Today’s reading selection came from the book Came to Believe, an anthology of stories that detail the spiritual journeys of 75 different 12-step members. Today’s story fell under the category called “Coincidence?” which any regular reader of this blog knows is a topic of interest for this author!
Today’s story of spiritual evolution mirrors multiple journeys in my life. Most directly, I can relate to the idea of a generalized belief in God thanks to upbringing, but an ambivalence to the concept as it applies to everyday life. Like the author, I needed that gift of desperation that many of us in recovery have been given, which then gave me the motivation to give prayer a try despite my skepticism that there is anyone “on the other end of the line.” As life proceeded, and circumstances improved, I was left to wonder: which of the changes that I made was the turning point: staying sober? praying? meeting attendance? The initial answer that gave me comfort was: who cares? All three bring me peace, confidence, and joy, so it doesn’t matter if one holds the key, because I’m sticking with all three! The further along the road of recovery I travel, the more I realize that, in fact, there is a power greater than myself, and that power is the key to sobriety, to peace of mind, and to a happy, joyous and free existence.
In sharing this with the group, I was met with a lot of nods, and one or two people who shared after me had similar stories in which they reached the moment of truth, be it external circumstances or internal angst, where they were willing to give prayer a try, and had a similar outcome to what I described. And then a woman, let’s call her M, raised her hand to share.
M had been to my meeting maybe 3 or 4 times before, but always with months in between. She was recommended to my meeting by her parish priest, and although she had expressed an interest in sobriety, almost everything else she had to share seemed to contradict that interest. Basically, M spoke like me and most others, still in active addiction, who see that their drinking is a problem but don’t want to actually stop drinking:
- she notices all the ways her drinking story is different from everyone else’s
- she speaks of all the times she can stay sober, and keeps quiet about the times she does not
- she likes to share all she knows about the 12 steps because of various people in her life who are 12-step members, but does not seem to learn from doing her own 12-step work
- the infrequent meetings she does attend never quite seem to gel with her, and she can’t seem to find a meeting with which she is comfortable
To those of us who regularly attend 12-step meetings, this story is familiar, because, first, we’ve been there ourselves, and second, we hear it regularly at the meetings we attend.
Most of the time a story like M’s ends with my not seeing the discontented person again. This time I was lucky enough to see her turning point. M raised her hand today and shared that her belief in God is strong, she was born and raised Catholic, and she prays to God every day of her life. “So what I don’t understand,” she says, as she breaks down in tears, “is where is God when I’m driving to the state store?”
It was a powerful moment, and the kind that humbles me as I witness the members of the meeting rally to support her.
Every comment that followed M’s cry for help centered around turning points in sobriety. Every comment that followed talked about weeks, months, years of tried and failed attempts to stay sober. Some had a relationship with God, some were atheists at the outset, one member still considers herself agnostic, but all talked about their personal evolution to a healthy relationship with a Higher Power, even if the Higher Power is simply the collective wisdom of the 12-step fellowship.
One of the attendees commented on prayers in active addiction versus prayers in sobriety. In time this particular woman came to realize that God was always there for her, she just wasn’t always there for God. In addiction, her prayers ran along the lines of a fox-hole prayer: God, please just get me out of this mess and I’ll never drink again. Now she starts with gratitude and the mindset of how she can give back.
M suspects that her attempts and failures to stop drinking center around her inability to accept sobriety as a permanent way of life. “I just can’t envision not drinking forever,” she insists.
The meeting attendees that spoke after her (myself included, one of the perks of being the chair of the meeting is you have the ability to choose who speaks next, you can make it yourself if you really want to!) all shared the importance of taking sobriety one day at a time. Most of us believed we were far too clever to accept the idea of “one day at time.” You’re not fooling us! We know that at the end of the stupid “one day” we promise you’re just going to ask us to do it again! In time, however, every one of us agree that one day at a time is in fact all the time any one of us really has. Managing our entire lives, not just sobriety, one day at a time makes everything easier to handle.
I am hoping that M was able to hear something that resonated with her. I’ll let you know if we see her again next week!
One of the regular attendees asked for all of our collective prayers in the upcoming weeks, as he has every team in the final four for March Madness. Now, I’m not a follower, but I’m given to understand that having all 4 teams this year counts as a miracle! I’ll let you know how he makes out, he says to say a few extra prayers for Kentucky…
The literature for today’s meeting was chapter 2 in the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, and discusses in detail the thinking behind Step 2 in the twelve-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous:
Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity.
This meeting, for me personally, was chock full of interesting shares, but before I venture into what I learned I will write about my experience with Step 2. Step 2 can be broken down into two parts:
- Belief in a power greater than ourselves
- Belief that this power can restore us to sanity
I took no issue with the first part of this step, as I had a core belief in a Higher Power. Having sat in a meeting or two, I have come to hold an immense gratitude for this core belief, as I know this is a major hurdle for many to jump.
The second part of this step, I have come to realize, was a stumbling block. While I believed in a God of my understanding, I held tight to the belief that “God helps those who help themselves.” In placing the emphasis on “helping myself,” I was giving myself all the power, and blocking His ability to help me. Consequently, it took many months before I could finally let go of the belief that I had to do this on my own. Since that time, my concept and my relationship with my Higher Power has deepened and grown, and I believe will continue to do so for the rest of my life…. good stuff!
Okay, onto to the wisdom I have gained from my fellows:
One gentleman, who has almost 3 decades of sobriety, made the following statement: “The longer I stay sober, the less interested I become in defining my spirituality.” This idea rocked my world… the idea that I can be less precise about my spirituality as time goes by. I’m not sure where I got the idea that the more time sober I have, the clearer picture I should have of a Higher Power, but this man’s simple statement opened my mind in a way I hadn’t even realized was closed. It is enough to know that there is a power greater than me, and that power is helping me to live, day by day, a better life. Enough said. Brilliant!
Another man, sober for eleven years, talked about Donald Rumsfeld, and the quote attributed to former Secretary of Defense: “the known knowns, the known unknowns, and the unknown unknowns.” The gentleman this morning attributes his participation in the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous with his ability to deal with those “unknown unknowns” of life. Because this fellowship teaches us an assortment of new skills, skills we either never possessed, or which we could never master, we now have an ability to deal with life in a way which previously eluded us. I could not agree more.
Another woman whose sobriety date is close to mine, talked about how often this chapter discusses the importance of humility. She quotes a line in the chapter:
“…humility and intellect could be compatible, provided we place humility first. When we began to do that, we received the gift of faith, a faith which works.”
-page 30, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions
As she spoke, I had the clearest vision of getting down on my knees and asking God for help that night a little over two years ago, and asking in a way that I had never asked before. And since that time, I have come to understand my Higher Power in a way I hadn’t before. So for me that sentence rings true… I truly became humble, and only then did I truly receive faith.
There was some dissention with step 2; for example, one gentleman took exception with the term “insanity.” He felt it a little extreme, but has come to accept that he need not argue every period and comma put forth in order to reap the benefits of the 12-step program. By accepting the 12 steps as a whole, rather than nitpicking his way through the verbiage, he was able to, as he put it, “put the skid chains on his thinking, which allowed him to stop drinking, which in turn allowed him to improve all different areas of is life.” I had never heard the 12 steps described in quite this way, and I love the idea of putting skid chains on my thinking… it sums it up perfectly for me. It doesn’t stop the extreme thoughts, but it allows me time to process them so I don’t react as quickly as I once did.
All in all, lots of sharing, lots of different experiences, but everyone agreed on one point: it was in acceptance of a power greater than ourselves that we found true freedom.
I came home from my meeting to find that, while I was gone, husband and son decided to surprise me by tackling some long overdue projects. It really doesn’t get any better than this kind of homecoming!