Espionage, Intrigue, and AA

I was kidnapped once. Perhaps “abducted” would be a better word, I was in my twenties. I was in Jamaica with my then-wife, and the airline had lost our luggage, so we ventured out of the hotel into a local market. Two large men with a car convinced my ex that they were, in fact, a taxi, and that they’d take us to a better, cheaper place to buy clothes. My ex didn’t give it a second thought, and when I turned to look for her, it was implied that I could also get into the car, or these large men (one of them not-so-subtly armed) could leave with her.

Their intention wasn’t all that malicious, considering: they could have done worse things to us, they just took us to a store whose owner they were coordinating with. We were strongly urged to buy extremely overpriced off-brand clothing, and as much of it as we could afford. When they’d decided we’d shopped enough and it was time to pay, they weren’t very happy we didn’t have much cash – they knew just as well as I did that this purchase was going to be disputed.

Throughout the ordeal, three things struck me. First, they seemed remarkably professional, and even friendly at times; they had obviously done this before, and they didn’t seem to be having a bad day at the office. Second, they were smarter than you’d think; they kept us separated, constantly watched us, made sure we didn’t speak to or look at anyone else, and had rigged the car so the doors opened from the outside, the windows didn’t work. Third, I found it absurdly ironic that I was being hustled in a foreign country by armed criminals while I was wearing a t-shirt that said nothing but “CIA”. I loved that shirt.

You’re probably wondering what the point of that anecdote was, and what it’s doing in a column written for a recovery site. I learned two very, very important lessons that day, and they’ve suck with me since, and they’re both things to keep mind when you’re dealing with addiction. The first is that there is always someone or something out there bigger or more powerful than you. The second is that acceptance – not necessarily enjoyment – can make your life a lot easier.

When I first joined AA years ago, I genuinely struggled with the concept of a higher power. You hear it described so many ways, from an almost necessarily iconic religious concept or figure, to the oft-repeated “group of drunks,” to something like a doorknob. I’m slow to connect the dots at times, and not especially religious, so I’d always try to just think of it as someone or something I didn’t want to disappoint. At times it was my family, at times my dog, but always someone I was fond of.

That worked, in a way, but my higher power wasn’t so much outside of myself as it was my own desire not to disappoint rather than faith that there was something greater. It took some time, but I finally developed a concept of a higher power that I couldn’t hope to control, that I find to be a universal truth, and that I may not completely understand, but I have faith in. I could, of course, tell you what that is, but you’re really better off coming up with your own.

The second lesson, acceptance, is another one of those things you hear about all the time in AA, but you really should take some time to critically analyze it. From this day until my last, I’ll always know that it’s on page 417 of the book, and I’ll always associate that number with the concept; it’s incredibly important. There are, of course, many things about acceptance that one needs to understand, but the first of these can be translated easily: you are not in control of the things that happen to you. You can control how you react – just as you’d open an umbrella if it started to rain – but you’ve got no control over the weather. It is, sadly, raining.

The other big thing about acceptance to me is that, just like my brief foray into the world of international criminal enterprises, you don’t have to like or enjoy something to accept it. Accepting something – some person, place, thing or situation that you find uncomfortable and would prefer it go away – doesn’t mean that you approve of it. Your acceptance of the situation, whatever it is, is just internalizing the concept and recognizing that this thing, whatever it is, is now in your life. You’ve got to deal with it, one way or another. In the back of that car, my ex kept saying, “this isn’t happening.” Well, it was.

Obviously, we were fine – I wouldn’t work the anecdote into a column otherwise – and we actually managed to enjoy the rest of the trip. But whenever I’m having trouble with the concepts of higher power or acceptance, I think about that a little bit. I’m sure anyone who reads this has a personal experience they can relate to as well – there’s no way you’ve ever found yourself the biggest fish in the pond in every instance. And everyone’s faced adversity and had to come to terms with a difficult situation. These, like many others, are concepts that apply well to AA, and there’s a reason they’re talked about so much: they’re universal to all of us.

Page 417, I’ll never forget it.

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