"Does he want to get well? You ask, because many alcoholics, being warped and drugged, do not want to quit. But does he? Will he take every necessary step, submit to anything to get well, to stop drinking forever?" (Alcoholics Anonymous, 142:1)
'The AA who "slips" has not accepted the AA program in its entirety. He has a reservation, or reservations. He’s tried to make a compromise. Frequently, of course, he will say he doesn’t know why he reverted to a drink. He means that sincerely and, as a matter of fact, he may not be aware of any reason. But if his thoughts can be probed deeply enough a reason can usually be found in the form of a reservation.' (Dr William Silkworth)
I've sponsored a lot of people who were relapsers. It is in this context I am examining these statements.
It looks, here, as though there are two questions. I believe there is one.
To stop drinking forever, an alcoholic has to want to, but one hundred per cent. I did not stop relapsing until I no longer saw any outlet or release in alcohol, just a brick wall. It was only then that I submitted, not just in terms of action, but in terms of ideas to what AA had to offer.
In my first couple of years in AA in particular, my mind was unsafe territory. Fortunately, I was encouraged to study and work and fill my time with productive activities. The proportion of the day for which I was left, mentally, to my own devices was mercifully brief, and during those times, I was furnished with a cassette recorder and tapes of AA speakers a kindly old-timer would make for me, one a week. I could not think my way out of the innumerable mental sinkholes of fear and fretting I tumbled into every day. Sometimes the only relief I could find when on my own was listening to a comforting voice speaking confident truth.
So, when I wanted to quit—for good and for all—I submitted to anything; the fact I submitted to anything indicated that I wanted to quit. The other sign that I had submitted was initially intermittent periods of relaxation. The fight (with alcohol) had gone out of me.
'When … the ability to accept reality functions on the unconscious level, there is no residual battle, and relaxation ensues with freedom from strain and conflict. In fact, it is perfectly possible to ascertain to what extent the acceptance of reality is on the unconscious level by the degree of relaxation which develops. The greater the relaxation, the greater is the inner acceptance of reality.' (Harry M. Tiebout)
A tragic phenomenon is the alcoholic who wants to quit—but not entirely. Perhaps 85%. Perhaps 93%. But not 100%. The residual 15%, 7%, or even 1% is sufficient to provide the escape-hatch back to alcohol, which will appear unpredictably.
There is little that I can do as a sponsor regarding another person's 15%, 7%, or 1% reservations. I can point out that compliance with the programme does not equal surrender and that a failure to surrender at gut level will sooner or later manifest as a return to drinking. I can probe and try to help the individual find what the reservation is. But, even if that reservation is found, I cannot prise it from his mind.
It is at that point that I typically suggest an individual try someone else, if he still relapses after we have been working together for some time. Perhaps another can reach him where I cannot. What is certain is that I am not the human power that can arrest another's alcoholism.