Saturday, April 22, 2006


I heard something startling at a meeting the other day. Now, this in itself is unusual. I've seen everything, heard everything, I know everything there is to know about alcoholism, AA and recovery. Because I'm an oldtimer. I've been in and around the rooms of AA for over 20... uh, months. So I know it all.

A speaker was riffing on Step One and the theme of powerlessness. He got sober at some inpatient program where they tried to provide a "toolkit" to the drunks so they could manage the urges and temptations to drink once they got out. He got out, went to AA, got a sponsor, and talked about the "toolkit" with his sponsor. His sponsor said, "Toolkit!?! There ain't no tools to stop drinking. You're powerless."

This pulled me up short. I have always thought in terms of the "tools" AA gives me, and from sharing I hear in meetings I'm not the only one.

[One thing I have learned is that if I hear something I disagree with, I ought to pay close attention.]

In a real sense, AA is an "anti-toolkit." I frequently walk in to a meeting with a head full of plans, schedules, agendas, expectations and other ridiculous fantasies about how I'm going to have better control of my life. I'll get a decent-paying job so I'm not going backwards financially, I'll be able to afford to move out of sober living, get divorced, get 50% custody of my son, ask that chick at the Thursday night meeting out on a date (you should see the, uh, RECOVERY this girl has, I mean she is soooo, uh, SOBER!), buy a condo, then buy investment properties, get rich, etc., etc., and never have another problem in my life. I got it all figured out. I just need a few more tools and then I'll control my destiny.

In the course of the meeting, or reading the Big Book or 12X12 or As Bill Sees It, I'll be reminded again that I'm not in charge, that God is in charge.
"Okay, Phil, put down the monkey-wrench."
"But, but, it took me so long to craft this monkey-wrench, just let me throw it into the works -- I have it all planned!"
"Put down the monkey-wrench and put your hands in the air. Palms up."
So, yes, we have a lot of "tools" in AA. We bring them to meetings with us, and throw them away with the cigarette butts and coffee cups.

The processes and activities we practice in AA are designed not so much to put tools in our hands, but to make us empty-handed -- so our hands are not cluttered with monkey-wrenches, not balled into fists, not under our behinds with our thumbs you-know-where. We can't build our sobriety, we can't fight for it, we can't earn it, we can't do anything to own sobriety. We hold out our empty hands and accept it, on a daily basis, as a gift from our Higher Power. (Next time you reach out to a newcomer, take a look at your hand.) We "practice these principles" not to build tools for living, but to strengthen our willingness to accept the free gift of life.

I sure don't own my sobriety. The "spiritual awakening" is not something I did once and now have with no further ado. At least a dozen times a day I have to shake myself awake once more, remind myself simply to accept God's will, that my part is to conform myself as best as I can to God's will even if I don't have a clue, and then to stop worrying.