(Note: BTTBP endorses and encourages all paths to recovery, and as such we wanted to share James’ success in a 12 step program – Chris Murphy)
I was in a meeting a couple of weeks ago where several rather panicked alcoholics were sharing that they were experiencing haunting thoughts of drinking. And it ended up being one of those downer-type meetings where the discussion focused on the problem rather than the solution until an old-timer, a fantastic lady named Terri, brought the focus of the meeting back to where it should be. She introduced herself and said, “I am an alcoholic. So it should come as no surprise to me or anyone else that I will think about drinking. The difference today is that I know I don’t have to drink over anything that happens in my life.” These words have stuck with me — as do most of the words spoken by people with over twenty years of sobriety.
I’m a noob. I just celebrated my first year of sobriety on January 7th. In many ways I still feel like a rich kid on Christmas morning opening presents: the gifts of sobriety thru working a program seem to be never ending & magnificent. I have been told I am one of the Sometimes Quicklies, though I’ll have to take others’ word for that as I have no experience other than my own to compare to.
As for the story that led me to A.A. it’s pretty standard. I drank. It was fun in the beginning but after many years alcohol began to rule my life. Long before I was a daily drinker the thoughts of “I can’t wait ‘till Friday so I can go out & get wasted,” were the dominant ones in my head. And a certain point in time came — though I can’t pinpoint exactly when that was — that I began to live to drink. Everything & everyone were either boosts or obstacles on my path to my next drink & nothing more.
I went to my first A.A. meeting on December 13, 2008. It took me a little less than a month to pick up my third (and hopefully last) white chip which makes my sobriety date January 7th, 2009. Over the year since then I’ve learned a lot about me, God (in whatever form you conceive It) & how to live life like a semi-likable, semi-respectable human. Notice I didn’t mention alcohol in that list. That’s because I learned I don’t have a problem with alcohol. I have a problem with reality. I have a problem with the universe not revolving around me & my disproportionately large ego. I have a problem with all you people not doing what I want you to do. Drinking large quantities of booze was really just a symptom, not the actual source, of my discomfort in life. I used always feel that things happened to me as if I had no part in the events of the world around me. I always felt separate. It was me… and my friends, me…. and my family, me…. and my coworkers. (In case you didn’t pick up the pattern in that last sentence it was me, me, me… and everyone else.) By working the 12 steps of the A.A. program — the 4th step in particular — I gained the ability to understand that I am “a part of” rather than “apart from.” It may seem like a simple thing to you but for me it was a revelation.
I used to define myself by my problems. They made me different. I was a much more tortured soul than you & therefore deserved special treatment. I was also a better person than you because — even though I showed up for life & gave it a half-assed effort — I was dealing with insurmountable problems & therefore deserved better treatment. The fact that you couldn’t see this pissed me off in a big way. But the reality of life is the problems you encounter in your struggle are no different from mine. We may not have experienced the same set of circumstances… yet. But given time we will all face remarkably similar challenges in our lives.
By listening to others in A.A. meetings I have learned to shift my perspective & look for similarities between myself & those around me. And what’s remarkable is that those similarities are plentiful — so much so that I’m now coming to realize I’m really no different from you at all. Not in the slightest bit. I have problems & so do you. The details of them are really inconsequential. We’re both just doing our best to get thru our day & we both have the same goal in mind: acceptance, love & peace.
If I hold that thought in my mind — that we are a part of each others’ day, that we are a part of each others’ experience, that we are a part of the same struggle called Life — your frustrations don’t infringe upon my happiness as frequently; my own frustrations become more difficult to project onto your happiness. My day is easier to get through. And by stringing together a series of better days (yup… there is that inevitable A.A. cliché) I end up making a better life. And for this I am grateful.
So after a little over a year of sobriety this thought, of being “a part of” instead of “apart from,” is the big deal in my eyes. And that’s why Terri’s words that I quoted at the beginning of this story stick with me. Her honesty brought comfort. What she really said was, “Hey. Me too. But we can get thru this.” She said we’re all in this together. That we’re no different. That we all struggle from time to time with our demons. And if we keep that “a part of” mentality we can do things previously thought to be impossible.
(James is the honorary director of the Development and Public Relations program for BTTBP)