"Most of us have been unwilling to admit that we were real alcoholics. No person likes to think he is bodily and mentally different from his fellows. Therefore, it is not surprising that our drinking careers have been characterized by countless vain attempts to prove we could not drink like other people. The idea that somehow, someday he will control and enjoy his drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker. The persistence of this illusion is astonishing. Many pursue it into the gates of insanity or death."These opening paragraphs are amongst the most important paragraphs in the entire 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous. They identify (a) how we set about taking Step One, and (b) the delusionary and obsessive nature of the disease of alcoholism.
"We learned that we had to fully concede to our inner most selves that we were alcoholic. This is the first step in recovery. The delusion that we were like other people, or presently may be has to be smashed. (Emphasis added.)
-- Alcoholics Anonymous, page 30 --
The first two chapters are concerned primarily in painting an identifiable picture of the alcoholic and in broadly outlining the fact that within Alcoholics Anonymous we have found a common solution to the problem of our alcoholic addiction. In fact, the second paragraph tells us just how we begin this process of recovery from our addiction: i.e., by "fully conceding to our innermost selves that we were alcoholic." This speaks to the first half of Step One, but it is a beginning point, or, better yet a "rallying point" upon which we can all agree.
The first paragraph speaks, more than anything else, to the craving for alcohol that arises each and every time that the alcoholic addict drinks. Once our system gets its hit of alcohol, the phenomenon of craving arises and we have little or no control over how much we will then drink. Our brain and therefore our whole body crave more. Thus, despite earnestly wanting to control and enjoy our dirinking like other non-alcoholics appear to do, we lose all control. And despite our best efforts and intentions we will crave more and, in nearly all instances, we will drink more. The illusion (or delusion) that we will one day again control and enjoy our drinking has to be smashed. Alcohol addiction is a progressive and fatal disease.
The second paragraph, above, is even more subtle. Having fully conceded to our innermost selves that we are alcoholic, it begins to speak about the obsessive nature of the alcoholic addict. At first, when not drinking, the alcoholic addict obsesses over booze. Even in sobriety, instead of obsessing over wehn and where he or she is going to drink, the alcoholic obsesses over the fact that he or she is not drinking. This becomes crucially important, because it is far too easy to substitute another obsessioin - for work, sex, gambling, exercise, you fill-in-the-blank - to replace the obsession over booze (and in many instances, drugs) once that obsession lifts.
Quite clearly, we are told that we are not like other people, nor will we be. Not only does the phenomenon of craving arise once we begin to drink, but over the years of drinking addictively, we have developed a mind that has become obsessive by nature. Even when not drinking, and even more in the beginning of our recovery from alcoholic addiction, our minds are all too easily preoccupied with obsession, mainly an obsession over how we are going to run our lives in a way that is satisfactory to us. (Later, at page 61 of the 'Big Book,' we will read how the alcoholic addict is "a victim of the delusion that he can wrest satisfaction and happiness out of life if he only manages well.")
Putting all this together, and facing these illusions and/or delusions, we are enabled to admit "to our innermost selves" that we are alcoholic and cannot manage our own lives - i.e., the First Step in our recovery from an otherwise progressive and fatal disease of the mind and body. "We are convinced to a man," we read at the bottom of page 30, "that alcoholics of our type are in the grip of a progressive illness. Over any considerable time we get worse, never better."
Even with this said however, we are told that "(d)espite all we can say, many who are real alcoholics are not going to believe they are in that class," and that "(b)y every form of self-deception and experimentation, they will try to prove themselves exceptions to this rule, (and) therefore non-alcoholic."
Our hats are off to such people. "Best of luck," we say. But most of us will simply save them a chair in their home group, trusting that once exposed to A.A. they will of themselves become desperate enough to return and hopefully find the common solution we have found for all.