The Path

Step 1) We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.

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

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

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

When I took the first step with my sponsor I agreed that “I could not guarantee when I would stop drinking once I started” and “my life was a mess”. He said that I’d done a good 1st step.

Then he asked me if I believed God would fix the problem if I asked him to.


OK, let’s back it up. Do you believe that *I* am an alcoholic, just like you are?

From what you’ve told me about your drinking, yes.

Do you believe that the problem has been removed in me?


So if the problem has been removed in meand millions like me – do you believe it could be removed in you?

No. I believe God hates me. I don’t think this will work for me.”

We went our separate ways and a few days later he called me. He said he’d researched it, talked to his sponsor about it, prayed and meditated about it and he had an answer. We got together that evening.

The Spiritual Principal behind the 2nd step is “Hope”. You wouldn’t be in A.A. – talking to me now – if you didn’t have any hope, and yet here you are. So we’re going to call the 2nd step done and move onto the 3rd step.”

What do we have to do there?

Well, we’re gonna get down on our knees and ask God to remove that thing inside you that makes you have to drink every day of your life. But most of ‘ turn our will and our lives over to the care of God‘ is just agreeing to work steps 4 through 9 without telling me what the hell you believe and don’t believe. That’s what step 3 is about! Faith!

So we went through the remaining steps, and you couldn’t have found a happier, more successful, more respected member of Alcoholics Anonymous for the next 3 or 4 years. But I never felt like I’d really worked step 2.

A few years later a guy in the program – at least he came to meetings every night at 5:45 – needed an assistant and gave me a job. He was a great guy, but made no secret of the fact that when he left the meeting he picked up a 12 pack of beer every night.

We’d worked together a couple of weeks – we were on our way from a job to a meeting – when he asked if I “really don’t drink at all“.

No,” I told him, “I don’t.

Can I ask you a question? I need you to be as honest with me as you can.”

I assured him that if I could answer the question honestly I would.

How in the fuck do you ‘not drink’ !?! How in the Hell do you do that? We’ve both got the same job. We’re out in the hot sun all day – sweatin’ our asses off – customers yell at us, sometimes things don’t go right… I HAVE to drink EVERY SINGLE NIGHT! … HOW IN THE FUCK DO YOU NOT DRINK!?!

I didn’t have an answer for him. I didn’t know the words to explain it. I knew the exact feeling he was talking about – that feeling the I had to drink — I’d felt it most of my life but I didn’t know what to say.

If Andrew was in front me today, I would tell him: “I didn’t do it. God did.” I knew in that moment that I absolutely did not have the strength or willpower or guts to not drink for the last 5 years. God had done it for me. I didn’t believe that He would, but now that the desire – that I saw in my friend so strongly – was gone I knew it was not something that I could have beaten myself.

As it says in Bill’s Story: “There had been no more power in him than there was in me… and this was none at all“. In that moment I finally did the 2nd step. I came to believe that a Power greater than myself had restored me to sanity.

Sometimes you’ll hear someone in a meeting – or your sponsor – tell you that “the steps were written in an order, and you have to work them in that order“. I get it. I was a computer programmer for 25 years. It only makes sense. If I were on the committee designing the first 3 steps I would put them in the same order. The logical order is a) describe the problem b) determine a solution c) implement the solution. It only makes sense:

1.My life’s a mess.

2. I’ll bet God can fix this.

3. I think I’ll let Him.

But a screw up like me had to do:

1. My life’s a mess!

3. God help me!.

2. Holy crap, He did it!

Alcoholics Anonymous may be a program, but it’s not a computer program. And people aren’t machines. It’s OK to play it fast and loose. If your conception of God can be personal, maybe your Path can, too. When the Student is ready, not only will the Teacher appear, but maybe the Path will as well.

So if your God – who created the heavens and the earth – cannot figure out more then one way to keep a poor dumb sonofabitch like me sober you may want to upgrade your Higher Power, because my Big Book tells me: “We found that God does not make too hard terms with those who seek Him.” He will meet you where you are.

And if you have a sponsor who tells you that you will get drunk if you do this and you won’t stay sober unless you do that, you may want an upgrade there too –find one with a little faith – because I’m here to tell you that you never have to drink again, no matter what.

One day there will come through our doors a man who simply cannot do business with God… today. I hope I’m here to give him this message of Hope, because if all he hears is rigid dogma – and all the rules he better not break – he may think we cannot help him. He may not stay. He may die.

If you meet him before I do, be sure to pass this message along: “If you begin walking, a path will appear for you. If that path becomes hard, you will be given the strength to walk it. Yours is the Road of Happy Destiny, and you will surely meet some of us there. May God bless you and keep you until then.”

Posted in Ridiculous A.A. Advice, Steps, Unfounded Personal Opinions | 4 Comments

The Angle and the Edge

Dear Sandra,

I am a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, and like your brother, my name is also Jim. I’ve been talking to your brother for 5 or 6 years now, and he seems like a pretty good guy. It tells me in the Big Book – that’s what we call our basic text in A.A. – that I should approach the family.

He told me that he wants you to buy him a new pair of shoes, and that you won’t give him the money directly; you’ll buy them for him. I get that. “Enabling” and “Tough Love” are not concepts or beliefs we have an opinion on in A.A., but I understand your position. I even think you’re doing about the best that you can do as a family member.

Let me tell you how I’ve been handling it as a member of A.A., and you can tell me if there’s something we can do together.

First of all, I’ve only had 6 or 8 conversations with him in the last 6 years. I had a few deep ones when he first came to a meeting, but then he disappeared for a few years. I saw him again about a year ago, and we talked for about an hour, then again a few months ago. I’ve seen him 3 times in the last 2 weeks. Today he saw me first, and came over to talk to me.

He remarked several times today that he was always surprised by the things that I said. He would expect a certain reaction from me when he said things, but I gave him a completely different response. He is also surprised and pleased is that I have never once over the years admonished him or made him feel bad about his actions. I say things like: “Of course you did!” and “That’s what alcoholics do!” and “It never surprises me when an alcoholic gets drunk, it surprises me that any of us ever stay sober”. When we parted ways I even gave him a dollar and told him to go buy himself a beer. He looked like he really needed one. That shocked him.

That probably shocks you, too, and you’re not sure I’m the kind of person who should be “helping” your brother. Let me explain why I do what I do, and why nothing that a family member does or says – throughout history – has ever shown any positive results: you have “an angle”.

You are “his sister who loves him” and “a Physician’s Assistant” and “a person who wants him to quit drinking”. That’s your angle, and everything you ever tell him will come from that angle. If you tell him “You’re going to die!” he thinks “That’s what medical people have to say… I’ll be all right.” If you tell him “You’re more fun to be around when you’re sober!” he tells himself “Bullshit! She just wants me to quit drinking!”. When you say “If you stop drinking you could meet a nice girl and be happy!” he thinks “Ahh! She’s just my sister. She has to love me, but no one else ever will.”

Your angle makes every single thing you say ineffective. It’s not your fault, that’s just the way it is.

But, you see, I don’t have an angle. As harsh as it sounds, I really don’t give a shit what he does. I don’t care if he gets sober or not. There’s nothing in it for me. I don’t get a gold A.A. Star or increase in rank for “getting someone sober”. I mean, he does seem like a nice guy, but I really don’t care if he sobers up and becomes the mayor of Tampa in 2 years or is dead in the gutter tomorrow. Either way my reaction will be about the same: “Huh… Check that out!”

I don’t have an angle but I do have an edge, and that’s it: I don’t have a horse in the race.

I don’t tell him he needs to stop drinking, or chase him down and drag him to meetings – I even bought him a beer – to gain his trust. I don’t mean that in a sneaky way – like “trick him into trusting me” – just that I’m never going to do or say anything that will betray him. He’s in complete control; not me. When I tell him “In time you won’t even want to drink… and not that much time, either!” he’ll think “Bullshit! That’s gotta be wrong… but why would he lie to me? If he has no reason to lie to me, maybe he is telling me the truth, and there’s a way out of this hell…” He might even ask me a few more questions – to either clarify or catch me in a lie – but he won’t catch me lying. He’s smart enough to know when someone’s bullshitting him, but it won’t be me. It doesn’t mean enough to me to lie to him.

He’s already been surprised by how much I understand his situation, even his thought patterns. I understand them because they used to be mine. For 25 years. When I told him some of the things I was afraid of – reasons I told myself I couldn’t quit drinking – I could tell from the look on his face that it was as if I were reading his mind. He’d even been afraid to voice those concerns. Now here was someone who had those same fears, and had found out they were a lie.

I told you I didn’t have an angle – that I didn’t get anything out of it if he sobers up – and that’s true, but slightly more complicated. You see, I get something out of it either way. Whether he sobers up or dies, I’m going to learn something that keeps me sober. I either get to see one more good man taken down by alcohol, or another miraculous recovery by Alcoholics Anonymous. And, of course, my human Pride and my Ego makes me hope it leans towards Recovery. I’ve seen enough people die, but would really like to play a part in a few more people finding their way out of that darkness.

A.A. itself does not have an opinion on rehabs, and I don’t know that I do, either. Treatment centers do have a different message than A.A. does – Therapeutic Community, Rational Emotive Therapy, Cognitive Restructure – all sorts of Jedi mind tricks have they. Some of them are probably very effective for some people, but Jim is probably handicapped there: he’s smarter than the therapists. A guy like him, honestly, is “beyond human aid”. That’s the type of people A.A. specializes in.

You see, I can’t help him. All I can do is convince him that I was once in his position and found a way out of that hell. If he believes that much is true, then he may allow me to show him the path I had to walk down to get help. That path is a set of steps – spiritual in nature – that provide a spiritual solution to what we believe we have: “a spiritual malady”. In my experience he doesn’t have to believe in God or Christ or Buddha or any other damn thing for it to work. All he has to believe is that it worked for the people who walked the path before him.

If he does the footwork, he will have a spiritual awakening that may allow him to accept that there is a God or Christ or Buddha, but he doesn’t have to believe it for it to work. I know a little bit about medicine – though not as much as you – but I can explain the difference between antigens, antibodies, antibacterials and antibiotics. On a good day I can even tell you how the Kreb cycle works. But you know as well as I do that knowing how antibiotics work or believing that they will work does not increase their efficacy in any way. It’s merely taking them that causes a cure. Likewise, he only has to believe that it worked for us just enough to walk the path for himself.

If there is anything you can do – as his sister – to encourage him to go to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, I believe it would help him. Even if we can’t help him, he may be able to help us. The group I belong to – Sobrenity – is full of “low bottom drunks”. He knows where it is. For the most part we were in Jim’s shape at one time, yet many of them now have not had a drink for 10, 20, 30 years and more. I, myself, took my last drink over 15 years ago: August 7th, 1999. There is hope for your brother, but as you have found out for yourself, family cannot fix the problem. But God can if we let him. A.A. can help arrange the meeting.


Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

They Might Be Giants

In 1991 a friend drove down to Tampa from D.C. to visit me. The whole way down she listened to a CD from a new band called “They Might Be Giants”. She played it for me (many times) and it was good, but I’d have to say it was an acquired taste. Esoteric music. I later married that woman and we had 4 children together. We were partners for thirteen beautiful years… and one really horrible year.

They Might Be Giants

They Might Be Giants put out several more albums in the coming years — each one stranger than the last — but all my kids could sing along with every song. The band probably had upwards of a thousand fans across the country. Not a hell of a lot to stake a music career on. Their big moment of fame came when the kids TV show “Malcolm in the middle” chose one of their songs as it’s theme song: “You’re not the boss of me now! You’re not the boss of me now! You’re not the boss of me now! …Life is unfair…

About 7 years after we were divorced I was sitting around with Boston John — also known as Malcolm (no relation to the guy in the middle) — when my phone rang. It was my ex-wife. She explained that They Might Be Giants was coming to town, and in her excitement she’d bought 2 tickets online. When the ether wore off she realized she didn’t know of a single person — with the possible exception of me — who would even want to go with her. She asked me if I wanted to go.

Uh, yeah… I kinda do…

OK. Come by the house on Friday.

I hung up the phone and said to Malcolm: “This is gonna be stressful…

Actually, it’s going to be the most relaxing night of your life.” he told me. He was never the quickest study, so I refreshed him on the situation.

This is my ex-wife we’re talking about… The one who called me ‘a bastard son of Satan’ in divorce court!

Yeah, I know. That’s why it’s going to be the most relaxing night of your life. There’s nothing you can do to disappoint this woman. That girl in accounting you’ve been talking to? If you take her out to dinner and you make one joke about a political candidate she worked for in college, the fuckin’ date’s over, dude. But with your ex-wife you can walk halfway across the restaurant and slap the cell phone out of some lady’s hand for talking too loud, and your ex-wife will just look at the table next to you and explain: ‘…Sometimes he can be a real Asshole!’ Whatever you do, she’s seen you do worse. She’s the only woman in the world you can’t surprise… Good *or* bad.

It made a strange kind of sense I couldn’t argue with, but I wasn’t going to agree with it either; it went against everything I knew to be true about relationships.

When the night of the concert came, I had no idea what to expect. We went out to dinner first, and fell into a familiar pattern of me making little jokes and her chuckling and shaking her head in amused disbelief. Then a lady halfway across the restaurant started talking too loud on her cell phone, and I got the image of me storming across the restaurant, and I just started laughing.

What’s so funny?

Well…” I tried to explain “… my buddy has this theory…” and I told her what he’d said.

First her eyes got wide and darted a glance at the lady on the phone, the one who was about to taste my terrible wrath. But when she looked back at me, she saw that I was still smiling. She paused for a minute and said: “He’s right, you know. I’ve seen the worst of you, and I’m still here, because I’ve seen the best of you, too“. I could see her whole body relax.

And the rest of the night went amazingly well. The most relaxing night of my life, maybe.

What I learned that night is that I don’t have to be angry with someone now just because they made me angry 50 times in the past. I don’t have to hurt today, just because I was hurt once. My ex-wife is truly a good friend today — one of my strongest supporters — but this is not about her. Or even about her and me. She and I. Us. Whatever.

This is about “Healing and change can happen if you let it”, and how society has a bunch of silly-assed rules about how you have to feel about ex-wives and husbands, mother-in-laws, patriotism, lawyers, and democrats. I took these ideas and held them close, thinking that if I believed these “truths” I would finally be happy. At 39 years of age I was so damn happy that I dreamed of taking a right on a bridge every day of my life.

Alcoholics Anonymous did not give me a “belief system”. That’s not what it does, and is what differentiates it from a cult. What it gave me — though the practice of the steps — is an “examination system”, so I can develop my own belief system. I have been able to cast out old ideas that no longer fit with what I have been able to discern as “The Truth”. It’s an ongoing journey, and I’m quite sure I won’t finish it before I leave this realm, but I know I’m getting closer because I’m getting happier.


Posted in Feelings and Emotions | 5 Comments