Many of you have heard the formula for how you get to be an A.A. old-timer: Don’t drink and don’t die! True enough, but not always as easy as it sounds. Nevertheless, there are means to improving your odds of fulfilling the former of these conditions, if not the latter.
I once attended an A.A. meeting at which the topic was achieving long-term sobriety, and the room was heavily over-weighted with what they now call “long-timers”. It was interesting to hear the variety of beliefs and behaviours to which each attributed their sober success: belief in a higher power, good sponsorship, strong group membership, regular attendance at meetings, talking about feelings, positive thinking, being sensitive to others, not being too sensitive to others, daily meditation, daily reading of the Big Book, practising humility, accepting responsibility, living life based on some combination of faith, hope, and charity—the list goes on.
I listened attentively, but it was obvious that, however much these beliefs or practices might enhance an individual’s sobriety, they were neither necessary nor sufficient conditions for sobriety in general. There were older members there who did not believe in a higher power, who had never had a sponsor, who rarely shared their feelings, who never read the Big Book, who (in my humble estimation) were not particularly humble, faithful, hopeful or charitable (though I hope a little less judgmental). We are not Saints! Still, these people (including me) continue to be sober.
I forget what invaluable advice I offered on the subject at that meeting, but the topic caught my imagination and I’ve continued to ponder the question of long-term sobriety. What is there in common with all the old-time members present at that meeting, and all the others I’ve encountered throughout many years in the program? For my money, the answer is commitment, commitment to life in the A.A. fellowship.
Whatever those old-timers’ failings, whatever mine—we were there for that meeting, we are there for the duration. Our commitment to the A.A. fellowship is not contingent upon current feelings or future whims, or an unvarying set of beliefs or practices. We are, as they say in poker parlance, all in! In part, perhaps because we have nowhere else to go, but even more because we recognize that there is no better place for us. For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health…It’s that kind of commitment, and one that I’ve never regretted. Unlike similar vows I’ve made, this one I’m confident I’ll keep.