Staying sober was all that I wanted when I came to AA. At the time, I thought that removing the alcohol from my life, as well as the other sources of amusement, would allow me to be the great guy I pretended I was and let me look down on those whose only function seemed to be to criticize and make my life hell. Without alcohol I was convinced my “enemies” would have nothing to complain about and their superficiality would be as obvious as my suffering and sacrifice. My ultimate vindication would follow forthwith.
I heard a lot about “surrender” when I came around, but until I became willing to believe a power greater than me could remove the insane ideas expressed in the opening paragraph, surrender, whether to alcohol or life itself, was inconceivable. The paradox is that until I took actions I DID NOT think would work, I had no chance of believing in anything. Only then did I begin to realize that what I thought did not have to be consistent with what I believed.
I bring all this up because lately I’ve been listening to Clancy I’s story of “The Invisible Boat”, one of the most effective allegories I’ve encountered in recovery. I’ve heard about this lesson more than I’ve actually heard it, but it’s included as part of a weekend retreat Clancy led in Toronto in the early 90’s, (a presentation he has described as his favorite recording of the zillions of his tapes available). In the version I heard Clancy used the Invisible Boat as means of distinguishing between good and bad treatment centers, but it can be presented, I suspect, as a basic primer on the first three steps or the early stages of recovery that lead to long term sobriety.
What Clancy talks about is the taking of suggestions that, to the average alcoholic, appear to be ridiculous on their face. He draws a parallel between two groups of people leaving Toronto for Cleveland, each traveling by boat. In Clancy’s tale the Treatment Centers offer a beautiful yacht with clean beds, excellent food and first class accommodations. The AA group’s mode of transportation is a boat that only they can see and which they fully expect you to board and help power. Most of us, given this choice, opt for the Treatment center’s mode of transport, but it is not until we’re halfway across the lake that we learn their boat is going only halfway towards recovery. They get us started, but it is up to us to complete the journey. In Clancy’s metaphor we’re thrown into the lake, where we meet AA groups paddling in a boat we still can’t see. And its only when we’re out of options that we agree to climb into this “boat” that should not float given our view of such matters. In spite of our cynicism we’re told to shut up and row; and if we do so, pretty soon we get our oars in the water, we begin to make progress and little by little the boat gains substance and its means of keeping us afloat becomes more apparent.
The longer we keep at it, the bigger our boat becomes. That doesn’t mean we don’t need a sponsor to tell us when we’re rowing with the oars upside down, but it does mean our eyes are gradually opened to a solution that we could not see before. In an interesting sidelight, Clancy alludes to the “old timers” who lose their compass and direction and before they know it their boat begins to take on water as they begin to take on alcohol. The problem is, when the old timer comes back to AA they not only face the problem of staying sober they faces this problem in a little row boat, not the big cabin cruiser to which they’d become accustomed. The disappointment keeps many from coming back to AA.
For this alcoholic, Prayer was my invisible boat; but I did not find my oars until I got down on my knees to look for them. The funny thing is, I still don’t think it will work, even though I believe it has for some time now. My beliefs have “bailed out” my thoughts many times since those early days. Thank God for that Invisible boat.