It Works When You Work It

Like practically everyone else who has gone to an AA meeting, you’ll probably be very surprised the first time. The people you see around you look mostly normal, healthy, reasonably happy, and successful. They do not look like old-fashioned cartoons of drunkards, bums, or fanatic, dried-up teetotalers. Living Sober, p. 78

There are two things that successfully alcoholics never forget – their last drunk and their first AA meeting. That certainly applies to me.

My last drunk ended on October 14, 1976, culminating in a night in jail and an arraignment in a court 300 miles from home before an unsympathetic judge.

“Get a lawyer,” he advised me when I pleaded that I couldn’t stand to be tried on the charges against me. “If I find you guilty,” he added, “you’ll do a year in jail.”

My world had just ended. The trial was for set six weeks from then.

“Now,” the judge asked, “I’d like to know what you’re going to do about your problem.”

“I’m going to AA, Your Honor,” I blurted out unthinkingly.

“That’s a good idea,” the judge replied. “See that you do!”

I had just seen that classic film, Days of Wine and Roses, starring Jack Lemmon as the drunken PR man and his AA sponsor, played by Jack Klugman. The character Jack Lemmon portrayed looked and acted a lot like me. AA seemed to be the answer to his problem. So thanks to Hollywood, the seed for recovery had been planted in me. It sprouted at that arraignment.

Released on bail, I drove the 300 miles home that day, unwittingly taking the first three steps of AA along the way. “God help me! God help me! God help me!” I screamed over and over again, pounding my hand on the steering column. When I arrived home, I was so hoarse I could barely speak, and the heel of my hand was black and blue.

After a nearly sleepless night, I called the number listed in the Yellow Pages for AA and was directed to a noon-time meeting. It was a strange experience, held in a halfway house for recovering alcoholics. Half the crowd there that day looked very much like alcoholics. The other half looked like solid citizens, definitely not like the way I imagined alcoholics to look. Perhaps, I reasoned, they are on the mayor’s committee to oversee the program.

Jack Klugman wasn’t there, but his first lieutenant was. Jimmy N., sober then for 16 years, took an immediate dislike to me as soon as the discussion meeting started.

“It doesn’t matter what you drank, how much you drank, or how long you drank,” he growled, looking right at me. “If you got into trouble when you drank, you belong here!” he declared.

And then he said, still looking right at me, “If you don’t go to 90 meetings in 90 days, you don’t have a chance!”

Jimmy wasn’t through picking on me. When the meeting ended, he came up to me with a meeting schedule, asked where I lived, then proceeded to circle the meetings near my home where I should go each day of the week.

Forty-four years later I realize that Jimmy was right as far as my recovery was concerned. For me, 90 meetings in 90 days symbolized my surrender to my disease and my willingness to go to any length to recover, one meeting and one day at a time.

Jimmy’s advice worked for me because I worked it. No matter how busy my work schedule was or where my business travels took me, I somehow managed to squeeze in a meeting every day.

One day it appeared that I had no time on my work and travel schedule to attend any meeting. But I remembered Jimmy’s warning and figured out a way to attend the first half of a mid-morning meeting, then the second half of an evening meeting. Two halves made a whole, and I got my meeting in that day. That symbolized my surrender to the disease of alcoholism and my willingness to stay sober that day.

Another time in those first six weeks, my job took me to a remote part of the country where the only meeting was in the evening. But I had a business obligation that evening. I called the nearest AA central office and learned that there was a meeting about 150 miles away at noon that day. I drove three hours to attend it, then three hours back in time to fulfill my obligation. That symbolized my willingness to go to any length to stay sober.

As for the charges against me, I retained a lawyer, who appeared in my defense six weeks later and testified that I had been to 42 AA meetings since the arraignment. The judge declared an ACD for my case – Adjourned in Contemplation of Dismissal – providing I attended another 180 AA meetings over the next six months.

By that time my obsession to drink had been replaced with a more positive obsession to attend AA meetings. I made at least 180 meetings over the next six months, and my case was dismissed.

So, in my particular case, Jimmy was right. I needed 90 meetings in 90 days, or actually, 222 meetings in 222 days, to be relieved of my obsession to drink.

Now, I’m told, I have “AA-ism.” I no longer haveto go to meetings, but I still do on a daily basis because I wantto go. Over the past 44 years, I’ve been to over 16,000 meetings in 16,000 days. AA’s the only positive addiction I’ve ever had. And it hasn’t hurt me one bit.

In the meantime, I learned the importance of working the 12 Steps, of carrying the message to the still-suffering alcoholic, and of giving service through my home group.

We often hear the classic question, “What’s it take to get AA?”

“It takes what it takes,” is the answer. For me it took a seed planted by a film, then being backed into a corner, where the only way out was through the doors of AA, followed by Jimmy’s tough love about surrendering to the program.

What we really have is a daily reprieve, we read, contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition. I’m happy to find my daily reprieve at a meeting. That’s where I learned, then practiced, Burn the idea into the consciousness of every man (and woman) that he (or she) can get well regardless of anyone. The only condition is that he (or she) trust in God and clean house.

It’s working for me. And from what I hear at meetings, it works for all persons who completely give themselves to this simple program, by being fearless and thorough from the very start. May it ever be so!


Chuck M.

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