In the last chapter, I shared with you how I had a relapse, got desperate, and began reading 12 steps literature. Now I am going to share what I found there and why it made sense to me.
Very Brief History of Alcoholics Anonymous
Essentially the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous (Big Book is just a nickname, the book is actually pretty small) is a guidebook for the hopeless. It begins with Bill W., the founder of AA, sharing his personal struggle.
He had been drinking for many years. At first he didn’t think anything was wrong with him, but eventually he
couldn’t deny that his life was completely out of control. He then proceeded to try to quit drinking.
He first tried self-control; that didn’t work. Then he tried getting a psychological understanding of his problem; that didn’t work. Then he tried locking himself in a recovery center – but as soon as he was out he got drunk again, so that didn’t work either.
Essentially, he tried everything that modern medicine at the time (late 1930s) had to offer, and nothing seemed to help him.
One night, he had an old drinking friend of his come over to talk to him. This friend was sober from drinking for about 2 months. Strangely, Bill said that his friend seemed to appear very happy and present.
His friend told him a story of his own, of how he was going to go to jail for his drinking and misbehaviors, but a couple of men came over and convinced the judge to let them try to save Bill’s friend. The judge agreed and Bill’s friend went out with these two men.
The two men were part of a religious Christian movement called the Oxford Group, and in essence their belief was that we human beings, were very poor managers of our own lives and that God could do a much better job of managing our life than we could. They have also worked out certain steps and principles to follow in order to achieve just that.
Additionally, Bill became aware of an idea that drunks existed throughout the history of the world, and usually most of them died from the eminent death, except for a few exceptions.
Every once in a while, some of the drunks claimed to have an intense “spiritual experience”, where they found their connection to God. After which they usually would stop drinking altogether for the rest of their lives, and became very religious.
The problem was that Bill W. didn’t believe in God. He agreed that perhaps there was a certain rule, law or energy source that governs the entire universe, but he couldn’t believe in anything else.
Any Description of God that Would Make Sense to Him
That is when his friend suggested that instead of adopting the traditional vision of God, Bill would create any description of God that would make sense to him. (This I believe is the crucial point to the success of AA).
Bill remembered this idea. At a later time in his life, Bill found himself committed to a mental hospital yet again for his drinking problem. He overheard his doctor talking to his wife, saying that this time Bill finally did it, and chances are his brain will not recover from another drinking spree, and if Bill were to get drunk again, his life expectancy would likely be less than a few months.
That is when Bill attempted to talk to God in his hospital room, asking God to save him. Then Bill claimed to have an “intense spiritual experience” where he saw a very bright white light, and he was able to fall asleep.
It is a historical fact that Bill W. did stop drinking after that day. When he left the hospital, he went on to share his vision with other alcoholics. Eventually, he broke away from the Oxford Group because its membership was too broad, and created a group designated specifically for alcoholics.
Bill’s followers went out and actively began to share their story with other alcoholics, and their membership grew to about a thousand people. By that time, the group existed for about 2-3 years, allowing many of the members to get and stay sober. That is when Bill W. wrote the Big Book of AA, which was reviewed and edited by the entire group, and later published.
The book was not an overnight success, but it did create a revolution in how the world saw addiction and created one of the most popular treatments for it – a 12 steps group. Hundreds of different groups have adapted Bill’s vision in one way or another, and are using it to help people overcome all kinds of different problems from overeating to sex addiction.
Let me bring you back a little to Alex’s story…
Remember how I shared in the last chapter that I began to watch a lot of horror movies during my relapse? Well, it didn’t stop there. As I continued to feed my addiction, my behavior continued to progressively get out of control.
The problem was not that I didn’t know how to stop. The problem was that I didn’t know how to manage my life if I did stop. I knew that if I were to do an ERP practice, I would not watch anything. I wanted to watch it though; I wanted to watch it really bad because I couldn’t stand to take the void, the emptiness that I was feeling. I just had to make it go away, to escape no matter what the price was.
At the same time, I realized that I could not rely on my addiction to take away this void, but I just didn’t know what else to turn to. So I continued to try to manage my addiction, through limited exposures and “white lies” (as I saw them at the time) to my girlfriend.
What I was actually doing was practicing my addiction, and reinforcing some of the negative beliefs that kept me trapped in the first place.
As I progressed further into more intense behaviors, I could no longer deny to myself that I’d fallen off the wagon. I felt desperate, I felt out of control, I felt like I’d tried everything humanly possible, and I didn’t know what to do.
I Went Back to the 12 Steps Literature
That is when I went back to the 12 steps literature; I downloaded an audio book version of the Big Book of AA, and listened to it. And I bought the idea. I really felt like turning my life over to God, however I understood God, was the only thing that was left for me to do.
I still was facing one big problem though. Should I tell my girlfriend about my relapse? She was so happy with my recovery; I didn’t think I could hurt her again. I told her that I was thinking of attending a 12 steps meeting (AA like meeting) for sex addicts, and she asked me why I felt like I needed to go.
I reassured her (lied) that everything was OK, and I just was curious to check it out. Few days after that I was laying in bed, thinking over what I was to do with my life. I asked myself, what would God want me to do? And instinctively I felt that God would want me to tell the truth to my girlfriend. That is when I made a decision to tell her, to do what God would want me to do, and hope that the rest will work itself out.
After I made this decision, my anxiety went away. I know it will sound cheesy, but I also saw a white light in my inner eye, I felt really happy and pure, and I was able to quickly fall asleep.
Few days later I came clean to my girlfriend, and few weeks after that I made it to my first 12 steps meeting.
Since then, many things have changed. I do not blindly believe everything that AA tells me. I did a lot of my own research (which I will share with you in future posts), and found out that there were many things that, I think, are wrong with AA.
Nevertheless, the 12 steps approach worked for me and is still very helpful until this day.
No, it is not perfect, but it is good enough. It is a powerful tool that helped me to get sober and stay sober. And I am confident that were it not for 12 steps, I would not have been able to achieve any long-term sobriety.
In the next chapter, I will share a little bit more about my take on 12 steps programs, and why I think it might be important for you.