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Slogans and self-talk for recovering people

Half measures availed us nothing.

We stood at the turning point.

By John MacDougall

John MacDougallI began my alcohol awareness in 1976, as a newly ordained United Methodist minister. I was in my first parish. I drank a lot, but I didn’t drink as much as my family did, and I was much more successful than they were at life, so I had no idea that I had an alcohol problem.

My idea of an alcoholic was the kind of unfortunate street people who would make their way to the church door, in search of a handout. Many were drunk. After giving handouts to drunks for some months, I tried to find a way to be of genuine service.

I learned that the county had a residential detox center called Turning Point. It was a pleasant house in the country, with a caring staff of recovering alcoholics. I began to take people there. The staff taught me about alcoholism and about AA.  I felt very good about myself and my work. That’s what I thought a turning point was: the point at which desperate alcoholics turned their lives around.

Thirteen years later, I came to AA when I finally figured out that I was an alcoholic. I, however, was a "high bottom" drunk. I came to AA because I figured out that I had been in an alcoholic fog for the previous 30 years.

Because my drinking story lacks drama, the dramatic language of the Big Book did not immediately hit home with me. But there’s something about this "half measures" passage that stuck with me.

First of all, it seemed unfair. After all, half measures should avail us half. I would have been willing to get halfway sober. But it was true that all my half measures--cutting back, switching drinks, timing drinks, changing patterns--resulted in no change at all.

The turning point was when I walked into AA, raised my hand, and said, "Hi, I’m John, and I’m an alcoholic." I knew what I was getting into, and I never drank again.

How that happened is contained in the next sentence in the Big Book: "We asked His protection and care with complete abandon." Once I introduced myself, I hurled myself headlong into this program, and just kept going.

There were many days when I had no idea whether I was "doing it right," but I kept doing it anyhow. An early sponsor said, "Any day that you are sober is good enough." Another alcoholic said, "Easy does it, but do it." I never asked what "it" was. Lots of people said, "One day at a time," and that’s how I did it.

Today it is 21 years after I first raised my hand in AA and asked for help. I have no idea how to be sober for 21 years. I do have an idea about how to be sober for a day. Make today your turning point.

The truth is that we are always at the turning point. When we wake up in the morning, we wake up with alcoholic minds. Our alcoholism and addiction is never behind us. It is ever present. In response to reality, we seek our Higher Power’s protection and care with complete abandon.

It is as if I can hear those first alcoholics who wrote the book, calling out to us:

"With all the earnestness at our command, we beg of you to be fearless and thorough from the very start.  Some of us have tried to hold on to our old ideas and the result was nil until we let go absolutely."

I don’t know that I’ve let go absolutely, but I am content to be forever at the turning point.

John MacDougall, DMin, is the director of Spiritual Guidance and director of the Family Program at Hazelden in Center City, Minn.

Published in the Voice, Spring 2011

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