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The System of Alcoholics Anonymous.

30 November 2012

Last night I was talking to a friend who’s been sober about 7 and a half months. She’s gotten a new sponsor, who seems really fantastic. She also has been talking to a younger woman, who had about 30 days and then relapsed, despite the fact that the young woman is under eviction proceedings and about to lose her job. We’re alcoholics, after all. Drinking is what we do. Even at the worst possible time. The young woman has called my friend again, and appears to be planning to come back to a meeting.

I told my friend: “Don’t try to save her. Just be there when she wants it enough to do the work. Help her if you can, but you can’t save this girl.” That’s sad, but it’s true. We cannot save anyone from this disease. We can only be there when they’re ready to change. People are on their own journeys. When I said those things to my friend, she replied: “That’s exactly what my sponsor told me.”

Of course it was. I’d known it would be. I’ve never met my friend’s sponsor. And she has many more years of sobriety than I do. And lives in a different city. But I knew that she’d give almost exactly the same advice and counsel as I was giving. Because anyone who’s been in recovery for any length of time knows it. We learn it from each other, and we see it for ourselves. New people come in. They seem to get it. Then they drink. People chronically relapse. People die. People commit suicide.

The great tragedy of addiction is that no one can be saved from it. People can be prevented from drinking, or using. But that’s not saved from addiction. That’s simply being shunted into a different kind of prison. Recovery comes from willingness to abandon one’s self. Recognition that our addiction has defeated us, and then the honesty and open-mindedness to embrace a new path. A path that confronts our pain and shame and fear head on, tirelessly, while surrendering to the powerlessness that we exhibit in the face of the substances that control us.

You will hear essentially this same advice from almost every member of AA who has more than a year or two of sobriety under their belt, and most of those with less than that. You can’t save anyone. You can help those who are willing to surrender. You can’t make someone take recovery seriously. They will get it or they won’t.

I am powerless over alcohol. When I consume it, I lose the ability, immediately, to regulate how much or how often I drink. And I am powerless over how others consume alcohol as well. My sponsee isn’t drinking. But he’s also not writing his step-work. He’s working. That’s all very, very good. But I have no idea if he’ll achieve sustained remission from alcoholism or not. I hope he will, and I’ll help him do it, if he’s willing. But I can’t make it happen.

But the system of Alcoholics Anonymous is powerful. Millions of us stand here, ready, able. Each with our own take on recovery, but well rooted on the collective wisdom of our powerlessness. And in the surrender that gives us all such incredible strength. Alone, I am a useless, miserable drunk. As a node in the network of Alcoholics Anonymous, I am part of a fabric of recovery that envelops the world. We are the net that catches you, when everything else has failed.

One Comment leave one →
  1. 13 December 2012 16:05

    Great writing. So agree with this!

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