The 9th Step Promises of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous say:
If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.
Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us – sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.
(The Big Book, pp. 83-84).
We read these promises at the end of every meeting of my home group, and I have always loved it when the chairperson asks me to be the one who reads them. Even in my earliest days of sobriety, it was the Promises that gave me hope. You see, I wanted those promises for me and my life, although much of the time I never thought I could be so fortunate. I could see the evidence of the Promises in other alcoholics’ lives, they were happy, emotionally and spiritually fit, they could pay their bills on time, and they had healthy relationships. It didn’t bother them to talk about their pasts, and they weren’t wallowing in them either. They spoke about their drinking days in the context of, “you have to feel the bad times, to appreciate the good ones.” That was new to me, and in those first couple of years of sobriety, I didn’t think that I would ever be able to feel that way about my past.
Guess what happened though? Somewhere along the way, as I worked the steps – struggling through the hard days, and grateful for the good ones – the Promises started coming true for me. I have found a new freedom and a new happiness. Neither of those things came easily though. Freedom from drinking as a way to cope is never easy for an alcoholic. In fact, I think it’s a miracle when any alcoholic can go any length of time without a drink. I really do. But I also think that every minute, hour, day, and year that I stay sober I am free of my old way of coping, and that freedom feels good. What I have learned about happiness is that you can have it if you choose to. I have been through some pretty rough times in sobriety, some times that were even worse than the hell I went through when I was actively drinking, but I notice now that often I am able to choose happiness even then, even in those moments that used to baffle me.
There are still things about my past that I regret. What I find though is that I no longer wish to shut the door on it. I am able to talk and think about my past without guilt and shame (at least on most days), and sharing my past might help someone else. That’s what it has become for me – a way to help others in the same way that I have been helped. How can I be ashamed of that?
Self-pity used to be where I hung out most of the time. The Promises say that it will disappear, and I will say that I can see now that it is true. I’m not saying that I never fall back into that way of thinking, I do. However, I spend a whole lot less time there, and I bounce back faster when I do start to feel it. That too, is a miracle.
“Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us.” Wow, I never thought that I would experience that, but I have. I’m not saying that I don’t worry anymore about what people are going to think, or that I am suddenly financially secure. What I am saying is that I have learned that I don’t have to be afraid of either of those things. What other people think is none of my business, and I no longer feel the need to try to live up to whatever it is I think they want from me. And even though I haven’t won the lottery, and I’m not independently wealthy, when financial challenges come up, I don’t stress as much. I know that things will be okay. I just know.
Knowing that things will be okay comes from the realization that “God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.” That’s it, plain and simple. God is at work, and I am not trying to run His show. Admittedly, there are times that I still try to take over…ok, there are still a lot of times that I try to take over, but when I am able to let go and hand it over to God, amazing things happen.
To the newcomer I say, be patient with your recovery. Believe that the Promises do come true. To the old-timers I say, thank you for helping me to believe.