A Spiritual Guide to
Copyright ©2016 by Neal Pearson
Eternal Sobriety, Second Edition
by Neal Pearson
Printed in the United States of America
All rights reserved solely by the author. The author guarantees all contents are original and do not infringe upon the legal rights of any other person or work. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without the permission of the author. The views expressed in this book are not necessarily those of the publisher.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Trademarks and Disclaimer: ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS, A.A., and Big Book are registered trademarks of Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. This book is neither endorsed nor approved by nor associated or affiliated with Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.
I dedicate this book to all the people who have been hurt by my alcoholism, to all the people who have helped me find spiritual wholeness, and to all suffering people everywhere.
I extend my personal thanks and gratitude to the many individuals inside and outside of Alcoholics Anonymous who have contributed their experience, strength, and hope to this effort.
Special thanks are given to my family for their love, encouragement, and support and to many others for their selfless energy and their generous time and editing skills.
Perpetual gratitude is extended to Douglas Beaumont at Southern Evangelical Seminary for his valuable theological expertise and for writing the forward and appendix material.
Front cover image
(Hubble Eagle Nebula, M-16, STScl-1995-44) courtesy of STScl and NASA
Many incoherent ideologies get away with their lack of consistency by coasting in on the conclusions of higher truths, even while implicitly or explicitly denying them. For example, many humanists are very ethical people although they lack a transcendent moral code to serve as their standard for right and wrong. Evolutionists are often animal rights activists although by their system only the fittest race should survive in order to better the world.
The path usually taken by those wishing to use true principles but also “keep everyone happy” is to excise all mention of a specific religion while at the same time borrowing its ideals. These ideals often make little sense apart from their religious foundation, but to those who follow the god of pragmatism this is not seen as a problem.
One somewhat controversial case in point is Alcoholics Anonymous, a group that has been called everything from a cult to a fallen Christian group (much like Amway and other groups that are said to have lost their Christian roots). True, the 12 steps confront A.A. members with the necessity of believing in a “power greater than ourselves,” but A.A. accepts the subjective “God as we understand Him” as sufficient to the task.
Although researchers claim that A.A. has its roots in the Bible, this view of spirituality alone removes it from consideration as a truly Christian group. So, A.A. is essentially a secular group that uses spiritual principles. Problems arise when people forget this fact. The issue is not that A.A. is a secular organization; it is that some treat A.A. as the terminus of their spirituality.
Neither is it an issue that A.A. is not a church, it is that some people substitute A.A. for church. Unfortunately for many, sobriety becomes their only goal, when in fact it is only part of the life journey. The best mountain climbers do not celebrate victory on the summit. They know that in reality the summit is only half way – only the first part of the quest. It does no practical good to bag the summit if you come down in a bag yourself.
Therefore, the climber’s mind must remain focused on the return trip. What A.A.’s Big Book does for the first half of the alcoholic’s journey; Eternal Sobriety does for the second. Neal P. is not trying to change A.A., rather he is responding to the need for “the rest of the story,” that is, a guide for the second half of the journey.
“Isn’t sobriety enough?” you might ask. A clean and clear life is certainly worth great effort, but to finish the race you must complete the course. To paraphrase the words of Christ: “What good is it to gain sobriety if you lose your soul?” All that you have gained will be lost if it is only good for this fleeting instant of earthly life.
I pray that this book will help you take the next step into the second (and most important) part of the truest journey, and that it may go well for you.
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
Douglas Beaumont, M.A.A.
A New Beginning
Tick Tock, Tick Tock, Click Clack
The 12-Step Waltz
What is God Like?
Made in His Image
This Thing Called Self
God’s Will for the Alcoholic
Off the Beam
On the Beam
To Control or Not to Control-That is the Question
Prayer and Meditation
Practice, Practice, and More Practice
How We Know the Bible is God’s Word, By Douglas Beaumont, M.A.A
Living in today’s world brings a constant barrage of pressures and problems. Wars and rumors of war, terrorism, and crime affect the whole world on a daily basis. We nervously accept our individual powerlessness over these larger happenings, yet often agonize over our inability to control personal problems. Marital conflict, strained relationships, financial difficulties, unemployment, work pressures, and personal feelings of inadequacy or frustration hammer our emotions into a solid lump of pain.
In desperation and ignorance, we seek to escape this pain with pursuits that make us feel good. Many of these activities provide seemingly short-term relief but have the potential to become addictive. We did not set out looking for an addiction. We simply wanted to escape our woes and feel better. The initial act of the addiction simply feels good. The short-term benefits make them easy to pursue and we are blind to the underlying long-term destruction that lies ahead. A common desire of all mankind is finding significance and peace of mind. We mistake the short term benefits as satisfying that desire.
As the addiction progresses it will make us do something we should not have done, or keep us from doing something we ought to have done. It matters little how much we may think we are in control or how harmless it may seem at the time. It will cause us to deceive others and lie about ourselves. If we practice it long and hard enough, we will inevitably experience the harsh long-term consequences inherent to the addiction. We lose personal control and choice over the addiction – self-disgust, sickness, financial destruction, and deep emotional pain follows.
Humanity has managed to devise many ways of escaping reality. We are creatures with susceptibilities to want to always feel good physically and emotionally. We have a passion for pleasure! During the pursuit of pleasure we often overdo it and this creates many problems. Overeating, gambling, drugs, and sexual addiction are key problems in our society today. Less noticeable and more acceptable are smoking, emotional bingeing, overspending, and other forms of relief we simply label as bad habits.
The most common route of escape today is through alcohol, which brings – the disease of alcoholism! An acceptable figure for alcohol-dependent persons in the United States is ten percent of the total population. Individual denial is associated with alcoholism; therefore the actual figures are certain to be much greater. It has been estimated that approximately 17 percent of men and 8 percent of women will be dependent on alcohol in their lifetime. More than 10 percent of U.S. children live with a parent with alcohol problems, according to a 2012 study. Alcoholism has a profound impact on the entire body, especially the brain, heart, pancreas, mouth, liver and immune system. There is no question that heavy, long-term drinking is harmful to the body and makes evident the dangers of alcoholism. Alcoholism dramatically affects humanity on a global scale in more ways than one. In the world of Alcoholics Anonymous, we have lived the sad experience of alcoholism.
In today’s society, the overall attitude is one that promotes the use and appeal of alcohol. It is socially acceptable – even glamorous! Today’s philosophy espouses doing those things that make us feel good – doing our own thing. We easily buy into the belief that drinking alcohol is normal, natural behavior. We often relax with a drink after a hard day’s work. This underlying belief of normalcy supports thinking that easily rationalizes away the reasons for drinking behavior. In other words, regardless of what alcohol does to us individually or as a society, it is still all right to drink because everyone does it. Even if we did get drunk at that party and made fools of ourselves, it is okay because, “Isn’t that what everyone does now and again?” The reasoning pattern continues as, “Well, I have seen it happen to them and they are normal, so I can go ahead and do what I feel like because everybody else does.”
At first, it seems as though a glass of alcohol relaxes us. In a sense this is true as the alcohol temporarily dulls the feelings that keep us from relaxing. Worries, concerns, and fears become chemically overridden, thereby providing a sense of relief. A feeling of euphoric serenity temporarily suspends the unpleasant feelings. The short-term euphoric feelings are enjoyable, and set the stage for a future escape the next time we feel the need. The original unpleasant feelings patiently await the opportunity to return. And they will.
If we drink a little more than intended, we develop a fear that we may have done something we should not have, or forgotten to do something we should have. The guilt we have is so unpleasant that our natural defense is to seek outside of ourselves for relief thereby ignoring the reality of what lies at the root of the emotional pain. We turn back to alcohol to remove the pain that alcohol itself brought. The cycle continues and we become caught in it – all from our need to feel good!
Medical authorities define alcohol as a depressant that decreases the responses of the central nervous system. We feel its effects as a reducing of anxiety and tension, and fail to see the debilitating effects it has on our coordination and self-control. This emotional blindness is the first signature in alcohol’s deceptive nature. It has the ability to hide its true nature.
We often believe a drink makes us more sociable. Does this mean our personality changes after taking a drink of alcohol? If so, how have we changed? Which personality is the real us? Is it the former without the alcohol or the latter under its influence? Most people are not aware these differing personalities coexist, or for that matter even care. In fact, we often delight in the ability to create illusions about ourselves when we are drinking. We make our words fit the moment at hand to support our ego. We will eventually regret it.
The dilemma is that the alcoholic personality enjoys the false level of serenity – or perhaps bravery – that its effects bring. This feeling of serenity emanates from a chemical euphoria, not upon the natural serenity that occurs when an individual is at real peace with his conscience. This false serenity lodges deep in our memory bank. It patiently waits for the next uncomfortable event to trigger it. Herein lays a second signature to alcohol’s effect on the drinker. It tempts us back with its false serenity and likable personality and gives us justification for the next bout. This is a crafty form of deception alcohol has on the drinker.
As we slide deeper into alcoholism, we become unconscious experts at saying things that are not truthful to justify the next experience. We do not set out to lie. What occurs is the formation of error in our belief system. It becomes a bad belief that does not represent reality. Bad beliefs can cause us to behave in a manner and with actions that we believe will meet our needs, but do not. They have the appearance of being truthful, but have deep deception in their roots.
With repetition this error solidifies in our belief system and it becomes easy to rationalize, or explain away, our need to drink. It becomes common to have thoughts such as, “Boy, I need a drink to get this rough day behind me” or “The boss had no right to talk to me that way. I’m going to stop for a couple of quick beers before I go home.” The error controls our thinking and actions at the expense of common sense and reason. Alcohol now pulls at us even before we take the first drink.
As our addiction becomes excessive and compulsive our life becomes totally self-centered. The chemical and emotional dependence, which we have on alcohol, is apparent to everyone – but us. People begin telling us about our problem. We develop irrational fears that someone or something will prevent us from getting our next drink. Our environment can either help or hinder this process. Our work, family, and social environments may accept our early drinking episodes. When others fail to hold us personally accountable for our behavior, we find ourselves further enabled to continue a downward spiral into the alcoholic abyss.
The consequences will eventually impinge on all facets of our life, and the lives of others. Surveys show that one person’s alcoholic behavior will influence and affect the lives of 18 other people! It is predictable that others will seriously question our problem – and our behavior! The drinker usually remains unable to admit that he or she has a problem. Deception continues and lying becomes natural to get that next drink. Our rationalizing alcoholic mind finds justification for the lie. We believe that our drinking is our own business and everyone else is wrongfully accusing us. We want them to leave us alone.
As we continue sliding downward our denial system kicks into high gear. We become very cunning, deceitful, and faithless. Our problems worsen, eventually affecting our family, friends, business associates, and more. Relationships crumble and we fall deep into the blame game. To cover previous lies we find ourselves creating elaborate deceptions that are even more complex. Our excuses shift the blame to anybody or anything our mind can conceive. We become adept at creating lies to fit any situation. We have become oblivious to the fact that the biggest lie of all is the one we keep telling to ourselves.
Our thoughts and actions become very erratic. The only meaningful aspect of our life is that we get that next drink! Each drinking bout, without exception, moves us closer to the inevitable ending. We experience blackouts and our health starts to deteriorate. It becomes more difficult to brush these signs off or create lies to cover them up. Consequences resulting from our drinking behavior are abundant and becoming harsher!
We may feel a tremendous amount of guilt and shame, and make many attempts to quit our deceitful, drinking behavior (half-heartedly). We may be successful – but only for a period, as false pride over our brief success wins the day. We try to only have that one drink – but cannot. This is futile! We do not, nor can we stop at just one drink, and we are off and running again – downhill!
The consequences continue to worsen. We are mentally and physically very sick and begin to believe that we need help – but still unable to do something about it! In one breath we cry out for God to help and in the next breath curse Him for not doing so. We become very confused and we are either void of emotion or totally angry and resentful. Eventually the ability to control our drinking is just not a reachable reality.
What started innocently enough soon became a habit and rapidly progressed into a serious addiction! Once this addictive state occurs, we no longer can see or prevent the problems that alcoholism brings with it. Reaching this state we continue to drink in an attempt to find the serenity alcohol brought earlier, but now fail to find it. We no longer can make intelligent decisions in choosing whether we will drink or not. Our distorted thinking and emotions tell us we must drink! We have become powerless over alcohol, and once this state occurs, not drinking is no longer a choice we are able to consider.
Not all of us reach this state of alcoholism by the same route. Our paths can be different, but the result is always the same! We become deceived into believing we cannot live life without alcohol and will go to any means to get it. Let us not be naive about this – it can happen to anyone! How much money you have is not a factor, nor is the bloodline you carry, what your personality is like, or what kind of alcohol you drink. It always bites in the end if you drink it long enough. There is no control over that invisible line where it becomes addictive! We will reach the state where we have lost the ability to successfully drink without consequences and in our own strength are unable to stop.
Further complicating our problem is a habit whose deceptive roots run deep. The simple fact is that when we drink alcohol we will most always get drunk, and will most always experience bad consequences! The euphoric feelings, that we once had, are a long-forgotten memory. Blackouts become frequent and we are reaping the long-term destructive nature of the disease. We have reached the dilemma of not being able to live with it or without it, and are facing physical, emotional, and spiritual destruction. Without intervention and help we will die!
Coming to this realization is extremely painful. When we find ourselves at this point, we have reached the level of pain that forces us to seek help. This is what we call reaching our bottom or bottoming out. Many of us never reach this state because of sudden and unexpected death – sometimes, even at our own hand! The only other end is a jail, a hospital, a psychiatric ward, or if we are very fortunate we find a spiritual solution. Short of a miracle, there are very few other choices. Some seek outside help before the bad results happen. Professional counseling and treatment programs see many and often need to be repeated. Some find help in the church they attend.
Many of us go to Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) because of its highly successful reputation and because – it is free. Living among us in the general population are millions of recovering alcoholics who have walked this path. Within the fellowship of A.A., we find spiritual principles that are general enough to provide meaningful recovery for our disease. We embrace a common solution. It involves the removal of the addiction on a “one day at a time” basis and incorporates a basic spiritual and non-religious 12-Step process.
The A.A. program has a record of being reasonably successful. It is highly successful for those who are ready for change. At its core are simple spiritual principles that initially define a “power greater than ourselves”, and as we progress – “God as we understood Him”. This unique spiritual approach is general enough to start anyone on the path of discovering the reality of a loving God. The A.A. program has brought hope and lasting help to millions.
On a personal level, I followed the deadly path of alcoholism and found relief in the program of A.A. The hand of God has tailor-made the 12-Step program for people like me. It has done a wondrous work to deliver me from my addictive dilemma and has majorly contributed to the emotional and spiritual growth that operates in my life today. The program was exactly what I needed and it immediately began to provide a daily reprieve from my addiction.
With the removal of alcohol and after some sanity returned it became apparent that my life sidetracked when I started drinking. Along the way I had formed many illusions about how life should be lived. The world has its attractions which beckoned to me to pursue them for success. I believed this lie and went after it with gusto. The pain found in the direction the world offered, finally drove me into A.A. There I began to become enlightened to the many lies I had inside. With some success in breaking away from these lies, I overflowed with an immense amount of gratitude. I had a deeper desire to know more about the underlying spiritual side of the program. I started an intense search to know and understand more about this “God as we understood Him” and about the life-giving truths shared in the program.
Truth about the disease of alcoholism becomes meaningful as one reads the main book used by members of Alcoholics Anonymous. This book simply titled “Alcoholics Anonymous,” has provided a source of practical wisdom about alcoholism that has helped millions of us with recovery. Its purpose, when written in 1939, was to share the common experience, strengths, and hopes of a growing number of recovering drunks with a world that had labeled alcoholics – as hopeless and helpless. Together with the vital fellowship of A.A., it has done its job well.
Many times, while reading this book, my thoughts turned toward wondering if the spiritual truths in it and in the program might have a deeper meaning. This need for answers grew more intense as I heard deeper truths discussed by more spiritual people in the program. They seemed to have a good understanding of God. I questioned them about their knowledge and they pointed me to another book – the bible. In A.A., it’s often referred to as The Good Book.
Not having a religious upbringing and admitting to my ignorance, I bit the bullet and bought a Bible. In it, I found an abundant source of knowledge and wisdom that amplified and supported the spiritual principles found in the program of Alcoholics Anonymous. This led me to believe that the similarities existing between the spiritual principles practiced in 12-Step programs and those found in the Bible were no simple coincidence.
The essence of the 12 steps is the practical application of principles that modify an individual’s character; and hence, their living behavior. In A.A., discussions of these principles slant toward alcoholism, but the roots of biblical truths are there. These principles are spiritual and are the prime catalyst for the change process that unfolds as an individual evolves from the insanity of drunkenness to the sanity of meaningful sobriety.
In the early days of A.A., there was no reference manual, and members used the Bible (and related writings) as their primary source of information about God, about His will and attributes – and the process that helps free ourselves from character defects. There has always been a link between the A.A. 12-Step program and the Bible. It is not the purpose of this book to provide that account. These resources are available to anyone who wants to examine the roots of biblical influence behind the A.A. program.
The program of A.A. is effective at accomplishing its primary purpose. It provides us a means to overcome what we had formerly perceived as a hopeless condition, and has enabled us to reclaim what had become ruined lives. However, the wisdom found in A.A. is limited in scope as to a biblical understanding of God. It is but a primer that sets us onto the correct path to God. That path is more meaningful when we recognize and associate our personal experience to the truths written in the Bible. These truths help us to become more knowledgeable about God. When coupled with the prayer and meditation part of the recovery process, God himself provides the understanding we need for spiritual growth. With understanding comes wisdom. Any person who is recovering in a 12-Step program, and who has a desire to know more about God, will benefit from the experience.
In the chapters that follow, we will shed some light on the spiritual principles and the process found in A.A.’s 12-Step program. We will refer to meaningful scripture from the Bible – a personal spiritual message to humanity. We will give visibility to the mystery of how and why the A.A. program benefits the alcoholic. We will understand why we lose the obsession to drink, as the principles of the 12-Step program become a way of life. We will explore the reasons why we are the way we are, and why we do the things we do. We will examine the fundamentals of belief systems, principles, thoughts, feelings, actions, habits, and choices. We will learn the real meaning of self-control.
We will understand why surrender to God is necessary and what that means. We will see the value of the biblical presentation about God. We will grow to appreciate that we are a creation of a living God and that He lives inside of us. We will awaken to His reality. We will desire more of Him and discover that we have a “helper”. We will grow in our desire to do God’s will in our life and discover what God’s will in our life is. We will relate to a biblical explanation of what it means to be “off the beam” and “on the beam”. We will see the meaning of “self-control”. We will grow in truth about prayer and meditation. Our inner sight will become clearer about “spirituality”. New choices will become apparent and we will learn to make better choices. Life-giving scripture will enlighten all of these familiar areas.
This book is primarily intended for members of Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-Step programs who have not found sufficient answers for the spiritual aspect of their program. Perhaps others may gain some new insight as well. It is my deep personal belief that there is a fundamental spiritual principle, that when applied brings real joy and meaning to not only sobriety – but life as well.
It is not clear why certain people are predisposed to alcoholism while others are not. The scientific and medical communities claim heredity as a factor. There is sound genetic research data to back up these claims. Other evidence points to the environment we’ve had as children. Both of these factors likely play a role. I personally believe that alcohol addiction can happen to anyone who drinks long enough and hard enough regardless of his or her surroundings, upbringing, or heredity. I also believe that the process of forming the addiction is the same process that introduces all destructive habits into our life.
As interesting as theories may be, they do not hold any meaning to the alcoholic who is still suffering. As practicing alcoholics, we are certain to have a totally distorted belief system. Our disease will have progressed to a level of uncontrollable and compulsive behavior that damages our lives and the lives of others. By the time we recognize it we have crossed the line, and no longer can capture the original euphoric feelings alcohol once brought. It is impossible to ever go back. The deceiving nature of alcohol has done its job.
It is only important to recognize that he or she is an alcoholic and to take the right action. Once drinking has caused unmanageability in our lives and we are powerless over alcohol, we need a spiritual solution to help us change our thinking process. The result will be a change in our behavior and an arrested addiction. The consequences that brought us to this point will become our greatest asset.
The physical aspect of our disease will not go away – the condition can and will! In the A.A. Big Book we are told that the spiritual life is not a theory. We have to live it. It is imperative if we are to have long-term meaningful sobriety that we need to continue to grow spiritually. Alcoholics Anonymous is but a starting point – a primer for what lies ahead. This crossroad is where the transformation process begins. It is the springboard for a new way of life. It is there where we learn to stay sober. It is where we first begin to learn why we click and clack when we should tick and tock.