I recently heard an AA speaker bring the Twelve Steps into plain view and focus for me. He said that he was a visual learner and that his sponsor explained the Twelve Steps to him physically by putting an imaginary drink on the table and taking twelve steps across the room. He explained to the speaker that each of the Twelve Steps put more distance between the alcoholic and the drink and that along the way, working with a sponsor, getting into service work in AA, and reading AA literature would make the distance further yet. This has been my experience so far in sobriety as well. Though taking the Twelve Steps made no rational sense to me, I trusted taking them because I had to – I did not want to drink again. Over time, my obsession for alcohol lifted considerably and for the first time in my life, I was not fighting to keep sober, I was just doing what was suggested and what was subscribed in our Big Book. Working with and getting to know my sponsor, learning about AA history, and doing service work at the group and District level have helped keep me further away from a drink as well. I know though, that my sobriety is not a guarantee, even if I have put some distance between myself and a drink. Our Big Book states, “We are not cured of alcoholism. What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition. Every day is a day when we must carry the vision of God’s will into all of our activities” (85), so I try to live just for today and I thank God every day for my sobriety at the very least when I wake up and when I go to sleep.
How dear runner, does this apply to running you ask? Think of a start line. Think of how nervous, how unwilling your body can be, how much doubt and uncertainty can wreak havoc on your spirit in the final hours before a race. As alcoholics, we approach Step One in much the same way, full of fear and doubt. Step One says, “Admitted that we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 59). Are we not ultimately “powerless” over the result of the race, especially in the Ultra distance world? Yes, we can put the proper training in, but there is a lot that can go wrong. Our job is to take the first step though, and once we have done that, nervousness, unwillingness, doubt and uncertainty give way to the natural movement of our bodies and rhythm of our breath. Such a small step, but absolutely crucial if we are to have the finish line in our sights. A common refrain in AA is that the only Step you can get 100% perfect, is the First Step. And in racing, this proves to be true as well.
In the remaining Eleven Steps of Alcoholics anonymous, we take action and we place a certain amount of trust in the Steps, as we do in a race. The further we get from the start line, the more we gain strength and faith. Though not easy by any means, we soldier on, one step at a time, one foot in front of the other, and we keep moving forward – we are racers and we are in this thing, we’re doing it and we’re a part of it. We do the best we can, given our ability and our training and the circumstances of the day. Every step we take forward is one step further away from failure. The good news about dropping out of a race and not out of recovery is that we probably won’t die because of the decision to drop out. The finish line of an Ultra or any long distance race is bitterly sweet – we can rejoice in the effort and the accomplishment while knowing there is room for improvement, even in a near perfect race. In AA, we are taught to live one day at a time, to do our very best this twenty-fours and the end of each day is the finish line for us – “When we retire at night, we constructively review our day. Were we resentful, selfish, dishonest or afraid? Do we owe an apology? Have we kept something to ourselves which should be discussed with another person at once? Were we kind and loving toward all? What could we have done better? Were we thinking of ourselves most of the time? Or were we thinking of what we could do for others, of what we could pack into the stream of life” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 86)? The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions adds to this self-appraisal by stating “this is a good place to remember that inventory-taking is not always done in red ink. It’s a poor day indeed when we haven’t done something right (93). The idea behind all this self-searching is “progress not perfection.” As long as we are moving forward in sobriety as we do in a long distance race, the more we gain strength and faith, even if it is painful and difficult at times, as it is sure to be.
In Ultras, we have highs and lows and we have great days and some bitter disappointments just as we do in sobriety. If we carry our Higher Power with us in both, chances are we can face adversity and triumph with dignity, humility and strength. Beginning with the “first step,” we put our trust in a Higher Power and we venture into the unknown – one sufferer among many, following in the “footsteps” of those who came before us. We get further away from self-centeredness and doubt and we have the potential to become an inspiration and help to others. And here folks, is the finish line in sobriety and in long distance running, though we do not stop here:
“Service, gladly rendered, obligations squarely met, troubles well accepted or solved with God’s help, the knowledge that at home or in the world outside we are partners in a common effort, the well-understood fact that in God’s sight all human beings are important, the proof that love freely given surely brings a full return, the certainty that we are no longer isolated and alone in self-constructed prisons, the surety that we no longer be square pegs in round holes but can fit and belong in God’s scheme of things – these are the permanent and legitimate satisfactions of right living for which no amount of pomp and circumstance, no heap of material possessions, could possibly be substitutes. True ambition is not what we thought it was. True ambition is the deep desire to live usefully and walk humbly under the grace of God” (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, 124-5).
Just by taking the “first step,” we start out on an adventure that is magnificent and awe inspiring beyond our wildest imagination and if we do the work and continue taking “the steps,” there are vistas and valleys awaiting us – moments in which we can look up and around us, be fully alive and shout with a thankful heart , “hell ya!”
AA Grapevine “At Wit’s End” Joke of the Week:
DRINKER ENTERS A BAR at seven in the morning. “Give me a Scotch, straight up, and make it a double,” he says. The bartender is new to the trade and asks, “You can’t really want a double Scotch for breakfast, can you?”
“Okay, okay,” sighs the drunk, “drop a cornflake in it.”