by Leslie H. (Munro 2003)
The First Thing
“I used to have only two speeds,” she said to us. “One-hundred-sixty-klics-per-hour speed or dead-stop-paralysis speed.”
It was the first time I heard this woman speak at a 12-Step meeting, but it was as if she reached into my soul and found me. I identified.
I’ve been identifying with other recovered alcoholics and addicts for some time now. Identifying with their personal stories. Like my sponsor said to me the first time we sat in a restaurant where we met weekly to read the Big Book together, “the first thing is to identify.”
If you have a drinking problem, we hope you may pause in reading one of the forty-two personal stories and think: “Yes, that happened to me”; or more important, “Yes, I’ve felt like that”; or, most important, “Yes, I believe this program can work for me too.”
~Preface to Alcoholics Anonymous, p. xii
When I identify with the alcoholic/addict behaviour and identify with the feelings and thinking, then I have Step One. If I believe that this solution might work for me, too, identify with that hope, then I have Step Two, she said.
The Two-Speed World
Until I was 17, the community I identified with was that “two-speed” world. A childhood home of parties or isolation, of crazed laughter or morning-after tears. Raging violence or vows it would never happen again. Dysfunctional attempts at communication or stonewalling silence. New promising places to live or shameful moving in the night. By the time I was 14 we had moved 14 times and I was effectively rootless, with no earthly idea of community or how to fit into one. I retreated into a fantasy world … until one day that first drink and that first other drug came and invited me out.
I left home going 160 and basically didn’t stop until I hit the wall. In between was a community that felt like it had been born for me. If community means “participation by all,” then that was for me. I was the recruiter of anything that felt good and altered my state of being. You were either for me or against me. Even the sweet robins singing at dawn became enemies, because it meant the party was over. My community was a continual state of on or off, centred around how to get, use, and then find a way to do it all again. The two speeds were my way or the highway.
Until one day the switch seemed to be stuck on off. My community became a realm of one, behind closed doors, closed curtains, broken promises and relationships. My community had stopped taking my calls and I had become uninvited. I, who had wanted to be found so desperately, was now in permanent hiding.
Further Along The Road Less Travelled
Dr. Scott Peck, an American psychiatrist and author, wrote that alcoholics are blessed. He believes that we are all “broken” — full of grief and terror — even if we are not fully aware of it. And we are doubly cursed because we don’t talk to each other about these things, even though they are critical to our happiness. We hide behind masks of composure.
Alcoholics [and addicts], on the other hand, are not any more broken than the rest of us but they are unable to hide it anymore. So the great blessing of alcoholism is the nature of the disease. It puts people into a visible crisis, and, as a result, into a community – an AA group.
~ The Blessing of Alcoholism, Rupert Wolfe-Murray
My visible crisis was noticed by a recovered alcoholic because he identified with it. He asked, “Les, do you think you might have a problem with alcohol?” Although I didn’t know it at the time, I had been invited to something that was to change my life profoundly. I had been invited to spiritual community.
How Strange … and Even More Important
How strange that we should ordinarily feel compelled to hide our wounds when we are all wounded! Community requires the ability to expose our wounds and weakness to our fellow creatures. It also requires the ability to be affected by the wounds of others… But even more important is the love that arises among us when we share, both ways, our woundedness.
~ The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace, M. Scott Peck
One of my dear friends today, a fellow traveller in recovery, centres her spirituality and practice in the native medicine wheel. We often share about how we are being re-aligned to our true north. Bill Wilson talks about this in his essay on faith in the little book The Best of Bill. He talks about the compass of “perhaps the most important expression to be found in our whole AA vocabulary: the phrase “God as we understand him.”
In sobriety I have come to know there is so much more to life than two speeds. In fact, I believe there is not a “speed” as much as there is a circle of continual ebb and flow and vitality, like a wondrous, spinning wheel that ever points us to our true north.
Lately, I am experiencing challenges that are difficult to deal with … left to my own devices. But that’s the thing. I’m not left to my own devices. Today, I am part of a community — “a community of lifelong friends.” (AA, p. 152)
That community reminds me (when I forget) that “my real reliance is always upon” the God of my Understanding and promises that my Higher Power “will show me how to create the fellowship I crave.” (AA, p.164)
May we all experience this promise.