Hope for the Hopeless Drinker: Why I Go To AA Meetings

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The letter that follows was apparently written in the earlier days of Alcoholics Anonymous. It is reproduced exactly as I found it–with one exception. I removed three words that do not change the message one iota but were offensive to me. The author is unknown.Hope for the Hopless Drinker

It brought tears to my eyes because I’ve also known the struggle of alcoholism. However, my tears are not of hopelessness but of gratitude. Finally a solution.

WHY I GO TO MEETINGS

We died of pneumonia in furnished rooms where they found us three days later when somebody complained about the smell.

We died against bridge abutments and nobody knew if it was suicide and we probably didn’t know either except in the sense that it was always suicide.

We died in hospitals, our stomachs huge, distended and there was nothing they could do.

We died in cells, never knowing whether we were guilty or not. We went to priests, they gave us pledges, they told us to pray, they told us to go and sin no more, but go. We tried and we died.

We died of overdoses, we died in bed (but usually not the Big Bed).We died in straitjackets, in the DT’s seeing God knows what, creeping, skittering, slithering, shuffling things. And you know what the worst thing was? The worst thing was that nobody ever believed how hard we tried.

We went to doctors and they gave us stuff to take that would make us sick when we drank on the principle of “so crazy, it just might work,” I guess, or maybe they just shook their heads and sent us to places like Dropkick Murphy’s.

And when we got out we were hooked on paraldehyde or maybe we lied to the doctors and they told us not to drink so much, just drink like me. And we tried, and we died.

We drowned in our own vomit or choked on it, our broken jaws wired shut.

We died playing Russian roulette and people thought we’d lost, but we knew better. We died under the hoofs of horses, under the wheels of vehicles, under the knives and boot heels of our brother drunks. We died in shame.

And you know what was even worse was that we couldn’t believe it ourselves, that we had tried. We figured we just thought we tried and we died believing that we hadn’t tried, believing that we didn’t know what it meant to try.

When we were desperate enough or hopeful or deluded or embattled enough to go for help, we went to people with letters after their names and prayed that they might have read the right books, that had the right words in them, never suspecting the terrifying truth, that the right words, as simple as they were, had not been written yet.

We died falling off girders on high buildings, because of course ironworkers drink, of course they do. We died with a shotgun in our mouth, or jumping off a bridge, and everybody knew it was suicide.

We died under the Southeast Expressway, with our hands tied behind us and a bullet in the back of our head, because this time the people that we disappointed were the wrong people.

We died in convulsions, or of “insult to the brain,” we died incontinent, and in disgrace, abandoned.

If we were women, we died degraded, because women have so much more to live up to. We tried and we died and nobody cried.

And the very worst thing was that for every one of us that died, there were another hundred of us, or another thousand, who wished that we could die, who went to sleep praying we would not have to wake up because what we were enduring was intolerable and we knew in our hearts it wasn’t ever gonna change.

One day in a hospital room in New York City, one of us had what the books call a transforming spiritual experience, and he said to himself “I’ve got it” (no, you haven’t, you’ve only got part of it) “and I have to share it.” (now you’ve ALMOST got it) and he kept trying to give it away, but we couldn’t hear it. We tried and we died.

We died of one last cigarette, the comfort of its glowing in the dark. We passed out and the bed caught fire. They said we suffocated before our body burned, they said we never felt a thing, that was the best way maybe that we died, except sometimes we took our family with us.

And the man in New York was so sure he had it, he tried to love us into sobriety, but that didn’t work either, love confuses drunks and he tried and we still died.

One after another we got his hopes up and we broke his heart, because that’s what we do. And the worst thing was that every time we thought we knew what the worst thing was something happened that was worse. Until a day came in a hotel lobby and it wasn’t in Rome, or Jerusalem, or Mecca or even Dublin, or South Boston, it was in Akron, Ohio…

A day came when the man said I have to find a drunk because I need him as much as he needs me (NOW you’ve got it). And the transmission line, after all those years, was open, the transmission line was open. And now we don’t go to priests, and we don’t go to doctors and people with letters after their names.

We come to people who have been there, we come to each other. And we try. And we don’t have to die.

Welcome to AA.

(author unknown)

The Serenity Prayer: Original Version

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The Serenity Prayer: Original Version

In 1943, theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote the Serenity Prayer for a church sermon. This prayer, an appeal for grace, courage and wisdom, has become closely associated with AA, often recited at meetings all over the world. Adopted in the late 1940’s by AA, it remains a favorite prayer for Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon and other 12-step groups.

Interestingly, the prayer was changed from “give us grace ” to “grant me the serenity”.

Niebuhr’s daughter, Elisabeth Sifton, wrote the book, “The Serenity Prayer”, which explores the circumstances that led her father to write the prayer.  The book can be found many places online. I ran across this audio interview of Ms. Sifton on the NPR website a few years ago and have included a link to it here:  NPR Audio Interview

Lasting about 20 minutes, I hope you set aside time to find out more about this humble man.

OrigSerenityPrayerFind a framed copy at our website.

The Serenity Prayer – Original Version
Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)

God, give us grace to accept with
Serenity the things that
Cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things which
Should be changed, and the
Wisdom to distinguish the one
From the other.

Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a
Pathway to peace.
Taking, as Jesus did,
this sinful world as it is, not as
I would have it. Trusting that
You will make all things right If
I surrender to Your will, So that
I may be reasonably happy
In this life, and supremely happy
With You forever in the next.
Amen.

The AA Sponsor: Mentor or Tormentor?

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As someone in AA and Al-Anon, the word “sponsor” always conjures up many memories. I can still see the face of my first sponsor, Marilyn. Round face and big eyeglasses. Brown, wavy hair cut in a short, practical do. A little on the “mature” side. She had 10 years of sobriety and liked to have fun but understood the seriousness of her task as a sponsor.

Back when I was 2-3 months sober, I told her that I was thinking about finding a new group. When she asked why I would want to do that, More

Family Warfare vs Common Welfare

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When I first hit the doors of AA, it was not a stretch to admit that my life had become unmanageable. I was a divorced 30-year-old part-time mother who had just moved back home and was living in the basement. I say “part-time mother” because my two children lived with their father 9 months of the year. I worked the 12-steps like they told me and found a certain peace within myself and a renewed love of God. But I continued to settle for less than good relationships.

FAMILY WARFARE

My own childhood was a picture-perfect family–of the alcoholic kind, that is. My memories were that of More

IS ALCOHOL REALLY THE GREAT EQUALIZER?

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Alcohol is the Great EqualizerAs a practicing drunk, I had put my friends into two different categories: the People I Drink With and the People I Didn’t Drink With. To avoid conflict, I kept them away from each other as much as possible. I felt only anxiety around the People Who Didn’t Drink; I laughed–a lot–with the People Who Drink.

The non-drinkers didn’t know me at all.

  • They didn’t know that I would lie to my husband about where I’d been or who I was with.
  • They didn’t know that every morning before getting out of bed, I’d be thinking back on the night before, trying to remember if I did anything embarrassing (again) and who I needed to avoid for a while.
  • They didn’t know that when I made them a promise and then broke it, it was because More

Cleaning Out the Old Toolbox: Step 6

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“Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.”

With June being the sixth month of the year, I’ve already attended two Step meetings on Step Six.

A couple of years ago, my Al-Anon home group’s Group Conscience dedicated the 1st Friday night meeting of each month to the study of the Steps. We also study the current Tradition on the 2nd Friday and the current Concept on the 4th Friday. Generally, we study the Paths to Recovery and supplement it with other Al-Anon literature. The transformation of our group has been nothing short of amazing–an increase in service to others and public outreach being the most obvious change. I am fortunate to be a part of this great group of recovering souls.

Back to Step 6.  The Al-Anon “big” book, “Paths to Recovery”, states that “the key principle of Step Six is readiness.” I’ve always liked to think that my willingness to continue in recovery is proof of my readiness. But yet another admission has been brought into focus for me.  And it’s that I’m not always ready for change.  After all, if I’m entirely ready for God to do something in my life, I must be finished with old habits and behaviors, some of which have been faithful companions that protected me.

Like many who grew up in a family with the “problem of alcohol”, I surrounded myself with an arsenal of survival tools. These tools have names like Fear, Control, Anger and Denial, to name a few. I was a master craftsman and could wield these tools with the best of them.

  • Unhappy with my irresponsibility? Bam! I’d use the Anger tool and the red-hot Insult poker.
  • Having problems of your own? Swoosh! The Denial tool will work just fine.
  • You think you’re leaving me? Where’d I put that Control tool? There it is, next to the Fear tool that I’ll be needing, even if you change your mind.

Having a bit of recovery under my belt, it’s clear that this step isn’t as easy as it sounds. Because this is one of those steps that is “between the ears”. And being a person who has always relied on order and preparation and striving to know what’s coming next to feel secure, I’m uneasy with a step that I can’t put my hands on.

In one of the stories in the book, the author shares about the “Six P’s” — Perspective, Pain, Prayer, Patience, Process and Payoff. I thought it was a great way for people like me (and maybe you, too?) to think through this Step of becoming ready so I wanted to share it with you.

Perspective: think of defects of character as “survival skills that no longer serve me”. Since my Higher Power wants more for me than mere survival, I can let them go and trust that I will develop healthy behaviors and thinking.
Pain: Whenever the pain of staying the same hurts more than the pain of change, that’s the time when I will be ready.
Prayer: My part is to pray for openness & willingness; God’s part is to do the removing.
Patience: God gets to choose when and how fast He will remove my defects of character.
Process: Quite possibly, this is a grief process of denial, anger, bargaining and depression.
Payoff: The bottom line–what am I getting out of holding on to some of these defects of character? What is still good about it?

I know God can, and will, do this for me. Does that help me be entirely ready? Sure. But to have him remove them ALL?  Sigh.

I’m glad it’s progress, not perfection.

The AA Big Book Promises: How Can They Say That?

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The AA Promises are found in the chapter titled “Into Action” of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. There is no formal “The Promises” that the writers of the book have laid out for us; they come from the sentence that reads “Are these extravagant promises?.”

The AA Big Book PromisesAcknowledging that, the “promises” are a type of “gauge” recovering alcoholics often use to take the pulse of our progress. Alcoholics (and even the people we surround ourselves with) live much of our lives watching others to see how we’re supposed to act. Not that we decided to actually “do it right”, we just often compare ourselves to others and judge ourselves, often very severely, by what “they” are doing or not doing. Ah, the elusive “they”.

I’d like to take a look at those Promises here.

  1. “We will be amazed before we are halfway through.” — Now, some don’t put this in the “promises”, but I do.  Why? Hope. Plain and simple. We can give ourselves permission to hope again. And not after years and years but “before we are halfway through”. I needed that.
  2. “We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.” — Talk about paradox. Many an alcoholic chased what we thought would bring us happiness but ended up imprisoned by our desires. Recovery brought us the discovery that we were doing it backwards. And just in case you’re one of them that says they’ve “tried it and it doesn’t work”, just trust me: you won’t recognize it at first. It’s new. And this one comes after only just a little bit of recovery.
  3. “We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.” — Ok. This one takes a little more time and a LOT more work. Yes, I won’t sugar-coat recovery. There are things we must do in order to get what we’ve never had. Our past is what fueled much of our continued drinking. And the more we drank, the more “past” we had to forget. The 12 steps are designed to get us through this.
  4. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace.” — Serenity? Peace? Alcoholics and their families only know one word: CHAOS. You may be familiar with the old story about the frog swimming in a pot of water. As the water slowly comes to a boil, the frog doesn’t jump out because he adapts to the small changes in temperature. And he cooks to death. The tragedy lies in the familiar. We’ve lived in chaos so long that it seems normal to us. It doesn’t have to be that way.
  5. “No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away.” — The last thing an active alcoholic is interested in is anybody else. Not that we have no feelings for others. After all, we have relationships, we marry, care about our children. But the drink is our lover. We think about it, plan around it, nurture it, won’t go anywhere it won’t be but if we have to, we’ll drink before we go. We “go to any lengths” to keep it in our lives. When taken altogether, that’s a lot to turn around. When taken a day at a time, it can be and has been done no matter how much we’ve messed up. You might even want to start a blog so others can benefit!
  6. “Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us.” — Ever been afraid of the mailbox? The telephone? No? So as an active drinker, you look forward to getting your bills? How about legal notices or calls from their lawyer? What about facing your family, friends, co-workers? It’s easy to outrun bill collectors, but not quite as easy to outrun the hurt/angry/disappointed/tired looks from your family. This can all change. I repeat. This can all change. It is possible. It happened to me.
  7. “We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.” — Now this is funny! ME? EVERYTHING baffles me! And I only knew of one way to handle it…run the other way! That was MY intuition! The people I’d surrounded myself with LIKED to take care of things for me. They must because they’d let me know I couldn’t possibly be able to take care of myself by always getting me out of scrapes. And when that last person finally walked away, I found this promise and held on tight. Today it’s a reality.
  8. “We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.” — I’d always felt God was too busy for me. He knew what I was doing but since I was pretty much useless, I never felt He had time for me. But when I finally got to the end of myself, God was there to bring me along. I heard in meetings not to give up before the miracle happens. I think this is what they were talking about.

“Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us-sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.”

Don’t quit. Hang in there. Place one foot in front of the other. Put your energy into today and don’t borrow tomorrow’s trouble.  Pray because God is listening.  Surround yourself with healthy-thinking people.  Get involved in helping others even when you don’t feel like it.  Call someone who knows what you’re going through. And then do it again and again.

Turns out, they can say it because they’re right.

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Part One: IS IT OK TO BELIEVE AA’s 12-STEP PROMISES?I’ve been reflecting lately about the AA Promises. They are found in the chapter titled “Into Action” of theBig Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. There is no formal “The Promises” that the writers of the book have laid outfor us; they come from the sentence that reads “Are these extravagent promises? We think not.”  The “promises”are a type of “gauge” recovering alcoholics often use to take the pulse of our progress. Alcoholics (and eventhe people we surround themselves with) live much of our lives watching others to see how we’re supposed to 

act. Not that we decided to actually “do it right”, we just often compare ourselves to others and judge

ourselves, often very severely, by what “they” are doing or not doing. Ah, the elusive “they”.

Now, let’s take a look at them.

1.  “We will be amazed before we are halfway through.”
Now, some don’t put this in the “promises”, but I do.  Why? Hope. Plain and simple. We can give ourselves

permission to hope again. And not after years and years but “before we are halfway through”. I needed that.

2.  “We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.”
Talk about paradox. Many an alcoholic chased what we thought would bring us happiness but ended up imprisoned

by our desires. Recovery brought us the discovery that we were doing it backwards. And just in case you’re one

of them that says they’ve “tried it and it doesn’t work”, just trust me: you won’t recognize it at first. It’s

new. And this one comes after only just a little bit of recovery.

3.  “We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.”
Ok. This one takes a little more time and a LOT more work. Yes, I won’t sugar-coat recovery. There are things

we must do in order to get what we’ve never had. Our past is what fueled much of our continued drinking. And

the more we drank, the more “past” we had to forget. The 12 steps are designed to get us through this. Trust

me.

4. “We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace.”
Serenity? Peace? Alcoholics and their families only know one word: CHAOS. You may be familiar with the old

story about the frog swimming in a pot of water. As the water slowly comes to a boil, the frog doesn’t jump out

because he adapts to the small changes in temperature. And he cooks to death. The tragedy lies in the familiar.

We’ve lived in chaos so long that it seems normal to us. It doesn’t have to be that way.

5. “No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in

our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away.”
The last thing an active alcoholic is interested in is anybody else. Not that we have no feelings for others.

After all, we have relationships, we marry, care about our children. But the drink is our lover. We think about

it, plan around it, nurture it, won’t go anywhere it won’t be but if we have to, we’ll drink before we go. We

“go to any lengths” to keep it in our lives. When taken altogether, that’s a lot to turn around. When taken a

day at a time, it can be and has been done no matter how much we’ve messed up. You might even want to start a

blog so others can benefit!

6. “Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave

us.”
Ever been afraid of the mailbox? The telephone? No? So as an active drinker, you look forward to getting your

bills? How about legal notices or calls from their lawyer? What about facing your family, friends, co-workers?

It’s easy to outrun bill collectors, but not quite as easy to outrun the hurt/angry/disappointed/tired looks

from your family. This can all change. I repeat. This can all change. It is possible. It happened to me.

7. “We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.”
Now this is funny! ME? EVERYTHING baffles me! And I only knew of one way to handle it…run the other way! That

was MY intuition! The people I’d surrounded myself with LIKED to take care of things for me. They must because

they’d let me know I couldn’t possibly be able to take care of myself by always getting me out of scrapes. And

when that last person finally walked away, I found this promise and held on tight. Today it’s a reality.

8. “We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.”
I’d always felt God was too busy for me. He knew what I was doing but since I was pretty much useless, I never

felt He had time for me. But when I finally got to the end of myself, God was there to bring me along. I heard

in meetings not to give up before the miracle happens. I think this is what they were talking about.

“Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us-sometimes quickly, sometimes

slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.”

Don’t quit. Hang in there. Place one foot in front of the other. Put your energy into today and don’t borrow

tomorrow’s trouble.  Pray because God is listening.  Surround yourself with healthy-thinking people.  Get

involved in helping others even when you don’t feel like it.  Call someone who knows what you’re going through.

And then do it again and again.

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