When the Good is Enemy of the Best

When I got sober 13 months ago, I didn’t even consider going to Alcoholics Anonymous. I didn’t think of myself as that kind of drinker. I could easily go days without having a drink. I could stop at one (sometimes).

I thought of AA as a place where only life-smashing, rock-bottom drunkards go. Until I realized I needed it.

For my first eight months of sobriety I was in a sort-of relationship. There was a “special” person in my life, who had been in my life before. He was mostly sober. The time we spent together gave me a nice cushion of connection. It comforted me.

But when realization dawned that this relationship fell short of what I really want, and I took steps to separate from him, suddenly my world felt really hollow. No drinks and no man to have popcorn and tea with at the end of the day made my nights feel like an empty well.

If I dropped a penny down the well of my evenings, there’d be a long silent fall, followed by a single clink as it hit the hollow bottom.

So I decided to go to an AA meeting.

I won’t go into detail about what an absolutely beautiful, incredible, powerful system I have found AA to be. (I’ve got to publish this post and be out of my apartment in 25 minutes to get to the last day of my trauma resolution training!)

But I do want to note a very special passage from the AA literature that has been on my mind lately.

One of the books used in AA is called the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, “12 and 12 for short. The second tradition of AA states:

“For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority–a loving God as he may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern”

Inside this chapter, Bill, one of the founders of AA, describes a situation where a man named Charlie who ran a hospital invited him to take a very lucrative position bringing AA into the hospital. At this time Bill was deeply broke and in debt. He had lost so much as a drunk on Wall Street. He lived in a small apartment in Brooklyn with his wife. Times were tough.

However, AA was growing, and it was working. This particular evening Bill came home excitedly, thinking he’d found the answer to their problems. Back at his apartment were a slew of drunks his wife was making dinner for, and later there was a meeting there.

At the meeting, Bill brought up the idea of the hospital job. Although it sounded wonderful, it conflicted with AA’s principles. It would create an authority figure (and system). Also it would bring money into the treatment, and AA is meant to be entirely supported by donations from participants, and run entirely on volunteers doing “service”.

After Bill presented the idea, one of the members that evening said this:

“‘Sure, Charlie’s idea is good, but it isn’t good enough. This is a matter of life and death, Bill, and nothing but the very best will do!’ Challengingly, my friends looked at me as their spokesman continued. ‘Bill, haven’t you often said right here in this meeting that sometimes the good is the enemy of the best? Well, this is a plain case of it. You can’t do this thing to us!'”

I just LOVE this quote. I just love this idea! Sometimes the good is enemy of the best. 

How many times have you, or I, sold out just short of our real ideal in order to get the good. How many times have we cashed in for a few nicer things, instead of holding out on beans and rice for a little bit longer so we can live and offer our best?

I don’t have any conclusions to offer in this particular moment… it’s time for me to transition off into this rainy Monday. I just wanted to share this for us to think about today.

Is there anything good happening in your life that is keeping you from the best?


Photo: Michael Discenza from UnSplash

*I’m @arielkiley on Instagram

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5 thoughts on “When the Good is Enemy of the Best

  1. Anonymous says:

    I have been thinking about the Serenity prayer, which I think starts each AA meeting, but I was introduced to it via Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5 and it’s been a great tool to keeping me grounded but ambitious!

    1. arielkiley says:

      The serenity prayer is so good! I’ll put it here for those who don’t know it: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” SO GOOD

  2. UncleVladi™ (@UncleVladi) says:

    Going to AA is a major and often life-changing decision. I’d like to congratulate you for taking that important step. It seems that loneliness and alienation can often make a person much more vulnerable to various addictions, although AA can certainly help to fill that interpersonal void, as well as provide protection against relapses. The spiritual aspect of AA doctrine is, in my view, the core of its success, since without it, recovery would be all but impossible.

    1. arielkiley says:

      Thank you!! Yes, the spiritual aspects of AA are amazing. And so GROUNDED. Lots of spirituality I’ve studied seems separate from daily life. AA makes it relevant here and now.

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