I was just nineteen when I first sought help for my maladaptive drinking and substance misuse; I phoned an AOD helpline.
I stood in the phone booth for about twenty minutes doing the handset shuffle: pick up, dial, panic, put down again. I had carefully written everything I’d wanted to say on a stub of paper, which served two purposes: I wouldn’t forget to mention something; I could postpone phoning a while longer. Finally, I made the call. A gentleman answered, and, without introducing myself, I rambled as though my life depended on it (which it did).
When I paused for a breath, the gentleman asked me some questions, and then informed me of my options. Every suggestion he made, however, sounded excruciating, so I debated each one of them, telling him that I didn’t think he understood. No matter what the gentleman advised, I just wasn’t willing to do it. It’s not that I thought I knew better, I was just petrified. My maladaptive use of substances had turned me into a dysfunctional, paranoid and terrified wreck; I simply couldn’t envisage doing anything he proposed.
I had been in and out of phone booths for weeks, steeling myself to make the call, but each time I had retreated to the sanctuary of alcohol and drugs (which obviously wasn’t much of a sanctuary, given I was pursuing help). Finally, there I was, and what I was being told sucked!
Eventually, after one ‘debate’ too many, the gentleman very patiently asked, “What do you want, Bob? A magic answer?!” I called him the c-word and hung up. It would be another ten years before I sought help again.
How right he had been! That is exactly what I had wanted (and often still want). I repeatedly sought that magic answer throughout the following decade, and thought I had finally found it upon joining Alcoholics Anonymous. There was one problem, however: I really struggled to find a god of my own understanding. I was plagued by this failure for the entirety of my AA membership.
Since becoming an AA apostate, however, I’ve learned that I actually viewed god as a magic answer too. If I could have just had more faith – better faith – then everything would have been OK, and sobriety would have been wonderful. Unfortunately, though, no god could have given me what I truly wanted: absolute certainty and security.
Upon reflection, it was absolute certainty and security that I had demanded of that gentleman on the phone. I had needed a guarantee that I was going to be alright, but, of course, nobody could have given me that.
I still fall into the magic answer trap today. I’m sick and tired of having to fight for every inch of turf, but I make a lot more headway, when I just suck it up, accept that there are no magic answers, and just keep going. I sometimes wonder where I’d have ended up had I done just that all those years ago. Who knows?!
What I do know is this: every inch of progress I have made has been won with tremendous thought and effort. There have been no magic answers, no easier softer ways, and, for the most part, the journey has been quite arduous, but such is life. I can either waste it searching for a non-existent magic answer to unlock eternal security and contentment, or just accept my lot and get on with it. The answer rests entirely in acceptance and committed action, not magic!