Category Archives: What We Mean When We Say…

A desire to stop drinking…facing our inability to leave it alone.

“Many of us felt we had plenty of character.
There was a tremendous urge to cease forever.  Yet we found it impossible.
This is the baffling feature of alcoholism as we know it –
this utter inability to leave it alone, no matter how great the necessity or the wish.”
(“Alcoholics Anonymous“, page 34)

In the early 1900s, the world began hearing the mythical story of a low-powered “switch engine” designed to pull light loads for short distances at navigational speeds over relatively-flat ground: “The Little Engine That (Allegedly) Could”.  In that story, the incapable engine is said to have ultimately succeeded in tugging a long train of fully-loaded rail cars through a high mountain pass while repeating “I-think-I-can–I-think-I-can–I-think-I-can–” along the way.  At the end of the story, the little engine is next heard to say “I-thought-I-could–I-thought-I-could–” while joyfully rolling down the other side of the mountain…and another story teller later changed that particular line to “I-knew -I-could!”

We have a much different story to tell, and it is a truthful one:

“…plenty of character (determination and fortitude, just like that little engine)…tremendous urgeyet found it impossibleno matter how great the necessity or the wish.”  (page 34)

Having first given up on ever again drinking with control, leaving alcohol alone altogether made logical sense:  “If we don’t take the first drink, we can’t get drunk”, right?  However, there was no amount of will power, determination and energy we could muster for getting that job done…

“…the will is amazingly weakened when it comes to combating liquor…”
“…the most powerful desire to stop drinking is of absolutely no avail…
“…lost the power of choice…without defense against the first drink.
“…complete failure of the kind of defense that keeps one from putting one’s hand on a hot stove.”  (pages 7, 24)

Where “the little engine” is said to have pulled a train up over a mountain, our alcoholism seemed to have pulled us down into a pit where we could only have a desire — no ability — to escape…

A tremendous urge (instinctual) to cease forever did not keep us from drinking;
Having an honest desire (logical) to cease forever did not keep us from drinking;
In our natural states, we were “without defense against the first drink.”  (page 24)

Can you see our dilemma there?  Urge plus desire does not overcome our inability to stop.  Our survival instincts produce an urge to stop, then our intellect (possibly aided by emotion) produces a desire to stop, and then we…

“…try leaving liquor alone…(and find) few, to whom this book will appeal, can stay dry…”  (page 34)

…and all of that ultimately leaves us at a place described in the title of this page:

A desire to stop, then facing our inability to leave it alone.
…or even…
A desire to stop facing our inability to leave alcohol alone.

There is where we found a desire to recover, and we have since learned recovery can begin at Step One.

Do you wish to recover?

“The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking
“We may refuse none who wish to recover.” (“A.A.“, Tradition Three)

“What do you mean by ‘recover’?”, you might ask.  “The Steps are only suggested, not required, and I can call myself a member of A.A. as long as I am not drinking, correct?”

Having a desire to stop drinking and having a wish to recover are actually the same in our A.A. Tradition concerning membership, and any alcoholic (whether still drinking or even if already not drinking) can expect to be “welcomed cordially – if s/he means business.” (page 161)  Then next, of course, we welcome others like ourselves to also “join us…in the Fellowship of the Spirit” (page 164) by taking the same Steps we took in order to recover…

“…we have ceased fighting…sanity [has] returned…seldom interested in liquor…recoil from it as from a hot flame…sanely and normally…without any thought or effort on our part…the miracle of it…neither are we avoiding temptation…have not even sworn off…the problem has been removed…does not exist for us…so long as we keep in fit spiritual condition.” (pages 83-84)

Do you have a desire to recover?  Along with a desire to stop, that is what brought us to A.A….and our continued desire to never again ever end up drinking again is part of what still keeps us here where we now also try to help others like ourselves.

God as who understands whom?

God as you understand God.
(“Alcoholics Anonymous“, page 164)

“…my Creator…” (pages 13, 76)
“…our Creator…” (pages 25, 68, 72, 75, 83)
“…a living Creator…” (page 28)
“…his Creator.” (pages 56, 80, 158)
“…their…Creator.” (page 161)
“…his Maker…” (page 57)
“…our Maker, as we understood Him…” (page 63)
“God, as I then understood Him…” (page 13)
“…your own conception of God.” (page 47)
“God as we understood Him.” (pages 47, 59, 60)
“God as you understand God.” (page 164)
“One who has all power…
May you find Him now!” (page 59)

Beginning here with a little from “Bill’s Story” in our Basic Text:

“Despite the living example of my friend…”
Bill was looking for a way to stay sober and Ebby had one…
“…there remained in me the vestiges of my old prejudice.”

Right there at his own kitchen table, Bill was hearing and seeing “…another kind of flight, a spiritual liberation from this world, people who rose above their problems.  They said God made these things possible, and we only smiled.  We had seen spiritual release, but liked to tell ourselves it wasn’t true.”  (page 55)

Bill and his wife, Lois, had each been looking for quite a while for a way for him to be able to stay sober, but even now with recovery sitting directly in front of him, the thought of “God could and would do for us what we could not do for ourselves” (pages 71, 84) was still sticking in his craw like a bad piece of dry, burnt toast…

“The word ‘God’ still aroused a certain antipathy (a deep-seated feeling of dislike; aversion).  When the thought was expressed that there might be a God personal to me, this feeling (of dislike of the word ‘God’ and my aversion to it) was intensified.  I didn’t like the idea (of anything about ‘God’ being personal to me).  I could go for such conceptions as Creative Intelligence, Universal Mind or Spirit of Nature, but I resisted the thought of a Czar of the Heavens (great power and authority), however loving His sway might be.  I have since talked with scores (multiple twenties) of men who felt the same way.”  (page 12)

Looking still a bit deeper:

“As psychiatrists have often observed, defiance is the outstanding characteristic of many an alcoholic…defying God Himself…”  (“Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions“, Step Two)

Many of us have in the past been stuck there for a time, and even for a great while…but now have a look at where we have nevertheless ended up:

“…practicing these Steps (as our new manner of living), we had a spiritual awakening about which finally there was no question…(and) we could predict that (even) the (next) doubter…would presently love God and call Him by name.”  (Step Twelve)

Ponder that huge difference for a moment, then consider this part of how we had been helped through the transition:

“My friend suggested what then seemed a novel idea.  He said, ‘Why don’t you choose your own conception of God?’
“That statement hit me hard.  It melted the icy intellectual mountain in whose shadow I had lived and shivered many years.  I stood in the sunlight at last.”  (page 12)

As properly understood and employed for melting icy intellectual mountains, this “choose your own conception of God” thought can be crucial in helping to bring about permanent recovery.  What it was never intended to do, however, would be to make an already-present “icy intellectual mountain” — intellectual pride — even more formidable by now adding “a god of your own understanding” as yet another view-blocking peak…

…as if chairs, trees, ash trays, light bulbs or “Groups Of Drunks” (where powerless + powerless + powerless = accumulated human powerlessness, not power) might somehow be sufficient for bringing about anyone’s actual recovery.  No matter how catchy and inviting the idea of “a god of your own understanding” (or of your own intellect or personal imagination) might seem, it still holds no guarantee of ever actually receiving “Good Orderly Direction” from inanimate objects such as coffee pots…or even from other breathing creatures like ourselves who are not already relying upon the Creator of all.  And so, here is the rest of the story surrounding Bill and us and Step Two:

“It was only a matter of being willing to believe in a Power greater than myself.  Nothing more was required of me to make my beginning.  I saw that growth could start from that point.  Upon a foundation of complete willingness I might build what I saw in my friend.  Would I have it?  Of course I would!
“Thus was I convinced God is concerned with us humans when we want Him enough.  At long last I saw, I felt, I believed.  Scales of pride and prejudice fell from my eyes.  A new world came into view.”  (pages 12-13)

What had just happened there?  What had made the difference for Bill?  What can make the difference for any of us here?  The absence of having anything sectarian pushed upon us, and that includes the absence of the “intellectual pride” — see the end of “Dr. Bob’s Nightmare” — often found behind one’s self-avowed agnosticism or atheism.  As at least one of us alcoholics (who had been a self-proclaimed atheist) had once pondered and then knelt on a desire to recover:

Who are you to say there is no God?”  (page 56)

Yes, we were hearing from people clearly saying they were “going to talk about God” (page 45), but we were not being told what we must (or must not) believe or even why we should (or should not) believe anything at all.  We were not being threatened with eternity in “hell”, and we were not being bribed or baited with promises of cushy afterlives in some kind of “heaven”.  In stark contrast to any kind of believe-it-or-leave religious doctrine or dogma, and as long as our own “conceptions of God”, so to speak, made sense to us (page 93), we were simply being offered opportunities to have our very own thoughts, feelings or beliefs about “God as you understand God” (page 164) while taking some simple “taste-and-see” actions — Steps Four through Nine — that ultimately got us to here:

“…as soon as we were able to lay aside prejudice and express even a willingness to believe in a Power greater than ourselves…we commenced to get results, even though it was impossible for any of us to fully define or comprehend that Power, which is God.
“…we did not need to consider another’s conception of God.  Our own conception, however inadequate, was sufficient to make the approach and to effect a contact…to be possessed of a new sense of power and direction, provided we took other simple steps.  We found God does not make too hard terms with those who seek Him.  To us, the Realm of Spirit is broad, roomy, all inclusive; never exclusive or forbidding to those who earnestly seek.  It is open, we believe, to all men.”  -and-  “When we drew near to Him He disclosed Himself to us!”  (pages 46, 57)

No matter what we might say or do here, some people are still going to believe we are trying to “push God” upon them or even upon you.  We are not.  But if that might still be your own feeling or conviction, we staunchly defend your personal right to have it…and we would leave you with just these pertinent facts as we know them and have already shared them:

We had found ourselves unable to control our drinking while drinking, we had found ourselves just as powerless to leave alcohol alone altogether while sober…

“We were having trouble with personal relationships, we couldn’t control our emotional natures, we were a prey to misery and depression, we couldn’t make a living, we had a feeling of uselessness, we were full of fear, we were unhappy, we couldn’t seem to be of real help to other people…”  (page 52)

…and now we no longer have those problems overwhelming us as they once were and driving us back to drinking.  Some of our fellow alcoholics might somehow be able to achieve something similar or even the same without ever turning to the Sovereign Creator of all for direction and care such as we could have never provided for ourselves, but that does not change our report that “God as you understand God” now does that for us…and both can and will do the very same for you if you might ever find yourself in need of that (Step One) and willing to give Him a shot at it (Step Two).  So if you might ever change your mind…

Abandon yourself to God as you understand God.
Admit your faults to Him and to your fellows.
Clear away the wreckage of your past.
Give freely of what you find and join us…in the Fellowship of the Spirit…
May God bless you and keep you – until then.
—  “Alcoholics Anonymous“, page 164  —

Our “Sufficient Substitute” For Alcohol

Q: “‘I know I must get along without liquor, but how can I?  Have you a sufficient substitute?’
A: “Yes, there is a substitute and it is vastly more than that.  It is a fellowship in Alcoholics Anonymous.  There you will find release from care, boredom and worry.  Your imagination will be fired.  Life will mean something at last.  The most satisfactory years of your existence lie ahead.  Thus we find the fellowship (we share within our autonomous A.A. fellowships), and so will you (in an autonomous spiritual entity of your own).”  (“Alcoholics Anonymous“, page 152)

Some of us used to believe sobriety might be a solution for our problems.  We knew we did not have drinking troubles while sober, of course, but sobriety had become just as unbearable as our drinking.  Consider:

S.O.B.E.R.  =  Son Of a Buck, Everything is Real!

We who used to drink for the effect needed something much greater than sobriety, and we knew that.  So, what makes the difference today?  Spiritual fellowship, and we experience that by taking, by living and by sharing the Twelve Steps that can facilitate permanent recovery.

Many people who know little of that actual experience might try to convince you sobriety either is or can be very beautiful and wonderful all in itself.  They typically begin their days with something like “Don’t drink, no matter what”…and then they end even their worst days with a bit of moral or philosophical comfort (while patting themselves on the back for not drinking and) while saying something like, “There is no day so bad that a drink would not make it worse…”

…then they all nod and try to smile a bit as if something so painfully obvious is somehow actually profound…and it is not our intent to sound cynical or sarcastic here.  Rather, it is a simple fact that we could never have continued to live that way without eventually drinking again…and actually, neither can many of them.  No, and just as we hope those folks might yet discover, we needed much more than mere sobriety.  If sobriety had been enough to treat our alcoholism, detox would have released us from our alcoholic troubles.  So, and as we have learned…

“Choose your path for its destination and not by the depth of its rut.”  –unknown