We are not human beings having a spiritual experience;
we are spiritual beings having a human experience.
—Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Thefirst time I went through the 12 Steps with a sponsor, he told me to have fun and try to find humor in myself and my past experiences. He said, “Cord, don’t take yourself too seriously, okay? After all, you are the joke!” True story.He also gave me a worksheet, whichreally helped me understand the process and get through the first suggestion. So I’d also like to start by taking you through the same exercise now. This isn’t a test of whether you’re ready for the 1st Step but will assist you in understanding a little better where you are at right now.
Read through the following 10 statements, and answer TRUE or FALSE to each one:
—If I’m planning to stop drinking or using, all I have to do is not drink one day at a time.TRUE/FALSE
—Once I complete the steps, I will have a relationship with my higher power or God.TRUE/FALSE
—Once I understand God, I will be free from my addiction.TRUE/FALSE
—My purpose in sobriety is to get back to my life and family.TRUE/FALSE
—There are many different ways I can work this.TRUE/FALSE
—My sobriety is my greatest possession.TRUE/FALSE
—It takes a long time to recover from addictions.TRUE/FALSE
—The steps are not required, only suggested.TRUE/FALSE
—Going to meetings and not drinking is vital to my recovery.TRUE/FALSE
—Our collective suffering is what holds us, alcoholics and addicts, together.TRUE/FALSE
Take note of your answers and keep them somewhere safe because we’ll be revisiting these 10 TRUE or FALSE statements later in the book. You might be surprised to see how much your answers have changed.
I still enjoy attending AA and NA meetings because I always come away with something I can hold on to. Someone had something to say that I needed to hear that day. If nothing else, the next time you attend a meeting, or if it is your first one, take a look at what is written on the walls of almost every meeting place. Notice that they all have what is known as the “12 promises.” The first time I read them, I didn’t understand what they meant or why they were there, but they gave me hope. I hope that by the time you finish going through the 12 Steps in this book with me, you’ll fully understand how they can assist you in daily life and sobriety. The 12 promises are also found within the first few paragraphs of the Big Book and are read at the end of every meeting.
In general, these promises tell us that we will be amazed before we are halfway through the 12 Steps. That we will come to know freedom and happiness. We will not regret our past mistakes. Through these steps, we will find peace and serenity. Because of our suffering, we will see how our experiences can benefit others. We will stop feeling useless. Our selfishness will fade away. Our outlook on life will change. We will no longer fear issues of money or people. Things that used to baffle us, no longer will. We will finally understand that God is doing for us what we were never capable of doing for ourselves.
The promises will come to you if you follow the 12 Steps. It worked for me, and I know it will work for you too. I believe these promises are nothing more than statements of hope. Wouldn't you agree?
What Do You Believe, Right Now?
Most of you will have heard or been told that addiction isn’t something you can recover from. That once you have identified addiction as something that you suffer from, you’ll live with it for the rest of your life. You may have also been told that you will always be fighting addiction and will never be cured of it. Always be in recovery. That now that you have admitted to addiction, you will be chained to a life of daily meetings, AA, NA, sponsors, and never-ending step work, or you will die from your disease. Sounds bleak, doesn’t it?
As we begin, I want to call your attention to something I found inside the front cover of the Big Book. It reads that this is the story of how thousands of men and women have recovered from alcoholism. A pretty bold statement, wouldn’t you agree? It doesn’t say anything about non-stop meetings, never-ending Step work, staying sober only one day at a time, needing to call a sponsor every day, endless reading, asking God to keep you sober just for today. Being in recovery for the rest of your life. Never to be cured of your addictions. NO, it just says:
We “recovered” a.k.a “cured.”
Even if you don’t believe this right now, isn’t it worth exploring? After all, other diseases are curable. Why should addiction be any different? So go ahead and ask yourself: “If I was diagnosed with cancer, diabetes, cystic fibrosis, or Alzheimer's today, would I seek a cure or accept the idea that I was just going to have to live with the disease, fighting my recovery from it until the bitter end?”
Would you accept that something like cancer can’t be cured? Or would you research, educate yourself, attend support groups, seek treatment until you found the right answer for a cure? Why is addiction different from any other disease or mental health issue? Why would you ever believe that it is incurable? Is it because that’s what they tell you at meetings? That’s what a sponsor told you? Is it because you heard this from an individual who has no formal education, professional license, or experience to be able to diagnosis such a terminal disease? Are you really going to believe this nonsense?
After I decided to stop using alcohol and drugs, it took me another seven long years of suffering to find the answers to these questions, until one day I actually read what it said on the inside front cover of the Big Book. What I had been reading during those years of suffering, was actually just a story of how thousands and men and women had recovered from alcoholism. How they had been cured. At that moment, I felt a tremendous amount of relief and hope. It should give you hope too.
What I found in the process of going through the 12 Steps was that each of them, except the 1st Step, has specific promises of hope written within it. Step 1 is a process of admitting to yourself where you are at today. But there are a total of 12 specific promises found within the 12 Steps, and we’ll explore each one in the following chapters.
Throughout the 12 Steps, you’ll also see some statements come up, which we’ll pause to discuss. Each of these statements gave me a lot of hope, and I’d like you to think of them as “promises of hope.” Promises that we can realize if we do the work and complete the steps.
I can promise you that it works. It worked me, for my sponsor, and thousands of men and women before us as stated in the beginning of the Big Book. So why wouldn’t it work for you? I can offer you this promise. If you go all the way through the steps, do the work as suggested, and then decide you are better off drinking and using, I will gladly refund your misery...
Cravings and Allergies
So let’s dig into those promises of hope by looking at the section titled “The Doctor’s Opinion” in the Big Book. Here, Dr. Silkworth writes about how an alcoholic should be free from physical addiction.That craving is not a mental issue but a physical one. An obsession of the mind, not the body. When I read this, I could see how it might be right. Addiction is an obsession of the mind, not the body. The body experiences a craving, sickness, withdrawal, and pain; the mind doesn’t. Therefore, craving can’t be a mental issue.
The authors expertly explore the physical aspects and mental obsession of alcoholism as discrete topics over 40 or so pages. Dr. Silkworth wrote that after an alcoholic takes their first drink of the day, the phenomenon of craving takes over, and nothing else, including important meetings, mattered after that. He did a masterful job of explaining the meaning of “craving” as a physical, not a mental issue. This means it’s impossible to experience a craving unless you put alcohol or drugs in your body. Dr. Silkworth goes on to describes his belief that the effect of alcohol on chronic alcoholics is the manifestation of an allergy. Meaning that an alcoholic has an abnormal reaction to alcohol when they drink, and this reaction is an allergy.
As we go through these steps, I would ask that you have an open mind. That you don’t assume you’re an alcoholic or an addict just because you are reading my book. Instead, I urge you to use this time to discover the truth about your own experiences as we walk through the Steps together. I want you to discover the truth about your own personal experiences on your own.
I say this because I believe we all have addictions or issues of some kind. As I said before, we will be referring to the words alcoholism or addictions only because that is my experience. I ask that you replace my words with your issues if you will, to help you complete the steps so that you have your personal experience. However, our 1st Step is to find out who you really are so you can identify what to do next. This is crucial because unless you’re very clear about your own experiences with drugs, alcohol, or other obsessions or addictions, then you won’t be able to share your experiences with someone else who really needs your help?
So let’s talk about what Dr. Silkworth meant when he labeled alcoholism an allergy. When I first went through this with a sponsor that really understood this concept, he asked me to go through the book and turn the things I was experiencing into questions, such as “Do you have an abnormal reaction to alcohol when you drink?” But before I could answer that question, I needed to know what an “abnormal reaction” was, and my sponsor explained it in the following way.
“You know how abnormal alcoholics are when they can't remember what happened the night before or where they had been or with whom? Have you ever noticed how alcoholics can never remember what they’ve said to you over the phone the night before? The drunk calls at 2 a.m. and then again at 10 a.m. the next morning in confusion and asking, ‘Are you and I okay?’ For most people, this type of behavior would scare the hell out of them.”
Ask yourself:When I drink, do I have a normal or abnormal reaction? Is everything normal and fun when I drink? Can I take or leave it? Stop whenever I want? Or do I regret the things I do when I’m drinking?
Dr. Silkworth also wrote that the phenomenon of craving is limited to certain people and doesn’t “ever” occur in the average tempered drinker. But what is craving? The definition is“a powerful desire for something.”My sponsor asked me the same question when he said, “When you drink, do you have a craving for more alcohol?”
I answered, “I don’t know, but I want more.”
This is precisely what a craving is! If every time you drink alcohol, you want more, wouldn't you call that a craving? And at this point, it’s also worth saying that Alcoholics Anonymouswas written for alcoholism, not for other addictions. However, you will find that everything in the book also applies to every addiction, mental health crisis, or issue in your life. As we continue, please read it in that manner and apply it to your own circumstances.
Dr. Silkworth wrote, “NEVER” occurs in the average tempered drinker. When I read this sentence, it became clear to me that I was an alcoholic. It doesn't show me the drama, chaos, fear, and devastation I created when I drank. Just the simplicity of the fact that when I drank alcohol, everything about me changed and was completely abnormal.
Back when the authors first shared their messages of hope, they spoke about their inner experiences. About drinking alcohol and wanting more. About abnormal reactions to alcohol, guilt, shame, and regret. About how they would go to a hospital and dry out and then drink again and again. About the hopelessness, fears, depression, and anxiety. The feeling that there was no meaning in life.
If you have been to an AA meeting, how many have you attended and listened to a lot of meaningless drama? Where there are a lot of so-called drunk-a-logs being shared?
Imagine you’re brand new to the AA concept, at your first meeting, and looking for some form of hope. But standing in the back of the room, a guy is going on and on about his miserable, pathetic life. He's talking about the horrible years he spent in prison. How he got sober in solitary confinement after hitting another prisoner or prison guard. He talks about all the DUIs, drug busts, cops, arrests, courtrooms, jail time, over and over again. He talks about how hard it was on probation and the thousands of dollars in legal fees and court fines he’s paid. How his wife left him, and his children hate his guts. How he filed for bankruptcy and lost everything. How he is homeless, broken, defeated, and alone. And then ends with ”But hey? I'm grateful to be sober just for today.”
As a newcomer, sitting in that room, feeling fearful and confused, and this is what I hear at my first meeting. A place where I thought I could find a little shred of hope. I’m thinking to myself: “Who are these people? I've never been to prison. I've never experienced solitary confinement. I would never hit a prisoner or prison guard. I don't have any DUIs. I’ve never been arrested. I’ve never even talked to a cop or been to a courtroom in my life. I still have a job. My wife hasn't left me yet. My kids are worried about their dad, but I know they love me. I’ve never filed for bankruptcy. I’m not homeless, broken, defeated, and alone. I just know I have a big problem on my hands, and I can’t seem to stop!”
So perhaps not surprising when that newcomer then thinks, “If this is what alcoholism looks like, maybe I’m not an alcoholic. I’m not like that loser running his mouth up there,” and so gets up and walks out. He leaves the one place that should have been safe. The place he or she needed most at that very moment in their life. A place where all of us are supposed to be doing our job and sharing a message of hope. Not our notes on misery and despair!
In this situation, we just lost this person, and they don't even know what alcoholism is yet. We never allowed them to find out who they really are. Through our own ignorance and irresponsibility, we just took the only fighting chance they had. Drama creates a lot of distance and confusion, rather than understanding and situations that we can relate to. That stores of trauma are things that should be shared over a cup of coffee outside of AA, not inside the meeting rooms.
My sponsor taught me to always carry a message of hope and encouragement for newcomers when I went to a meeting. And I should be there for that one purpose. To identify someone who needs to hear that there is hope and talk to them about it. He said if you feel the need to tell someone how pathetic and meaningless your life is, do it in a coffee shop, not in an AA meeting.
It’s Different for Us: We Have an Allergy
To go back to craving.
Ask yourself: When I drink alcohol, do I crave more?
Dr. Silkworth writes that it “never” occurs in the average tempered drinker. Let’s say out of 20 to 30 times that you drink, you only experience craving half the time. Does that make you an alcoholic? Most likely, according to Dr. Silkworth. Because he said “it never” occurs in the average tempered drinker. He doesn't say, “sometimes.” He doesn't say “once in a while.” He says, “NEVER”!
What separates me from a non-alcoholic has nothing to do with the drama alcohol brings me. It has nothing to do with how many DUIs or arrests I’ve had. Nothing to do with my divorce, wrecking my car, jail sentences, courtrooms, losing my job and filing for bankruptcy, heart failure, cirrhosis of the liver, esophagitis, internal bleeding, and stints in the mental hospital. It has to with one thing and only one thing: the phenomenon of craving. When I put alcohol in my body, I have an abnormal reaction to it: my face gets flushed, I break out in hives on my chest and neck, and I want more. I have an allergy.
How many times have you gone out with people who drink when you haven’t? And you’ve watched them drink one or two drinks and then say, “I better stop or slow down.” I’ve witnessed this many times, and I can’t relate to it. Have you ever watched someone order a glass of wine or beer and then not finish it? Are you nuts? In my world, that is absurd. That’s just getting started.
Over the years, I’ve had friends question me about this issue and make comments like, “Cord, we'd ask you to go out with us if you weren't such a damn lush. Why can't you just have a few drinks with us and leave it alone?”
A very close friend of mine was dying from cancer, and I spent a lot of time with him during this time. We had a lot of discussions about this issue of mine. At one time, Roger was my business partner and closest friend and someone I drank almost daily. He could never understand why I couldn't just stop when he did. He was always composed after drinks while I was a sloppy mess.
One day I went to his apartment to see how he was doing. We talked for a while about the good times, and he offered me a drink. If we could have one last drink together. I told him I couldn’t. He said, “I don’t understand. You’ve been sober for years. One glass of wine isn't going to set you off, is it?
I jokingly replied, “No. But the next 15 to 20 after that one will . . . and I’ve things to do later this year, my friend.” He asked again why it was so different for me. I told him. “It’s simple. For me, it is the phenomenon of craving.”
He asked, “What do you mean?”
I replied, “If I have even one drink, I experience an uncontrollable craving for more alcohol, and there is no way for me to stop.”
Dr. Silkworth wrote about how alcoholics are irritable, restless, and discontent unless they can have more alcohol. He talks about how they see other people drink without issue. How the phenomenon of craving takes over, and they can’t stop until they pass out, wake up, and swear not to do it again.
Ask yourself: Am I irritable, restless, and discontent?
Do you start to see that this also applies to sobriety? For me, I need to find things in sobriety to take the place of drinking, or I could be back in the same situation as when I was drinking all those years. Irritable, restless, and discontent, which always leads me back to drinking. There is a lot of peace, calm, and hope in the 12 Steps.
I was one of those drinkers who kept my hard alcohol hidden all around the house because I was always terrified about running out. Or that my wife and kids would see me drinking too much. I would hide it. Tell them I was only drinking wine and then sneak a vodka from the bottle that I’d hidden in a closet. And it never really mattered to me that I passed out by 9 p.m. every night. It didn't matter that the phone, water, or power was turned off. It didn't matter that my wife said, “I'm leaving you if you don't stop.” None of this mattered because I would get my alcohol, take that first big drink and say, “Ahhh . . . You see. Everything is okay. Nothing to worry about now. Life is good!”
The irony is I have the same experience in sobriety. I know that if I follow the Steps, deep down in my heart, no matter what, as long as I’m sober, I will be happy and everything will be okay.
Changing the Way You Think
Getting back to where we were. Dr. Silkworth goes on to say how these episodes are repeated over and over, and unless the person can experience an entire physic change, there will be very little hope of recovery. My personal experience in reading this is that there needs to be a change in the way I think.
Ask yourself: Do I have the power to just change the way I think about alcohol and drinking without any help?
If you could just magically change the way you think, why would you need the 12 Steps, a higher power, or a sponsor to talk to? Why not just quit? Because if you could, you would have already done this.
Ask yourself: Unless I am willing to experience an entire physic change, is there little hope for my recovery? Am I willing to admit this?
Are you willing to consider that you need something other than human power to experience an essential “physic change”? The authors wrote that unless the entire physic change has occurred, there is very little hope for recovery at all. No human power can make this happen.
Ask yourself: Can a sponsor or spouse make the needed physic change in me? Can my wife or children or family? Can money, house, car, boat, or clothes make an entire physic change in me?
If the answer is NO, then it strongly suggests something more than human is needed to cause an “entire physic change.” Are you willing to consider this?
I read an example of this in “Bill’s Story” in the Big Book. On a bleak November day, in 1934, Bill Wilson’s old friend Ebby T. came to visit. Bill was sitting in his kitchen, drinking gin. Ebby knocks on Bill’s door, and when he answered, he notices immediately that Ebby is sober. Bill hasn’t seen this guy for a few years. Bill offers Ebby a drink, and he refuses. Bill inquires what’s changed? Ebby talks of finding his way through religion. Ebby tells Bill that God had done for him what he couldn’t do for himself.
Bill knows that there is something different about Ebby and tries to figure out where Ebby got the knowledge and power to stop drinking. Bill wonders if this power originated from within Ebby and then quickly surmises that it hasn’t. He concludes that there was no more power in Ebby than there was in himself at that very minute.At this moment, Bill W. realizes that he has no power, and this is the very essence of Step 1: No human power is enough to stop me from drinking, using, or to fix life’s issues.
As I read to this point in the Big Book, I realized that the authors had spent over half of their book, 43 pages, just to get this one simple point across. The realization:
I have no power to stop drinking on my own.
I always thought that Step 1 was about not drinking. That it was about just staying sober one day at a time. What I found out was that Step 1 had nothing to do with drinking alcohol or using drugs. Think about it: If Step 1 is about not using, then we can skip the next 11 Steps and just stop! At this point, what became clear regarding my alcoholism and the disease of addiction was this: Until I found the 12 Steps and had a spiritual awakening, I was going to drink alcohol and use drugs no matter what!
You see, I don’t have the power not to drink without the help of the 12 Steps and a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of my spiritual condition.I didn't start going to AA because I was court-ordered. I didn't go to treatment seven different times because I wanted to stop drinking. By the time I truly got through the 12 Steps, I had nothing. I was emotionally, spiritually, financially, and physically broken. All I wanted was to stop suffering the way I had done for so long. I came in because I had no power to do this alone.
Ask yourself: If I could drink all I wanted every day and there were no consequences, would I still be drinking? I need to consider whether I came to where I am today because I really want to stop drinking or because I want to stop the suffering and pain?
For me, I wasn't persuaded I wanted to stop drinking. I just knew I wanted the pain to stop. I knew I wanted to stop the loneliness, depression, anxiety, fear, and sadness. But I didn’t know for sure if I wanted to stop drinking. In fact, stopping was the last thing on my mind. If there were no consequences to my drinking, believe you me, I would be sitting on a beach somewhere with a Mai Tai in my hand! So if anyone ever says, “I want to stop drinking,” they're probably lying! Anyone who drinks alcohol likes to drink. They like socializing with friends and having fun. They like the euphoria that alcohol gives them. They like the feeling. That “Ahhh, now everything’s going to be okay” feeling. They just don't like the consequences.
For a long time, I would quietly go to AA meetings while I was still drinking. I would try not to talk to anyone because I was often drunk. It seemed pointless, I know, but I kept going and didn't understand why. In hindsight, I can see that it was because I wanted to stop the pain and suffering. I‘d had enough of that. But I wasn't convinced that I had no power. The reality was that I had no power!
If you're like me, you probably came to this point in your life with one specific goal: To learn how to not drink or use one day at a time. To satisfy a court order, angry wife, disappointed children, or to keep a job. And that is precisely what I was told at every meeting. I was going to learn the techniques and get the tools I needed. I was going to get more information. I was convinced that was all I needed—more information.
I learned all about it. I learned all about the progression of my disease. What denial and mental obsession mean. I could tell you where all the meetings were in my area and at what times. But I couldn’t stop drinking no matter what. The issue was I had no power. No power to stop drinking and stay sober. I wanted to be sober, but I couldn’t stop.
In Bill’s story, the authors wrote about having no power.
Ask yourself: Do I have the power to stop drinking once I start, and the phenomenon of craving has kicked in? Can I control the mental obsession once I’ve taken my first drink?
I hadn't figured out precisely what Step 1 was all about. I knew what it said. I admitted that I had no power over alcohol—that my life had become unmanageable. But I had no clue what this really meant. I thought it was just about telling someone I was a drunk! So ask yourself another couple of questions.
Ask yourself: If I have no power to stop drinking, if I have no power to control the obsession once I start drinking, then just how manageable is my life? Is my life manageable, or is it that three-ring shit show of chaos and confusion we talked about earlier?
Can You Take It or Leave It?
Before we drill down into this idea any further, I want to let you know that when I first understood what I’m about to share, it had a profound and immediate impact on me—one I will never forget. I finally figured out who I was, and because of that, it ultimately led to my sobriety.
Addiction is a real disease. Just like cancer, heart disease, or diabetes. If you were diagnosed with lung cancer today, would you seek help? Would you find out more about your disease and how to stop smoking, or would you just keep doing what you have always done?
Sometimes, we have to start with the basics of understanding who we really are and what we really have before we can move in the right direction and start asking others for help. Okay, let’s explore some more.
The authors of the Big Book wrote about moderate drinkers. How they have little trouble in giving up alcohol entirely if they have a good enough reason to stop. That moderate drinkers can take it or leave it.
Stop now . . .
Ask yourself: Can I take or leave alcohol?
If you can, then you're probably a moderate drinker and not an alcoholic. The authors also wrote that there are certain types of hard drinkers. That they may have a habit badly enough to gradually impair themselves physically and mentally. That they may die a few years before their time. If these people have sufficient reason—for example, health, falling in love, change of environment, or the warning of a doctor—they can stop or moderate, but that they may find it difficult and may at some point need medical attention.
Ask yourself: Is there sufficient enough reason for me to stop or moderate at this point in my life? Am I just a hard drinker?
I always thought that this is who I was. I would always tell myself that I work hard, so I deserve to play even harder. I remember, at one point, my wife telling me that I needed to stop drinking and seek help, or she would leave and take our daughter with her. I said, “Okay, bye.” I couldn't let that get in the way of my drinking. I needed alcohol more than anything.
In hindsight, watching my marriage and family fall apart should have been a pretty good indication that I wasn't just a “hard drinker.” Was that normal or abnormal and unmanageable? So what’s thedefinition of the real alcoholic?
I remember early on in my sobriety, I heard something at a meeting for the first time when a guy spoke up and said his name and then added, “I'm a real alcoholic.”
I remember thinking, “What an asshole! We are all alcoholics here, why would you say that? Why else would we be here if we weren't?”
What I didn't know at that time was what I was about to discover because, as the authors of the Big Book wrote, an alcoholic may start off as a moderate drinker. I knew a lot of people in my life that drank more than me, and the only difference was they weren’t alcoholics.
We read that a real alcoholic may or may not become a continuous hard drinker, but at some stage of their drinking career, they begin to lose all control of the amount of their consumption, once they start to drink. Meaning one drink is never enough.
This is what separates a moderate or hard drinker and a real alcoholic. Once I take just one sip of alcohol, I lose all control. I have no power to stop. I can't take it or leave it. I can't stop when sufficient reason is present. I can’t stop, no matter what, until catastrophic things happen in my life.
I have to be clear about this for myself. If I have clarity about the phenomenon of craving, who I am, and my experience with this, then I can help someone else become clear too. So I don’t profess to know who is and who isn’t an alcoholic. That is a decision you need to make for yourself. But I am very clear about my own experience with this and can share it with someone else.
Ask yourself: Am I a moderate drinker? Am I a hard drinker? Can I stop drinking if sufficient reason is present? Am I a real alcoholic?
I’ve sponsored people who have stopped drinking or gone through treatment to stop who, when I ask them, “Are you a real alcoholic?” They say yes, but when I ask them how they know, they say it’s because that’s what they’ve been told at a treatment center. I’ve also had people come into my treatment center addicted to heroin, cocaine, or other drugs, who say they aren’t alcoholic but addicted to drugs. And, after going through the 12 Steps with me, say, “Cord, I figured out who I am? I am a real alcoholic.”
I've also experienced just the opposite. Many come in for drug addiction treatment but believe being sober is defined by not using their drug of choice while continuing to drink alcohol. These are usually the same people I see at meetings taking a 24-hour newcomer chip over and over again. People who come in and out of sobriety. They are just like I was. In and out. I would get 30 days, 60 days, a couple of months, and then use it again.
The reason this happens is that, like me, every time they open their mouth to say, “I am not an alcoholic,” they are lying—just as I once did. A drug is a drug. It doesn't really matter whether it’s alcohol, tobacco, cocaine, opiates, heroin, meth, or benzodiazepines. The principle is the same. Looking at myself, I admitted that alcohol was my drug of choice, but still, I was an everything-else user. I would take anything that would make me high. And there was never enough once I started, and the phenomenon of craving was present.
For me, sobriety is not using any drug at all. Not even tobacco. After all, nicotine is a drug. For others who believe they are just addicted to a specific drug and not alcohol, they have their own experiences with who they are. They sometimes find a different meeting to attend that works better for them. Maybe they go to NA instead of AA because it fits better with who they are and their own experiences and situation. It is crucial to be clear about our own experiences and situations.
The Big Book talks about “mental obsession” and how the alcoholic’s main problem is in their mind, rather than in their body. If this is true, then alcohol is only a symptom of my problem. The main problem is in our thinking, which makes this an excellent time to look at your own experiences in life.
Ask yourself: Was my thinking obscured or clear before starting the 12 Steps?
Surrendering to the Truth
I know my thinking was obscured. In fact, my confused and cloudy mind has caused me more pain, more suffering, more financial, and legal trouble than anything else. This is why I could relate when the authors wrote that most alcoholics, for reasons they don’t understand, lose the power of choice when they take the first drink of alcohol. I can relate to this, can you?
Stop and turn this into a question . . .
Ask yourself: When I drink alcohol, do I lose the power to choose?
I hear this in meetings, “I choose to not drink today.” If it were that easy, if I could choose, then would I need the AA or the 12 Steps or a sponsor or a higher power to be sober? I wouldn’t. I’d just not drink!
Years ago, my brother took up drinking wine, which quickly developed into a daily routine. He said that at some point, he simply chose to stop because it was starting to interfere with his work and family. Does he sound like a real alcoholic? I think not. If I had the power to do this, I would. So why is it hard for me to stop? I read that our so-called willpower is, for the most part, nonexistent. That we can’t remember clearly, the amount of suffering and humiliation, we have had in our past to keep us from taking that first drink.
In other words, remembering how bad it was for me isn’t enough to stop me from drinking. That no matter how much education I have, how much suffering and pain I go through, or the probable loss of my family, friends, and business, and potential health problems will not keep me sober. Nothing will keep me from drinking.
It is absolutely imperative to my survival that I admit to my innermost self that I have no power once I start drinking. That I surrender to the fact that there is absolutely nothing that I can do to keep myself sober. That I am going to drink no matter what, once I start! That I don’t have any defense against the first drink.
Ask yourself: Do I have any defense against the first drink?
Again the authors emphasize that alcoholics have no power once they take the first drink. That, as an alcoholic, I don’t have a defense. I know it has always been that way with me. I need power more than anything to keep me from drinking. I need something greater than me. A higher power. Real power!
I always thought that going to AA or treatment would give me the tools to stop drinking. That’s what I’d always been told. I didn't understand at the time that what I really needed was to experience my 1st Step. I had never done it before. I needed to surrender and to concede to the fact that I had no power. I needed to admit, just as it is written in the 12 Steps: I am “power-less” once I drink alcohol. Powerless against the phenomenon of craving once I take that first drink.
As a result of having a 1stStep experience and making an admission and conceding to my innermost self about who I really was, I was able to surrender and find a power greater than me. Once I surrendered, I gained a burning desire to seek out power. Real power!
Until I had this experience on my own, I had no desire to seek out a power greater than me. Consider this. If I already have the power I need to stop drinking and stay sober, then do I really need a 1st Step experience? I should be able to just quit anytime I want. This is the very reason why the authors spend 43 pages of their book on Step 1. Clue: it is the most important one.
The 12 Steps help identify whether we are unable to drink or we moderate. The question for us is how to stop altogether, let alone moderate. Assuming we really want to stop. The issue is whether a person can quit entirely on a nonspiritual basis based on the lack of power to choose whether to drink or not.
Ask yourself: Do I believe I can stop drinking on a nonspiritual basis, using my own willpower?
If not, then you might be having the same experience that thousands of men and women have had at this point. The same experience I had.
Ask yourself: If I can't quit on a nonspiritual basis, then I have lost the power to choose whether I will or will not drink, haven’t I?
Early in my journey, I had several sponsors trying to help me find the answers I needed. I thought that a sponsor was someone to just get information from in the morning or at night. Someone who was supposed to talk me out of drinking. None of them were successful in helping me to understand this simple proven plan except for one.
I met a man who impressed me with his knowledge of the 12 Steps, and I asked him if he would sponsor me and take me through the Steps. He asked me if I had been through Step 1 before. “Of course,” I told him. I had been through all of the steps several times and with several different sponsors and didn't feel it necessary to do it all over again.
However, with this guy, it was different. I will never forget his next question: “Cord, be honest with me. Can you choose to not drink today?”
At that point in my life, I honestly couldn’t. We wouldn't need all of this if it were that simple. So how about you?
Ask yourself: Can I simply choose to not drink today?
I had to explore the idea that if I am really an alcoholic, then I believe there is no simple solution for me. I believe life has become impossible. I have passed the point of no return, and no alternatives or humanitarian aid can help me. That my only decision at this point is to go on to the bitter end or accept spiritual help. I found the answer in Step 1. The authors are clear that there are only two alternatives: Keep drinking until death or seek spiritual help. There is no middle-of-the-road solution for real alcoholics. Explore this within yourself.
Ask yourself: What will happen if I seek out a middle-of-the-road solution?
What I mean by the middle of the road is to be one of those guys you see at AA meetings every week and never misses one. This is a man who comes to the same meeting every single day. Shares at the same meeting every single day and says the same exact thing every single day, proclaiming that all you need to do to stay sober is read the Big Book, get a sponsor, come to a meeting every day and ask God to keep you sober just for today. Doesn't talk about the Steps or doing the work at all. I must consider that this is someone who may be trying a middle-of-the-road solution.
So what if you keep going to meetings but do none of the work that it takes? What if you never seek out a sponsor? Never experience the 12 Steps or promises? Never find a higher power. Never have a spiritual awakening or physic change. Will you stay sober?
I’ve tried all of this. I went to meetings every day for the longest time. I didn't want a sponsor. I was the guy in the back of the room, not getting involved. Not sharing my experiences because I had never had one. I hadn’t done the work necessary to have my own experience. It didn't work out for me. I drank again and again. And it wasn't until I actually completed the 12 Steps and had my own spiritual awakening, my own experiences, that I was able to be free. Free from myself. Free from the compulsion to drink or use. Are you willing to do the work needed for freedom from drugs or alcohol? How free do you want to be?
Managing the Unmanageable
Let’s explore the issue of unmanageability.
Ask yourself: What is the most insane thing I have ever done either while I was drinking or sober?
I'm not talking about the obvious DUIs, arrests, going to court, falling down in public, jail time, making an ass of yourself in public, yelling at a wife, child, or friend. I am talking about something much more insane than this.
I’ll share mine. The most stupid and insane thing I did was when I was four years into sobriety. Cruising along, staying sober, and going to meetings. Sponsoring guys and working the 12 Steps. At that time, I was the happiest I had been in years. I was Mr. AA. Had the rings, hats, t-shirts with “RECOVERY” printed on them. I was a chairperson at a meeting every day and secretary at another nightly meeting. I had it all under control.
One day I was out to dinner with a friend at a convention in Las Vegas. He was having a glass of wine and asked me if I would like one. My mind said, “I think I can have a glass of wine today. I can handle it.”
Does this sound insane to you? Does this look like a life that is manageable or unmanageable? Is this normal or abnormal? After years of chasing answers to find sobriety. After going in and out of seven different treatment programs and accomplishing four years of consistent sobriety, and my mind is saying, “You can handle this, Cord, go ahead.” Really?
The point is this. At that time, I was on a journey to sobriety. Four long years into my journey, but I was nowhere near actual sobriety. Long-term solid sobriety takes work. To recover fully from addiction and alcoholism takes work. Work that I had never done at that point.
At that time, I was white-knuckling every day to stay sober like so many others. Making it one day at a time. Going to a meeting every day, getting a sponsor, reading the Big Book, always working on my 4th Step, never sponsoring anyone because I hadn’t been through the Steps. Praying and asking God to keep me sober “just for today,” living my life in reservation about who I am because that’s what they told me to do. It was a pathetic existence and one that was doomed to fail.
At that time, I hadn’t been all the way through the 12 Steps, so I had no real sobriety. One little drink, and I was right back in the shit! Up to my eyeballs, and it was worse than it had ever been. One little drink and I spun completely out of control, losing everything I had gained over those four years. Waking up days later at a golf resort in Scottsdale, Arizona, not knowing how I even got there. Nine empty bottles of vodka scattered around the hotel room. I stayed out drinking for the next two years! Does this look like unmanageability to you?
There is an excellent description of “unmanageability” in ”Step 2.” The authors wrote about having trouble in relationships and lacking control over our emotional state of mind. How we can’t make a living or have financial issues. That we are full of fear, feel useless, and are genuinely unhappy. That we have no connection to God or a higher power.
Answer these questions about your own manageability with a YES or NO:
—Am I currently having trouble with relationships? YES/NO
—Can I control my temper and emotions? YES/NO
—Do I feel useless? YES/NO
—Am I depressed, anxious, and miserable? YES/NO
—Do I have the job I really want? YES/NO
—Am I full of fear? YES/NO
—Am I unhappy? YES/NO
—Am I trying to connect with God daily by just asking him to keep me sober just today? YES/NO
—Am I any good to anyone else? YES/NO
The mental obsession that comes with alcoholism isn’t just about your mind telling you it's okay to have a drink, as mine did in Las Vegas. It's not about sitting around all the time at home obsessing and thinking, “I just want a drink!” There are many different examples of mental obsessions in the Big Book. Like switching from hard alcohol to beer or wine. Deciding not to drink until after 5 p.m. Limiting the amount of alcohol you purchase and keep on hand. There’s even the story about a man who put whiskey in milk to coat his stomach so he could drink more. Absurd behavior, wouldn’t you agree?
Let’s go back to my little Las Vegas faux pas. When I had that drink, did I have a normal or abnormal reaction to alcohol? Abnormal, of course! I experienced the phenomenon of craving. Once I had a drink, there was no sufficient reason great enough to keep me sober. It was game on! I couldn’t control myself once I started to drink. I lost the power to choose once I took that first drink.
The most important thing to consider is fully conceding to your innermost self that you have no power. As long as you hold on to anything other than fully conceding to your innermost self that you are unmanageable and have no power, nothing else will work. It's a proven fact of the disease.
You will prove yourself wrong if you think that more knowledge, more meetings, a better sponsor, a better book, some new technology, or drugs will be enough to keep you sober. If you keep telling yourself, “I needmore information, that’s it, more information, that’s the ticket. That will keep me sober.” Ifyou can’t get this concept, there is no room for you to move on to Step 2. Because the next step tells us that we came to believe that there must be a power greater than us that will help us change our thinking. So if you are still hanging on to some other idea that anything else can keep you sober, there is no room to move on. And this is exactly what happened to me for several years. At that time, I bounced in and out of treatment centers, programs, and AA. In between sponsors and groups, looking for more information. Refusing to concede to my innermost self that my life had become unmanageable. That I had lost all control. That I had no power. That I couldn’t stop drinking once I started. I was totally convinced of this. My actions during this time are proof of this. That without power, I am going to drink no matter what.
This is why the only thing that works is to fully concede, “I have no power to stop.” To continue with daily prayer and meditation. To take time for daily reviews and work the 12 Steps. For me, working in addiction services at my treatment center and working with others is the only thing that will keep me sober.
To finish, Step 1, you need to answer these all-important questions YES or NO:
—Am I willing to concede to my innermost self that I am an alcoholic or addict? YES/NO
—Am I willing to concede that I don’t have the power to quit once I start? YES/NO
—That my life is unmanageable because of it? YES/NO
My hope for you is that you will have a 1st Step experience. What I mean by this is that right now, you are probably not feeling that good about yourself. You may feel like you are unmanageable and out of control. That you have no power and that you will keep drinking no matter what. You may be feeling a little queasy in the stomach, feeling a little despair, fear, and anxiety.
I’ll let you off the hook for a minute and give you some hope. But first, I want to take the opportunity to tell you my 1st Step experience in the hope that it will give you an idea of what you are looking for and what you might experience on your own. Now, I don't want this to come off as Cord's drunk-a-log, but you need to understand first the extent of the circumstances to understand the outcome of my experience.
Reaching for the Bottom
At the height of my drinking career, my life was so unmanageable, and out of control that looking back on it, you might think I made it up or that it wasn't possible. I was such a train wreck.
See, I was always the guy in control. I had money, a nice big home, new cars and was respected by all who worked for me and with me. I don't remember exactly when it all spiraled so out of control, but I can tell you that when it did, it was like watching a 747 come out of the sky in a ball of flames, and nothing could stop it.
My drinking issues went on for over 20 years, but at this point, within a year, everything came unwound on me. My wife left and took our daughter with her because of my drinking and financial troubles, which were due to my drinking. My business associates disowned me, and my business crumbled and burned to the ground until I was bankrupt.
I remember the day my wife left, and I found myself alone. I sat on the couch, staring at the television for the longest time and drinking. I don’t believe I had ever felt that kind of misery, despair, and loneliness before. The more I drank, the more acceptable my current situation became.
Soon they came and turned off the power. I thought I don’t really need power, do I? I had a bottle of alcohol. This is acceptable. Then they came and turned off the water, and I thought, I don’t really need water, do I? I can shower at the community center when I really need it. Then they came and changed the locks on the front doors and removed me from my house, locking inside it, every single possession I owned.
I thought I don’t really need a home, do I? I’ve still got a car. I can sleep there or find a cheap hotel. I have my alcohol, so this should be acceptable. I can make it work somehow. As long as I had my alcohol, it wasn’t going to be that bad. In the depths of my addiction, each new low became okay as long as I had my drugs and alcohol. To me, it all became delusional and acceptable.
I moved to a small condo until I lost that. Then I lost my car to repossession. I borrowed a truck from a friend. I moved to a cheap hotel room that was close to the liquor store. I knew everything would work out. “I have enough money for alcohol so I can manage this,” I thought.
What I thought was going to be a month or so, turned into a year. I walked to and from the liquor store every day to get what I needed. Borrowing, panhandling, and making it through one day at a time, not eating, and drinking to oblivion. During that year, I thought that I was starting to experience what might the bottom. I wasn’t even close.
A year later, I found myself with back-to-back DUI arrests, one of which involved wrecking my friend’s truck. He, of course, took it back from me. I found myself homeless. No car, no home, no money, on the streets of Salt Lake City. Living in a crappy hotel room or anywhere else, I could sleep and drinking 24/7. My children had written me off for dead. They believed that I had a death wish and was going to drink until I died. Many days, I wondered, “Have I found the bottom?” But I wasn’t even close.
Over the next year, I survived on alcohol and nothing else and don’t remember much about it. My days ran together and were spent from sun up to sun down in fear and anxiety about where I was going to find enough money for a bottle and to pay for the hotel room. I wasn't afraid of my own death or that no one in the world wanted anything to do with me. My fear was not having enough money to buy enough alcohol to last me through the day and night.
My daily regimen consisted of at least one-fifth (750ml) of vodka in the morning and then another one at night to get me to sleep before waking up, usually at about 3 a.m. to drink what was left so I could go back to sleep and then start all over again the next day. I would walk for miles from one liquor store to another each day, so the store clerks wouldn’t notice how drunk I was and not sell to me. It was a routine that I started after a liquor store manager refused to sell to me one day because I was too intoxicated. I thought I had finally found my bottom. Not even close.
To finance my daily consumption of alcohol and the $19 I needed for the roach-infested hotel room, I had to go to extremes. For much of the next year, I found myself panhandling on the street corner near my hotel. Holding a sign that read, “Please Help! VETERAN Needs Your Help!” scribbled in black marker on a piece of cardboard. I grew out my beard and wore a hat and dirty clothes so as not to be recognized.
I remember the horror I felt one day when a past business associate, his wife, and children stopped, rolled the window down, and handed me $5. I thought for sure they must have recognized me and then quickly surmised they hadn’t. I thought my disguise must be pretty good. I didn’t put the two and two together in my delusional state of mind, that I was down from my usual 190lbs to about 140lbs, dirty, unshaven, and was wearing some pretty ragged clothing.
During this time, I found that I could get just enough for the hotel room plus an additional $9.85 by begging for it. The extra was just what I needed for a fifth-size bottle of the cheapest vodka money could buy, and then I would walk to the liquor store to get my fix. Then usually would repeat this cycle if I ran out and needed more alcohol during the day. Often, I would think to myself, this must be the lowest place I have ever found myself. This has to be the bottom. Not even close.
I became angry. Angry at the world. Angry with God, and with myself. I felt like I was backed into a corner. I felt desperate but was determined that I wouldn’t ask anyone for help, no matter what. I was convinced that no one cared anyway.
One night I had a new experience in my drinking. I had a violent withdrawal from alcohol and became extremely ill. So violently ill that I thought I was dying. I called my mother, a retired nurse, to tell her what was happening. She told me I needed to be hospitalized. That a catastrophic withdrawal from alcohol like this could cause a seizure, stroke, or heart attack.
Instead, I decided to drink more to try to compensate and stop the withdrawal while we talked. I drank an entire bottle of vodka in an attempt to feel better and passed out on the floor. I was trying to talk to my mother on the phone when it happened. I had a violent seizure while she listened. She called 911.
I woke to the sounds of emergency room personnel, doctors, and nurses. All rushing around doing what they were trained to do. A doctor was explaining to me that my heart had stopped, and they used paddles on me. A crisis worker came and asked me if I felt suicidal, and I said, “Are you kidding me? I certainly do! Can’t you people just tell me how I get this over with? Must be the bottom? Not even close.
I was taken to the mental ward at the hospital for a nine-day detox. During my fabulous stay at Club Med, I had a visit from a doctor on call. He came in and in a very matter of fact way explained the current state of affairs. He said, “Mr. Beatty? You have alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis of your liver.” I didn’t know what that meant, so he told me, “Your liver has completely failed. An ultrasound shows no function. We need to do a biopsy.”
That test showed the worst. My liver was shot entirely, and I was told there was no liver transplant available for people like me. He went on to tell me that I suffered from esophagitis and was bleeding internally. That my kidneys were failing as well, and my heart palpitations were the early signs of a stroke or heart failure.
I said, “What do we do to fix this?”
He said, “There is no fix, Cord. You have really done it this time. There is no liver transplant to be had and no recovery to be done.” He told me to put my affairs in order, call my children and family, and that the hospital would do what they could to help make me more comfortable.
I asked him, “What am I supposed to do with this information now?”
He said, “Pray,” and then left the room.
Found the bottom.
What’s at the Bottom?
For the first time in my life, I realized what I had really done. That I had a real problem on my hands because of my drinking. During those days in the hospital, I experienced a tremendous amount of pain. I became very angry and withdrawn. I couldn't call my children or my family. I was heartbroken for what I had done to them. I was defeated, broken, and wanted to die. I couldn’t face them after all of this.
About two nights into this, I couldn’t sleep from the pain and the medication wasn’t doing enough to really help, I had a visitor to my room.
Now, I have always thought that I may have been dreaming or delusional, but none-the-less, it seemed real. My visitor was tall, good looking, and a smooth talker. Neatly dressed, physically fit, and dripping with charisma. He sat in the corner of the room and started asking me questions. Uncomfortable questions about what my proposed immortality looked like and how he had an easier solution in mind.
The longer the questions and conversation went on, the more and more I became aware that this individual wasn’t what I was expecting. He started telling me I had no one to turn to. He said he was the only one left who loved me. He had all the answers and everything I wanted here. I became extremely uncomfortable with him and the conversation and told him to leave. “Okay, I’ll be around,” he said.
What I did next actually surprised me. I rolled off the bed and fell to my knees, and I prayed. I prayed with more outward emotion than I have ever experienced. I had never done this before. I grieved for my children and begged for forgiveness for what I had done to them. Pleaded for God to take me off this earth. “Help me! Please, help me!” I cried!
I was at the bottom. I surrendered.
I was defeated, alone, and desperate. I was in so much physical and mental pain that I felt I couldn’t take any more. I had the desperation of a dying man and pleaded with God, “I give up. Please, God, take me from this earth! I don’t care, and I can’t do this anymore. I don’t know what you want of me. Please just take me now!” I cried myself to sleep.
And the next morning, as I described in the Prologue, I awoke to find myself staring at a bluebird through the window. All the pain, anger, depression, anxiety, and fear were gone. I had finally surrendered to God. I had finally figured out what powerless really meant. I didn’t have God in my life and that he is what I needed. He had all the power, and I had none. I was powerless.
Four days later, and against medical advice, I walked out of the hospital. I called my mother and asked her if I could come home and stay for a while—I needed a safe place to disappear.
From the moment I awoke that morning in the hospital, I felt God’s presence all around me. I was at peace and felt serenity like I had never experienced. It was as if I had angels surrounding me, keeping me safe, and watching over me. I knew that in this instance, God was doing for me what I couldn’t do for myself. It was there. I finally had my 1st Step experience and began my journey to sobriety.
I hope this gives you encouragement and hope. But let me give you some more before we begin Step 2. The authors of the Big Book wrote, ”as soon as I can admit the possibility of God or of a higher power, I will be surrounded by a new feeling of power and direction that I have never experienced before as long as I am willing to take other needed steps.” What it is referring to is finishing the other 11 steps.
When you read that, you will notice that the authors use the word “NEW.” Not something from the past or an experience that you have already had. It talks about a new experience that you are ready to have and receive. This means a new direction for you. It means you are going to discover a new power like you have never experienced it before. And you are going to have a direction that you have never had before. This is what we have to look forward to.
Before finishing the 1st Step, I want you to explore what the word “powerless means again.
Ask yourself:If I had the power to stop using and drinking, wouldn’t I have already done this?
So many people come to my treatment center in denial that a power greater then themselves exists. Many people come believing there is no God. I usually get this out of the way fairly quickly.
Let me ask you a question: How many times in your life have you been curled up on your bed in pain, misery, despair, and desperation? Broken, defeated, and hopeless? How often have you found yourself holding your hands and fists up to your face saying, “Please help me?”
My question to you is, “Who are you talking to?”
Ask yourself: Is my life manageable, or has it become a three-ring shit show of chaos and confusion we talked about earlier?
Ask yourself: Can I fully concede to my inner most self, that I lack the power to fix my problems on my own?
Congratulations on completing Step 1.
If go all the way through the steps, do the work as suggested, and then decide you are better off drinking and using, I will gladly refund your misery..