"Since alcoholism is a disease of body, mind, and spirit, let me commence along those lines."
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Episode 102 -- April 5, 2021Recovery for Body, Mind, and Spirit
Undrunk: A Skeptic's Guide to AA by A. J. Adams is a great read for those of us who are in early recovery or who are having doubts about joining Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Adams uses humor to describe what AA is really like and what it means to live an "undrunk" lifestyle. He discusses how his once-skeptic opinions about AA transformed after he began attending meetings and shares how he transitioned from denying that he was an alcoholic to building a life in recovery that includes daily joy. In this excerpt, we hear how Adams's life changed in body, mind, and spirit after only one year in AA. He details how recovery encompasses more than defeating our obsession with alcohol—that it's only the beginning of creating a lifestyle that improves every aspect of our lives.
This excerpt has been edited for brevity.
One-Year Progress Report
I've made a number of claims in these pages regarding the effectiveness of the AA program among the fellowship's 2 million members. Since our membership is anonymous, we're not in a position to do comprehensive studies on ourselves in order to bear out these claims. But before I ask you to take it all on faith, I can offer a case study of one: myself. Admittedly, the sample size is small, but my confidence in the data is high. Since alcoholism is a disease of body, mind, and spirit, let me commence along those lines.
Most of us in AA stopped drinking for various periods before we got serious about quitting for good. I certainly did. Usually under family pressure, I would quit for a month or so. I once quit for three months. Since I never really intended that this would be permanent, I didn't get panicky about not having booze around. After about a week of fairly mild discomfort, I was usually okay. I probably quit like this eight or ten times over the years.
It amazed me how good I felt when I didn't drink and how fast I started feeling good. I slept better and my energy level went way up. I was less anxious and more fun. But in my alcoholic mind, I twisted these signals from my body to mean that I could quit successfully anytime I wanted to, and sooner or later, the good feelings became something to celebrate with a drink.
By the time I hit bottom, I could no longer stop at will, and this scared me. When I was admitted to detox, my blood alcohol content was three times the legal limit, and getting my blood pressure down to a noncritical level that first night was difficult. Detox and the first few days of rehab were a bitch. Even with Librium and some other stuff, I was shaking like a leaf, alternating between hot flashes and chills, unable to eat anything, and severely disoriented. My mood swung from irritated to furious, and I would have done nearly anything for a pint of vodka. When my blood tests came back a few days after I entered rehab, the doctor told me how very sick I was. I was scared.
Today I can honestly say that I've never been in better physical shape as an adult. My blood chemistry is normal and so is my blood pressure. Liver function is normal, and I miraculously suffered no permanent damage there. I sleep like a champ and eat in a healthy way. I've lost a considerable amount of weight, and since I go to the local gym several days a week, I'm in good shape. The puffiness in my face has disappeared, and my skin color and tone have returned to normal. People comment on the sparkle in my eyes often enough for me to believe that something good is happening there too. My normal balance has returned, the ringing in my ears has gone away, and I no longer snore. The racing heart, panicky elevated respiration, and breathlessness from minor exertion are gone. I feel calm, even under pressure, and I have more energy than I know what to do with. Best of all, I have absolutely no physical craving for alcohol. None.
I'm pretty sure I was certifiably nuts by the end of my last drinking binge. Half of me was an oblivious drunk, while the other half was a paranoid person given to inappropriate remarks and unable to hold a coherent thought for more than a couple minutes. I had no judgment, and reality for me was always open to discussion. On my last morning in the office, I couldn't sign the paychecks because my hand was shaking so much. I made a mental note to return to that task after I had gotten my morning ration of grog. By the time I got around to the checks again, I couldn't sign them because I was too drunk. When I was released from detox after nearly having a coronary, I immediately banged back a few drinks. When my wife told me the next day that we were going to rehab, I responded with a straight face that I was "not ready." My head was seriously messed up.
Mentally I'm now sharper than I have been in years. My thinking is logical and unhurried. My memory is as good as it ever was. I'm intellectually curious again and have almost entirely abandoned TV for reading. My creative juices are flowing, and my sense of humor is sharp. I'm able to plan and organize as I could many years ago. This means that everything from work and projects to bills and calendar are in order. By the end of my drinking days, I couldn't plan anything beyond a day or two out. Now I enjoy scheduling events and travel months in advance. I'm handling money with ease, and it seems to be going farther. My days are orderly and I'm amazed at how much I can fit into twenty-four hours. I make time for friends and family every day. Keeping things in perspective has become natural, and I'm rarely exasperated or impatient. I'm mostly interested, charmed, or amused by things around me in the world. I smell roses when I pass them.
It was easy to make major progress in my spiritual life after I quit drinking, because while I was drinking I had no spiritual life. Aside from the odd foxhole prayer over the years, I had little use for God. Today, I rarely begin a day without prayer and meditation. When I don't make time to address my Higher Power in the morning, I invariably find that the wheels come off the day sooner or later. In everything I do, I try to remain aware of how I might be affecting others. I try to be positive, tolerant, and cheerful. I rarely harm another person; if I do, I try to put the situation right as quickly as I can. If this sounds impossibly complicated and goody-goody, try it for a month or two. Being civil to others is not that hard, and I was surprised at the terrific reaction from people I work with or meet in the course of a day. People respond to simple courtesies and basic human kindness. All this makes me feel very good too. Remember, each AA defines Higher Power as he or she chooses. The power of the spiritual concept lies not in the definition itself, but in our acceptance that there is something out there that is bigger than we are. Considering the dog's breakfast my life had become by the time I got to AA, I was ready to believe this.
About the Author:
A. J. Adams, a recovering alcoholic, consults, writes, and teaches. He lives with his wife in the Southwest. A. J. Adams is a pen name.
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