The First Step: Phase Two

by A.H., New York City

Tonight I attended a discussion meeting on Step Three. It had such an impact on me that I am still shaken as I write this. As a guide toward long-term, comfortable sobriety, this meeting is probably of greater importance than the first meeting I attended. In a sense, I retook the First and Third Steps tonight, only with much greater awareness, faith, and feeling.

It is not easy for me to admit that in many ways I have been dying inside, while trying to maintain a confident pose on the outside. The constant, frantic activity that I have engaged in during the past three years has effectively served as a means of preventing me from having to face me. It is easier for me to be among a hundred persons at meetings than it is to be alone or with one person. It is easier for me to speak to a crowd than it is for me to write this article. But I have gotten to the point where I just cannot run any longer. I must ask for, and be willing to accept, the help of fellow members of our beloved community, the Fellowship of AA.

Just as people were aware of my drinking problem long before I was aware of it, or was willing to admit to it, so, too, were people aware that I was not working the program, although I was going through all the motions. I would constantly separate myself from the others before the meetings by standing in the back of the room or off to the side, or by coming in late. Then after the meeting I would run from person to person, stopping only long enough to say, “Hi, how are you”. A friend asked me, on a couple of occasions, if I was getting votes. I knew what he meant, but I made like I didn’t. Another friend remarked that the only way I could greet more people after a meeting would be on roller skates.

Part of the reason this behavior persisted so long was that I could easily justify it as work which should be done and as a means of helping many people. Also, I seem to be a leader by nature; people expect me to be a leader, and it is a job I enjoy and feel comfortable doing. But it was becoming increasingly difficult for me to lead, since I was always fearful that people would discover I was not what I seemed.

I have spent far too many hours and too much energy trying to satisfy every person I know, so that no one person might feel ill will toward me if I did not do what was expected of me. I was always a reflection of the group and the opinions of those I was with. I would go to any lengths to have people think I was doing well, and at the same time I resented their failure to see how poorly I was really doing. I wanted people to compliment me and express gratitude, yet I would be very upset when they did. I knew I had many good qualities, but I also knew I could not use them to advantage for fear “they” might not approve – whoever “they” were.

There has been an increasing gulf between the inner me and the outer me. This has created an isolation and an inability to feel for others. Since I no longer choose to use alcohol to escape myself, I must not only face myself, but do something about caring for others. Until now, for someone to tell me that they loved me was like pointing a dagger at me. It was not a comfort but a threat.

It explains why I “fired” my sponsor last fall when I felt he was getting too close to the inner me, and why I have not called him since. It also explains why, after years in the program, not one person has ever asked me to be his sponsor. Whenever I sensed that someone was about to ask me, I would take off. I did not want the commitment, nor did I want anyone to get to know me. I excused myself by saying that there was so much work to do with new people who were young that I could not devote to one or two individuals a greater part of my time than to the others.

For this reason, I must be grateful to a friend who persisted in treating me like a sponsor and then started talking about me as being his sponsor, although he never really asked me. Actually, he has been more like a sponsor to me; his persistence was the initial thrust that produced the admission and decision of this evening.

I took what might be considered the First Step, Phase Two: admitted that I was powerless over what people thought of me, and that my actions and thoughts had become unmanageable. I had to admit that I needed friends, that friendship was not a threat, and that the inner me and the outer me had to achieve a oneness, a unity.

My gratitude also extends to a woman whom I wanted to love, but felt unable to. She, too, persisted in a show of affection for me. I could accept the relationship only so long as she did not expect anything of me. I am thankful that she made it impossible for me to run away, and thereby helped me to face myself. Both of these friends are responsible for my decision tonight, the decision that I have to get well, and that I cannot afford to waste one more day in isolation.

For me, this decision means the difference between living and existing, between being dry and being sober. The degree to which I am willing to get well and care about others will be the degree to which I really live. My inner man came into being only through working the program, and the things I consider defects of character can be changed through using the teachings of AA. My inner man has standards of conduct and right thinking, a knowledge of what is goodness for me. I hurt and suffer to the extent that I outwardly violate those standards.

I believe that tonight I reached a “sober” bottom in AA. I believe I can now really start to get at the very deep, basic personality defects. Having established a firm foundation in AA, I hope to start building a comfortable home within myself, a home that I can allow others to see and share. Tonight I am filled with a deep abundance of being, of gratitude, and of faith that I am doing what is necessary. I have been alone long enough. I want to have, and to be, a friend. I want to break out from behind this self-constructed wall.

Sharing my experience and hope at tonight’s meeting was important, since others soon joined in and did the same. A member with many years of sobriety admitted that he has felt the same way as I, and still does, and only in the last three weeks has realized how he has compromised his recovery, how he has denied himself the full benefit of what the program offers. How surprised I was to hear men and women much older than I, some married and with children, also telling the group that they feel this sense of isolation and of alienation. What hope it inspires to know that this problem transcends groupings and categories.

For a time, I used the rationalization that this problem was connected with my youth, relative to most in the Fellowship, that it was the period of questioning and alienation that I had skipped while a teenager. I am grateful that a young people’s group was started recently here in New York, so that I could measure myself against my contemporaries. It became apparent that other young AAs did not share this feeling to any great extent, and therefore I lost my rationalization.

Another experience contributed to my discovery that as a man I was doing very poorly. A few times I attended parties where there was moderate drinking and most of the guests were around my age. I felt uneasy and miserable. They were not impressed with my length of sobriety. They knew nothing of AA and the Grapevine, both so much a part of me that I didn’t like being in places where they meant nothing. I felt that if I had to compete with any of these people I would fail, although I am in graduate school, have traveled, and have worked.

This lack of confidence in myself was one more factor in my decision to try to change the person I am. I felt that some force, greater than myself, was at work tonight at that AA meeting, trying to show me that I did not have to be sick any longer. The leader of another meeting, a few weeks ago, said: “The long-range comfort is worth the short-range hurt.”

I now believe that to be true, for “comfort” is what I want most. In deciding to get well I insure a greater awareness and appreciation of my sobriety, my sanity, and my serenity. I thank the Higher Power for AA.

Copyright (c) The AA Grapevine, Inc. (July, 1969). Reprinted with permission. Permission to reprint The AA Grapevine, Inc., copyrighted material in this publication does not in any way imply affiliation with or endorsement by either Alcoholics Anonymous or The AA Grapevine, Inc.

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