“Half measures availed us nothing. We stood at the turning point.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 59)
If you’re an alcoholic who can find a way to permanently quit drinking outside AA, that’s awesome. Go for it! As they say in the Big Book, “If anyone who is showing inability to control his drinking can do the right-about-face and drink like a gentleman, our hats are off to him” (p. 31).
AA is for is the person who can’t, who’s tried and failed, then tried and failed some more… and frickin’ can’t stand herself anymore. Here are a few of the ways I, personally, tried. At various times in my drinking career, with all my power of will, I swore the following:
- to simply drink less
- to not drink on certain days of the week
- to get more exercise, eat a healthier diet, and quit poisoning myself
- to meditate my stress away instead of drinking
- to practice affirmations for confidence instead of drinking
- to stop drinking alone
- to drink just wine
- to drink just beer
- to have no more than one drink with lunch and three in the evening
- to prove to some asshole that I’m not an alcoholic, so fuck off
- to quit for a week starting tomorrow
- to quit two weeks except maybe next weekend
- to drink slower so I’d get less bombed
None of them worked. None. Know why? Because I’m an alcoholic. That means my brain is, by definition, BROKEN when it comes to controlling my intake of alcohol — or weed or cocaine or any mind-altering substance. I default to having just a bit. Once I start, my mind has only one setting:
And… I cannot fix my broken brain with my broken brain. If I could, it wouldn’t be broken. I’d just tone my drinking the frick down and get on with life — right? I would not be an alcoholic. I would not need AA or the steps or a higher power.
But here’s the thing, guys. We’re kind of pucked. We’re trying to mentally control a problem over which we have no control.Half Measures = Half Assed
Some of us go to AA because we get it: we’re pucked, and we’ll do everything we’re told — go to any length — to get our lives back. We take Step 1, admitting we are powerless over alcohol and cannot manage our lives.
Others of us, however, go to AA as one more item on that fucking worthless shit list above. We just add
- go to some AA meetings
to our personal “I’m not gonna drink” management scheme.
Doing so is what we call a half-measure, meaning that I still believe I wield control. I’m using AA as an aid or support group, but ultimately, my ego maintains I’m taking control of my desire to drink. That idea is utterly worthless. AA meetings will do no more for a half-measure drunk than getting a “Sober Forever” tattoo, because, inevitably, we still have that broken brain.
Just ask anyone who repeatedly relapses. It may sound harsh, but in my experience, except in rare cases complicated by “grave mental disorders,” a vast majority of those who fall back into drinking have not gone at the program from their inmost heart. Relapse happens when our egos tell us, “I don’t really need to X anymore [insert go to meetings, write inventory, work with a sponsor, etc.] I’ve got this.”
Going to Any Length
A few weeks ago I was at an early morning meeting sitting near a newcomer. The meeting’s chair had used a random Big Book quote picker to cite the passage, “Your job now is to be of maximum helpfulness to others…”
“That bothers me,” the newcomer shared. “I’ve got six months and I feel like I’m struggling. I can’t be of maximum helpfulness to anyone! How’m I supposed to devote my life to — I mean, I can barely take care of myself right now!”
At the break for 7th Tradition, I scooted over to him and said, “Who defines ‘maximum’? All it means is, the maximum you can do today to be supportive to someone else. You’re here. You shared honestly. Maybe that’s your max today. The point is that you’re trying your best.”
Trying Your Hardest = Giving Up Control
This may sound like a contradiction, but it’s only when we really give up control that we become willing to try our hardest at spiritual growth, and vice versa. When, after 14 years of trying my hardest to drink less, I realized I was going to die drunk, and after 34 years of trying to make other people like me, I realized I hated myself, I walked into an AA meeting and finally let go.
It didn’t happen all at once. The first letting-go was just going to meetings. The next was actually praying to… something. Next was getting a kick-butt sponsor, then doing everything she told me whether I felt like it or not. “You’re going to lead an AA meeting in the women’s prison work-release house,” she told me. Did I want to do that? Hell no!! The women seemed huge and thuggish and scary to me! When they hugged me, I nearly suffocated! But I showed up each week regardless.
I’d given up calling the shots. I wanted to change, to have what I saw in Karen, my sponsor. So I did exactly what she told me. I wrote my inventory, acknowledged my defects. I made my amends. I sponsored.
Last week, my current sponsor, who has 32 years sober, asked me, who have 22 years sober, if I’d drive out with her to Bellevue and (wo)man an AA booth at the National Tribal Health Conference. This was a big deal, she explained — the first time the Indian Health Board has ever invited AA to attend, though nearly 12% of Native Americans die of alcholism.
Did I feel like driving out there this afternoon and “working” after work? Hell no. Did I do it? Hell yes. I don’t ask questions or weigh the pros and cons relative to my sobriety. I just GO.
The result? I’m in no way special or virtuous; I’m just happily sober… one more day.