Gratitude in my Attitude: How I Found my Way Into the Rooms of AA and the Stoics

My name is Frank and this is my experience with Alcoholic Anonymous and my recovery from alcoholism. I am not a spokesperson for AA nor do I hold a position in AA.

My last drunk was October 7, 2013, it was a boys’ night out. I was attempting to prove that I could handle my drinking like the other guys, so I took a cab so I didn’t have to worry about driving. I’d made it home with no consequences and was sitting in my La-Z-Boy in my tighty-whiteys, when the phone rang. It was the woman I was dating at the time. Apparently, I’d thought it would be a good idea to get into my car and drive over to her place, except that she lived 20 miles away, her exit was a cloverleaf and I could not get off the highway. I just kept getting on and off, on and off, until I ran out of gas.

The last thing I remember was sitting at home. When I woke up the next morning, she told me she’d found me on the side of the road and had brought me back to her place. We went to the gas station to fill up a gas can and when we got to my car, I saw that the driver’s side mirror had been sheared off. I must have hit something. Back home, I assumed the “Oh shit” position – my head in my hands, staring at the ground. I knew I had a problem but I didn’t know what to do.

I come from an Italian background and had grown up in the 1970s, in an average NYC household. Money was tight, religion was there but not forced, and drinking was the way I saw adults being happy and having fun. Making wine was a yearly event, and my first and fondest memory of alcohol and its effects were when I was around 10 or 11. My grandparents would come over and we would start by crushing the grapes, laughing and having fun. In 3-4 days, the aroma would waft up from the barrels in the garage. One of my chores was to churn the crushing, and when I did, the aroma would hit my lungs and I’d get lightheaded. I was never late for this chore. After 7-10 days, the sugar converted to alcohol and it was my job to scrape the crushing from the barrel after we took out the juice. My father and grandfather would put the barrel on its side so I could reach inside and scoop. The alcohol fumes were much stronger now, and I would be in the barrel up to my waist. It was beyond lightheadedness. The effervescence would fill my lungs and I would get the same feeling/sensation that I would chase until I made it into the rooms of AA.

There was plenty of debauchery, fear, pain, misery, shame, and guilt. Drinking cost me my marriage. I knew nothing about AA, or recovery but a couple of months before, a friend had given me a book called The Golden Book of Resentments. I’d never looked at it, until that day. I read Step One and said, “That will do it.”

I white-knuckled it for 3 months, but nothing got better. There was still plenty of fear and shame, and the thought of a drink ran through my head constantly. One day, I was talking to a friend and said, “I don’t drink anymore.” “I don’t drink, either,” she said. “What meetings do you go to?” “What do you mean, meetings?” “You don’t go to meetings?” she said. “Do you think you might want to go to one?” “Okay.” At this point I would try anything to feel better.

Funny, how the cosmos work. I hadn’t even known she was in AA. So, I called the friend who’d giving me the book, and said it was suggested that I go to a meeting. He said, “I think that’s a good idea,” and took me. At my first meeting I raised my hand and said, “My name is Frank. I’m an alcoholic.” Something shifted; I cried and felt a sense of relief. The obsession to drink lifted. I went to meetings and got a sponsor, who took me through the steps using the BB, and the 12 & 12. (BB is short for Big Book which is the basic text used by Alcoholics Anonymous.)

In the rooms of AA with the Twelve Steps and my sponsor I built the archway that I walked through a free man, and which led me to the Stoics. On my journey I was searching for anything that might help me spiritually because my childhood faith did not help nor did I want it. Then I found some old quotes and everything changed. They fell in line with what I was learning from going through the Twelve Steps. I read in The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius: “Such as are your habitual thoughts, such also will be the character of your mind; for the soul is dyed by the thoughts.” I identified with these sayings and realized that they were along the same lines as the principles I was learning in AA. So I looked up Marcus Aurelius and discovered he was an emperor of Rome. The words “Stoic philosopher” appeared next to his name. So I began reading up on the Stoics.

I’d found out later in life that I was born with only one kidney, which led me to believe I was inadequate and not the same as everyone else. I felt abandoned by everyone, including the god of my childhood. When the doctor informed me about my kidney, he explained to me the importance of taking care of it. So, what did I do? Just what the BB describes as the alcoholic. I could not moderate or stop my drinking, even for a good reason. I made this realization early in my sobriety. It gave me the acceptance of being an Alcoholic, and the drive I needed to dive into AA.

As I looked to enhance my spirituality, I found the Stoics. The foreword of the 12 & 12 states that the basic AA principles were borrowed from religion and medicine. With that, I found some old quotes and everything changed. They fell in line with the basic principles of AA, and they also mentioned God, a God of my understanding.

This one got me: “Resentment, bitterness, and holding a grudge prevent us from seeing and hearing and tasting and delighting” (Marcus Aurelius). So, I looked up the Marcus Aurelius, learned he was Emperor of Rome and the words Stoic Philosopher appeared next to his name. I then looked up the Stoic Philosophy and found the stoics are pantheist, which is:

  1. A doctrine that identifies God as part of the universe or the universe is a manifestation of God.
  2. Worship that admits or tolerate all gods.

That hit me. I was reminded of when Ebby told Bill in the kitchen “Why not choose your own conception of God?” or when Bill uses the word cosmos or universe throughout the book.

When I read the quote from Marcus Aurelius on resentment, I realized the BB has a whole chapter on them and on pg. 64 is the statement, “Resentment is the “number one” offender. It destroys more alcoholics than anything else.” I had plenty of Resentments and realized they were holding me back.

Such as are your habitual thoughts, such also will be the character of your mind; for the soul is dyed by the thoughts.

Marcus Aurelius

Brought me right to the BB pg. 23, There is a Solution. “Therefore, the main problem of the alcoholic centers in his mind, rather than in his body.” I now understood that my mind & body were very sick.

Stoicism and the Art of Happiness by Donald Robertson explained Stoicism in the way the BB explained how to recover from Alcoholism, so I kept going forward with my AA and Stoic schooling. In they are my defects and my assets of character so I read books, took courses and learned more about the Stoics and the 12 steps. I use some Stoic principals in my AA program, first and foremost Gratitude.

I look for gratitude in everything that happens, good or bad. Marcus Aurelius and the Stoics have many different views on gratitude, including amor fati translated “Love of one’s fate”, or the Stoic “Reserve Clause” meaning Fate Permitting. The BB pg. 53 tells me the gratitude I have for my new found belief is correct, and this quote reminds me to keep gratitude in my attitude: “Gratitude is not only the greatest of all virtues, but the parent of all the others” (Cicero).

AA has keeping your side of the street clean or doing the next right thing. The Stoics have what is called the “reasoned thought or mind” and makes huge emphasis on humility. Marcus Aurelius wrote a journal to himself called The Meditations while he was emperor of Rome and they speak to his humility.

Persuade me or prove to me that I am mistaken in thought or deed, and I will gladly change-for it is the truth I seek , and the truth never harmed anyone. Harm comes from persisting in error and clinging to ignorance.

Marcus Aurelius

In the mind of a disciplined and pure man, you will find no sign of infection, no running sores, no wounds that have not healed. It will not be this man fate quit life unfulfilled like the actor who fails to complete his lines and walks offstage before the play is ended. What is more, there is nothing obsequious or conceited about him; he neither depends on others nor is afraid to ask for help; he answers to no man for who he is and for what he does, yet he hides nothing.

Marcus Aurelius

Let your face shine with simplicity, modesty and indifference to whatever is neither virtue nor vice. Love your fellow man. Walk with God. All things are governed by laws, said Democritus.

It is enough to remember that there are but two laws: the moral laws of the gods and the physical laws of the atoms. These two are sufficient.

Marcus Aurelius

I had no idea what gratitude was, let alone how it worked. I’d actually never heard the words gratitude or grateful until I came in the rooms of AA. AA brought me gratitude, restored my relationship with my higher-power and put me on the path of being happy, joyous and free!

Frank, a very grateful alcoholic.

13 thoughts on Gratitude in my Attitude: How I Found my Way Into the Rooms of AA and the Stoics

  1. Daniel Avital says:

    Wow your story is so similar to mine. I ended up in the rooms and on a search for meaning and purpose. I eventually found stoicism as well as Eastern Philosophy to be what most supports my life and recovery. Great read. Thank you and wishing you another sober day. Dan

  2. John Fulmore says:

    I too came to appreciate the clarity of stoicism. Epictetus’ handbook holds as much meaning for me as the BB. Through the steps I got separated from alcohol. Through stoicism I learned to take my spiritual life seriously but not to take myself so serious. Serenity through reason.

  3. Tall Bill says:

    I too am a “Friend of Bill Ws” with a few 24 hours; Stoicism for me is the “Serenity Pray on Steroids.” 🙂 It fits perfectly with the Program and has enhanced my Recovery.

  4. Vadim Korkhov says:

    Not to take away from Frank’s recovery or diminish his pursuit of wisdom, but AA is notoriously unreliable as an alcoholic recovery program. Studies show that it has the same success as someone just abstaining on their own without any assistance. AA has also been accused of hiding its own data from researchers which shows these findings. AA also has a very Christian-centered philosophy which doesn’t sit well with alcoholics who aren’t Christian. I’m glad AA led Frank to recovery and to philosophy, but that is only for him, and a testimonial is insufficient evidence to overcome population based evidence.

    • Jason says:

      Vadim – The reason AA probably doesn’t supply data about their success rate is that they don’t collect any data. Might have something to do with the “anonymous” nature of the organization. As far as the Christian aspects of AA, you are correct. While the organization was obviously founded by Christians, they did their best at the time (in 1939) to allow for people of other beliefs to benefit from the program by using terms such as “God as you understand him” and “Higher Power” in lieu of a specific Christian God. There are multiple contradictions to this stance in the Big Book and the earlier literature, the entire Chapter to the Agnostics being one of them. There are AA groups sprouting up all over the country that are geared toward atheists, agnostics, and those with different belief systems who want help for their drinking problems. I think the overriding principle in AA of “the only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking” is of the most value over all other principles and provides room for anyone who wants to try the AA approach regardless of their beliefs. It’s worked for me for over 31 years, and I came into AA as an agnostic and consider myself a “Spiritual Non-theist” now…which is another way of saying Atheist.

    • Al J says:

      I take issue with your statement. It would be virtually impossible to measure the success of AA . I assume you are talking about meeting attendees who don’t stay sober . I can see how someone could come to such conclusions, however it the Bug Book of AA in the chapter How It Works , it clearly says , “ here are the steps we took which are suggested as a program of recovery .” It then list the 12 steps of AA . To be clear that’s why it’s called a 12 step program not a go to these meetings program . So until someone works the entire 12 steps with a sponsor they haven’t done the deal .

    • Dan F. says:

      Vadim claim many opinions as “fact” without offering data resources to support those “facts”. Additionally, Vadim declares AA a “Christian” organization without supporting his opinion. Factually, AA is a pantheist organization which neither offers an opinion on, nor encourages belief in, any one particular religious belief system. The Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book reads, in several chapters, that members are encouraged to choose their own conception of a God, or higher power, in which to believe. Additionally, The Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book offers the suggestion of reading ‘The Variety of Religious Experience’ by William James as one resource in finding that higher power. My guess is that Vadim is someone who attempted sobriety, found himself unwilling to follow a few simple suggestions, and developed an unhealthy resentment for an entire organization.

  5. Daily Jedi says:

    Hi Frank, thanks for the share. We have a similar story. I’m also of ethnic background and got an early start from my Slavic heritage. My name is JT and I’m an alcoholic. Sober since 24 September 2012 grace of the Force and the 12 Steps. The 12 Steps and the BB led me to a lot of spiritual study from Buddhism to Emmet Fox. The latter must have taken inspiration from the Quote “Such as are your habitual thoughts, such also will be the character of your mind; for the soul is dyed by the thoughts” when he invented the 7 Day Mental Diet (something I have tried many times and failed to accomplish!). I intuitively picked up a copy of Meditations but didn’t make the link to Stoicism till much later. Jedi Philosophy actually led me to Stoicism.
    I wrote a piece three years ago called “Ben Kenobi, Buddha and Bill W” this is the link: written before I started studying the Stoics.
    A recent take on the 12 Steps
    The 12 Step Jedi

  6. Daily Jedi says:

    Hi Frank,
    Your story is very similar to mine. Sober since September 2012 grace of a Higher Power. I have also found sobriety and a measure of serenity in Stoic Practice. It is no secret that Stoicism has much similarity with the principles of the 12 Steps. I’m surprised someone has not written a book about Stoic and the 12 Steps of recovery from addiction.

  7. Joe Peeden says:

    I too discovered the similarity of Stoic thought and AA. I was familiar with Epictetus long before Bill W. Unfortunately, both are action philosophy. Won’t work unless you work it! I especially like new compilation of the Enchirideon by LaBelle. The Art of Living. Oh! My AA home group is not Christian based, but doesn’t discriminate against those that are. Stoicism and AA keep me sober!

    • Dan F. says:

      Welcome home. Actually, no AA group is Christian based. As an organization, AA neither has an opinion on religious matters nor is AA concerned with an individuals religious belief system.

  8. There is a Stoic Recovery Group on Facebook. All welcome

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