Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Step One: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable, or: The End of Life as We Know It

It took me thirty five years or so to come to this place. It is a place of crushing defeat and total surrender. There is no room here for ambiguity or doubt. I need to ask myself: Have I had enough yet, or is there still some small part of me that believes that somehow, some day, by some magical twist of circumstance, I may be able to try the same thing again, but this time get a different result?

I ended up in my first treatment centre when I was in my mid-twenties. That was also when I had my first contact with a twelve step fellowship. My drinking was bad enough that I was forever trying to stop. It caused me a lot of misery, and outwardly messed up my life. And every time I stopped, I really believed I’d had enough. And I had: at least for that week, or that afternoon. But as the horrors began to recede and I was faced once more with life as it is and found that I couldn’t accept it, I would find myself picking up the next drink, with or without some delusional mental scenario in which it would be alright this time. Towards the end of my drinking, my mind had given up trying to convince me that it would be alright. By this time I had had some experience of the twelve steps, and of recovery, and I knew only too well where a drink would take me. But, thanks to the mental obsession which is a pre-requisite of the alcoholic mind, I found myself absolutely without power against picking up the first drink, and the first drink would set off a physical craving in my body which demanded another one, and the more I drank the stronger the craving. If you’re not entirely sure if you have suffered from a physical craving for alcohol or some other substance, imagine this: gasping for air while being suffocated in a plastic bag. That’s craving.

To put it simply: When I start drinking I can’t stop. When I’m sober I can’t stop myself from starting, because I have an obsession to drink which crowds out any sane or reasonable thought. This makes me an alcoholic. It means I will never go back to the halcyon days when I used to have a couple of pints in the evening and enjoy a few games of pool with my mates (and that in itself is an illusion; a twisted fantasy invented by my mental illness, because I never could have a couple of pints in the evening, and before too long I didn't have any mates, either: from the word go it was all ditches, police cells, black-outs, shame, puzzlement and humiliation).

Some people believe that at some point they crossed a line, from normal social drinking to alcoholism; personally I believe that I was born an alcoholic. I have a suspicion that had there been only one place on the face of the Earth where alcohol was available, that I would have been drawn to it, like a moth to a flame, and inevitably ended up dying there. I believe that if alcohol had been unheard of by the human race, I would have become a scientist, and somehow “discovered” it. If alcohol was to be found only on the moon, you’ve guessed it, I’d have been working for NASA. Because now I believe that I was meant to be an alcoholic. And why do I believe that? Because I am one. And it is as it is.

Of course, when I first conceded the fact, I was far from happy about it. Why would I be? I couldn’t imagine life without alcohol. It was the central fact of my existence. My life – if it could be said to be life – revolved around it. It was the solution to my problem for many years. I had perceived it as my lover, even if in the end it had turned on me. We always hope our lovers will go back to the way we think they were.

But here is the miracle: what I thought was the end of the world turned out to be the beginning of life itself, because it broke me, and brought me to the twelve steps.

The thing about the steps is this: they’re useless until you’ve exhausted every other option, until you have once and for all admitted to yourself that you are beaten.

“Enter in through the narrow gate,” Jesus said, and that’s what the twelve steps seem to be when we first come to them. But when we make a decision to go through the gate we find a world full of infinite possibility that gets deeper and wider with each new day. We begin to awaken.

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