By Christopher Green
These are the words I wanted to say some 26 years ago now, the intro to my lead, in front of my Alcoholics Anonymous “home group”, which, unfortunately, is still to be determined. Even though I was sober, I still could not commit. And even though I was invited several times to join a group and give a lead, basically airing out your trials and tribulations concerning your abuse of alcohol in front of said group, I always said I wasn’t ready.
Now there are a whole lot of reasons why I could, or rather should not do a lead, but the main reason was that I just did not believe in God the way the people in the groups that I attended did. I was raised a Catholic and the Western suburbs of Cleveland, where I grew up and still live, and it is chock full of Catholics. So it should have been a natural fit, a piece of cake.
But since I was summarily dismissed from catechism classes for questioning the tenants of “our” faith and I had made a conscious effort to put all that God stuff behind me before I got my driver’s license, it could have been a little awkward.
You see I believe, if there truly is a supreme being, that God was the creator, the spark, if you will, that all started with a big bang. After that, as many of our founding fathers believed, he or she let us go about our ways.
The idea that a Supreme Being would be interested in the day-to-day goings on with everyone on earth let alone with all the potential sentient beings that are probably scattered all across the universe just does not make sense to me.
That is why I am grateful to live here in America, in an almost, but not quite, secular nation, that allows people to believe or to not believe or just to doubt without having to explain themselves in front of tribunals as they do in say Afghanistan or Iraq. (Just don’t try to run for public office.) To be clear about this, take a look at how the on-going prosecution of Christians has escalated to horrible violence now that we have liberated the country from the evil Saddam.
Anyway, why I want to give my lead now is to finally come clean about a lot of the stuff that I did, felt and overcame before I sobered up. And believe me; it does have something to do with how my “delicate condition” will ultimately play out. Plus, a few weeks ago, I watched Crazy Heart and it got me to thinking about how I ended up sober after ten years of drinking and ingesting drugs like the discount brand of Keith Richards.
What I took away from that movie, and I highly recommend watching Crazy Heart, was that it reinforced what I learned on my own. It is really simple, basic stuff. You cannot change for others; you have to change for yourself. You have to be selfish when it comes to overcoming an addiction. You have to concentrate on you in order to cure yourself.
The best part of the movie was that the lead character stuck to his guns and remained sober even though the spark that gave him a reason to quit was no longer attainable.
It really struck home for me.
For years I thought that if only I had someone who loved me then I could change, get rid of this addiction that was taking the best part of my life and destroying any real chance I had of making a place for myself in this world of ours. Once I realized it was really all about me, then I could start dealing with my problem.
Drinking, drug abuse, whatever addiction it is that sets you outside of the day-to-day living that gives purpose to most people has to be recognized and dealt with on a personal basis. Which just brings me right back to the AA higher power dilemma.
Admitting that I am powerless over alcohol and drugs is the first step and recognizing that my life was unmanageable came right in after that. That was the easy part. It was the second and third steps of that 12-step process where it became problematic for me.
Here are those two steps.
Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity
Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God
You can read all twelve of the steps here…
You see if I do not believe in a God that meddles or, for that matter, even cares about the day-to-day goings on of people living on earth, how am I going to turn my will and my life over to a God that I do not really understand or, for that matter, spend all that much time worrying about?
Some of the great responses I got when I started to ask for help resolving my growing spiritual dilemma were things like pray to the tree, just pray or my personal favorite, get off your ass and go to church and come back when you find God.
So what was I to do? I didn’t have the insurance to go to rehab, nor the inclination since it seemed to me that the main thrust for rehab at that time was to just lock people up so that they went through the detox end of rehab and then thrust them all into a 12 step program.
An aside, if you will. I was convinced the Rehab industry that sprouted up in the early to mid 80’s was a result of insurance companies finally agreeing to cover rehab some 25 years after the AMA agreed that alcohol addiction was an actual and treatable disease.
It seemed to me that they, the for profit rehab centers, actively recruited high school guidance counselors to look out for signs of addiction. The guidance counselors, eager to help out their troubled students, started to guide these troubled students with the slightest hint of an alcohol problem into treatment centers recommended to them by those same recruiters.
The insurance companies foot the bill, the guidance counselor looks like a hero to the Boards of Education, the parents have an easy fix to a potentially vexing problem and the Rehab industry is getting fat on the backs of kids being shuffled in and out of their for profit rehab centers.
Now I cannot prove this, but I heard enough kids give leads that went something like this that made me suspect what was going on… “I didn’t know I had a problem until that one night I drank some Boone’s Farm Red Wine with my boy (girl) friend and I got drunk and threw up and the kids at the party were talking about it at school and the guidance counselor overheard the talk and called me down to see what he could do and then I went to rehab and now I know I am an alcoholic.”
I talked to some of these kids and, more often than not, the incident that sent them to rehab turned out to be the defining moment for their young lives. More troubling than that was that it was usually their first or second time drinking. So a whole mess of kids were being churned through a system that at its end was all about making money and not giving one wit about the mess they were making out of kids whose only crime, it seems, was experimenting, as teenagers will do, with a drink.
Just imagine the damage done to fragile teenage egos when they relapsed, as many did. It is hard enough navigating through those god-awful years without introducing a monumental failure into the mix.
All I know is that a whole lot of Rehab centers closed down when insurance companies started to question the increased expenditure on the treatment of Alcoholism.
Anyway, I digress. You see why this is going to take a while. Perhaps two or three posts.
Back to the preamble to my never given lead.
I decided that even though I was skeptical about the religious overtones, I have always been leery of religion, not spirituality, but religion, I would stick with the program for a year.
I did that and more.
I went to hundreds of meetings and perhaps more important, many, many after hours coffee shops and ice cream parlors. It was there that I was able to ask people I trusted questions about the nature of our disease. And since, as almost anyone who knows me knows, I am a bit of a cut up, I ended up, in my year of living dangerously sober, alienating a whole bunch of people. And since alcoholics have, I believe, arrested their development from the time they take their first drink until they take their last, I found myself starting over still stuck in the Junior Year Detention Hall even though I was pushing 27.
What else should I have expected?
Anyway, I would ask questions, probing questions in discussion groups about say, for instance, how judgmental people in the program were when it came to the whole God thing? And, why are old-timers so gruff and so cock sure of themselves when it comes to the program?
I discovered that people who have been around for a long time take that tough stance in order not to get close to the new folks until the newbies truly decide to stay sober. It was an old-timers way of dealing with the steady and increasing stream of faces coming in and out of their meetings. (They were very possessive about the program, rightly so.) It was a way, I found out, to not get emotionally involved with people until it looked as if they were truly serious about their sobriety.
I was dead serious. I was never so serious in my life. But since I am that obstinate march to my own drummer kind of guy, I was reluctant to give myself over to the AA version of the force.
And there in lays the rub. Still haven’t taken that 2 nd and 3rd step some 25 years later. I have made amends to most of the people I have harmed with my behavior. I have stayed focused on my sobriety. I have stayed true to my pledge to not drink again.
So, after about a year and a half of attending at least four meetings a week, I decided that I needed to leave that part of my life behind and to get out and start living again. I formed, some people might say as a way to rebel against AA, a band and then went out and played in bars, never once thinking about getting drunk.
This actually freaked out my AA sponsor and he wouldn’t come near me after that.
What I have discovered now, if I end up going to a meeting, most often because a friend of mine feels compelled to attend a meeting, usually by order of some court in the area, is that the meetings are not so in your face as I remember. I think the evolution of the program from the hard-boiled drunks who put the whole thing together to the people who now look at recovery not as a way of life but as a transition back to society, is keeping true to the times.
AA is there for anyone in need. Back in the 30’s when Bill W was knocking around Akron, there was no place to go, no one to care about you and a huge stigma declaring publicly how weak you were to succumb to the evils of alcohol. AA is now an institution, but still not institutionalized and has grown as a more accepting and less judgmental program. Tough love has morphed, as I see it, into Semi-tough like. It is much more accessable.
Plus AA is now competing with all sorts of self-help gurus who promote the idea that addiction isn’t really a disease. AA is now, I think for the better, a reflection of our time. It is not for me to know or even to judge if Alcoholism is a disease or not, better minds than mine have deliberated on that matter extensively. But give me AA over some wild-eyed guru claiming they can cure your problem with vegetable colonics.
What I do know is if I ever get the urge to take a drink, if I ever feel the world coming at me faster than I can handle it, I know there are people like me out there and that there is a place to go in time of need, no matter where I may be. AA is the place I can turn to for comfort and succor and it is completely free to one and all.
I don’t have to have insurance. I don’t have to have any money. I don’t even have to have a reason. All I have to have is a desire to change my life, get it back on track. And that, my friends, is what makes AA AA.
Next up, I will be walking you through the hell that was my life from 1974 to 1984. It is going to get meaty, it is going to be stark and, I promise you, funny at times. I invite you all to come along as I give the lead I never gave.