This story began forty-five years ago, but to tell it, we need to begin at a more recent point in time in September 2020 when I attended the San Antonio, Mostly Agnostics, A.A., Zoom meeting. I have become a regular attendee because the San Antonians provides an atheist friendly space for the alcoholic.
I need to find a way to stop my “us and them” mentality. On several occasions, while attending A. A. meetings, emotions have arisen in me that are far removed from the compassion inherent in Buddhist practice.
I take the title of this essay from the 1722 English work of Daniel Defoe which is a fictionalized account of the last great Bubonic Plague outbreak in London of 1665. I am writing this piece in September of 2020 when the entire world is in the midst of its own “Great Plague” caused by the COVID 19 pandemic and many of us older people, as well as some younger folks, find ourselves under dire threat.
While I’m committed to the practise of spiritual principles as a part of my recovery from alcohol and other drug addiction, the emphasis within Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) on being accepting, compassionate, tolerant, unselfish and loving, etc, and of “practising these principles in all our affairs”, combined with literal interpretation of fellowship literature, can lead to unrealistic expectations of ourselves and potentially harmful consequences.
Emotional sobriety is a term thrown around recovery circles. It implies that we have more to recover from than just the physically addictive properties of alcohol. When I first got sober, I thought that it was the physically addictive properties of alcohol that kept me sick.
It was 1981, and I was nineteen years old and in my sophomore year at the University of Kansas, where I was living in a fraternity house. I was responsible for stocking the fraternity’s beer machine, actually an old soda machine that I would load with bottles of Coors and Budweiser. It was fortunate for me, but not so much for my fraternity brothers, who trusted me with this task. I loved drinking beer, and with keys to the beer machine, I had a steady supply. I loved alcohol. I loved it too much, really, and I was beginning to pay the price. At that time, I paid for my drinking with poor grades, broken relationships, self-loathing, and fear. Such was the state of my life when one day I was browsing through the local newspaper, The Lawrence Journal-World, and I ran across an advertisement for Alcoholics Anonymous. “No,” I decided, “I can’t be an alcoholic.”
When he opened the Big Book for the first time, he thought ... How will I ever fit in? Recently I visited a relative in Maine who asked me only one question about AA: “Is it religious?” My first thought was, Of course it is. Instead I paused, and told her she had asked the $64,000 question.
One of the more difficult phrases for me in the book Alcoholics Anonymous occurs on page fifty-three. The verbiage made me feel as if someone were trying to sell me something. It wasn’t a drastic aversion but more that someone had rubbed my fur the wrong way. The exact phrase is “. . . we had to face the proposition that either God is everything or else He is nothing. God either is or He isn’t.” (Alcoholics Anonymous p. 53)
One day at a time. Living in the present. Be here, be here now. Useful AA and beyond slogans. But … But for me an impossible task. The idea, though attractive, evokes something akin to the magical thinking required of me by let go and let god. Even more secular oriented notions such as live in the present create a sense of hope that has proven humanly impossible for me.