pills had the same effect as liquor – oblivion. One day, it dawned on me: The pills had been a substitute for alcohol. It was ridiculous to come out of a three-day blackout from tranquilizers and pain pills to pat myself on the back because I hadn’t taken a drink- at least, as far as anyone could tell. There were no empty booze bottles.
As long as I accept in my innermost heart that I can never again drink as normal men drink, I know I belong in AA and must apply the Steps daily in order to live without alcohol. I cannot use any drug or medication that affects my mind or my emotions. Such drugs and medications will lead me back to alcohol and death or insanity. My reprieve is just for today, and only if I maintain my spiritual condition.
That is not easy. I used to be an “expert” on spirituality. Today, I am like a confused child, trying to learn about true spirituality. In the first four steps, I have come to see how I deceived myself into thinking I had a strong belief in God. People who believe in God don’t do the things I did. Today, all I can do about spirituality is go to meetings and read the Big Book and try to take the Steps and ask God for help. The rest is up to Him.
before AA, I used to boast about being an alcoholic who had quit drinking. One day, I bragged to someone who was in AA. He dismissed my feat casually by saying. “Oh, you’re just a dry drunk.” That was no compliment. Soon, my friend zeroed in with an invitation to a meeting. I went as a favor to him, or so I thought. For the next seventeen months, it was one meeting or more nearly every day.
All the disasters that have taken place since that first meeting was ready to happen. It was as though I had made a snowball high on a hill, and during the last eighteen months, I have watched it grow and grow as it rolled slowly down the hill to crush me. There were times when it seemed the snowball might melt or roll off to the side, but it didn’t. Today, I’m glad it didn’t. There may have been no other way for me to learn what I needed to learn. Perhaps the final crushing blow has come, and I have hit my bottom at last.
My problems are of my own making. One of the high points of my life is the day I began to understand that phrase from the Big Book. Knowing my problems are of my own making helps me to accept with some peace of mind the consequences of my own actions.
I am still finding out how sick I am. That discovery process has been frightfully painful, but I am grateful for it. There is no chance at recovery until a person sees how badly he needs recovery, and how hopeless it is for him to try to recover on his own.
At the beginning, people used to say. “Keep coming back. Things will get better.” I kept coming back, and things have gotten better, but not in the way I thought they would. I am definitely not more successful in all areas of my life, as I thought I would be. When I came to AA, I had a fine job, a lovely, sophisticated wife, a new $10,000 automobile, and a charming place to live. After a year of sobriety, I was without a wife, job, car, or money, and was saddled with a hopeless pile of unpaid debts. As if that was not enough, after seventeen months of sobriety, as a result of certain actions before coming to AA, I became a guest of the United States Government as an inmate in the psychiatric unit of a maximum-security Federal penitentiary. All of this had to happen for me to see how hopeless I am without the minute-by-minute help from a higher power.
Are things better for me today? I didn’t have to drink today. I have hope. There is light at the end of the tunnel, though it sometimes is faint. When that light dims, there are all those sober drunks in AA. They are living, breathing proof that things do get better for those who work the Steps and are willing to wait.
J.M., Corpus Christi, Texas