How AA Beats the Pandemic
Alcoholics Anonymous is already renowned for helping people beat addiction to drink and drugs. But did you know AA beats the pandemic too? It’s true. Of course, you’ve got to do your part of course. You’ve got to keep doing it too. But the evidence is clear: AA beats the pandemic. Period.
The Secret Weapon
I Won’t Drink Today, and I Won’t Get the Virus Today (repeat)
It’s not too difficult to picture an AA member muttering such a mantra. Not too difficult at all. Home alone. Eyes closed. Fingers crossed. In quiet yet confident voice. It’s a perfect one-two punch for 12 Steppers looking for an updated way to kickstart the current day-to-day. On the one hand addressing what ails them; on the other addressing what they don’t want to ail them. Ever. In fact, many AA members probably already use some version of this daily affirmation.
Molly Jong-Fast starts her every day this way. She must. The message has got to be getting through too. Why else would she choose these words to headline her AA-praising piece in The Atlantic?
Why else indeed.
Subtitled “Alcoholics Anonymous prepared me for the pandemic,” Jong-Fast’s article is a testament to the inherent benefits of living “one day at a time.” It also shows how “one day at a time” can make for a surprisingly effective secret weapon.
Okay, so maybe “one day at a time” is not so secret. After all, it’s quite likely one of AA’s best known and most used tenets. But it’s not an official AA directive. So you won’t find the phrase in the Steps or the Traditions or the Promises. You will however find it’s an age-old part of AA’s program. You’ll also find it’s one of the most vital. Which is obviously why the organization’s members have been insisting upon its use pretty much since day one.
One Day at a Time
Jong-Fast used the affirmation pretty much since day one too — day one of her sobriety. The year was 1997. She’d just gotten sober. Now she was having trouble imagining how she was going to stay sober. It’s not an unfamiliar mindset in AA. Especially for those in early sobriety. Fortunately Jong-Fast had a sponsor on hand to help.
“How am I going to stay sober forever?” she asked her sponsor. “How am I going to stay sober and go back to college and live in the dorms? How am I going to stay sober and turn 21? Or worse, how am I going to stay sober at my wedding?”
Jong-Fast’s sponsor said she had no idea about all that. No one did. So it’s best just to stop speculating. Instead, said her sponsor, “you’re going to stay sober today. Just right now.”
Jong-Fast paused. She thought her sponsor was kidding. Things couldn’t really be that simple. Or could they? Dizzy from all the maybes and fearing a meltdown, Jong-Fast decided to play along.
“Sure, sure,” she told her sponsor, I can stay sober today. “But what about tomorrow?”
“Maybe we’ll drink tomorrow,” her sponsor replied. “Maybe there’ll be a nuclear apocalypse and then you and I can drink. But for today, let’s just not.”
Jong-Fast had often heard some version of this formula. Every AA member has. Again, it’s one of the organization’s most common refrains. Jong-Fast had no problems seeing its merits either. Still, there was something about the notion that seemed almost too good to be true.
“Like so many things in AA,” she writes, “the ‘one day at a time’ mantra seemed nonsensical at first.” But after experiencing the affirmation’s effectiveness, it quickly “became gospel.” Then again, why wouldn’t it? Not having a drink ever again is a lot to consider. Heck, not having a drink for even a week is sometimes too much to handle. But not drinking today is manageable. It must be. Because it’s kept Jong-Fast sober for over 23 years.
How AA Beats the Pandemic
Molly Jong-Fast’s not-so-secret weapon is not only keeping her sober, but it has also helped make her “a pandemic-shutdown champion.”
“I sit in my apartment day after day, week after week, focused on getting through the next few hours and not allowing myself to worry too much about, or even think too much about, the future,” she writes. It’s exactly the same tactic she used in early sobriety. Only now the worry is not about how to survive without a drink; it’s about how to survive period.
That of course makes for a much weightier worry. Well, it would make for a weightier worry. If Jong-Fast were to allow the worry to weigh upon her mind. But this is a card-carrying member of AA we’re talking about here. And card-carrying members of AA don’t dare allow themselves to be weighed down by worry. She knows better. Much better. So she does better. And doing better means not worrying about things that are beyond her own control.
Instead, Jong-Fast takes life as it comes. In bite-sized chunks of right this minute. That not only makes whatever happens much easier to manage, but it allows her to experience whatever happens with a full range of emotions. Each and every moment actually gets its own opportunity to become a moment.
Those moments add up too. So do the occasions for those moments to become momentous. A 21st birthday. A wedding. The births of three children. A novel. Momentous moments all. Each made all the more momentous by her living one moment at a time.
And by those moments being seen through clear and sober eyes. One day at a time helped Jong-Fast survive without a drink. It will also help her to survive this pandemic. Why? Because it’s a survival tactic. One of the most effective survival tactics we’ve got.