Pat T. June 21, 1992
When I first got sober, there was this great guy in my morning meeting called Coyote Tom. (He was known to periodically howl…don’t ask.) He used to say, “Remember, the new car will become the car, the new love of your life just the girlfriend, the new job just the job.”
What he meant is that every time I add something new to my life – even good things – I have to factor staying sober into the mix. New responsibilities have to be balanced with my primary purpose. That new car might include a loan payment. The new job can mean extra hours or an inability to hit regular meetings. The new relationship requires time to spend together.
I can’t tell you how often I hear people say they got so busy rebuilding their lives that they walked away from AA. And got drunk.
Every meeting where the preamble is read, we hear this: Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics achieve sobriety. In other words, this is the most important thing we do – the very reason for our lives as sober people.
It sounds so lofty, yet can be really hard to keep in balance. Our lives are broken when we get here. We feel tremendous urgency to fix things – finances, relationships, health issues, future plans. We suddenly see the impact that years of drinking has had on our lives. Time to get busy!
In the 12 & 12, the Seventh Step says this: “We had lacked the perspective to see that character-building and spiritual values had to come first, and that material satisfactions were not the purpose of living.”
Then in the Big Book, we’re warned that alcohol is a subtle foe. In other words, it’s sneaky. So while we’re running around working overtime, dating and hitting the gym – with no time for meetings, sponsors or helping other alcoholics – our obsession with booze waits quietly in the back of our minds, gleefully anticipating the day a drink will make sense to us.
“We will have no mental defense against the first drink.”
Trust me, it will be an ordinary day, not some big drama emergency. Just a day where you decide to have a beer with your co-workers, order wine on a dinner date. A day when you’re in a hotel traveling for work, a day when you see how high your credit card bill is, a day when you ask a doctor for narcotics…to help you sleep, to help you relax.
No one will know, you tell yourself.
If that’s the case, you definitely don’t drink like me. If I pick up, EVERYONE will know.
This program is a manner of living that’s dependent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition. But that means more than praying in the morning. Once I accepted help to go through the 12 steps, my sponsor told me to always remember this: “I am responsible. When anyone anywhere reaches out for help, I want the hand of AA always to be there. For that I am responsible.”
I don’t get to just grab the goodies and go on my merry way. I mean, I suppose I could, but what that would say about me?
I vaguely recall some discussion about in the Big Book about selfishness and self-centeredness. Too often I want to believe those words only apply to my drinking life. But honestly what could be more selfish than refusing to do for others what was so willingly done for me? I couldn’t put my sobriety in jeopardy any faster.
Don’t get me wrong, there have been times in my AA life where I’ve done less than others. There have been times when I thought I had nothing to offer. I’ve gone through health issues and emotional problems and pretty much anything that life could throw at me.
So I didn’t always get to as many meetings. Sometimes I felt really useless and alone. And then I would drag myself to a meeting in a rehab or homeless shelter and see the hope the eyes of those girls. See how much they needed to believe. Suddenly I remembered it was my responsibility to show them it was possible to recover.
I love it when Eddie F. says he’s sober on purpose. A long time ago, he decided to do this thing. All of it – not parts of it, all of it for as long as he’s around. That’s how I want to be – sober on purpose, primary purpose.
Here’s a few tips that resonated with me when I’ve struggled to keep my sobriety in the forefront of my life:
- Schedule your day around your meetings, not your meetings around your day.
- Clearly explain to your family, significant other and friends what’s involved for you to stay sober – meetings, sponsorship and time to talk to/help other alcoholics.
- It’s easier to walk away when you have no service commitments.
- Ask yourself what would have happened if you went to your first meeting and no one else was there?
- If you think you’ve “got this thing”, you’ve already dangling off the cliff.
- The things you put ahead of your sobriety – the job, the spouse – those are the things you will lose first.