Years ago I was at an A.A. meeting in Miami in a mostly Spanish speaking neighborhood called Little Havana. On the wall were the usual A.A. posters - the Serenity Prayer, the Preamble and How It Works, in both English and Spanish. And then there were the big ones - the "shades" as we call them. The 12 Steps and The 12 Traditions. And alone on one of the walls there was a shade that looked just like those but instead of Los 12 Pasos or Las 12 Tradiciones it said Las 12 Promesas. My Spanish comprehension was fair enough to decipher most of these "promesas" and they sounded pretty damn good to me. Upon my return to Manhattan I told a friend from my home group what I had seen. "Did you know..." I informed her "that at Miami meetings they have this thing called the 12 Promises? Las Promesas?" I had been in A.A. for about 3 years at the time and my friend looked at me like I was a complete idiot. "What are you talking about?" she said. "Those are our promises. Promises that are guaranteed to us if we work the program to the best of our ability. They’re right in the Big Book. Look it up. And Duh!" I was shocked. I had been going to meetings religiously and had never heard of these promises. Or more likely I had heard about them but hadn’t paid attention. So I went to the literature and what I found was this from page 82 in the Big Book.
The 12 Promises of Alcoholics Anonymous:
1. If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are halfway through.
2. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.
3. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.
4. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace.
5. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others.
6. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear.
7. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows.
8. Self-seeking will slip away.
9. Our whole attitude and outlook on life will change.
10. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us.
11. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.
12. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.
How amazing, I thought. So that's it. That's the payoff. I'd been wondering what all this struggle to get sober was about. I knew I felt better sober but what was I REALLY gaining by not drinking except less chronic shame and fewer mornings spent contemplating suicide? The promises were what I was hoping to gain. A carrot held out to help me keep going on those hard days. Those "I need a drink to help me cope" events. Those "I want to be a part of" moments. Those uncomfortable days and fleeting but intense cravings. Because yes, oddly enough, decades after putting booze down and knowing the dire consequences drinking would wreak on my life I still occasionally crave a drink. But I don't act on the cravings. Ever. And they pass. They ALWAYS pass.
What is even more interesting to me is that when I looked closely at Las Promesas I saw that what they offer is what I initially was hoping to get from alcohol and drugs. Until, of course, they turned on me and morphed from my greatest comfort into my greatest tormentor. I’ve heard other people in A.A. say the same thing.
What did I gain from alcohol in the beginning years of my illustrious drinking career? Did I know a new freedom and a new happiness? Check. Did fear of people leave me? Check. Did I comprehend serenity and know peace? Check, check, check. I got all of the promises from drugs and alcohol. Until I didn't. Until the drugs and alcohol stopped working and the promises they had always delivered just vanished. That despair was deep.
The 9th promise especially stuck in my craw. "Our whole attitude and outlook on life will change." Because that was what I loved the most about drinking. At the beginning it was so easy. I could have a few drinks, smoke a little weed, and POOF!!! Everything changed. I was suddenly comfortable in my own skin. Engaging (or so I imagined) and engaged. With a few ounces of booze in my belly the world seemed benevolent, amusing, conquerable. So now it seemed that those very same things I was chasing with drugs and alcohol could somehow become available to me WITHOUT alcohol? Without the horrible and increasingly severe consequences that drugs and alcohol wrought in my life? Do tell.
I was willing to try it. And recently I’ve been trying harder than usual. For what feels like the first time I am being somewhat “painstaking about this phase of my development" as is asked of me in the first promise. "They will always materialize if we work for them" the Big Book says and I'm working for them now. I'm connected. I'm part of the pack. Taking suggestions. Reading the A.A. literature. Working with others. I'm drinking the A.A. Kool Aid. Whatever you want to call it I don't care. All I know is that by staying close to A.A. and by working the steps, the promises are coming true for me...naturally. I can hold my head high. I don't have to cross the street when I see someone I know to avoid talking to them. I can look at myself in the mirror and not be repulsed. The 24/7 gnawing pit in my stomach that feels like I drank battery acid and that I have been plagued by my entire life is fading away. That is an honest to God miracle.
So better late than never. Not sure why it took me so long but it did. I suppose I didn't believe it. I was skeptical. For years I would think to myself "yes, the promises are for them maybe, but not for me." I think a part of me truly felt unworthy of them. As if I did not deserve that level of freedom. That level of joy. That level of peace. The promises WILL materialize for us, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. I'm definitely in the "sometimes slowly" camp but they are starting to come true. I seem to have come full circle. I desired all the promises but went about getting them the wrong way. Booze did deliver them quickly enough but at increasingly steeper prices. Prices that I'm no longer willing to pay. And the pain that living an addicted life caused me and the ones I love was certainly not worth the short-lived, paranoid, shame-inducing highs I got from drugs and alcohol at the end of my addicted life. To discover that there is a way to have those promises without an attached death sentence is a gift. E por eso estoy agradecido.