By John Cassap
Bizarrely or maybe not, given my increased by time in the Program but still very limited understanding of the way my mind works - I randomly found myself thinking of a movie from 20 years ago. The movie was "The Game." Those who may have seen it will recall it stars Michael Douglas as an egotistical, workaholic, rich business man who has hurt anybody in his path and everyone who has loved him, so he can claw his way to the top. Leaving himself isolated, alone and totally unaware! Until his disowned, drug addicted, black sheep of the family, little brother (Sean Penn) turns up on his birthday. Now clean and sober saying he has had a life changing experience through a "Game" provided by a state of the art "Entertainment Company". He then produces the company's phone number as way of a birthday present! Kind of like 12th step work! Anyway, Douglas phones the number, and so begins a state of the art technology enhanced 'Game' of cat and mouse that drags him through facing up to his past, sort of like a modern day Scrooge! Culminating with Douglas throwing himself off a tall building when he cant take any more and landing on a huge hidden inflatable only to find its all been one big set up to produce an 'Awakening'. Turns out its the best thing ever to happen to him and he lives happily ever after. Its a good movie!
Its a Movie and it lasts about 90 minutes or so. Real life is sort of a lot more than that.
This led me to thinking of Bill-W and his experience at Towns Hospital New York City, I believe the year was 1935. Our friend Bill had been admitted for the third time into the then leading facility specialising in drug and alcohol addiction, Bill was a low bottom drunk and he was in shit shape!
I've read "Bills Story" in the Big Book many times and countless other writings of his along with his description of what happened that day and the incredible journey he then found himself on.
Bill states that while alone in his room, in his darkest most painful moment he screamed out and cursed that everything was shit and if anything was responsible for this Universe it could go and Get Fucked! (Paraphrasing). Shortly afterwards he finds himself completely surrounded by and on all sides top to bottom - a white light and a feeling of pure love. He writes; "There was a sense of victory, followed by such a peace and serenity as I had never known. I felt lifted up, as though the great clean wind of a mountain top blew through and through" He never drank again!
People have debated this ever since. I've heard many explain that Wilson was suffering badly with the DT's and was prescribed drugs to cope with them, he was also of very unsound mind at the time of admittance! Im not arguing (no longer a pastime of mine) with that. However - the DT's, drugs (both of the prescribed and non prescribed variety) in copious amounts, along with been of unsound mind (putting it mildly) is something I have some personal experience of. Once their side effects passed I knew they had been an illusion. None of these made me jump out of a sick bed all rejuvenated, turn into a completely different person and share with the world a solution to a problem that had for eons and still does completely baffle medical science. Drugs don't do that... if they did I would still be using them!
Speaking of baffled, this lead to Dr Silkworth - the prominent expert and chief physician in that hospital, writing the leading pages (The Doctors Opinion) in the "Big Book". In which he clearly states that "Unless the individual can experience a Complete Psychic Change there is very little hope of his recovery". I don't know what happened to Bill that day, I wasn't there. But whatever it was it produced a complete psychic change. One that led to the the birth of a Fellowship that has through the "Steps we took", jointly written down by the first 100 sobered up hardcore alcoholics, kept producing the same psychic change for 80 years to more than 2 million people (AA alone, not counting other 12 Step Fellowships), myself included. I never had that 'God' moment, how many of us have? but I'm not the same person I was when I first walked through the door. Like Douglas' character in the movie it was more a culmination of events. Events that caused me to no longer believe in 'Coincidences'. Some of them happened after I first got sober and again after I suffered a couple of relapses. Whatever it took I woke up, that was my path!
Our Primary Purpose is to remain sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety. That's what the book says! Remaining sober requires me to deal with the reasons I drank for all those years, and all those reasons can be summed up in one word - LIFE! I cant manage it on my own - Step 1.
This is a program for Life and how to live. If I'm going to survive it, enjoy it while growing spiritually and basically have a great time most of the time whilst not drinking for 24 hour periods at a time, then I have to live the program. I have to stay 'Awake'.
A couple of years or so into the program I lost sight of the fact I only thought I was doing that. Amazing things had happened, little awakenings had in various sizes at various times come to pass. I'd went from heavy isolation & maximum intoxication to a detox facility to rehab to employment. I'd found the fellowship and worked through the Steps initially, cleaning house and making some awkward amends. I had a host of new friends and had let go of a few entrenched resentments. A fantastic relationship with my parents and kids was there on a regular basis. I discovered hidden talents and experienced "Such a peace and serenity as I had never known". Also I wasn't drinking. Basically I fooled myself again into thinking it was me who was "Driving the Bus!"
I had cleaned house all right, but searching and fearless? No! I was still keeping one thing to myself, something dark and ugly that scared the shit out of me and I had never shared this with another human being. It would resurface every three months or so and totally wreck my mental health and spiritual wellbeing.
Truly humbled myself? I was making plenty meetings, nodding in all the right places when I identified with the sharer. Sharing my day to day problems and asking for help, but rigorously honest about my thoughts and feelings? Half measures! (Availed us Nothing!!)
Working with others?? Well I'm an outreach worker, supporting the homeless - people with multiple and complex needs - and I was the one having a mental breakdown every 6 month haha! It was me that needed the support! 'Luckily' a Power much Greater than myself seen fit to put an incredible human being in my path who manages the work I do and if it hadn't been for her then I probably would of drunk my way outa this job.
Sponsorship - well I had a couple of sponsee's, but what does the book say about "Obviously you cant transmit something you haven't got?" I done my best with what I had and to be fair that was quite a bit! I understood this program, it had worked miracles in my life but I was "Resting on my Laurels" and the illness knew it "Alcohol is a subtle foe."
An Irishman I met in a meeting in London told me that maintaining a happy, healthy sobriety is like a combination padlock - and the code to unlock it is 101112 (Steps 10, 11 & 12).
Continuing inventory and improving Conscious Contact? well like I said, I had unconsciously climbed back into the driving seat. As for carrying the message I suppose I tried my best!
The Program isn't meant to be just understood. Anybody can read about it, sit in workshops and training lectures on it, thats a billion miles away from implementing the Steps into your life, really living the Program on a daily basis one day at a time, reaping the amazing rewards whilst accepting those uncomfortable things that may not suite our plans but are beyond our control.
I had to 'Re-awaken' - unlike Bill I haven't maintained constant sobriety, not since I first came around anyhow. I had to get to the "Jumping off Point!" That happened in Fresno!!!
I write a personal blog called Down and Out in Fresno where I talk most of the time about practicing the good stuff that keeps me sober. The title - I get from my "Jumping off Point."
One of the many gifts I've been blessed with since coming into the Program is I was awarded a Travelling Fellowship by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust. It was a very exciting and challenging application process, interview, identifying and organising project visits and planning my travel and accommodation. I was to visit 3 States in the USA. Specific city's were New Orleans, Fresno, Stockton, and NYC with the aim to compile a report for the WCMT entitled "A fresh approach to homelessness, lessons from the United States." It was around this time that I started to crawl back into the front seat of the bus and the illness began to surface!
I could feel the battle between huge ego and massive inferiority complex spark up. Control issues were starting to dominate my thinking, planning was turning into projection and expectations were totally out of this world. The last month before I flew off I became a basket case and full of fear. My Sponsor done his absolute best during this period but I was off on one. The Game had begun!
I contacted members of the Fellowship in the areas I would visit. I was picked up at Louis Armstrong Airport by Zach and he along with others made my stay both personally and professionally an absolute dream. It was wonderful, The Fellowship is so strong there, everybody is so connected and friendly I couldn't have asked for more.
The last few days in New Orleans I could feel the anxiety start to come back, I was beginning to battle with the obsession by the time I landed in California. A few things went wrong in rapid succession in Fresno along with an uncomfortable atmosphere about town. I knew I was going to drink and all thoughts of a Higher Power had left me, I can now see thats when my Higher Power was closest to me... Allowing me to make my own mistakes and keeping me safe in the process. I don't know how many days past as I white knuckled it. I made it to a couple of meetings but by this time I was nuts and before I knew it I was sat in the bar at the airport getting drunk and heading home. I have a brief recollection of phoning my sponsor from Dallas as I sank Bloody Mary's and tipping the waitress ridiculous amounts. I came out of the blackout in a bar in Heathrow.
18 Months have passed since I returned home to a very public breakdown. It was impossible to leave the drink alone at first. I managed for a day or two at a time and then I would be off again for a few more days, always trying to hide it, hide myself! It stayed that way for a few weeks until I finally accepted fully the help that I desperately needed. I have shared that last dark secret (with more than one human being) and confronted it, seeing it for what it really is and not the bullshit picture my head paints it out to be. I try to cradle my dark side with that "Pure Love" Bill-W spoke of.
I'm much more active doing service in the Fellowship now and recently worked a spell in a rehab passing on to those just starting out on this amazing journey the lessons I've learned along the way (a highlight of my recovery). I can now see looking back were I was guided throughout, so that I could grow and change by these incredible experiences. I feel connected to my Higher Power more closely each day. I returned to the States to finish my project in NYC (I class my Home Group as the 6am on 96th St). With a lot of help I submitted a first class report to the Trust. I was invited to the House of Lords and will do a presentation of my findings at a gathering in Leeds at the beginning of April.
My Life (especially my inner life) is fantastic and manageable, as long as I remember I cant manage it. I leave that to God, The Great Spirit, The Universe, a Group Of Drunks or whatever you choose to call your Higher Power. I don't call mine anything, Im guessing it doesn't have a name and I certainly don't understand it. But in this Game we call Life I choose to stay very close to it!
"He who conceals his disease cannot expect to be cured" - Ethiopian Proverb
"Regardless of worldly success or failure, regardless of pain or joy, regardless of sickness or health or even death itself, a new life of endless possibilities can be lived if we are willing to continue our awakening through the practice of AA's 12 Steps" - Bill W
"Despertar" - Spanish meaning "to wake up"