Working with Others.
The most basic aspect of AA is working with others. Some might find that surprising. Surely, the most basic aspect is abstaining from alcohol? No. Alcoholics drink all the time. It’s sort of in the title. Yes, that’s what we are seeking on an individual level, when we arrive. We are looking for a way to not drink, or to be free from the consequences of drinking. But what we very soon discover, if we are to remain sober, is that consuming alcohol is not the defining element of our condition. Consuming alcohol is what prevents us from addressing our condition.
Many, many more alcoholics succeed at the acute phase of alcohol withdrawal (in my experience, lasting about three days for serious risk of seizure, etc., and about two weeks for physical cravings) than develop and maintain long-term sobriety. Why? A few basic reasons spring to mind. After a short while without drinking, many of us begin to think that we have conquered our affliction. If we can stop for a few days, then surely we can stop after a few drinks! No. And, as our heads clear from their addled states, we begin to see all the majestic ruins we’ve made of our lives. We drink again to shut that out. To pretend it isn’t there.
And many alcoholics succeed at the acute phase of alcohol withdrawal with no help. They grip their fists, clench their teeth, and suffer for a few days until the booze works its way out of their systems. I did that a few times. It’s awful. Hell, it’s awful with help. Detox sucks. Those things can be done, though not with high success rates, and they almost never lead to lasting abstinence. Even when they do lead to some duration of abstinence, it is even more exceedingly rare that anything like happiness – like peace and serenity and comfort and utility – follows.
Because being sober takes help. It takes a community. It takes guidance. Because in order not to drink again, we need to be led through the process of dealing with the ruin of our lives, our psyches, our spirits. Expecting an alcoholic to find a way to be happy, and content, and productive is a bit like expecting a cancer patient to derive and administer their own course of chemotherapy. Are there a few who could do it? Probably. But it’s a totally unreasonable way to expect it to happen, and you certainly wouldn’t admonish such a patient for failing in those circumstances.
Yesterday I met my new sponsee before my men’s meeting. I bought him a cup of coffee and we talked for about 45 minutes. I asked him about his history, his drinking. He told me what felt like an honest and straightforward story. At one point, he apologized for being boring. I had to laugh. We tend to think of ourselves as either the worst in the world, or to excuse our horrific behavior. He did neither. He just talked about being a drunk. Going to rehab and trying to kill himself a bunch of times. It’s a pretty common story.
It is both ordinary and horrifying that so many of us have that same story. I have never been suicidal, but I can easily imagine it. I’d be lying if I said it isn’t an option for me, if I return to the depths of active alcoholism and despair I used to know. Knowing that about myself helps me stay sober. Putting it in writing, for other people to read and know keeps me accountable. When I drink, nothing is off the table. I am endlessly grateful that those feelings and fears are so remote for me now.
So I’m excited to work with my new sponsee. He’s bright. He’s depressed. He’s bewildered. He’s profoundly anxious. But he’s emerging. Now, it’s about honesty and willingness. He’s got the open mind. Or he wouldn’t be where he is. Now, he’ll either do the work, or he won’t. If he does, he’ll almost certainly get better. If he doesn’t, he’ll almost certainly end up dead. I told him yesterday that I’d lay even odds his next suicide attempt succeeds. We joked about there being a Vegas line.
Working with others, carrying the message of recovery from the seemingly hopeless state of active alcoholism, from pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization, is how we stay sober ourselves. By focusing outward, we recover internally. By working with my sponsee, I maintain my own sobriety. I deepen it. I stay rooted in the middle of the garden. Far from the tentacles of misery.
I am an alcoholic. Drinking is an option for me. It always will be. Drinking is what alcoholics do. So I work. And I commit myself to the program of action and accountability that has led so many before me out of blackness and into light. That is all the higher power that I need, really. This incredible community of people who know what it is to drown, so know what it is to swim.
 These quotes are so common as not to need attribution among alcoholics. For the rest of you, they’re from the book “Alcoholics Anonymous”, pp xiii, and pp 30 respectively.