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Hard to Believe

Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. There are no dues or fees for A.A. membership; we are self-supporting through our own contributions. A.A. is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution; does not wish to engage in any controversy, neither endorses nor opposes any causes. Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.

The A.A. Preamble.

Every once in a while someone who knows I attend A.A. meetings feels compelled to send me an article claiming that Alcoholics Anonymous doesn’t work. From journals as revered as The Atlantic and as reviled as The Enquirer they arrive in my inbox and occasionally even my mailbox, carefully clipped, folded and sent to me with a skeptical little note. "Have you ever considered..." they usually begin "that maybe A.A. is a cult, a scam, a convenient cover for a Satan-worshipping cabal, the Illuminati?" These unsolicited missives come from well-meaning individuals who just want to let me know that there might be another way for ME to be sober. A new drug maybe? A moderated drinking platform? Wheat-grass colonics? Hypnosis? Organ transplant? Brain transplant? The options are as endless as the human imagination. Anything but A.A. to get sober. And I do understand why. It's hard to wrap one’s mind around how A.A. works. But when I first came in I was so depleted that I didn't have time for questions. I had my life and my sanity to save.

Sometimes when taking a newcomer through the A.A. literature or even explaining the program to a non-alcoholic, I see the reason why people doubt A.A. The history and mythology are as hard to believe as the stories that you will find in any religion. The Mormons have John Smith finding the 8 golden plates in upstate New York. Christians have Christ walking on water and rising from the dead (among other things.) The Jews have Moses parting the Red Sea. Muslims have Mohammed splitting the moon in two. The Buddhists have ceaseless reincarnations and the Hindis have hundreds of surreal and mystical gods, all powerful and capable of great good or great destruction. My favorite Hindi god is Kali, the goddess of time, doomsday and death. Although depicted in many forms throughout Southeast Asia (and now much of the world) Kali is most often characterized as black or blue, partially or completely naked, with a long lolling tongue, multiple arms, a necklace of decapitated heads and another decapitated head held aloft in one hand. Now I don't know about you, but that's my kind of deity.

In most spiritual quests we are asked to stretch our belief. To put reason and logic aside. "So how does A.A. work?" my Doubting Thomas friends will ask. "It works just fine, thank you." I usually respond - but in truth the miraculous nature of what happens in the rooms of A.A. is hard to explain. One might as soon ask “How does the mind work? How does nature work? How does the human body work?" I'm certainly not asking my kidneys to clean up my blood every second of every day and yet that is what they do. I have never asked my heart to beat and yet it does, all day, every day. A divine mystery. We say we make our babies but do we really? I have three healthy kids and yet I never hand-crafted so much as an earlobe for them. Not even once. Or eyes. Or bones. That just happened, organically, inexplicably.

In some organized religions we are asked to hold on to fables and myths, ogres and unicorns, pixie dust and faeries. Please leave your reasoning and rational mind outside, come on in, and start believing. In A.A. it's a bit more down to earth...but is it really? “So this guy in Ohio is about to walk into a bar, see? To get drunk. He's dying to get good and wasted but he has a bit of a drinking problem. Before he enters the bar he makes a phone call. Hoping to save himself from himself. And because of that phone call he decides NOT to go into that bar. Then he meets another guy and then those 2 guys go see another guy. And then those three guys meet one other guy and they all stop drinking. And now because of a book they wrote over 2 million people are in A.A. today worldwide and tens of millions of lives have been saved since 1935. Got it?”

Holy mystical moonbeams! That is the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous? What is this web? This invisible powerful indestructible network that ties us together? Connects us worldwide? I could go into a meeting in the jungles of Jakarta and still get my juice. I've been to meetings where I barely understood the language and yet I was as comfortable as if I was sitting in my living room at home. I felt the same calm there that I feel in most meetings. I felt peaceful and safe, which is not my natural resting state, not at all. It is my opinion that something supernatural happens in meetings. For me A.A. feels infused with profound mystery and a splash of grace.

So I can't rationally explain how A.A. works but I can show it. I have brought my doubting friends with me to open A.A. meetings where all are welcome. And they have all said the same thing. They believe it now. "Believe what?" I will say. And the answer is almost always the same. "Believe that this program can work. That this is something different. Something inexplicable." They all come away somewhat stunned, wide-eyed and at a loss for words. They could "feel it" they tell me. Feel the energy. Feel the compassion. Feel the frisson of hope. Feel God. And from my atheist friend that I dragged along: "If I believed in God I'm pretty sure this is where I would find Him."

That is the magic for me. And when I try to make logical sense out of it all it sounds even harder to believe than most organized religions. "So then this guy Ebbie Thatcher shows up one day at Bill Wilson's house in Brooklyn and the rest is history." But you know what? A.A. works for me, and for millions of others like me, so I'm not going to question the magic, the mystery, the unicorns or the pixie dust. Why would I?


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