Choosing to Decide
When we get to AA, many of us are told that if we are real alcoholics, we “have lost the power of choice in drink,” as it says in the Big Book. We don’t get to choose whether we drink or not.
That was an alarming fact to me. It makes for an interesting debate whether or not we get that choice back. I happen to believe we don’t magically receive the power to choose again. I believe that what stands between me and a drink is the grace I’ve received, which I may not deserve, by working my AA program continuously. If I don’t do it continuously, I may start to think again that I get to choose.
Of course, after taking the Steps and practicing them on a daily basis, the loss of ability to choose, for me, became a non-issue. So why bother with thinking about what “choosing” or, for that matter, “deciding” means, as is mentioned in Step Three? Choose and decide sound like words that mean the same thing, but there are real differences between them. My dictionary says choose means “to select freely and after consideration,” while decide means “to make a final choice or judgment with consideration.”
Choice is less final. I may choose vanilla ice cream today. I may choose chocolate tomorrow. But when I decide, it usually implies finality. Decide has the root “cide” in it, which means to “kill off.” Similar words are pesticide, suicide, homicide—all these imply an act of completion. I’ve lost the power of choice, but now I have to make some decisions and not just in the Third Step, as many suggest.
I like to think of these decisions in terms of simple questions. Am I powerless over alcohol and is my life unmanageable, or not? Do I now believe or am I willing to believe there is a power greater than myself, or not? Am I going to turn my life over to something other than me, or not?
Those sure sound like decisions to me. Am I going to “kill off” the alternatives today? For me, these questions continue every day. I have to ask myself how I will manage my life through the AA program. I have to ask myself whether or not I’m going to give up the idea that I can run my life my way. Because when I’m spiritually fit, I cannot choose to drink. And when I am not spiritually fit, the time will come when I have no defense against the first drink. I will be without power to decide not to pick it up. I will have regained the notion that I can choose.
Choice is not an issue for me, until it is.