Our first example is a friend we shall call Jim. This man has a charming wife and family. He inherited a lucrative automobile agency. He had a commendable World War record. He is a good salesman. Everybody likes him. He is an intelligent man, normal so far as we can see, except for a nervous disposition. He did no drinking until he was thirty-five. In a few years he became so violent when intoxicated that he had to be committed. On leaving the asylum he came into contact with us.
We told him what we knew of alcoholism and the answer we had found. He made a beginning. His family was re-assembled, and he began to work as a salesman for the business he had lost through drinking. All went well for a time, but he failed to enlarge his spiritual life. To his consternation, he found himself drunk half a dozen times in rapid succession. On each of these occasions we worked with him, reviewing carefully what had happened. He agreed he was a real alcoholic and in a serious condition. He knew he faced another trip to the asylum if he kept on. Moreover, he would lose his family for whom he had a deep affection. – Alcoholics Anonymous p.35
We’re introduced to “Jim,” an intelligent and apparently normal man who became a raging drunk almost overnight. There’s a parallel here between Jim and the “man of thirty.” I would be tempted to say that Jim may have sensed something unusual about his reaction to alcohol and made a decision to avoid it.That might account for his “nervous disposition.” Maybe he’s white-knuckling his sobriety. But, like the man of thirty, he reached a point where “he had it made.” He inherited a successful business and has a wife and family, he is well liked and respected. If I were in that situation, I might think that a little drink now and then couldn’t hurt. You would have to be crazy to jeopardize all that, so if drinking even began to be a problem you could go back to your sober ways. That was my thinking early on. I told myself that I would stop if it ever became a “problem.” But as I said before, the definition of “problem” kept changing such that it was always a little worse than where I happened to be at the time.
So Jim comes in contact with AA, right? No, because “AA” didn’t exist. He came into contact with a bunch of recovering drunks who were trying to use the Oxford Group principles as a means of staying sober. He’s introduced to the principles of that program, and he’s been shown the hopelessness of his condition. He made a beginning and things got quickly back to where they were before, maybe too quickly. After all, here was a guy who had good fortune dropped in his lap and was probably not too accustomed to failure.
Now it gets interesting. “All went well for a time, but he failed to enlarge his spiritual life.” This is an extremely important statement. It wasn’t his failure to “maintain” his spiritual life, it was his failure to “enlarge” it that got him into trouble. This is a key characteristic of the spiritual life. It must constantly grow if it is to survive. We’ll see this most clearly in Step Eleven.
So now Jim is finding it difficult to return to his previously happy sober state, much like the man of thirty. This is a pitfall that traps many of us. We assume that we can step out of the quicksand as easily as we stepped into it. He is frustrated and continues to seek the help of his new friends who seem to have found a way out. Why is it not working for him? He has so much to lose; he has great motivation. You could even say that he had “plenty of character.”
We’ll see why as he recounts his story.
“I came to work on Tuesday morning.”
I wonder if he came to work on Monday.
“I remember I felt irritated that I had to be a salesman for a concern I once owned.”
He felt resentful that he had to work for a business he once owned.
“I had a few words with the boss, but nothing serious.”
He has an argument with his boss, maybe one of his former employees who used to report to him. His resentment is coming out as anger against the people around him. Then he minimizes it.
“Then I decided to drive into the country and see one of my prospects for a car.”
There goes Jim, throwing a tantrum and storming off. No attempt to see where he had been at fault. No desire to make things right by making amends. They say he “made a beginning” but you have to wonder just how willing he was to apply the principles in his own life.
“On the way I felt hungry so I stopped at a roadside place where they have a bar. I had no intention of drinking. I just thought I would get a sandwich. I also had the notion that I might find a customer for a car at this place, which was familiar for I had been going to it for years.”
Whoa, let’s back up for a minute. The roadside place just happened to have a bar. He had no intention of drinking. He was just going to have a sandwich. It was familiar because HE HAD BEEN GOING THERE WHEN HE WAS DRINKING! He had a notion that he might find a customer. Now I’m willing to bet that there were places around there without a bar where he could still get a sandwich. And I’ll also bet that he might find a customer there as well. But that wasn’t the notion he got. If you’re a dry alcoholic and not enlarging your spiritual life, you shouldn’t be getting “notions.”
“ I had eaten there many times during the months I was sober. I sat down at a table and ordered a sandwich and a glass of milk. Still no thought of drinking. I ordered another sandwich and decided to have another glass of milk.”
If he had been going there for years and also during the months he had been sober, then it means he had also been going there when he wasn’t sober. He sat at a table, not at the bar. He ordered a sandwich and a glass of milk. Then another sandwich and another glass of milk. Jim is really behaving himself even if he is pigging out a bit.
“Suddenly the thought crossed my mind…”
Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. The problem of the alcoholic centers in his mind rather than in his body. Jim’s mind is not a normal mind, but he insists on using it anyway. It feels normal to him. I say this a lot, but it is so very, very true: Every stupid thing I have ever done in my life started with the words “I thought.”
“…that if I were to put an ounce of whiskey in my milk it couldn’t hurt me on a full stomach. “
What harm could a little ounce of whiskey do? And there’s no better defense against alcoholic thinking than milk.
“ I ordered a whiskey and poured it into the milk. I vaguely sensed I was not being any too smart, but felt reassured as I was taking the whiskey on a full stomach.”
He had a “vague sense” that he was behaving insanely, but that magic milk was going to protect him from his alcoholic thinking. And he reassured himself. Didn’t ask for a second opinion. Took a vote in his head and the majority said that the full stomach was going to protect him.
“The experiment went so well that I ordered another whiskey and poured it into more milk. That didn’t seem to bother me so I tried another.”
Control and enjoy. Control and enjoy. One ounce of whiskey didn’t hurt, so maybe two would feel better. Two? No problem. So maybe three. In other words, let’s keep drinking until the experiment stops going so well. But by this point, there’s no more experiment for we are back on old familiar ground now.