If You’re Doing Fine, Why Try The 12 Steps?

They Looked OK in the pan...

Appearances can be deceiving. These brownies looked great in the pan.

I’m not one of the Old Timers nor am I qualified to say with great humility, I’m one of those low-bottom drunks that we’ve heard of — I wasn’t living under a bridge or in my Jeep. I didn’t even lose any part of my family, my job, or my divers’ license. If you’d asked how I was doing, I would have said, I’m fine!

My loss was not external and obvious. So I’m thankful to have found the 12 Steps because my loss and my dysfunction were insidiously hidden: hidden from my friends, colleagues, and family. It was a loss that no one could see or diagnose for me. It wasn’t obvious to outsiders. It was, in fact, so hidden that even I didn’t know about it. I would have said that I was doing fine. Unhappy sometimes, elated sometimes, ambitious sometimes, tired sometimes. Just like everyone else. But I was fine.

In fact, I was having some of the best experiences of my life. I was taking road trips, exploring retreat sites, cruising, flying to exotic sounding places for business and speaking in front of thousands across the country. As one colleague said to me, You’re livin’ the dream!

I was. Or at least I thought I was… until one morning when I woke up and gathered my wine bottles into a discrete Von Maur bag and headed out to the locked garage where I habitually placed the empties in the trunk. As I passed the front of the car I saw that the driver’s seat had been moved. I stopped and stared at the seat. Why was it reclined? As I stood there I realized that I couldn’t remember the last part of my evening. Did I come out to the garage last night? Why would I recline the seat? I really didn’t know. I didn’t remember anything. But the garage was locked. I must have.

Trudging back to the house, I puzzled over it. I was taking Prozac for depression but I didn’t have any big plan of ‘ending it’. On the other hand, I recently had the garage door fixed so it would be more air-tight and the idea had come into my mind a time or two that I could easily get out of this life by asphyxiation. Any other kind of suicide sounded too scary, but that would have been my method if I ever got desperate enough.

Was the depression escalating? Was I losing my mind — arranging for the garage to be more air-tight as a back-up plan? Did I want to die? I had everything to live for. There were things I didn’t like about my life, but nothing that made me admit that kind of desperation to anybody.

I sat at my refinished but scarred oak table in the sun room and pondered the previous night as I looked down the path to the garage. My best friend had confronted me late in the evening. We were both upset and I’d written down the list of complaints she expressed so that I could look at all 9 of them later. I remembered drinking more than a bottle of wine. Two? Less? Maybe I was drunk. I didn’t know.

What’s drunk? No one in my family drank. Growing up in a house without alcohol, my information was limited. (As my alcoholic consumption rose, I’d asked my best friend if she thought I drank too much and she had said, you don’t drink as much as I do. True. So I dropped it. Admittedly, she had no idea how much I drank at night.)

Typically vowing to resolve this myself, I turned on the computer and Googled ‘alcoholic’ to see if the definition fit me. Of course, what came up was a list of links to Alcoholics Anonymous sites. I followed the first link, still looking for a definition. I gave it my zip code and up popped a list of AA meetings in my town.

Scanning the list, I noticed one nearby. I saw that in 15 minutes a downtown meeting was going to begin. Impulsively, I got my coat. Surely one of these people could define alcoholic for me and tell me if that was my problem. Probably not… so I anticipated crossing that off my list of causes and calling my doctor to tell him my meds needed to be adjusted.

After the meeting, the 5 women who took me out for a soda explained the reason I couldn’t remember going to the garage and trying to asphyxiate myself. I had experienced a black-out. They did not call me an alcoholic, but they shared enough of their own stories that I started to feel like they really understood me. Total strangers; but they knew how I was living and what I was feeling.

That’s how I found AA! I wasn’t sent by the courts, by an unhappy relative, or by a doctor. I’m so grateful it was there for me when I accidentally found it! I discovered that though I had not lost the tangibles of life: family, friends, home or prestige, I had lost my ability to live fully, enjoy ordinary moments and experience peace. I had forfeited my ability to assess life and experience reality, to express pain and joy sanely, to have the freedom to just be. I had lost more than something like a job, I had lost myself.

PS: There are many ways to lose yourself, many different paths promising a sense of euphoria, comfort or peace. They’re usually some form of spree: food sprees, sex sprees, money sprees, gaming sprees, electronic sprees, exercise sprees, busyness sprees… anything that provides escape from reality and offers a false hope of relief from pressure. Take your pick. Insanity options are endless. Your spree may not need the cover of a Von Maur bag, but it may be just as deadly to your spirit and damaging to your sense of identity.

Journaling Questions

  • How are you doing? How do you answer that?
  • Do you believe that people can think they’re fine and then suddenly self-destruct?
  • Would you say you enjoy life more or less than in the past?
  • Have you ever thought, I just want to go to sleep and never wake up?
  • My experience with ‘lack of control’ when it came to my drinking, caused me to fear for my sanity. Name one instance where you felt ‘out of control’. You might choose from one of the sprees listed above or one of your own experience.
  • What did you do each time, in order to regain a sense of control, or to feel better?
  • Does your spree of choice work?
  • On a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being fully at peace, how serene is your typical day? Perhaps when your serenity dips, it is from dealing with those people, places or things out of your control.
  • For the next 7 days, track your experience with this using the Serenity and Control Chart from the sidebar