Throughout my drinking life I always had a good reason to pick up a glass.
Although I was aware that my drinking pattern differed from others almost from the start, I always had a favorite word to fall back on whenever I felt uneasy about the amount I was drinking. This was the word, which I was to use oftener, and oftener over the thirty years I travelled the long road from heavy social drinking to the compulsive, desperate, secret and lonely drinking that every alcoholic knows. The word – BUT.
Of course I drank more than other people at parties, but it was just that I needed a little more than the others to feel as they did. Again, I did drink alone, but my nerves were not all they should be and a drink ‘calmed me down. I drank at work, but my boss picked on me more than anyone else. I needed a ‘livener’ first thing in the morning, but I worked irregular hours and nobody thought there was anything wrong with sailors having a tot in their cocoa and in Convent Garden, the pubs opened at 6am for the porters. So, the list of was endless.
One of the biggest buts came when I was laying on a stretcher in a hospital reception room having collapsed with stomach pains, extreme exhaustion and general debility – in other words, too much booze. I overheard two doctors whispering in the corner and heard them mention the word I had always done my utmost to avoid – alcoholic. After my indignation had subsided, I became very reasonable. After all, having examined me and having gone over my medical history, the poor unknowing chaps could not really be blamed for suspecting that my condition was due to alcoholism. But what they didn’t know was that they were not dealing with me, and I was different. I was special and the criteria didn’t apply.
I had two months in that hospital to think about my drinking. I was told that I should give it up completely or I would die. But I had been told that before and I hadn’t died, had I? No, I wouldn’t give it up completely but I would take it easy this time. Just a couple in the evenings after work and perhaps Saturday and Sunday lunchtimes and I would be all right. So for two further years I drank myself further and further into the hell that all alcoholics know, into that state of despair and misery where I was, at last, ready to admit defeat, ready to beg for help – in fact, ready to do anything to get myself out of the morass I was in.
Eventually I took those first fearful steps into an AA meeting room.
There followed more meetings and, while I managed to stay away from that first drink, I just couldn’t seem to get that peace of mind that other members had. Of course, they were very nice but they didn’t seem to understand that I was a bit different from other alcoholics. I was advised to study the Twelve Steps and this I did, although strictly speaking they didn’t completely apply to me. I was ready to admit to being an alcoholic but I couldn’t very well see that my life was unmanageable. After all, I had held on to my job and my wife – very tenuously admittedly, but I still had them. I believed in a Power greater than myself but I wouldn’t exactly say that I was really insane. ‘Made a decision . . .’ But how?
And so the buts went on. ‘Amends?’ – but I had only harmed myself. ‘Personal and moral inventories?’ – but I’d always looked honestly at myself.
Then, after a few months, I was advised to study – not read – Chapter Five and slowly, from this wonderful section of the Big Book and with the help of other AA members, came the first tiny bit of realisation that I was, in fact, no different from any of the others in this Fellowship. This different person, that I thought I was, was in reality, just another drunk trying to get sober. With this realisation I began to see that, if I wanted what these other happy, recovering alcoholics had, there could be no half-measures no ‘buts.’
Phrases like ‘thoroughly followed our path,’ ‘completely gave themselves,’ ‘willing to go to any lengths,’ ‘thorough from the start,’ ‘half measures’ . . . simply leave no room for any ‘buts.’
It’s been some time now since I first realised the dangers that lay in that one insidious little word and that is why I still have to keep a close guard on myself in case I am ever tempted to use it. I know that if I ever let it intrude into my interpretation of the Twelve Steps then it will only be a matter of time before it creeps into my thoughts if the temptation to pick up that first fatal drink ever arises. I must always remember that, used in the wrong place, this is the word and state of mind that could destroy me.