Willing to go to Any Length

Here in Houston, as I assume in most cities, “How it Works” is read at the beginning of meetings. Over time, a particular line from this passage has wormed its way into my inner thoughts. “If you have decided you want what we have and are willing to go to any length to get it…”(Big Book 58). While I have vague recollections of being asked the corollary question, “Are you willing to go to any length?” early in my sobriety, I have not had the question posed to me in a very long time. A little more than a year ago, I started asking it of myself.

Am I willing to go to any length? I think back to Bill’s now famous trip to Akron, Ohio. His business meeting had not gone as planned. At one end of the hotel hallway was a bar, the other a payphone. He picks up the phone and starts flipping through the phonebook, calling strangers, clergymen, at random to find a drunk to talk to. Can you imagine what this sounded like? “Hello. My name is Bill. I am an alcoholic visiting from New York. Do you know of any other alcoholics that I might be able to speak to?” What do you think the people on the other line thought? I surmise they probably thought he was drunk right there on the phone. It sounds like a drunk idea, talking to another alcoholic. I wonder how many numbers he had to dial before he got ahold of Henrietta Seiberling. I have thought more than once that the phone calls in and of themselves were probably enough to keep him sober. How many times does a man have to proclaim his own fallibility to a stranger before he realizes a drink is probably not a good idea? He could have stopped right there. Then where would we all be?

I think of the men going into Townes Hospital. I think of the famous picture “Man on the Bed” by Robert M. I test myself some days. Am I now or was I ever willing to go to Ben Taub, walk up to the ER nurse, and politely inquire as to whether there were any alcoholics with whom I could have a conversation. Whenever I contemplate such actions, and whether or not I would be willing to follow in those same steps, I get a little uncomfortable and squirmy.

Cause the truth is, I ignore phone calls. And Last Sunday, when the leader of a meeting asked for potential sponsors to raise their hand to the new man, I kept my hands folded in my lap. On Tuesday, on my way to my usual 10 PM lead, I complained to myself the entire drive there. I went to some length, sure. According to Google Maps, I went precisely 9.9 miles. But is that any length?

I am so lucky that I live in a place and time where AA is so readily available. I don’t have to call up ministers at random and ask for alcoholics. I don’t have to walk into Ben Taub to find an alcoholic because the Parc and the Right Step and any number of rehabs have nightly meetings. But I should probably pick up a phone if one calls me, right? So what does any length look like today? 90 in 90? Written daily tenth step? I don’t know.

So, I throw down the gauntlet. I ask you. What’s the most extraordinary action you have taken in the past month to support your own sobriety? What does any length look like today? Leave your comment anonymously here or post it on Facebook. Maybe you will inspire the rest of us.

 

 

Me Agnostic

I was recently told this: “I know they have agnostic and atheist meetings, but if you ain’t talking about God, you ain’t in an AA meeting. You’re in something else.”

The force of the comment literally made me take a step back. The purveyor of such words was a woman with more years of sobriety than I have existence on this planet. She didn’t know me from Adam. I’m sure she meant no real offense, and yet… I was rendered speechless. Out of nothing more than pure respect, I muttered something along the lines of “You may be right,” and extricated myself right out of the conversation. But inwardly, I feel confused and uncomfortable.

Have you ever a conversation that when it was over, you wish you could rewind to say what you should have said to begin with? So here it goes…

Excuse me, ma’am. I don’t believe in God. I haven’t since I was about nineteen. A series of rational circumstances led me to this decision. I did not make it impetuously. I neither evaded nor ignored the question of God existence but indeed thought long and hard about it. Nor am I angry with God. (Contrary to what Bill writes in “We Agnostics,” those who truly do not believe in God cannot be angry with him. For one to be angry with God, then one would necessarily have to first admit that God exists as a thing to be angry with.) I simply do not believe in an almighty creator of heaven and earth or a cosmic watchmaker or any sort of divine entity that watches over me in any significant way. I do not have faith.

I know people find God in the program, but I am not one of those people. And yet, here I sit with a few days under my belt, proof that belief in any higher power is good enough. The Big Book says, “We found that God does not make too hard terms with those who seek him. To us, the Realm of Spirit is broad, roomy, all inclusive; never exclusive or forbidding to those who earnestly seek. It is open, we believe, to all men” (Page 46).

I honestly feel that if AAs are going to walk in the footprints of God, then they also should not make too hard terms. You should not degrade my beliefs just because they do not align with yours. How I read those last sentences is, “To us, Alcoholics Anonymous is broad, roomy, all inclusive; never exclusive or forbidding to those who earnestly seek recovery. It is open, we believe, to all men.”

And ma’am, with all due respect to your very many, hard fought years, I show you this, a letter from Bill, published in the Grapevine…

“We still make no contact at depth with those suffering the dilemma of no faith. Certainly none are more sensitive to spiritual cocksureness, pride and aggression than they are. I am sure this is something we too often forget. In AA’s first years I all but ruined the whole undertaking with this sort of unconscious arrogance. God as I understood him had to be for everybody. Sometimes my aggression was subtle and sometimes it was crude. But either way it was damaging- perhaps fatally so- to numbers of nonbelievers… Boasting of my faith, I had forgotten my ideals,” (The Best of Bill From the Grapevine, 1962).

I am not sure if these lines were Bill’s way of making amends for some of the things he wrote in his early sobriety, but I like to think so. I remember early on a guy telling me that if I didn’t believe in God, it was okay, because I would by my first birthday. I more recently had a friend of many years look me in the eyes and correct my nonbelief. It’s really gutsy to tell another person what they believe in.

So, please. Please do not tell me what you think I need to, should, could, possibly, maybe, believe in. Do not tell me to put my cigarettes under my bed so I am forced to get on my knees and pray, just for a couple of weeks or so. And please, do not tell me if I attend an agnostic or atheist meeting that I am not in AA. Because I’m pretty sure I am. I earned my seat just as surely as you have earned yours. I would never dare tell you what I think you should believe in. All I ask is for the same consideration.

 

The Boy Whistling in the Dark

Last week, a friend of mine decided that after five years of sobriety that she was not an alcoholic after all, and if she just stay away from the drugs, she could successfully drink. Her friend, a girl with eighteen months, asked with all earnestness, “Why? After all these years?” I responded without much ado or forethought, “She wasn’t happy with her sobriety.” My answer came so smoothly, resounded with so much simplicity and wisdom, I surprised even me. I thought… Man, I’m goooooood.

Only later that evening, lying awake in bed, did I realize I was not the recovered guru I momentarily thought I was. All I did was reiterate one of my favorite passages in the Big Book. “We know our friend is like a boy whistling in the dark to keep up his spirits. He fools himself. Inwardly he would give anything to take half a dozen drinks and get away with them. He will presently try the old game again, for he isn’t happy about his sobriety” (Big Book, page 152).

I often refer back to the boy whistling in the dark. He has become a working part of my recovery, a part of my daily tenth step, a way to spot check my emotional sobriety. Am I, today, a girl whistling in the dark? If I could have half a dozen drinks and get away with it, would I?

Some days, the answer comes a bit slower. I have to think deeper. What does that mean, half a dozen drinks? Does that mean just once? One time, I get half a dozen drinks? What if I want seven or ten or a baker’s dozen? Do shots count? And then I have to smile. My alcoholism is so deeply rooted inside me that if I were to take half a dozen drinks, I would want more, more and more often. I know this. I’m so alcoholic that even in my hypothetical world, I am trying to nudge my way into more.

The reason I do not take half a dozen drinks has nothing to do with whether or not I would get away with it. I certainly didn’t care too much about getting into trouble when I was drinking. And I think that those closest to me can attest that sobriety has done little to damper my defiance.

For years, I wanted my brain to shut off. To be quiet. To stop the harassment that existed in my own mind. It felt like a whirlwind of hate and disgust. I used drinking to accomplish this end. Then one day, my drinking quit quieting the voices and instead added to it. My inability to exist within my own body perpetuated and exacerbated the cesspool which was my mind. With the vicious nature of this circular thinking, I find it a miracle that anyone stops drinking even for five minutes.

I do not take half a dozen drinks because I do not want to have to spend my life trying to figure out how to get the next half dozen. The question is not, could I outwit and shuck and jive my way back to inebriation, the questions is why would I ever want to? The consequence of not half a dozen drinks, but of the very first sip of the very first one, is the madness of my own mind slamming into me with the force of a bulldozer. I am confident about this. The alternative to sobriety is insanity.

So, tonight, as I lay my head down on my pillow, I will know I am not the boy whistling in the dark inwardly hoping to take half a dozen drinks. I am the girl whistling in the sunlight of the spirit as she trudges down the road of happy destinies. May God bless me and keep me until then.