Hitting Bottom

In my last BLOG, I provided the story of Bill W’s surrender and the spiritual experience that began his lifelong quest to help other alcoholics. The following BLOG, quoted from pages 135-137 of PBH, describes my “hitting bottom.” Prior to this experience, I had been trying unsuccessfully to get sober for ten years. As my alcoholism progressed, I often stayed at alcohol treatment facilities hoping to find help for my addiction.  The following entry begins with an account of my next to last visit at a treatment center and ends with my final surrender:

Remaining at this facility for a week, I began to feel alive again. The staff had been extraordinary in their encouragement. Leaving treatment “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed,” I felt a renewed commitment to my wife, to the clinic, and to myself that I would never, ever drink again. My wife told me that, promise or no promise, she would no longer stand by and watch me die. But this time, I was confident.  I was convinced I had reached the lowest bend of the alcoholic pipeline and was heading up the recovery side.

I was wrong. “Never, ever” is too long a time for an alcoholic to commit to. Two months later, I checked back into the same treatment facility.  I was crushed. I was certain there would be no more chances with my wife. I knew there shouldn’t be. The fact that I had let her down was one thing, but there was more. The National Guard had relieved me from duty—permanently! Then, following a medical exam at the treatment center for a painful hip, I was informed that, at the young age of forty, I had degenerative arthritis. If I wanted to continue walking, I would need a total hip replacement! “You have to hit your bottom,” the Old-Timers say. Like the funny little fellow with the big ears at the Alcohol Recovery Center had advised me many years earlier, “You have to be willing to crawl through cut glass to get sober!” Well, shattered glass was all around. I had hit bottom directly in the middle of it.

I knew I had. I hit my bottom like a concrete block plunging through a twelve-story building, shattering glass as it went. When I hit, I didn’t even bounce—I just crunched into a lifeless heap. More than a degenerative hip joint, I was a degenerative disease—degenerative addiction, degenerative marriage, degenerative soul. Depression rolled over me like the waves of a dark, stormy ocean. Heavy and suffocating, my condition was more than I could bear. I had no more tries left in me. I despaired. I prayed. My prayers were unlike any I had ever uttered. I didn’t ask for anything. Not to stay sober. Not to have my job back. Not for my wife to stay. Not to feel peace. Not to remove my pain. Not for anything! I was conquered. All I could do was mutter words about my total nothingness and cry out for help.

As my prayers continued, something about the way I viewed life began to change. It was not as if I had been struck with sudden brilliance. I was not filled with the burnings of truth or peace. I realized it was futile to say, “This time I’m going to stay sober,” or “I promise . . .” It was just the opposite. Alcohol had won. I was broken. I knew I couldn’t stay sober—no matter what. As this realization settled upon me, for the first time in my life, I honestly and completely admitted my powerlessness and gave my life totally over to a power greater than myself. With childlike demeanor, I humbly asked for God’s protection, direction and care. As a hopeless beggar, I surrendered all of me into the waiting arms of my Heavenly Father. “Do with me what you will. I can do nothing.”

 I began to feel tiny stirrings within me—a feeling of warmth, barely detectable, as if a tiny penlight had turned on in my bosom. A powerful key turned. Somehow, I knew in my heart that it could be over. I stood at that point I had heard described in hundreds of AA meetings—the testimony of myriad alcoholics who had hit bottom and had found the only way up: “Half measures availed us nothing. We stood at the turning point. We asked His protection and care with complete abandon.” (From Chapter Five of Alcoholic’s Anonymous).  I knew I didn’t possess the ability to manage all of my life. I couldn’t even manage a small piece of it. I suddenly understood that if I could just focus my energy on today, turning the guilt of yesterday and the fear of tomorrow over to God, then this terrible ordeal could be over. Like finding and putting in place a long lost, last piece of a puzzle, the picture became clear. I understood what to do. My life could be pieced back together—I simply needed to do it in humility and surrender—and one moment at a time!

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Surrender is not “Giving Up,” It IS “Giving Over!”

In war, an army surrenders when the enemy has sufficiently “beaten” the army into “submission.” In this case, surrender is defeat. To the alcoholic or addict, the enemy is the poison to which he or she is addicted.  Eventually-and unfailingly, the enemy wins. The paradox: In this defeat comes victory. We addicts come to understand that it isn’t “willpower” that gets us permanently sober. Just the opposite: It is total and complete surrender to a Power Greater Than Ourselves. Surrender is not “giving up!” It is “giving over!”

A powerful example of this concept can be found in my book’s first appendices: “AA: A Brief History”. I relate the co-founder of AA, Bill W’s, surrender story. This experience occurred after many years of uncontrolled drinking. A fellow “sober” alcoholic had testified to him of the power of God: (This experience can be found in the AA Big Book: Alcoholics Anonymous, published by Alcoholics Anonymous World Services Inc, 1976, Pages 7-13.)

“The frightful day came when I drank once more. The curve of my declining moral and bodily health fell off like a ski-jump. After a time I returned to the hospital. This was the finish, the curtain, it seemed to me. My weary and despairing wife was informed that it would all end with heart failure during delirium tremens, or I would develop a wet brain, perhaps within a year. She would soon have to give me over to the undertaker or the asylum They did not need to tell me. I knew, and almost welcomed the idea.”

“But my friend sat before me, and he made the point-blank declaration that God had done for him what he could not do for himself. His human will had failed. Doctors had pronounced him incurable. Society was about to lock him up. Like myself, he had admitted complete defeat. Then he had, in effect, been raised from the dead, suddenly taken from the scrap heap to a level of life better than the best he had ever known. Had this power originated in him? Obviously it had not: There had been no more power in him than there was in me at that minute; and this was none at all.”

“That statement hit me hard. It melted the icy intellectual mountain in whose shadow I had lived and shivered many years. I stood in the sunlight at last. It was only a matter of being willing to believe in a Power greater than I was. Nothing more was required of me to make my beginning.”

“At the hospital I was separated from alcohol for the last time. Treatment seemed wise, for I showed signs of delirium tremens. There I humbly offered myself to God, as I then understood Him, to do with me as He would. I placed myself unreservedly under his care and direction. I admitted for the first time that of myself was nothing;that without Him I was lost. I ruthlessly faced my sins and became willing to have my new-found Friend take them away, root and branch. I have not had a drink since.”

In a later record, Bill described more intimately the spiritual experience that occurred during his last stay in the hospital:

“My depression deepened unbearably, and finally it seemed to me as though I were at the very bottom of the pit. For the moment, the last vestige of my proud obstinacy was crushed. All at once I found myself crying out, ‘If there is a God, let Him show Himself! I am ready to do anything, anything.’  Suddenly the room lit up with a great white light. It seemed to me, in the mind’s eye, that I was on a mountain and that a wind, not of air but of spirit, was blowing. And then it (the idea) burst upon me that I was a free man. Slowly the ecstasy subsided. I lay on the bed, but now for a time I was in another world, a new world of consciousness. All about me and through me there was a wonderful feeling of Presence, and I thought to myself, ‘So this is the God of the preachers’.” [As Bill Sees It. 1967. Alcoholics Anonymous World Services Inc. pg. 2] Note: Bill stayed sober from this experience in 1937 until his death in 1971

In my next BLOG, I will relate my surrender story. Stay tuned:)

 

 

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