By John W.

Long before I became a Grateful Alcoholic – no, I never thought I would describe myself in that way – in another dimension of life I had heard the gift of courage described as fortitude. I had an intellectual sense of what “fox-hole courage” was intended to mean, but having never been in the military, much less in battle, I had no literal reality in which to frame the term. When I began losing, with increased intensity and consequences, my battle with the disease of alcoholism, my fruitless, solitary struggle, my Bottom, led me to the AA program and there I experienced the miracle which allowed me to achieve a daily reprieve from my disease. In that awakening, with the help of others, I worked the 12 Steps, sought to live the 12 Traditions and even learned of the 12 Concepts.

But as I trudged and strove to practice these principles in all of my affairs, I had to ask myself: what on earth did that really mean? Dearest Maggie, a darling octogenarian with over half of that time sober, occasionally would drive my home group to tears of laughter, when sharing about how she thought at first that compliance with this suggestion meant she needed to increase her liaisons with different members of the male gender. But when the laughter subsided, she would put the joke aside and burn into your consciousness, as only she could, what it had been like when she drank, how she had come to AA, and what her life was like now because of AA. She would put flesh on the bones of the skeleton of the Principles, but never a name to them.

Although he had pointed to no particular location in the literature, as if only by virtue of the oral tradition of AA, my sponsor had conveyed to me the Principles: Honesty, Hope, Faith, Courage, Integrity, Willingness, Humility, Brotherly Love, Justice, Perseverance, Spirituality and Service. As I had then worked the Steps and continued to do so in the many days that have followed, each Principle had become so easily recognizable in each Step, yet their collection in one place was as elusive as a finger of fog ‘neath the bridge on a blossoming October morning in the city. They were like a good friend who timely arrives with help when trouble is afoot, always there to shed light on the problem at hand or to guide to the next right thing when doubt or fear permeates the senses.

So it is no surprise to me now, as I Zoom from one virtual meeting to the next in these shuttered times, in a March that had come in like one lion and was exiting into April as a pride of them, with not a lamb to be seen, that the Principle of courage is on the nearing horizon.

Born from a Faith which embodies the awareness, to paraphrase FDR that “The only thing to Fear is Fear itself,” fortitude needs now to be summoned to carry this alcoholic through these troubled times. This too is the Principle of courage: the knowledge and belief that no difficulty need be so great as to preclude the ability to confront it with Integrity. I was hearing the Principle of courage expressed by those sharing their experience, strength and hope in my Zoom rooms and I needed to hear it. Whether I attended a Zoom in my home town to strike back at the feeling of loneliness that the shelter-in-place mandates had fostered or tuned-in elsewhere just for a change of pace, the response in the end was always the same – have courage, you are not alone in this battle. 

I saw in my Zooms how vital and necessary it was to have been searching and fearless when I had taken that inventory. That tool in my spiritual kit, that fourth principle, courage, was now being put to use in ways I had never confronted, contemplated, or not a mere few weeks before even imagined possible. Courage, the Principle of step four, honed so many days passed in the inventory’s making, was today confronting the fears of the pandemic, and this was in real time for me Practicing These Principles in All My Affairs

This was me in real time practicing the principles in all my affairs to build “the arch through which we passed to freedom” (Big Book, p. 62).

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