Any Lengths?

     “Our stories disclose in a general way what we used to be like, what happened, and what we are like now. If you have decided you want what we have and are willing to go to any length to get it – then you are ready to take certain steps.” -Alcoholics Anonymous, p.58

     Sad that this paragraph from the Big Book has become a common preamble in AA meetings. Why? Because its rote recitation further diminishes its meaning and interpretation… and therefore its implementation.
     We “disclose our stories in a general way…” Really? Because the laundry list of war stories and sob stories I hear spewed out so often doesn’t sound too general – “I did this, and I did that, and can you believe I did this, and could you believe I did that! Man, I used to drink a 30-pack a night!” I never heard general anything when I used to go to meetings, unless by general we refer to a lack of sophistication and understanding of one’s problem and what to do about it (i.e. a really dull, general story that is generally incoherent and has zero usefulness). I never heard a summary of the alcoholic mind and body… what it means to think, feel and drink/use the way we do.
     I also never heard the “what happened” part because nothing did happen. There was no summation of recovery or the process underwent to achieve it. And “what we are like now” was for the most part frightening. “If you have decided you want what we have…” Question: Have you ever gone to an AA meeting and seen something that you wanted? I guess I should ask what we want? Mere physical sobriety? I’m all set. I want to be strong, centered, grounded, balanced, confident, calm, content and free. I want to be giving and useful and loving. I want to be sane again.
     “… are willing to go to any length to get it – then you are ready to take certain steps.” When we hear this in meetings, unless we have been taken through the Big Book by a recovered expert, then we undoubtedly won’t have a clue what this really means. Ready to take certain steps does not mean that you make some meeting your home group, become the treasurer, make coffee, set up chairs and just keep comin’.
     Taking certain steps means that we embark on a rigorous Twelve Step process – we get up, leave the meeting, and actually take the actions involved in the Steps to expel a lifetime of poison within. We change who and what we are. We restore ourselves to sanity via a spiritual experience in order to equip ourselves with the tools and the condition necessary to go help others. The point of the Twelve Steps is solely to get to that Twelfth step – to go out and help another alcoholic/addict recover by taking him through the same, mystical process we just went through.
     So “willing to go to any length” means that there is nothing we won’t do in order to become recovered. There is nothing we won’t write about in our inventory. There is nothing we won’t unearth or admit because of the shame or embarrassment we have. There is nobody we won’t make an amends to. There is no part of us – our stubbornness, our pride, our ego – which will prevent us from having faith in GOD and from believing that we cannot do it without His help.
     Willing to go to any length means that there is no feeling or thought, no matter how horrible or dark or powerful, which will prevent us from doing the right thing. Going to any length means that even if you have recently gotten sober and you are still a miserable prick, you don’t let your self-pity and your selfishness stop you from growing and taking actions that need to be taken in order to achieve and maintain spiritual health.
     It would be great if one of the chairmen/women of the local meetings around here would stop when he or she reads that line and look everyone in the room straight in the eye and ask if they are really willing to go to any length to get better. Because really, we have no excuse not to. We owe it to ourselves, our families, our spouses, and to the entire world. We owe it to God. The program is about humility, not stories and stature and “how much clean time you got, kid”. Put your sobriety chip away until you’ve done some work on yourself. And even then, the only chip we really need is a 24-hour.
God, teach us to love and accept ourselves so that we may love and accept each other and do Your work well…

2 thoughts on “Any Lengths?

  1. “… are willing to go to any length to get it – then you are ready to take certain steps.”

    The Big Book talks about how we came to the conclusion that playing God doesn't work, and THEN we are ready to take certain steps. Most people in meetings don't understand that. When I hear people yelling at newcomers, demanding that people do fourth steps in a certain color ink “to make sure you can follow directions”, demand that people do a fifth step ONLY with a sponsor, they clearly are missing the message. How can those people who ARE playing god (compulsively) possibly transmit to a new comer how NOT to play god when they are oblivious to how much they do it?

    At this point I would tell any newcomer that if someone joe schmuckatelly in a meeting demands anything and it's not in the book, go to the ends of the earth to do the opposite within the confines of the book. That will build faith in the process and not some over bearing douche bag who doesn't know what they are talking about or are out right telling bold faced lies and never once honing up to their lies. If I take a moral inventory in blue ink and some moron in a meeting said it would only work in black ink, I stayed sober so they obviously lied. Had they said the color ink doesn't matter but they were taught to do it in black, they didn't lie. So if they lied about that what else did they lie about? They claim to have been sober X amount of years, did they lie about that too? If I take their demands “suggestions” and they are rooted in lies, how is that me living by rigorous honesty? Worse yet, if I am supposed to be outgrowing fear how does being emotionally blackmailed and threatened with rules that are proven to be nonsensical gibberish by me “doing what I want to do” as I am allegedly so stubborn and “selfish” because some obnoxious old timer is throwing a temper tantrum because they aren't getting their way. How is me kissing that guys ass going to help me one iota?

  2. Anonymous said…

    I hope your journey continues to be successful as it has for eight years. And I am sure that not all meetings are getting it right all the time. You are absolutely correct that the AA program is not defined by meetings; meetings are not even mentioned in the 12 steps. Yet, I find that meetings are an essential element of my program. When I step outside I find that I become overconfident, that I begin to believe that it is me making the right decisions daily rather than my HP leading me through the mine field. Without meetings I would have difficulty consistently making the right decisions to keep me out of trouble. I find that meetings are essential to maintaining recovery. For me, AA without meetings would look a lot like a nine-step program. It is by hearing others remind me with their examples of my own behaviors, that I can continue to take personal inventory, see where I am wrong and promptly admit it. It is through meetings that I am reminded of God's work in my life, and recognize His love for me and grow to understand His will for me. And for me, I could not begin to do serious 12th step work without the meetings that bring those who share our disease together. For me, the most important part of recovery is sharing the gift that has been given to me. While I can do that to some extent in all aspects of my life, meetings are how I connect with other alcoholics and carry the message of recovery through the twelve steps to alcoholics. I don't believe I ever helped to improve a meeting I didn't attend. Thank you for your thought-provoking article. I hope you will consider taking the wonderful gift you have been given by God through the twelve steps back to one or more regular AA meetings and begin or strengthen the recovery of other alcoholics. Thank you for providing this forum.

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