Here’s something you don’t hear at an A.A. meeting very often: A.A. doesn’t work. You don’t hear it, but it’s true.
A.A. doesn’t work. A.A. is a group of principles, outlined in 12 steps, and explained on 82 pieces of paper, front and back. It details a condition and suggests a course of action. But A.A. doesn’t work.
I have to work.
Sometimes I do, and I get the results that correspond to how hard I worked.
Sometimes I don’t work, and I get results I don’t like.
The most important thing is that I don’t drink. Over the years I’ve heard people say some pretty cretinous things, excusing bad behaviour, by ending their sharing with: “… but I didn’t drink!” That’s not what I mean when I say it’s important that I don’t drink.
What I mean is: there’s no hand-stamp.
If I go to a concert or a club or the fair, and part way through I realize I left something important in my car (like my date), I can go out and get it. On the way out I get a cool little hand-stamp. When I come back in they put a black-light up to it and I get back in for free.
Can’t do that with A.A. If I go out, I have to pay full admission price to get back in. The last time it involved the police, and the disgust of my friends and family and myself, and lots of money, cars and jobs and health… And guess what. Inflation! The price has gone up. This is a progressive disease. I will pay more to get back in next time than I did last time.
Those days that I’m not working a spiritual program, those weeks when I don’t go to a meeting, I lose some of the altitude I’ve gained. It’s slow, and just like my recovery, I don’t really notice the change. Most importantly, the lowest I will go is sea level. If I drink, however, I come down fast, leave a crater sized hole in the middle of my loved ones, and there is no limit as to how far down I can go.
So… Rule #1: Don’t drink. Rule #2: Good results require a good effort.
There are many ways this has been told in A.A. meetings.
“If you keep on doing what you always did, you’ll keep on getting what you always got.”
“If you want what we have, do what we did.”
As Stacey said: “If you want something you’ve never had, do something you’ve never done.”
and my personal favorite: “If you have something you don’t want, you probably did something you shouldn’t have done!”
My Sponsor told me: “Do 2 things today you don’t want to do”. Then he thought for a moment and said: “Yo, getting up and going to work don’t count!”.
Damn yer eyes!
So, what kind of work is required? I can only speak for the path I have gone down.
First I had to go to meetings pretty much every day, just to learn what the hell A.A. was. I volunteered to read the handouts at the beginning of the meeting, just so I could say my name, and you could find out who I was. When you walked by, if I remembered your name, I would say it softly, just loud enough for you to think I was saying “Hi”, but not loud enough that you would think I wanted to talk to you. Sometimes, if you heard me, you turned around with a smile on your face, pleased that I knew who you were, and you shook my hand and asked how I was doing. It was hard for me to talk to people without alcohol in my system. I was afraid of everyone.
In time I had to share at meetings, so you would get to know me. If I had something eating my ass, you people knew it. New jobs, trouble at home,… whatever was bothering me, you people were the ones I told. Some of you built up a dossier on me, and in year 3 if I said: “I’m bothered by xxx…” you said: “I remember 2 years ago you were bothered by yyy! Remember how you got through that? And how about last year and the zzz? This isn’t that different.” And the fact that you remembered every little problem that I’d had said more about your concern for me than words ever could, and I started to feel comfortable with you. But only after I told you my secrets and problems.
I found people who’s Sobriety, demeanor, and view of life were what I wanted. I talked with them (individually and in groups) about the Program, the Steps, and the Traditions. I read the Big Book. I found a group south of mine that had a great 12×12 on Tuesdays at 5:45 and a Big Book meeting every Friday at the same time. I went to both meetings every single week for about 4 years so that I would A) hear the undiluted message that the literature has to offer as well as B) hear how you people used it in your lives, how you interpreted it.
I did service work, of which there are 1,000 kinds. Pick any silly thing and do it. Consistently. Do it especially when you don’t want to. I know a guy who wiped down the tables after every meeting. I mean Really! He took it seriously! He said some days that rag was all that kept him sober. Some people stack chairs after meetings, some make coffee before, some greet you at the door. Some people clean the bathrooms, and take great pride in it. If I just go to meetings, it’s your meeting that I’m going to. As soon as I clean the floor or paint the walls, it’s My meeting. For me, I was called to go into the Jails and the Prisons. It wasn’t something that I wanted to do in the beginning, but after a year or so I realized it was what I was made for, and it was keeping me sober. We each have our calling.
I had to seek out new groups. As many great people as I’d met at Sobrenity, I had to find out how people stayed sober elsewhere. There isn’t a meeting in Tampa I haven’t been to at least twice. Except maybe some of the Women’s meetings. I had to go into great groups of people who didn’t know me and listen to them. I had to share my experience, strength, and hope with them. I had to get to know them and let them get to know me.
Most of the work that I did was inside of me, though. You told me I couldn’t “think my way into good actions“, I had to “act my way into good thinking“, so I curtailed my tongue and actions. In time people began to see me differently. I remember the lady in front of me at the grocery store with 20 items in the 10 items or less, and it was 4 purchases, each with WIC and then the rest in cash… Took 10 minutes. When the lady finally finished and left, the cashier said to me: “You sure are patient!”. I assured her, in a calm even tone, that I wasn’t. But I’d found out how to ACT patient.
And I had to seek spirituality everywhere. I’ve prayed and meditated for hundreds of hours and gotten little from it. But you told me to do it and I did. I read books on Spiritual Growth and have been to a dozen churches, synagogues, mosques and temples. I have chanted and listened to Holy Men and listened to my inner voice and most of all I’ve listened to you. I’ve looked for God in each and every person I’ve met, and found Him in most of you. I’ve looked at every situation and outcome for God’s lesson and message.
All of these are the by-products of having worked the steps. I learned to practice the principles of:
Honesty: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.
Hope: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Faith: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
Courage: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
Integrity: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
Willingness: Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
Humility: Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
Brotherly: Love Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
Justice: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
Perseverance: Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
Awareness: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
Service: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
Those who know me will tell you I don’t do it anywhere near perfectly, but those who know me best will tell you I’m not the same man who first walked through these doors.
Thank you all for my Sobriety.