The sinking ocean liner has remained an enduring image since the Titanic was lost. Until recently, a movie named after that ship was the most popular film in history. Bill W. used that tragic episode as a metaphor on page 17 of the Big Book. Various people may interpret it differently, but I think Bill was asking us to notice that alcoholism (and perhaps addiction in general) does not respect economic or social classes. He prepared me for exactly who I found in Meetings: workers, preachers, teachers, business people, single moms, doctors, etc. all thrown together by their common problem.
I tend to over-analyze everything, but I notice that Bill devoted a lot of attention to this metaphor, compared to ones like the “flimsy reed”, “root and branch”, and “corroding thread”. Perhaps he thought it was complicated and needed explaining. Maybe he thought is was extra important and gave it more emphasis. Or maybe, in light of the Titanic sinking, he thought it was a particularly gripping image.
As I considered ways to illustrate the “Passengers” metaphor, I wanted to stick closely to the facts. I didn’t want to rely on paintings or other artistic depictions of lifeboats, preferring to do research on actual events. I was expecting to find very dramatic images since the subject involves real life and death moments.
To my surprise, almost all of the photos of genuine lifeboat rescues that I found were rather dull. In a vessel full of survivors, very few passengers showed any reaction to being rescued. No cheering. No leaping up and down. That seemed odd. Then I realized most of those people had suffered long and often icy ordeals prior to being rescued. I wouldn’t be surprised if the subdued figures were all hunched down trying to stay out of the frigid wind.
It made me think back to my reaction after going to my first Meeting. The next day, I ate breakfast, went to work, watched TV, etc. etc. etc. No special reaction at all—outwardly.
Inwardly, I was on fire with the hope that I had found a solution to my problem. But it probably didn’t show. Just like those people in the lifeboat photos. Bill had probably seen the same photos, since ship sinkings were usually heavily reported in the newspapers.
The predictions made by Bill W. were right. I did sit in Meetings alongside architects, ministers, construction workers, and computer experts. And when I sometimes ran into these same people by accident away from the Meetings, I did feel a special bond that was blind to economic and social class.
When I made my drawing, I drew one person on the lifeboat making a triumphant gesture: raising his arms above his head. Other than that, the people in the lifeboat are in various positions of disbelief, distraction, numbness, unconsciousness, and near death.
I felt all of those reactions at the moment I first stepped into a Twelve Step Meeting. I had given up hope of rescue. I was exhausted. I was whipped by my addiction. I didn’t see how anyone in my dismal situation could cheer about anything at all.
To this day, it irritates my fellows in recovery when I am often light-hearted as a newcomer tells their miserable story. I know they have come alongside a Solution that works and that they need do no more than climb aboard. But they don’t know that. I suppose that’s why, in the illustration, I added the guys cheering from the deck of the rescuing ship. They KNOW the ordeal is over. They are not numb or scared or dying. They can offer life and hope and warmth.
Why shouldn’t they—or we—smile at this most remarkable rescue from deep and pitiful despair?
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