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October 1976

Compliance

Who wouldn't be resentful? Wasn't everybody else smarter, richer, and more gifted?

I HAVE BEEN sober for quite a while now. I have had great stretches, great reaches of happiness. I've done some writing that I haven't been ashamed of. Sometimes, I've been able to help somebody else. I can be grateful for AA and a hundred thousand rewards that have come from being sober. Isn't it wonderful to drink coffee and laugh and talk and listen and argue and share ideas? Isn't it great to be with other people and really relate to them? I think it's the most wonderful thing in the world. I had to give up the old life and the old thinking to get it.

But I have also had long stretches of depression and anxiety. I used to try to turn over these moods and the circumstances that brought them on. I would be free for a little while, and then back would come all the stinking thinking. Compared to my guilt and anxiety, Dante's Inferno looked like Peter Rabbit's briar patch. I was turning it over and over and over, until I'd have been a huge success in the window of a pancake shop. But I wasn't progressing very far. I couldn't make a lasting decision to surrender. What was the matter?

I finally realized that I was having the same old wrestling match with my will that I used to have every day before I sobered up. I used to swear off every hung over noonday and be passed out again that night. And it was always a pledge: sobriety or moderation forever, beginning tomorrow. I felt a hard outline of determination to do this thing on my own. It was there, right in my middle. It felt wrong, but I didn't know what else to do about my drinking. And here I had been doing the same thing about my depressions and problems. I expected to overcome every one of my difficulties now, by forcing myself into a state of utter surrender.

I began to ask for insight, and it came, a little at a time. I went back to doing what I could each day. I began to take more interest in others, and as a result I saw myself more clearly.

I had been corroded with envy--that absolutely ridiculous business of thinking that everybody is better off than I am. They're smarter, better dressed, more gifted. They know how to cross the street without being run over. I began to get my sense of humor back, and with it a sense of proportion. I went over my attributes, as I imagined them, and the good things in my life as of the moment. I polished up my enthusiasm for the good things my friends had.

I had become rusted and twisted with old angers and resentments. This can get you drunk. In that respect, I've been lucky. But it can also get you into the slough of despond, head first. Somebody suggested I might look into this anger business. So I made a list of everybody I had been mad at, or might still be mad at, or had some ambivalence about. The list, end to end, seemed to be about thirty feet long.

This was one of the biggest surprises of my long, honest, sober AA life. Here I'd been keeping house for the Gorgons and the Furies and didn't even know it! Still angry at people I thought I'd forgiven! I've been working on this list ever since, asking for help every day. I've had all kinds of help from others, and I've been able to help myself. I became willing to shed this hair shirt. Just the state of willingness seems to pay off a little.

I made a talk at a big AA anniversary in this area. I had been afraid that I couldn't measure up. Having said yes, I then thought I'd better call up and make some excuse to get out of it. But when I got up there, my friends who'd organized the evening and the others who were going to speak were nervous, too. Suddenly, I wanted to do my best for them. When I was in front of the mike, I felt the warmth and the loving response of 250 people. It was a celebration, and it was great.

I've had several other good new experiences in friendship and love, achievement and sharing, work and just plain fun. Perhaps I've helped a couple of people both in and out of AA. I don't know. I tried. And certain unpleasant physical symptoms that never yielded to medicine are now better.

Surrender your will any way you can, and you are giving up the uncomfortable and impossible, the humanly unchangeable, for some alternatives that may not be so bad and may be very good indeed. The little victories I've won through repeated effort, failure, and then more effort have given me the courage and the hope to go on trying. And I certainly am delighted to start turning my will and my life over little by little, thus getting rid of a bunch of junk and achieving a measure of equanimity. It can be done. I have done it. I will have to go on doing it. My gratitude for the help I've had is endless. That would make another thirty-foot list.

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