It was going to AA meetings that eventually helped me hear my own music.
Yes, my phrasing is maybe a little saccharine, and certainly the quote is quite famous,
but for all that it is still my truth.
My alcoholism, fueled by (or fueling? Potato potahto) my fear and ego, kept me perpetually self-involved and desperately trying to be what I thought I was "supposed" to be -- not in the aspirational sense; I wasn't reaching for goals. In the sense that I was deeply convinced I was a Wrong Thing and needed to make sure nobody found me out.
The experience of hearing people share in meetings, the discussion of the AA literature, the stunning example of people using AA's tools and staying sober through terrible difficulties, these things literally showed me how to become comfortable in my own skin. To become my authentic self.
I guess you could say AA meetings helped me evolve from trying to "not-be" and allowed me to try to just "be."
There may well be many places on earth in which you can find that kind of help. I do not know.
But my experience is that I found them in AA meetings.
We say -- I hear -- "all we have is today" so often that it loses its power.
It's important to regularly remind myself that what I have is "a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of my spiritual program."
Or, to put it another way...
You can't ski on last year's snow.
It's what I do today which helps me stay physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually sober today.
Sure, sure, the last thirty days of my sobriety are indeed substantively different than the very first thirty days of my sobriety... but what I did in those first thirty days really only worked to keep me sober in those first thirty days.
Today is what I have.
Today is what I must work with.
Today's action is what keeps me sober.
I drank or used drugs pretty much every day to cope with life.
So now I do AA pretty much every day to cope with life.
Because although I'm 9,999 days sober (and to be fair, that is a loooong time between cocktails) all I have is today.
When I was newly sober and counting days (five... thirteen... thirty - chip! - forty-two...fifty-seven... sixty - chip!...) and people would say that "I only have today" stuff I usually thought, "Yeah, easy for you to say, you've got blankety-blank time sober and your life is looking pretty good." or "They're just saying that so the new people don't feel bad. Inside I bet they are crowing. Crowing!"
And maybe they were. Maybe that was true for them. I can't say (but I doubt it about the crowing).
In my experience, as the days accrue, not quite unnoticed but eventually not greatly noted (like loose change in a jar or all those days in the middle of February) the solidity of AA recovery and the fragility of sobriety become equally apparent.
All those days (it was too weird to type "all those thousands of days" and consider I'm talking about myself) don't mean shit if I don't still, today, do what I did (well I guess now I have to say it) thousands of days ago.
You don't stay clean on yesterday's shower.
You don't stay fit on last month's workout. (This one is a theory-based example for me. I would have had to have worked out last month to be able to write it with real integrity.)
I don't stay sober today on what I did when I was 4,999 days sober, unless I am doing today what I did when I was 4,999 days sober. (Or whatever day. Pick a number.)
Balancing that is the obvious truth that (obviously) the last thirty days of my sobriety are in many ways a substantively different experience than the first thirty days of my sobriety. With practice anyone can become fairly fluent in anything.
With enough utilization of the spiritual toolkit AA lays at our feet a selfish, self-centered, self-deluded and self-destructive Pinocchio of an alcoholic can actually become a real live sober boy.
But there is no way in hell this puppet, so tied by the strings of my addiction to alcohol and drugs (wow, that metaphor really took off for me once I threw it out there in that last sentence. Nice!) could have any kind of grace or sobriety or recovery at all without the help of the great extended 12 Step family accessed through going to AA meetings.
I do not believe I would be sober and happy (and grateful -- which is pretty much Happiness's somewhat quieter twin sister) without AA's 12 Steps and suggestions for living.
I'm probably supposed to thank God for my sobriety as well -- and I do, sincerely -- but God's always worked on me most directly through other people, and so I know that I absolutely would be a far poorer example of a sober man without the sponsors I've had along the way: Roger C., John P., Linda B., Michael S., Robert K.... and most importantly, John S., whose fingerprints are all over my Program and the memory of whom can make me either chuckle or choke up with very little provocation -- and whose wise counsel I still miss every single day. The time and experience and love and guidance and patience (oh dear God, the patience those people had with me) still serves to humble and inspire me.
And there is no doubt at all in my mind, as I am as predisposed to self obsession as any alcoholic (I might tentatively suggest perhaps even more predisposed than most, but then I can easily imagine John S. laughing at the ego and grandiosity of such a statement) that without the people who have allowed me the privilege of sponsoring them I would absolutely not be here and sober today.
Milestones -- big and public or small and private -- prompt in me reflection made up of both comparisons and sentimentality.
So with both in my heart (but no crowing. Honest.) I will watch the odometer roll over and be profoundly grateful to have had those sober days. I sure as hell wouldn't want to repeat some of them, but I sure as hell really am truly grateful for every single one of them.
And most especially of course, coming full circle -- cliche but it couldn't be more true -- I'm grateful for today.
If you are alcoholic, struggling in any way, remember: All you have to do is not pick up the first drink, no matter what. And then, if by the time your head hits the pillow you haven't had a drink, or a drug, or tried to kill yourself, then YOU WIN, and the rest of that shit -- whatever is torturing you right now (which is really just your alcoholism working on you, but more on that another time) -- will just have to work itself out till tomorrow. Today, just for today, I don't pick up the first drink.
I did that, just for today, 9,999 times, yes.
But one of the Great Truths of AA is that if I can do it for just ONE day, then so
It sounds really sappy, I know. But that doesn't make it any less true.
So much of my alcoholism and addiction was trying to "fill the hole inside" by pulling things into my life to change how I felt; to feel better. To feel "good." To feel happy. But the more I got the more I wanted. Needed. I was in a constant state of acquisitive desire and some kind of freaky soul hunger. The fix never lasted. Never.
It wasn't till I reversed the flow -- by giving -- that the size of the hole (the scope of my hunger, the depth of my need) -- began to lessen. To shrink.
Probably no one is more acutely aware of how sickly sweet this sentiment is. And God knows, I wish I had something cooler to offer on the topic. But I cannot deny the truth of my experience: Service keeps me sober.
And service brings a rich happiness, eventually -- to my great surprise (and a little dismay), turns out it's the fix that lasts.
Must you dominate because you feel insignificant? Do you need to control because you feel unsafe? Aggressive because you feel weak?
People are complex, it's true, and it may seem reductive to draw such neat little yin-yangs about the what and the why of how we behave towards one another, but for me, seeing these things in myself was the beginning of getting free of what was running me, eventually shining a light on how I ceded my power to absolutely anyone who pushed certain buttons.
But also -- perhaps more importantly -- it was the beginning of true compassion for the difficult people I encountered, as I saw that however they lashed out it was not about me, it really was about them.
Honestly, I believe that is has been my time working AA's "program for living" which has allowed me to see its beauty. But more than that, it has allowed me to care about sham, drudgery and broken dreams.
As a drinking alcoholic -- or as a dry one -- an alcoholic's lack of perspective is staggering. We are so inwardly focused, so obliviatingly self-obsessed, that any time life didn't go our way we considered that a tragedy, while truly tragic things, if they didn't touch our lives directly, generally failed to register on the emotional scale.
Being sober -- in the fullest sense of the term -- allows us to rejoin the human experience; sham, drudgery, dented dreams... and all its beauty.