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September 1988

Knowledge Isn't Enough


Mark Twain wrote in his Letters From The Earth that if he were the Almighty and had an experience of great pleasure he would have it last for centuries.

When I first read this I chuckled and thought it clever. Now, some years later, I see Twain's observation in a different light. In fact I see many things differently these days after much floundering around in processes of learning, usually painful.

One of the main things I've discovered is that I'm an alcoholic. In the process of continuing my ongoing reminder of my condition so that I don't slide back into my horrors of pleasures past, I attend AA meetings, do not pick up that first drink and compulsively read just about anything that comes my way on the subject of recovery in addition to our own literature.

What have I discovered? Since I was a half century old when I finally came to AA to stay, it took a while for bleeding ulcers to heal, high blood pressure to subside, and shattered nerve ends to mend. Some form of alcoholic arthritis or neuritis left me after some three years of sobriety. The other two aspects of our ailment are taking longer to mend and to develop. I'm chipping away at my angers, resentments, and fears. It helped me to find out that if I didn't hate something I wouldn't fear it. There are also my desires.

I wanted, as did Twain, to prolong pleasure but without whatever compensating responsibility that might go with it, to remain the eternal seventeen-year-old with the capabilities of adult pleasures and none of the responsibilities. Things, feelings, had to be abundant and perfect. The sense of the quote, "Moderation in everything, even in moderation" took time to seep into me. It isn't a definition for mediocrity; quite the opposite.

Take our planet Earth for instance. It doesn't spin around on only a plus or minus of magnetic attraction. Both are needed for our ongoing balance and we aren't a perfect sphere. We're flattened at the poles somewhat and we tilt seasonally. It might be that if we spun about evenly we would be uninhabitable with too much heat around the middle and too much cold at the poles. Seas might evaporate around the equator and permanent ice get down as far as New York City. Khalil Gibran illustrates balance in emotions in a poem which says: "We need to laugh all our laughter and cry all our tears." A late popular writer illustrated imbalance with his observation that "if it feels good, it is good," without qualification; he ended up by blowing out his brains. He also drank a good deal. I wonder what he felt or thought about a Higher Power.

It seems to me that intellectual knowledge isn't enough; there needs to be something more. My program has shown me the necessary third element for maintaining whatever measure of sobriety/sanity that has been given me. Yes, given me, for I was never able to stay sober on my own. Not until I surrendered to the spooky, spiritual part did I manage to stay away from that first drink. This spiritual element has come to be first instead of third for me as time is gradually maturing me and my program. And I don't worry about getting there; I need only to pay attention to the way. I've let it happen rather than made it happen.

I've discovered that whatever it is that's eternal, is, was, and always will be, and is constantly with me--if I don't shut it out with self-centered pity or grandiosity. It's as simple as taking a deep breath or yawning after a meeting while holding hands in some sort of imperfect circle around scattered chairs and tables. Some of the Slavic languages have the same word for soul or spirit as they do for breath. And that tells me something.

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