When I think of a “slip” it tends to bring to mind someone stepping on a banana peel or losing his grip while scaling a mountain. My relapses were deliberate slides and not slips. I was grudgingly staying sober to try to hang onto my job and eagerly waiting for opportunities to drink without messing that up. I recall hearing that the “first drink does the damage,” so I felt a bit relieved after having the first one, although it was disappointing, because I’d done the damage and might as well continue. This went on for about four months until I had my last drink in May 1974. Even then, I had no intention of staying sober on a lasting basis and was looking for a good excuse I could sell myself.

As things worked out, I grudgingly stayed sober long enough to get to like it. I also learned to think things through. If I was to have a drink, what would happen that night? The next day? The next week?

Sometimes people say that the doors of AA are always open, but they can get pretty narrow. That sounded ridiculous, and I still don’t think I would put it that way. I thought getting back to AA would just be a matter of pride. But an old-timer in Sydney pointed out some years ago that he could lose his desire to stop drinking in a slip and have a hell of a time getting it back.

I think I am still here now because I turned to AA the way I had turned to alcohol. I put it at the center of my life, and that has continued to this day.

Alcoholism is a disease that first tells you that you don’t have it. If you get past that and into AA, once the compulsion is gone and you feel pretty good, it tells you that you’re cured. Getting sane enough to lay off the booze for long enough to lose the compulsion is the first miracle. It seems that sometimes we put so much emphasis on that, that newcomers don’t become aware of a second miracle, in which sobriety gets a lot better than drinking ever was.

After I got to AA, it took me 18 months to learn that the problem wasn’t alcohol. I finally understood when someone said that the second and fifth drinks were caused by alcohol but the first was caused by sobriety. I understood that I was here to deal with my sobriety problem, not my drinking problem. I’ve heard members say that they go to meetings to be reminded of what it was like. I don’t. I didn’t drink long. But I still knew more than enough about drinking when I got here. What I needed to learn about was how to stay sane and sober. We “stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety” by talking about how we stay sober, not how we stayed drunk.

—Jim F., Tasmania, Australia

Jim,