In the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, Chapter 5 describes in detail, How It Works. Before the 12 Steps of AA are listed, buried in the second paragraph is a phrase that I don’t give a lot of thought to, but I should.
“…willing to go to any length…”
This is part of a sentence that talks about what we are willing to do to get recovery. What actions we are willing to take to achieve the sense of peace and serenity we see in our fellows. My first sponsor spent a lot of time on this particular phrase with me in early recovery. She pointed out that unless I am willing to put my recovery first, sacrificing all other people, places and things in my life, I will struggle and might never have that peace I so desperately wanted.
With her help, I realized that might mean giving up obligations and commitments that were very important to me. It might mean rearranging my schedule. It might mean going to places I didn’t want to go and doing things I didn’t want to do. Eventually, I got the point of that phrase.
But as my recovery has shifted from desperate defiance to more of a mellow adolescent acceptance, that phrase hasn’t popped out at me as often. Until today. I heard someone share how when she was actively using she rode a motorcycle everywhere. One day, her bike ran out of gas. Several people stopped by to help her and because she was so prideful and stubborn, she refused their help, focusing only on getting her next fix. She sent everyone away with her less than loving attitude and chose instead to push her bike the mile and a half to where her drug of choice was waiting for her. It was 100 degrees out, she was badly sunburned and extremely dehydrated. I’m sure she was far from comfortable. But guess what? She pushed that darned bike all the way to her destination. Her eyes were on the prize of her drug.
It made me think of her willingness. She was willing to go to any length to get her fix. Nothing was going to stop her. Not lack of transportation, not lack of money, not lack of humility. Nope. She was focused solely on one thing. That reminded me of a conversation I recently had with a good friend. She took some actions that she knew were wrong and ended up causing her unwanted drama and chaos. She knew in the moment what the result would be but she still took the actions. She also knew that these actions could not only cause her to lose relationships, finances and other things she valued, but more importantly, they could cause her to lose her recovery.
That got me thinking about how I interpret the phrase. What exactly are the lengths I’m willing to go to? I think we each have our own “lengths” and that it is a very subjective word. For some, it might mean being willing to ask for a ride, seek out counsel or raise a hand. For others, any lengths might mean ending relationships, changing jobs or trusting people. Those can all be very scary things and actions that are hugely frightening to take. But I’ve got that awesome Fear Prayer on page 68 and many more in the big, big book to help me with that.
Lengths don’t always have to be sacrifices. It doesn’t always have to be about giving something or someone up. Lengths can be positive actions. Replacing a negative behavior with a good, healthy one. Instead of calling my friend and gossiping about people, I choose to call her and lift her and others up. Instead of quitting my job, I might choose instead to see if my employer can accommodate a schedule that allows me to work my recovery. Okay, that part I just wrote about gossiping, I’m still working on that one.
Other lengths I’m willing to go to include making my recovery a priority, helping others and being humble outside and inside of my home. That last one is especially tough. But I know today that like that girl on the scooter, it’s doing the things I might not want to do, doing the hard work that gets me where I want to be. Before I found recovery, I would scale tall buildings and inconvenience myself and everyone else to get what I wanted. Today I choose to do different things, although often still inconvenient to me, to get happiness, joy and freedom.
A lot of what we must do in recovery, many of these requests and actions require humility and courage. They are often strange and foreign behaviors for us early on. They are challenging. In fact, they can scare the crap out of us. But like muscles that have been under used, with practice and exercise, these behaviors get stronger and over time, they take on definition in our lives.
I’m so glad that I heard that biker girl tell her story. I’m so glad my friend made some bad choices. These events helped me take a good look at myself. I know that even though I try really hard to keep God and my recovery first and foremost in my life, there are still some things that could get in the way of that. These are the lengths that haven’t been fully revealed to me, yet. These are the sacrifices, actions and changes I haven’t had to make, yet. These are the the yet’s that if I’m not “willing to go to any length,” could earn me another white chip.
But those unknown yet’s, those really long lengths aren’t in front of me today, so I won’t worry about them. I just hope and pray that when they present themselves, I have the willingness, humility and courage I need to “go to any length.”