Today after 16 years of continuous sobriety I look back and try to reflect on what is my understanding about Step 1. I came to AA at the age of 26 in 1992 in one of the groups of South Mumbai. I was a bachelor, lawyer, working for a multinational company, having a good physique and a lot of plus points, but I had a nervous disposition. When alcohol came in front of me I didn’t know what happened. Once I started I could not stop. I drank larger quantities than my friends. I tried controlling using my will power but could not. Then I tried quitting completely but that too failed. With two unanswered questions in my mind I came to AA which was suggested to me by my friend, who was not an alcoholic. The two unanswered questions were
- Why can’t I quit alcohol entirely in spite of my daily attempts?
- Once I start drinking, why do I always get drunk?
I thought I will get answers for these 2 questions in AA. So I was there at an AA meeting. I heard 5 to 6 speakers in that meeting who were sharing their stories and trying to explain Step 1 i.e. what is alcoholism and who is an alcoholic?
I was interested and listened to them very carefully. They all shared about how they lost everything in life as a result of alcohol. Most of them were in the age group of 50 to 60 years. They shared how they begged borrowed and stole money for alcohol. They shared how they slept on roads, how their family life was ruined and they also shared about the stuff which they drank. They also shared about their hospitalizations and losing of jobs. They narrated all the havoc alcohol played in their lives.
I listened to all their sharing very carefully for nearly a month by attending meetings in different AA groups. Speakers and faces changed but the stories were more or less the same. So after a couple of months with my keen intellectual mind I came to the conclusion that I was not like these people. Nothing had happened in my life what they were sharing.
So there I was trying to do some controlled drinking. To my surprise the result was the same. So again I went back to AA and again I could not identify myself in the sharing of others and went out only to return again. On the 1st of January I came once again to try AA in Dabul group (Road to Freedom) and was absolutely stunned by listening to one of the sharing on Step 1. What a masterpiece. There and there he gave me all the answers to all my unanswered questions. He was 28 years old and sober for more than 2 years. He later became my sponsor and till date the relationship has only grown by leaps and bounds. I shall try to recall what he shared.
As per Dr. Silkworth whom we call a medical saint in AA, alcoholism is a two fold sickness. The body of an alcoholic is as abnormal as his mind. It is the mental obsession that compels the alcoholic to drink and it is the physical allergy of the body that condemns him to go mad or die. Alcoholism is not what happens to you after drinking but it is all about your mental phenomenon before taking a drink.
Obsession is defined as an idea which over powers all other ideas and compels you to take action. When obsession strikes, it does not give you a chance to figure out right from wrong. Its like my going to the office at 9 am in the morning and thinking the whole day about the drinks I will be having in the evening. Once I succumb to the obsession and drink then the allergy of the body does not allow me to stop. Allergy is not always getting a rash or a skin irritation, it is an abnormal reaction. Allergy is defined as an abnormal reaction of the body to any food, substance or beverage. To understand whether I’m having an abnormal reaction to alcohol, I must know what the normal reaction to alcohol in the human body is.
Usually on consumption of the first drink people feel good, their mood gets elevated, they get happy and feel that life is good. After having another drink, most of the people will tell you that they are feeling slightly tipsy, slightly out of control, slightly nauseated and will stop the consumption of alcohol. If forced they will vomit. Their bodies are not sickened and show the normal defense mechanism to excessive alcohol which is the destroyer of human tissues. They do not need to use will power to stop as their bodies will naturally refuse anymore.
With me, when I started consuming alcohol I had the same reaction as the common man but over a period of time I started reacting abnormally. Before having my first drink I was restless, irritable and discontent. My mind did not work and I was at my lowest emotional point. The moment I went into the bar I would ignore my friends and head to my first drink. The moment alcohol was placed before me I would gulp down the first two pegs and then suddenly I would be normal. After three I could think straight. After four I could listen to even my friend Anupam who was far away and after five there was no man in that bar as intelligent as me. As Bill says, “I had arrived.”
If you have the obsession of the mind and allergy of the body then we say that you may be probably an alcoholic suffering from an incurable, progressive and fatal disease called alcoholism.
Now, if the obsession compels you to take a drink against your wish and the allergy of the body does not allow you to stop even when you wish to, then we say in the first step of our programme that you are POWERLESS.
The first step does not end here. It goes on to warn us that our lives had become unmanageable. The alcoholic like me has the biggest misconception that if he stops drinking he can manage his life and progress to better ends. I also fell prey to this myth and in fact ruined my life further in my first year of sobriety.
This opened my eyes and I had another look at the first step. I had only taken 50% of the step and was telling everyone that I had taken it 100%. From that day there has been no looking back and it has been a dream journey in my 16 years of sobriety.
I thank God, my sponsor who took me through the twelve steps and all my AA friends who were always there when I needed them.Soberly yours Atul Z
The above sharing was first published in the “Twelth Step Magazine” Oct-Nov ‘08 issue.