When most people hear Chapter 11, they think of bankruptcy. According to bankruptcy law, filing a Chapter 11 bankruptcy puts an “automatic stay” on the actions of creditors. That stay provides a person or company with a new chance to prioritize their responsibilities and move forward. Chapter 11 in the Big Book, A Vision for You, provides a summary of a remarkably similar plan of action in the lives of alcoholics.
“For most normal folks, drinking means…release from care, boredom, and worry… But not so with us in those last days of heavy drinking…As we became subjects of King Alcohol, shivering denizens of his mad realm, the chilling vapor that is loneliness settle down”
Before I sobered up for good, I had spent almost ten years in and out of the program. Each time I drank again, I felt more and more isolated. Shame and guilt kept me from reaching out to my friends in recovery. My wife had long since disallowed me to drink at home, so I had to drink by myself in secret. Every day was shrouded in that chilling vapor. As I approached the jumping off place, I slowly shrugged off every connection I had to humanity. Every failed attempt at turning my life around weighed on me like a backpack full of stones. And when I finally reached the end, I found that I no longer wanted to live, but didn’t have the spiritual energy to end it all. I wasn’t actively suicidal, but I wouldn’t have minded an errant bus hitting me, either. So I did what I knew how to do; I turned back to Alcoholics Anonymous. When I did, I noticed a remarkable thing: I was experiencing meetings like it was brand new to me.
We go to these meetings and people seem normal. They smile, and laugh, and they look good. They have jobs, and cars, and houses; and we think, “I am not like these people.” Then they start telling their stories: tragic and horrifying stories — awful stories — stories like ours. And maybe someone gets up and tells a story of driving drunk. And they get pulled over. And the officer comes up to their car. The officer can see they’ve been drinking and tells them to step out of the car. But when they get out, they are too drunk, so they fall onto the ground at the officer’s feet… and then they throw up on the officer’s shoes.
For some strange reason, this story of humiliation strikes everybody as HILARIOUS. And they laugh. At horrible things like this, they laugh. And when somebody does an everyday thing like get insurance for their car or get their driver’s license, they applaud. And at first we don’t get it. We think, “What are these people laughing at? Why, exactly, are they clapping?” Then one day somebody gets up and tells our story. Some of the details are different, but it’s our story. They talk about missing births and disappointing their family. They talk about the pain and the loneliness. And we realize that we aren’t alone. These people, we think, have been where I have been. And it slowly dawns on us that these people seem normal. They are happy. They have been in the darkness that we are in and have found a way out. And if they have found a way out, they can show us the way out. And for the first time in months, if not years, we have hope. We are not alone, and hope is suddenly not lost. And so we keep coming back… I kept coming back.
“there is a substitute…It is a fellowship in Alcoholics Anonymous”
In the 2 years since I’ve come back, I’ve been reminded how important the fellowship is in my recovery. Of course working the 12 steps, the program, is imperative; but having friends to trudge the road with is also vital. They keep the loneliness at bay, and help me stay on the beam. Through their example, I learn how to register my car, pay my bills, and walk through life with dignity. Shame and isolation prevents action. Knowing I’m not alone gives me incentive and motivation to act towards a better life. The fellowship literally puts an “automatic stay” on the shame and fear to act, because I realize I’m not alone. Chapter 11 reminds me that, through spiritual bankruptcy, I am given a chance to live a life worth living; to be a man of substance. And for that, I am endlessly grateful.