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Fraser Trevor Fraser Trevor Author
Title: Alcoholics Anonymous added an off-ramp to the 12-step road to recovery
Author: Fraser Trevor
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At some point over the past 30 or so years, Alcoholics Anonymous added an off-ramp to the 12-step road to recovery.  I'm not so sure ...
AA Big Book
At some point over the past 30 or so years, Alcoholics Anonymous added an off-ramp to the 12-step road to recovery.  I'm not so sure it was planned-- more likely, it was a path that a few started to take, and then, as the route got more well-defined and worn, it was marked with signs and guardrails. Now it looks like it belongs, like it was there from the beginning, like it was intended as an alternative.
It exists at the point of the alcoholic's surrender in Step 1, when we are asked to concede powerlessness to our innermost self. It's beyond the mere physical allergy, the overwhelming compulsion to drink once we've activated the itch.  Most alcoholics make that concession-- when I put it in me, it demands more. The evidence of that phenomenon is overwhelming; if it isn't, we're invited to go try some controlled drinking.

No, this is about the mental obsession--do we really believe that alcoholics are often victims of strange mental blank spots? Do we believe there are moments where the urge to drink, regardless of outside circumstances and the presence of alcohol in my body, will be so overpowering that we have no choice in the matter?  Said more simply, do we believe that the untreated alcoholic is powerless over the first drink?
How we answer that question will dictate whether we continue onto Step 2, or take the off-ramp.
The mental obsession is a polarizing idea because it takes powerlessness to a different level. The idea that we would put alcohol back in our bodies knowing exactly what the outcome will be violates everything we want to believe about ourselves.  It suggests weakness or, worse, a lack of seriousness about our situation.  We read the words, but our instincts resist.  Surely we can just not drink.
Can't we?
So we come to this place on our journey, and we pause.  If we admit this-- if we understand our truth to be an uncut, pure form of powerlessness-- we have two choices: alcoholic death, or continue down the highway in search of a power that can solve our problem.  We may not believe that power exists, we may have strong reservations, but the very personal evidence we have screams that our lives depend on it.  We have come to the jumping off point.  We look down that road, dotted with people, trudging at various speeds, but moving steadily.
Then our eyes are drawn to the off-ramp.  Its clogged with so many people that we wonder if there's been an evacuation. Feeling good about their physical sobriety, being restored to some sense of well-being, these folks think the idea of a "strange mental blank spot" is for someone else.  They understand that they need to not drink, they believe they are alcoholic.  They'll shout it from the rooftops.  But they've gained a tremendous amount of knowledge and understanding about their condition.  They've found strength in the AA fellowship. They have a sponsor. They have coffee commitments and phone lists.  They have power, choice and control.
And damn, they seem to be having a good time.  And they are sober.  Why do I need to keep going down the road when pulling off here seems more than sufficient?  It's about not drinking, right?  At the end of the day, that's all that matters, right?
We can see that the off-ramp has become a bit of a rest-stop-- homes have been built, businesses set up.  Some stay here for the rest of their lives. Others drift through slowly. Still others move through quickly, unable to get comfortable.  And it's only when they get through the crowd-- moving faster now, propelled by a new restlessness-- that they see the bar at the end of the off-ramp.
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