The Silver Tongued Devil and I

Step 1

By Joe C.

“Keep me safe in the company of those who seek the truth and safe from those who profess to have found it.” I don’t know who said that but with this in mind I want to say that I am still learning about the Twelve Steps. I enjoy Step Meetings for the wealth of experiences of other alcoholics. I wanted to write a bit about my personal experience with Step One. By my experience I mean what I have filtered, attempted and worked out in my own unique way. There has been a wealth of ideas and instructions I have gleaned from other peoples’ life stories in AA.

Admitting that I am powerless and that my life became unmanageable was a process not an event. I didn’t always disappoint myself or others, I didn’t always embarrass myself when I drank and I hadn’t given up on the idea that I could drink like a gentleman. I wanted to be a drunken gentlemanI thought that it was a cruel joke that alcohol (and drugs in my case) presented itself as the answer to life that I was looking for and then it would tempt me, turn on me, get me in trouble and leave me the blame. Kris Kristofferson has a song lyric that describes the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde aspect of addiction that I loved to sing and still do:

I sat me down by a tender young maiden,
Who’s eyes were as dark as her hair.
And as I was searching from bottle to bottle,
For something un-foolish to say.
That silver tongued devil just slipped from the shadows,
And smilingly stole her away.

I said: “Hey, little girl, don’t you know he’s the devil.
He’s everything that I ain’t.
Hiding intentions of evil,
Under the smile of a saint.
All he’s good for is getting in trouble,
And shiftin’ his share of the blame.
And some people swear he’s my double:
And some even say we’re the same.
But the silver-tongued devil’s got nothing to lose,
I’ll only live ’til I die.
We take our own chances and pay our own dues,
The silver tongued devil and I.”

Still, I thought that getting the good stuff from drinking and not having to suffer any of the bad, was a labyrinth in chemistry. If I could find the right mixture of this-and-that, I would be like Thomas Edison – doubted by everyone, after 14,000 tries he finally invented the incandescent light bulb.  By ass-mossis more than osmosis – sitting my ass down and listening – I gradually accepted that my thinking was flawed. I understood what was meant by, “A pickle never becoming a cucumber again.”

Still, I would often feel entitled to a largely imaginary past-glory. If there was a pay-day from drinking I had cashed that check and spent it – another one wasn’t coming any more that Santa Claus had a bag of toys for me.  I was powerless. I lacked the power to choose if I would be good or bad once I started drinking. I came to understand that my intentions weren’t the measure of a manageable life, my actions were.

It’s true – I was better than the heart-breaking drinking me.  Step One was taking ownership of that. Instead of demonizing “bad Joe,” I accepted that I couldn’t shift my share of the blame. The cause and the blame were no-longer the issue. Debating if it was my genes or my circumstances that made me an alcoholic were infinitely futile. The question now was who was going to do something about it? The answer was that I was going to do something about it, with help.  I was one of these alcoholics who had tried to stop drinking and I had failed. My dilemma wasn’t stopping – I had done that before.  My dilemma was staying stopped.

In Montreal where I got sober there was an ad that ran in the personals of one of two daily English papers at the time. It said, “If you want to drink and can, that’s your business. If you want to quit and can’t that’s our business. Call Alcoholics Anonymous.” It was followed by Montreal’s English Intergroup number. I couldn’t drink and I couldn’t quit on my own.  I was a good candidate for AA.

My sobriety was shaky then.  I didn’t have faith in myself. I did have faith in you. You were proof that sobriety was possible. I wrestled with thinking I was different; I still do sometimes. But your sobriety was evidence that if I wanted to stay stopped, I could. Just for today my sobriety is a prized possession. “Sobriety is mine and you can’t have it,” is how I feel about it today. You can threaten me, you can treat me badly but I know now that you can’t make me drink. I took ownership of my alcoholism and I take ownership of my sobriety today. Because I said, “My name is Joe and I am an alcoholic,” there was no indication that I had won the game of life there and then. Step One was a beginning.

How I navigated the rest of the Twelve Steps is a story for another day. I did not have all the honesty, integrity, open-mindedness and willingness that that the Steps require. I would have to learn and I would have to grow new muscles. It didn’t happen all at once and there was never a time when I knew I was home-free. The rest would take faith. I had faith that staying stopped was your business and you could teach me. It wasn’t rationally certainty; it was a gut feeling. I trusted that feeling and so far, so good. I am grateful to say that I am an alcoholic and a proud member of Beyond Belief Agnostics Group of Alcoholics Anonymous.

3 Responses

  1. Lech L. says:

    I did most of my drinking in Montreal in the 60s. I didn’t manage to get to AA until two geographic cures later, in Calgary. I go back to Montreal every few years. One of the things I always seem to do there is to look for my old haunts. Not many of them left. The Cock’N’Bull, the Dominion Tavern, and Krausmann’s are still up and running.

    I would call myself agnostic, but I don’t seek out agnostic meetings. Not that there are many of those in Calgary. The only self-proclaimed agnostic group I have been to was in the Berkley area of San Francisco. When they ended the meeting with the serenity prayer, they omitted saying the first word.

  2. John M. says:

    Thanks for sharing this Joe. Your blog captures so well the sense of recovery as a constant searching and journey. Your opening sentence (and what Bob relates vis-a-vis Ross Perot in his comments on your sharing) reminded me of a favourite passage from Gotthold Lessing:

    The true value of man is not determined by his possession, supposed or real, of Truth, but rather by his sincere exertion to get to the Truth. It is not possession of Truth by which he extends his powers and in which his ever-growing perfectability is to be found. Possession makes one passive, indolent and proud. If God were to hold all Truth concealed in his right hand, and in his left only the steady and diligent drive for Truth, albeit with the proviso that I would always and forever err in the process, and to offer me the choice, I would with all humility take the left hand.

  3. Bob K. says:

    I very much enjoyed Joe’s essay, and particularly related to Step 1 being a “process rather than an event.” I sat for many months in AA meetings fantasizing about achieving some previously elusive “control” and some magical return to a time when drinking was more fun and less grief. Luckily, I came to accept the futility of such “illusion.”

    About the opening line: there are probably a number of instances of similar statements. I recall Ross Perot (in ’96?) telling Larry King about the TEXAS PRAYER – “Lord, help me to be a person who understands You better, but PLEASE spare me from those who already do.” Although neither a Perot guy, nor a Lord guy, I like the line.

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