I’ve had the phrase “cunning, baffling, powerful” stuck in my head for awhile now. This, of course, is drilled into us like a reverse war cry. We hear it every time we go to a meeting unless we slip in late and after all the boilerplate is read.

Something about calling alcoholism cunning, baffling, powerful used to embarrass me. Maybe because it sounded melodramatic or attributed human qualities to an inanimate object, though that is something I’m normally fine with.

Now that a little time has passed, I see the description is too accurate to be melodrama.

Lately I’ve taken to pinpointing the exact moment my drinking got off rail. I can name the exact date I took a beer out of the fridge midday because something happened that I didn’t have a clue how to deal with. I also started smoking again, thinking “fuck it, I need this right now”. I can remember the first occasion, about a year and half later, that I poured an orange juice and vodka midday to calm my anxiety much like someone suffering a panic attack pops a Xanax.

These memories, though accurate, are cunning in that they imply my drinking was on track to begin with. It was not. I’d already been drinking for roughly twenty years and had progressed to a daily drinker with impressive tolerance. Why I would even want to pinpoint the moment my problem drinking got out of control is baffling. The fact that I still entertain these thoughts is even more baffling.

I accept these thoughts, though, and know this is the alcoholic in me talking. I know this from reading the big book, listening at meetings, and talking to other alcoholics for the last six months. This desire to self-destruct is powerful, if not unique. I’m certain that if I hadn’t found my way to recovery meetings in the beginning, I’d be drinking again today. I need constant reminders that I’m not unique and alcoholics who go back out get worse, never better.

I know I can’t drink safely anymore, but that’s only because I tried moderation several times towards the end and failed miserably each time. It happened gradually and quite naturally because when I drank normal amounts, it was about as fun as drinking non-alcoholic beer, which I also tried. Why drink if not to get drunk? This absence of denial is a gift I am extremely grateful to have.

Now that I’ve gotten over the six month hump I struggled with a couple weeks ago, I feel refreshed and ready to clean house. I’m excited to strip down and name my flaws (pride, procrastination, perfectionism — to start) because I believe I can change and that things will get better. At the very beginning, all those steps looked so overwhelming. How do I do them? What do they even mean?  I don’t feel that anymore because time and the program gave me the courage to push through an emotionally hard time and my reward was a sense of peace and hope.  Every feeling is transient. This is another phrase I get stuck in my head, but it’s much more comforting when I’m struggling.

I feel very lucky that I breezed through the first 6 months of sobriety. That was yet another gift, though I’ve always been slow to question things and experience the dissatisfaction that others seem to recognize right away. I’d call this a flaw too, but being clueless offsets impatience and impulsiveness and so turns into one of my best assets.

6 thoughts on “Baffling

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  1. It took me a long time and many listenings to phrases like that until I began to see the answers for me.

    I’d done similar to you, a year of “controlled” drinking. Sometime abstinence, other times cutting back, each time a failure and a moment when I looked at the latest drink in my hand and thought “How did I get here? Again!” The non-alcoholic beer was a joke, hated the stuff – why bother? A friend has a saying about that which I’ll reserve since it is too rude to put on another’s blog!

    Luckily through AA I’ve also seen others who have just momentarily taken their eye of the ball of sobriety and suddenly … bang they are right back there. A member of my family came into AA through me and got sober after a period of fighting it. They did ok for a while then suddenly the phone call – drunk, in an alley drinking again – and really there was no reason other than the nagging thought of “I’m not like the rest of them”. Ever so grateful to those people they come back and tell me about it and it reminds me to stay focused on the problem as it is very cunning, baffling and powerful… it is also extremely patient and will wait and wait for the moment to rekindle


    1. The criticism I’ve heard time and again about AA is that it’s a fear-based program. I agree that it is, and I’ve struggled with the idea of going forever, one day at a time, of course. But that fear is based in reality. There are no guarantees, but staying in the program is our best defense. And I know we’ve discussed this before, but going to a few meetings a week is no sacrifice, really. I find them interesting and helpful and already they’ve helped me to be a better person. Win-win.


      1. In time you may find you move on from the “fear base”. I can’t deny it is still there to a degree but you do then find a bunch of other benefits you never expected. Last night a lady I’d never met before gave the chair at my home group. She talked about how she was always discontent from an early age, wanting to be older, able to do this, have that, go here, be with those people, have that boyfriend etc. Now in recovery she finds that isn’t the case any more.

        It triggered in me a realisation that I am like that too far more now than I used to be – I don’t judge myself against others in terms of this and that, I have ambitions, desires and wants but they aren’t defining my whole being, I no longer obsess about them in that way. Appendix 2 says “Quite often friends of the newcomer are aware of the difference long before he is himself” I find that increasingly true as I trudge forward in my recovery.


  2. “feelings are transient” I hadn’t heard it put exactly this way but I agree… And, I believe that this truth leads us where we discover that “feelings aren’t facts.” My life changed drastically when I realized that feelings aren’t facts and that “this too shall pass.”

    The platitudes we learn in AA may at first be insanely annoying but once we realize their wissdom and truth, they become lifesavers. It apppears that you’re going through that very process with the “cunning, baffling and powerful” bit. God Bless 🙂

    Thanks for coming by my bloggage! (SoberNuggets)


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