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So, I just finished reading ‘Nickel and Dimed: On (not) getting by in America.  It’s an old book. It was published in 2001, which means that the author’s ethnographic research was taking place in late 1999.  For those of you who haven’t heard of this book or don’t know Barbara Ehrenreich, it’s incredible! It’s the story of how a writer goes undercover in the world of the working poor (people who make minimum wage in America) and what she discovers there.

This post isn’t long enough to sing the praises of this book in the way I want to, and this blog isn’t about social issues, like poverty, but at one point in the book Ehrenreich is living in Minnesota, conducting her experiment on whether or not she can get by working at Wal-mart and still have enough money to eat and pay rent.  She realizes that despite working full-time, due to the fact that Wal-mart, like so many minimum wage employers, holds back an employees first check until they quit (ridiculous!) she has made on $43 in three weeks time.  In case you’re wondering, this is the (not) getting by in America part. At this point, it’s case closed for her…game over.

There are some experiences we have that make the first step clear for us, and it’s the only step we are asked to do perfectly.  I admit I am powerless.  When you are living at a motel and they literally change the lock code if you don’t pay and you have made $43 in three weeks, you are powerless over what happens next.  When you are sitting (somehow) behind bars, having racked up your 1st, 2nd, or 3rd, DUI and you’re wondering, how did I get here…powerless.

Lack of power was our dilemma. And I think that’s a tough concept for alcoholics and addicts, because as a whole, we tend to be very crafty people who are good at getting our needs met one way or another. Also, most of us like to spin things around in our head for awhile in an attempt (sometimes) to manipulate the data. What is powerlessness and what does it look like when it comes to addiction?

The truth is that it looks different for everyone. There are many places to get off the pain train (as a friend of mine used to call it in L.A.) and try a different way of living.  But I think that whatever the external circumstances of powerlessness look like, the internal circumstances go something like this:

  • I no longer think I have a solution to my problem.
  • I have tried everything, and none of it has worked.
  • I’m out of good ideas (and bad ones.)
  • I’m willing to look outside of myself for a solution.
  • I recognize that I am at the center of all the disintegration in my life, that the only common denominator is me.

Alcoholism is a simple disease, but understanding it is baffling sometimes.  It doesn’t have to be if we keep it simple and don’t turn AA into therapy.

  • I have an allergy (we can debate unnecessarily over what kind of allergy: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual) to alcohol.
  • Something different happens to me than happens to others when I drink (even others who drink a lot!)
  • I experience something that ‘normal’ drinkers almost never feel: the power of craving.
  • That craving becomes a mental obsession (insane urge) that drives me to very dark places and to do things that I would otherwise never do.
  • Inside me, there is a darkness carved by addiction that is so deep that only the power of something greater than myself can save me from it  (although I will often try to fill it with just about anything on the planet that I think might change the way I feel.)
  • I am “driven to AA” and there I discover the “fatal nature” of my situation.  In other words, I will chase the obsession to drink and use all the way to the gates of death.

When we can say and understand these things about our drinking, we are ready to move on, but the key to beginning a program of action in AA is that we have to stay physically sober, NO MATTER WHAT!