I’m not an expert on AA history, but I’ve seen the movies and read some of the books. In the mid to late 1950s, Bill W. experimented with LSD. Bill originally sought a remedy for his depression. After a few treatments, though, he came to think that LSD may prove a valuable tool in creating spiritual experiences in people who had otherwise struggled to connect to a higher power.
In the fifties, LSD was still legal and Bill took his “treatments” in a hospital. Even so, in 1958, Bill W. resigned his position in New York over his position regarding LSD. He always maintained that it was scientific research and not a relapse. He would never pick up a new desire chip.
I think this is an awkward part of AAs collective history, a time we don’t often talk about. Bill’s use of LSD blurs the line of acceptable use of medication for psychiatric purposes. But that is not the point of this blog. Since there is no answer, I’d rather not engage in that particular discussion. As my friend reminded me, “To thine own self be true.”
What this reverie did spark in me though, was a curiosity regarding who Bill talked to before undergoing these experiments. Did he have friends who he confided in before acting? I wonder if any of Bill’s friends told him they thought LSD might not be a good idea, or if when these concerns were voiced, if Bill actually heard any of them. I wonder whether or not Bill would have undertaken his experiments into the psychedelic if Dr. Bob had still been alive. I wonder what Bob would have said? I struggle to think, as by all accounts he was the more sedate and rational of the two men, that Bob would have thought LSD was a good idea.
The Big Book says, “We must be entirely honest with somebody if we expect to live long or happily in this world,” (73-74). But I wonder if honesty is enough, if talking is enough, or if we also don’t need to listen.
I had a conversation a couple of nights ago with one of my good friends. It was about nothing of consequence, but as I finished, my friend politely and lovingly told me that she thought I was wrong. After she finished, it occurred to me that I had not really expected a contrary opinion. I had asked, of course, for advice, but I didn’t really expect to hear it. It gave me pause.
I think one of the misfortunes of AAs is with time we begin to think that we grow in sanity. When we hear people with thirty years speak in meetings, we are less apt to call them out than the man with thirty days. The book also tells us, “We will intuitively know how to handle situations which use to baffle is baffle us,” (84). We begin to trust this intuition, running less and less by other people first.
I am grateful that I have people in my life that love me enough to tell me when I am wrong or otherwise straying from the path. And if I ever try to rationalize the use of psychedelics in order to produce spiritual experiences, and if I cannot hear the craziness in my own words, I only hope I can still hear the sanity in theirs.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote of walking down the sidewalk, thinking for myself, “Just for today.” It started me down that path of thinking about the other clichés we often find on the walls of the meetings. Anyone who has studied rhetoric for more than a couple of days can tell you that the purpose of the cliché is to wheedle its way inside the brain. Successful clichés are unforgettable, if annoying. “All’s fair in love and war,” and “The early bird gets the worm.”
I have no balance in my life today. I’ve been working too hard. I think, I am not going to drink tonight, so I afford myself another opportunity to work rather than go to a meeting. Consequently, I know my spiritual condition has taken a hit. I can’t help but sit here and be reminded, “Whatever I place first before my recovery is sure to be the first thing I lose.”
I know other clichés too. I know that “It is a spiritual axiom that every time we are disturbed, no matter what the cause, there is something wrong with us” (Twelve and Twelve 90). And I know, “We need not be discouraged when we fall into the error of our old ways, for these disciplines are not easy. We shall look for progress, not for perfection.” And I know “Faith without works is dead” (Big Book 76).
Every once and a while, I have found myself lost in thought, looking at the cliché’s on the wall. In the past, I’ve discounted them as little more than what passes for decoration in AA, but as I sit here in the moment, I have grown in appreciation over the humble cliché and its pithy outlook on recovery. So, today, I’m gonna add the cliché to the “Spiritual toolbox laid at my feet.”
As for the rest, “I’m all right, all ready,” because “Any day I go to bed sober is a good day.” And tomorrow, I’ll “Clean house, trust God and help others.” Afterall, “It works if you work it.”
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I tell my students, in the event of the apocalypse, do not try to save me. I’ve watched enough movies with natural disasters, post nuclear fallout, and aliens to know that a mild manner hero inevitably steps out from the rubble to save the day. That is not me. I am the woman screaming and running as the building comes crashing down on her. I am the red shirted lieutenant that never gets beamed back up. So, do not give me the back pack of provisions or hand me a gun. Just shove me in the path of the nearest zombies and save yourself.
I do not deal well with life, and it doesn’t have to be zombies. In fact, its usually the small things that seem the most insurmountable at times: work, bills, chores. And when life hits, I like to run and hide. I use to think if I just shut everything out, nothing could hurt me. By the time I was thirty, my inability to deal resulted in my daily drinking, hoping that my life would simply resolve itself of its own volition.
But then the worst happened. My drinking turned on me. Alcohol no longer became my means of escape but became the catalyst for new and prolonged damage. In my final days, my life was very bleak. I was broke, unemployed, unemployable. Even then, it was only when it became impossible to ignore the disaster that I put down the drink.
Those first days of sobriety were insanely scary. I was terrified. Knowing that living alone would result in my drinking again, I made the drastic decision to move into a halfway house. A couple weeks later, an AA gave me a job as a counter girl in a bakery. I fumbled my way through life for the first many weeks and months.
And every night, I would go to a meeting. Up there on the wall was the saying, “There’s no problem so big that a drink can’t make worse.” And I believed that. I believed that because my new life was so tenuous, one drink and it would all come crashing down around my head. One drink and I would be asked to leave sober living. One drink and I would be fired. One drink away from catastrophe.
And I think that is what people with time tend to forget. We get real jobs and real housing, and then all of a sudden life hits and we revert to our former habits. We forget that drinking makes everything worse. We start thinking that maybe we can escape reality just for a little while. All we would need is one tiny, little, sippy bottle of wine or a couple of beers.
Yesterday, life dealt me a blow. Though I had no desire to drink, I could feel myself wanting to retreat, run away, isolate. And I did, a little bit. Instead of cleaning my house and working on my writing, I crawled into bed and took a nap. When I awoke to a dark room and absolute quiet, I stayed there for an extra hour playing Trivia Crush unwilling to break out of my cocoon.
After a while, though, I did. I just swung my feet from the over the precipice of the bed to the floor and rejoined society. Because as much as I want to revert to my prior behaviors when times get tough, I know the old behaviors are just that, old. They do not work. Its not just that “There is no problem so big that a drink can’t make worse,” its ” There’s no problem so big that my mind can’t make worse.” Today I know I cannot run from life or isolate from pain. I have to face my monsters head on. So, as much as I hate it the idea, hand me the wooden stake and the garlic. I’m ready.