Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Recovery is a Boat Load of...

I never get tired of reading this excerpt from a talk given by Clancy I.
from Venice, CA.  I hope that you enjoy it as much as I do.

The Invisible Boat

The curse of alcoholism is that eventually reality gets bad enough so you have to drink and the curse of drinking is that eventually it gets bad enough that you have to get sober. That combination is called alcoholism. It doesn’t make any difference if you’re the man who put the flag on the moon or if you’re the man who came out from under the bridge, if you’ve got it there’s no way out because you cannot make sustained reality. Because every time alcohol works for you, it interferes with your ability to live in reality. It distorts perception, and that is why it’s such a difficult thing to treat.

There’s been a great deal of controversy over the years about treatment centers. Old-timers who got sober years ago are not very pleased with the treatment center concept. “We got sober and, by God, we stayed sober.” And they did. It’s just difficult.

And, for my first 15 years, I hardly wanted to talk to people who came out of treatment centers. I thought they were jerks. As I’ve gotten a little more sophisticated, I’ve come to realize there’s a difference. There are good treatment centers and bad treatment centers. But it’s hard to tell which are which, and your life depends on deciding which is which. You think, “Why would anyone want to go to a treatment center anyway?”

The best analogy I’ve been able to think of is it’s like going up to Lake Superior, say Ashland, and say I want to go to Canada. And there’s a nice little yacht sitting there with attendants in their white uniforms, and you smell dinner cooking, and they say, “Won’t you come with us on the S.S. Treatment Center?” And you say, “Maybe.”

And over here are two guys lurking in the underbrush along the shore, saying. “We’re from A.A. You want to come with us in our invisible boat?” Nobody in their right mind is going to get in an invisible boat if they can get on the treatment center boat, I’ll tell you.

So you get on there and you’re glad. It’s comfortable, it’s nice, it’s warm, and they feed you and it’s good. And the only problem is you’re just about in sight of the shore and they say, “Well, this is where we turn back. Gotta go back and get another load.’ “What am I gonna do?” you ask. “Well, just swim like hell.”

And you’re out there swimming and crying, and here come those two goofs in their invisible boat. “You want a ride, buddy?” “I’m not that sick.” And pretty soon you’re drowning and here they come again. “You want a ride, buddy?” Choking and sputtering, you say “yeah.” You get in and as soon as you dry off, you realize “This is stupid. There’s no boat here. We’re floating in midair. This is goofy.” “What am I supposed to do, you guys?” “Grab an oar and row.” “You’re crazy. You’re crazy.” And right then, anybody with sense says “Adios, pal.”

And finally you’re drowning one more time. “You want to get in our boat?” Choking and sputtering again, you say “yeah” and get back in. “What do you want me to do?” “Grab an oar and row.” “Oh, you silly idiots!”

And the irony of A.A. is that as you begin to row, the boat appears. But it doesn’t appear until you begin to row. And you’ve got to be desperate to row an invisible boat. That’s what sponsors are for. They come along from time to time and say, “Hey, goof, you’ve got your oar upside down.” As you row the boat appears. If you keep rowing long enough, you get a very fine craft. Pretty soon it exceeds the S.S. Treatment Center. Pretty soon it gets to be as big and as nice as you want to make it. And the only sad thing is no matter how long it takes, when you start to rest on your oar and don’t row, it begins to disappear again. And if you wait long enough on rowing, you’re back in the water.

That is why people with 25 or 30 or 50 years of sobriety get drunk. Because they’ve got where they want to be and there’s no sense in rowing anymore. “I’m there.” And that’s the function of A.A., to encourage and re-encourage one another to re-commit ourselves to keep rowing no matter how well I’m doing, to just keep rowing. And that’s what the boat is about.

The function of A.A. and its Steps and its sponsors and these actions and involvement is not to make you wonderful. They’re to do something infinitely more complex. They are to upgrade your perception of reality. You’ve got to look at the same things and over a period of time see them differently or they get so depressing you can’t handle it. And you’ve got to keep going and you’ve got to keep trying this.

And, unfortunately for you and me, no matter how you work the program, you will never rise above a basic human being. And human beings are weak and fallible and cross and emotional. No matter how spiritual you get.

And the difference between the “good” treatment center and the “bad” one is simply this: The bad treatment center leads its patients into believing that they are now well enough to swim for the far shore on their own or, in other words, to leave treatment with enough knowledge to insure sobriety on a long term basis. The “good” treatment center may perform the same functions within treatment perhaps but emphatically tells it’s departing patients, “You are dry, clean, fed and sober. But you’ll never be able to make the far shore on your own.”

So when you see those two guys in their invisible boat, jump in and start to row, whether you believe in it or not. You’ll be glad you did.

Clancy I., Venice, CA
Reprinted from
photo credit


  1. Thanks for sharing...I spent many a weekend in Clancy's back yard years ago....too many years ago! oxox

  2. Clancy seems to get what a lot of people in 12 step communities don't seem to get --- the vast majority of treatment centers tell their clients that treatment is meant to be a foundation and that a support group is essential to recovery. It is rare that you will find that treatment centers don't advocate that support to be the fellowship of/and 12 Step programs.

  3. I like the boat analogy. How very true for those of us in Al-Anon as well. We have to want to make it to shore.


Thank you for sharing!