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My understanding of the illness of alcoholism is that I have a physical allergy, a mental obsession and a spiritual malady. The allergy means that when I drink alcohol it sets off a craving in my body for more alcohol. I have an abnormal reaction to alcohol: abnormal in the sense that someone who does not have the illness of alcoholism does not have this reaction - they do not have a physical craving for more drink when they drink. If I don't lift the first drink it's impossible for me to get drunk. The mental obsession means that when I am off the drink and completely sober the idea of a drink will come into my head and that idea will overrule any rational thinking which would argue that since I've got an abnormal reaction to drink, taking a drink is definitely not a good idea. I've got a body that can't handle drink and a head that is convinced, despite lots of strong evidence to the contrary, that it can. So although it is absolutely true that if I don't lift the first drink I won't get drunk, my best reasoning and my willpower are not enough to stop me taking the first drink.
Looking back at my experience when drinking I can see that this is the case for me. So far so straightforward: I have no control over the craving for more drink when I start drinking and I have no control over my head when it tells me to drink. I'm powerless over alcohol. Understanding the spiritual malady was not so straightforward for me. I would hear at meetings 'untreated alcoholism', 'dry drunk', 'internal unmanageability', 'the ism'. Did these words apply to me? Was it the spiritual malady they were talking about? I wasn't drinking. Was my alcoholism untreated, waiting patiently to grab me and catapult me into death or insanity or to sentence me to a long drawn-out grim suicide by instalments? Was my behaviour just like when I was drinking but without the drink? Was my thinking and the way I felt unmanageable? Was I restless, irritable and discontent, not drinking but not happy? 'Yes' was the short answer to all that.
So what is this internal condition that I have and what can I do about it? My stinking thinking, feeling bad about myself, feeling hard done by and not grateful, waking up anxious and/or not looking forward to the day with any enthusiasm, not caring about others, being critical and judgemental of myself and others, all this and more is how my spiritual malady shows itself in me. These are manifestations of my malady but the actual nature of my spiritual malady, as I understand it, is that I'm disconnected and separate from my inner inherent goodness. I've heard others say that for them the spiritual malady is being separate from God as they understand it. Being disconnected and separate from means I feel the way I've described, treat people badly and have no peace of mind. How then do I reconnect with my inner goodness? I do so by living AA's Twelve Step Programme in my life and in particular by continuing to do Steps 10, 11 and 12. By doing a Step Four inventory I found out about my fears and resentments. By looking at the harms I did to others I could address the guilt I felt. I could look closely at the exact nature of my wrongs and character defects. All of that was blocking me off from and keeping me separate from my goodness. If I'm consumed by fear, resentment or guilt there's no room for goodness in my heart and my head will be like a washing machine on spin cycle that might pause for a little while I sleep but will start up again as soon as I wake up. By letting go of my fears and resentments and by working on my shortcomings I can get back to the goodness that was always there in me. If I don't know what my spiritual malady is and if I don't do something about it, it will take me back to drinking. Just because I've stopped drinking doesn't mean that my spiritual malady has gone away. If anything, it's more obvious without the dark curtain of active alcoholism to hide behind. I can no longer blame the way I felt or what I did on drink. If I don't reconnect and stay reconnected one day at a time, the manifestations I spoke about earlier will rear their heads as my selfishness and self-centredness run riot. It's then just a short distance from that to the mental obsession kicking in, telling me that a drink's a good idea and then I'll lift the first drink, the allergy will be activated and be off and running once again. Living life on life's terms, not drinking no matter what is happening round about me involves, for me, dealing with the symptoms of my spiritual malady by staying connected and not separate from what keeps me well. I like that EGO can stand for 'Easing God Out' (or in my case goodness).
Over the years I've used various things to try and treat my spiritual malady and before AA got me sober I was using alcohol to treat my alcoholism. Only the Programme actually worked for me. Everything else I tried, after an initial short-lived easing of the emotional pain, only made it worse. If I remove whatever I happen to be using to treat the symptoms of my spiritual malady I will, without the Programme, find something else that's not good for me to take the edge off how I'm feeling. AA's Programme of Recovery, as long as I continue to work it in my life, will keep me connected and in so doing will give me the sense of ease and comfort I was always looking for.