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How Do You Dissect A Miracle

Audio Version

I know what happened when I took Step One and how, when and where it happened - but I don't know why it happened; even now it is still a mystery to me. In a way it doesn't matter, such speculation is at best irrelevant and even counter-productive. For as the author of the Conference-approved pamphlet A Member's Eye View of Alcoholics Anonymous wrote, "Who would dare attempt to analyse a phenomenon, diagram a wonder or parse (break into its component parts) a miracle." How do you dissect a miracle?

I drank alcoholically from the start. I would black out and be horrified the next morning to learn what I'd said and done. Some of my behaviour when drunk was criminally irresponsible. I was appalled and I tried desperately to change. "This time it will be different," I vowed. "Here are some of the methods we have tried ..." (to stop or control drinking), it says in Alcoholics Anonymous (p31). I tried many of those methods as well as some of my own. Once, I practised a form of yoga which meant getting up at dawn, bending and stretching in time to my breathing while chanting a mantra. It was called surya namaskar - we greet the sun. I had a huge beer gut at the time and nearly gave myself a hernia so that didn't last very long. Sometimes I would eat a plate of mashed potato or drink a pint of milk before a drinking session in the futile belief that this would soak up the alcohol. Not going to the pub was not an option, of course.

I did not lack intelligence or will power but alcohol would not yield to my imagined self-sufficiency. In other areas of my life I was considered a success. After starting work as a 16-year-old newspaper office boy making the editor's tea I ended up as a Fleet Street journalist but even in that heavy drinking environment my drinking was excessive. After one office party I dragged myself to work the next morning, head pounding and stomach heaving. The editor came into the office and said, "I've never seen anyone as p****d as you were last night." And that from a man who himself went into clinics to be dried out from time to time. Everyone laughed, and I laughed too - but I shrivelled up inside. I felt ashamed and humiliated. What a reputation - the office drunk.

At the time I was working for Britain's then-top selling newspaper, notorious for its salacious sex stories, when I decided to change career - a sort of mental geographical - and gave three months' notice. My drinking went completely out of hand then because they couldn't sack me! After one disastrous evening the editor called me into his office, gave me a cup of coffee and said, "This can't go on, you've become an embarrassment so you'll have to spend the rest of your notice at home. What shall I tell your colleagues?" I said, "Tell them I'm an alcoholic." It later occurred to me that I was probably the only journalist ever asked to leave that title because I was bringing the paper into disrepute!

I'd admitted I was an alcoholic - the evidence was overwhelming - but I drank for a further three years because I hadn't conceded to my innermost self that I was an alcoholic - and that, the Big Book tells me, is the first Step in recovery. I wouldn't change a word of the 12 Steps but for me it was only when I accepted that I was an alcoholic that I gained release. My Collins Dictionary and Thesaurus includes concede and accept as synonyms for admit and they describe my experience. After waking from my last disastrous drinking bout in which I'd smashed the place up I knew I could not face a further 10, 20 or 30 years of that living hell so I decided to commit suicide. That was when, where and how I took Step One. Deep down, I finally knew I was powerless over alcohol and my life was unmanageable; I could deny it no longer.

In that abysmal time of dark despair I believe I had that 'vital spiritual experience' described by Dr Carl Jung in his account of Rowland H.'s treatment in the Big Book (p27). I didn't make it happen but it is what happened. Jung describes these happenings as 'in the nature of huge emotional displacements and rearrangements. Ideas, emotions, and attitudes which were once the guiding forces ... are cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate them.' The obsession with alcohol was lifted despite me; I'd become 'as open-minded ... as the dying can be' (12 Steps and 12 Traditions, Step One) and was ready to embrace the AA way of life, which I continue to do, one day at a time. But without that miraculous intervention by a power greater than my ego self, which our more religious members call God and which as an agnostic I do not, I'd have been smoke and ashes 33 years ago.