When Alcoholics Anonymous first formalized the Twelve Steps of recovery now used by so many groups, the success rate was in the neighborhood of 50 to 75 percent. At that time, AA was closely affiliated with The Oxford Group, a non-denominational movement modeled after first century Christianity–a group which stressed total surrender to God.
AA’s growth was exponential. From the original group of a hundred or so in 1939 when the volume commonly known as The Big Book was published, the group peaked at an estimated 2.2 million members in 1992.
Since that time, membership has slipped and it is estimated that only 5 to 26 percent of those that attend a Twelve Step meeting recover. Why the drop off in the rate of success? Why indeed, especially in light of the explosion of rehabs that incorporate the Steps in their instructions. Opinions abound.
Having been in and out of the rooms for fourteen years before my permanent sobriety, I have some opinions of my own. For me, just going to meetings didn’t cut it. Until I got a sponsor and started working the steps the way they were originally laid out there was no lasting sobriety, no happiness, no end to loneliness that plagued me even when surrounded by so many.
Left to my own devices I could stay dry for maybe nine or ten months. But during these dry times I was didn’t like how life felt. I floundered. I inevitably returned to the bottle. I needed to grasp the simple concepts of recovery. Concepts I couldn’t grasp just going to meetings.
Simple concepts often get complicated. Consider the Third Step of Twelve Step Recovery, “Made a decision to turn our lives and our will over to the care of God as we understood [God].” I’ve heard people in the rooms go into convoluted explanations involving a frog deciding to jump off logs. If there are three frogs on a log and one of them decides to jump how many do you have? Three, all the frog did was make a decision–he didn’t have to DO anything.
I didn’t surrender my life and will for fourteen years. I made many a resolution and decision, but I didn’t do anything. I didn’t get into action. And I kept getting drunk.
We either do or do not surrender our lives and our will (or our thoughts and our actions if you prefer). In a truly surrendered state we turn away from our old lives of negative thoughts and actions to a life that is God-Conscious. In other words, spiritual principles run as a current through everything we say, think or do. By divorcing ourselves from old patterns, we step into a changed life where we are ready to make amends for past mistakes, renounce character defects that have blocked our relationships with God and our fellows, and get into service.
When surrendered (and if you are anything like me you aren’t always surrendered) we measure our every thought and action by whether it will draw us closer to God and others or build barriers. Is it loving, is it honest, is it pure, is it unselfish? Adopted from The Oxford Group, these are the standards by which the early AAs evaluated their decisions. Of course it was spiritual progress, not spiritual perfection. But there were standards.
Now days, standards are nowhere to be found. In rehabs we coddle alcoholics and addicts like little children. We educate them about the dangers of addiction. (I knew I was killing myself). We teach them to identify and watch out for “triggers.”
Triggers? Are you kidding me? I am an alcoholic and an addict. The sun rising in the morning was a trigger. Taking a breath was a trigger. Noting that the milk had expired was a trigger.
Awareness of triggers never kept me sober. But surrendering to a Higher Power-a step that I neatly avoided for years-did.
There was a time when starting my day off right involved ingesting a little 80-proof liquid mojo. Better to start the day a little buzzed than carry on in a hung over state. Rampant alcoholism dictated my every move.
Now starting my day off right involves surrender. I pause. I pray the Third Step prayer. I pause again and reflect.
On my best days, I allow for ample quiet time. Pen in hand I pause and reflect. I listen.
Why a pen? It is said that the strongest memory is weaker than the palest ink. Jotting down the impressions I get and reviewing them often is the best way to remember those impressions. I can’t just wing it. I forget so fast that I am not even sure what I had for breakfast four hours ago. How can I be expected to remember fleeting impressions?
When reviewing the “guidance” I receive I am careful to lookout for self-rationalized good intentions. The few wandering thoughts I scribble, typically unattended by any mystical feelings, need to be reviewed. Holding these impressions up against the standard of absolute love, honesty, purity and unselfishness helps. Running these impressions by my wife and/or sponsor helps even more. Throughout the day I can seek out a little additional quiet time when unclear as to what action to take.
Either God is everything or God is nothing. Do I need to be in control? I tried that for forty-one years and failed miserably. It’s time to let someone else take the wheel.
For years I heard about surrender and scoffed. It seemed too impractical. But then it was suggested that no empirical argument could make me a believer. I had to try it. The only way to know is to do.
Of course to get to that point, I had to make some radical corrections in my concept of God. I read recently in a daily meditation book that God is always on our side as long as we do the right thing. I used to have a God that put conditions on love like that. Now I have a God that loves unconditionally. I rarely am consistent in doing the right thing. I need unconditional love.
Is God some faraway, fault-finding Entity ready to withdraw love if I trip and stumble? That is not an entity that I can surrender to. I had to discard the notion of God I fashioned in my teenage years and return to the God of my earliest childhood–a loving God. That is the God that I want to put in control of my life.