My story starts a long time ago because I’ve struggled for three decades against the phenomenon of alcoholism. Now, I understand it is a disease, but that bit of understanding was only revealed to me a little over two years ago when I first stepped into a meeting room of a 12-step group.
At each stage of life, my alcoholic behavior had developed to a brand new level. It progressed from drinking socially to drinking privately, from having blackouts regularly to drinking 24/7 until all bodily functions simply stopped. Whenever I came to, I would promise and be convinced that I had had my last drink. I thought that I had reached my bottom but before the day was over I found myself uncontrollably fighting off an urge to find the next drink. Telling myself “one more drink” turned into telling myself “one more day.” Eventually, I said, “What the hell, life is a mess anyway.” Then I finally concluded that life is not worth living.
Was it not for divine intervention, I would have taken my own life. After having lost all my material possessions, relationships and common sense, alcohol took my will to live. Through the years, my standards just kept dropping lower. I was surrounded by darkness and felt lost. After unsuccessfully seeking help from doctors and psychiatrists, I approached a 12-step group. I did this more to please my wife than out of a belief I could possibly get help from a bunch of drunks. I was convinced that nobody could possibly understand me and that the group could only give me a forum to vent my sorrows of a life without booze.
I lived in the Caribbean at the time on a tropical island off the coast of Venezuela. Drinking is second to none as the national pastime. Grocery stores, where beer and scotch are cheapest, are where everyone would meet for some jovial pick-me-ups. Tourists flock from all over the world seeking the best margaritas, B-52s and other umbrella-topped cocktails. Softball is played instead of baseball because the rules allow drinking during the game. Not being able to handle my drinking in this atmosphere meant I was a failure among my peers.
The 12-step group is small but close-knit. Daily meetings brought a core of seven to ten local members in fellowship with a broad selection of ten to fifteen alcoholics on vacation for a period of one or two weeks. I am very grateful for this because this unique combination within the group was just what I needed. Listening and learning from international savoir-faire led me to the only solution that would work. It was a small opening in the realm of shadows. No amount of willpower or self-control could help me. None of the doctors or shrinks I came across over a lifetime could help either. The only solution was through twelve suggested steps described in the Big Book.
My story is not unique. Each drunk has his or her own story to tell. They are each different like our fingerprints but they do generally resemble each other. We enter the darkness and, if we are lucky, we hit the bottom hard enough to shake us to our very cores. Through a book and a fellowship, we regain our lives. What we do have in common is the portal through which we go from darkness to light: the 12-step program. I try to keep the maintenance steps, such as 10, 11 and 12, at the top of my priority list. They have brought me so much happiness, and I pray I never give them up. Particularly the second part of step 12 is very dear to my heart. It says, “Practice these principles in all my affairs.”
Many people refer to the steps as spiritual principles. I prefer to consider them to be spiritual exercises. Through these exercises, I have developed spiritual principles and values. After trying unsuccessfully to fit these principles into my life, I figured out that was a backwards way of doing things. I then placed these principles at the center and began building my life around them. It took some time. Slowly I started to find my way by building a centered, balanced and serene life around spiritual values. I learned the hard way. Practice makes perfect but it also means that I do make mistakes. Through close scrutiny of this development and by taking corrective action quickly, I learn and grow spiritually. For me the most significant paragraphs in the Big Book have been the following:
“Every day is a day when we must carry the vision of God’s will into all of our activities. ‘How can I best serve Thee? Thy will (not mine) be done.’ These are thoughts that must go with us constantly. We can exercise our willpower along this line all we wish. It is the proper use of the will.”
“What used to be the hunch or the occasional inspiration gradually becomes a working part of the mind. Being still inexperienced and having just made conscious contact with God, it is not probable that we are going to be inspired at all times. We might pay for this presumption in all sorts of absurd actions and ideas. Nevertheless, we find that our thinking will, as time passes, be more and more on the plane of inspiration. We come to rely upon it.”
Providing that I keep my house clean and stay in close contact with my Greater Power, I have found these few sentences to be the most liberating pieces of understanding. They have taught me how to live life as it was meant to be lived.
I now have experienced a little over two years in recovery. This period is minute in comparison to my thirty years of active alcoholism. Nothing, absolutely nothing, has brought me more happiness, joy and peace than the steps and the fellowship of my 12-step group and my Higher Power. If I wake up on any given day thirsting for more of this freedom, I know I stand a better chance of going to sleep sober that night.