People

Chapter 8B: Relapse or Research?

DISCLAIMER: Cogniventus.com has not been approved of, nor endorsed by, and is not affiliated with, Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. or any service entity of A.A.W.S., Inc. This website’s currently Featured Project, “100 Years of Extravagant Promises,” is not AA Conference-Approved Literature; it is non-fiction commentary submitted here for non-commercial single-use, and gives Fair Use citations, for educational purposes, of limited sections of the 2nd Edition of Alcoholics Anonymous, 1955, which has been in Public Domain since 1983.

Sponsor’s Note: This is a faithful transcript of a 45-minute AA talk given on February 18, 2006—punctuated for syntactic clarity, with a few “stage directions” added for rhetorical context. The original voice recording has been lost; however, several bootleg readings are still in circulation.

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MVC: 

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“No one ever steps into the same river twice,
Because you are never the same person,
And it is never the same river.”
Heraclitus

Chapter 6

RELAPSE OR RESEARCH?

Saturday, February 18, 2006

My name is VJ and I am an alcoholic.

Hello VJ!

I am also my own sponsor, my own big book, my own home group, and my own higher power, and god created me to be just that. [Sponsor’s Note: see AA Survival Tip # 23]

[uncomfortably lengthy pause]

My mother was a homeless 16 year old girl who left me…in true Dickensian fashion…on the doorsteps shortly after my birth. I also grew up in a small fishing village on an island off the coast of Canada, have run with the bulls, swam with the dolphins…I could go on…but the point is that I am many things, and my “qualification” as an alcoholic here today is perhaps the least interesting thing about me. But since that’s why we are here, I will talk about that.

I have thought about it long enough to know that I drank for one reason and one reason only: being drunk felt better than being sober. At least a half dozen shrinks the tri-state area have tried to improve on this simple explanation—unsuccessfully. You see, I was a gifted child who succeeded early in life; I was also a troubled child who failed just as often as he succeeded. And I am talking about big failures and big successes. My problem: success brought no joy and failure brought no pain. So, take a ten-year-old kid who lives in a psychological desert where—no matter what he does—life is not that bad and not that good, then have that child stumble upon a quart of Chivas tucked away in his father’s liquor cabinet…

ahh yes..alcohol, with the power to make you feel really good, and if you drink enough of it for long enough, the power to make you feel really bad. The point is that it made me feel. Before I was even out of High School, I knew how to extract the maximum amount of feeling from alcohol: blackout drinking. I loved blackout drinking. I loved drinking as much as I could as fast as I could. I loved the first  fifteen minutes of getting up there, disappearing into that black hole where memories go, then waking up the next morning to figure out what had happened. At least alcohol made me feel something, and it didn’t really matter to me what.

It should come as no surprise that when someone is already enjoying blackout drinking in High School their career as a drinker has a limited lifetime. By the time I graduated college it was just a long series of brutal, downward spiraling blackouts, eventually ending on January 24, 1979, when I woke up after crash-landing in the Tidewater Psychiatric Hospital in Virginia Beach, Virginia, straight-jacketed to a bed in what was affectionately called the burn-out unit. I was 25; the youngest detainee by 14 years.

What was significant about this hospital was its policy that no alcoholic left until counselors had escorted him out into his community…on a day pass…and found him a regular home group and a sponsor…

…ahh yes…sponsor, Frank C.; Sobriety date: November 11, 1939. Part of one of the original generations of AA who got sober on the Big Book—and this man knew how to put a newcomer through the paces. A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to qualify at a Step meeting in West Windsor and talked in great detail about what it is like to be taken through the steps “old-school.” Forget everything you think you know…For the purpose of this meeting, suffice it to say that if World Services wanted to develop a brochure, and let me choose my words carefully—we must remember the Traditions—an attractional brochure, showing how you can take someone with grave emotional and mental disorders, slap him upside the head with a 12 Step Program of rigorous honesty, and then show how everything unfolds exactly the way Bill Wilson says it does in the Big Book—that was my first year of sobriety. And I say that with absolutely no sense of accomplishment, but instead with a sense of astonishment that the right sponsor, the right home group, the right counselor, the right treatment could all come together at the right time and place to create a teachable moment.

And I was teachable. And I learned the AA way of life. Three months: Red Chip. 6 months: Yellow Chip. 9 months Green Chip. One year passed, and I scored that oh-so-precious Blue Chip. Then, two, three years…got some much-needed dental work… four, five years…fell in love on the AA campus; eventually married…six , seven, eight years…went back to school, got my graduate degree…nine, ten, eleven years…fortune and fame…twelve years—joyous, sober, & free. Then in my thirteenth year of sobriety I made a conscious decision to start drinking again.

[stunned silence]

My reaction then, well, pretty much the same as your reaction now: what the fuck just happened?

[nervous chuckling]

Let me be absolutely clear: I did not “slip,” “go out,” pick up,” or any of those euphemisms we use to blunt the shocking absurdity of such an event. I was not blindsided by a “mental blank spot”; not overwhelmed by a “craving.” I made a conscious decision—knowing the danger—to start drinking again.

How does such a thing happen? How does one go from committed and active in the AA program to making a deliberate decision to drink? I figured you people would know…

[shrugs shoulders]

…so I asked you. Well, not you guys.  Here is how at least a dozen conversations went:

“Glad to have you back VJ, but were you working the Steps?”

—“Yes.

“Glad to have you back VJ, but were you going to meetings?”

—“Yes.”

“Glad to have you back VJ, but were you talking to your sponsor?”

—“Yes.

“Glad to have you back VJ, but were you working with others?”

—“Yes.

 With each “Yes” answer I gave, your questioning became more aggressive and more accusatory…

[wags his index finger at the audience]

…That’s when I began to smell the fear beneath your thinly veiled anger—your absolute horror at the possibility that someone could be working the AA program to the best of their ability, be fully entrenched in the AA Fellowship and still get drunk. That’s when I knew you had no better explanation for why I drank than I did. That’s when I knew I was alone.

...ahh yes…alone...Think it’s lonely out there in the world? It can be a lot lonelier here in these rooms when people who once had your back start showing you their back. But it didn’t matter; I was always good at being alone. That’s when I realized that it didn’t make any difference what I did wrong—if, indeed I did anything “wrong” at all…

[air quotes around “wrong”]

If AA offers me a daily reprieve from drinking based on the maintenance of my spiritual condition; if I could not see for myself—and no one around me could, if I could not see for myself when I stopped maintaining my spiritual condition…assuming for the moment that I somehow did… then what am I going to do different this time? What does AA have to offer me?—12 more years of sobriety and then I start drinking again in my 50’s? Not good enough! I wanted more than you had to offer. So I buckled down, determined to find more with or without your help, just as our AA Founding Fathers did when they gave the middle finger to the world and said they would find a way to help themselves when doctors, family & friends could not help them, and would not help them.  [Sponsor’s Note: see AA Survival Tip # 11]End of UNRESTRICTED ACCESS

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Chapter 6

RELAPSE OR RESEARCH?

Anonymous

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Chapter 6

RELAPSE OR RESEARCH?

Anonymous

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