The Notion that We Would Still Live Our Own Lives (Step Seven continued)

The notion that we would still live our own lives, God helping a little now and then, began to evaporate.  Many of us who had thought ourselves religious awoke to the limitations of this attitude.  Refusing to place God first, we had deprived ourselves of His help.  But now the words “Of myself I am nothing, the Father doeth the works” began to carry bright promise and meaning.

I’ve addressed the question and concept of God and the higher power in several other places.  I’m so sorry that it turns some people off to the life-altering program of Alcoholics Anonymous.  I want to stress again that no one is required to say or believe anything at all, and everyone who has a problem with alcohol should give the program a shot.

I arrived there disbelieving just about all my church and “religious” upbringing had told me to be true.  As I didn’t drink and practiced the program I came to believe in a power greater than me, and I call that power God.  I became willing and able to return to church, though I don’t believe much of what goes on there.  In my life there has come to be a greater reason and understanding of all this.

I once told the pastor of my church almost every Sunday, she said something that fit my circumstances and something that reiterated to me what I am to do and why I am to do it.  She said that she didn’t say those things, that it is God working through her.  I’ve had a friend thank me for introducing her and her partner to the program of Alcoholics Anonymous.  I can say that I did not introduce it to them, that God did it through me.  Really I suspect that they had many previous opportunities to change their lives in this way.  For whatever reason, in that time and place, I was there when they were ready.  By living the program I could have that solution ready to give to them when they were ready to take it.

There are other good works that I do.  My career and my work days are filled with good works, but it is only because I have been blessed with abilities and means that I can use these things to benefit others.  As I write, five (5!) “rescued” animals tell me that according to their calculations, it is time for dinner.  In supporting AA, in caring for people with disabilities, in providing for the formerly homeless animals, I do what I feel to be God’s will for me.  And for them.

The rewards for these things cannot be measured.  They exist in my material possessions and in a quality of life for me that is beyond anything I could have imagined.  That’s one way I understand the phrase above that inverts to tell me that by putting God first, I am able to receive God’s help.

I see that I was very narrow minded to condemn organized religion the way I did.  I was also narrow minded to condemn religious people.  That’s something I continue to struggle with, especially when their “religion” teaches that my life, my life style, my very being is “wrong.”  I have to continue to try and accept that there are parts of this puzzle I will never see.

One of the best ways I have to put God first is to continue to practice the program of Alcoholics Anonymous.  Before I got sober, I was a menace to society.  I risked my life and yours by driving drunk.  At the very least, I would have been a burden to society, and I had no prospect of supporting myself for any length of time.  By doing this I hopefully give.  I won’t be so prideful as to say that I give more than I take.

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Uneasy with Flying (My Story continued)

I wrote earlier about how my fear of flying began and developed and got worse until I was almost unable to do it.  I lived very far from home, and I had first one and then two babies, so I couldn’t not fly unless I never wanted to see some family members or the place I grew up.  That wasn’t an option.

*As an interesting aside, I was always amazed at the number of people who suggested I drink to deal with my fear.  That wasn’t an option either, for me, and of course no one in charge of two babies could drink or take a drug to deal with fear.*

I would be nervous and frightened before I flight.  I felt very superstitious about not changing flights or seats or anything once it was booked.  But then, I would get the overwhelming premonition that this plane would crash. I knew that it would.  I’d get more and more worked up as the day approached.  Once I had flown, my trip was always shadowed by the fact that I needed to do it again, soon, to get home.

I would be practically sick the day of the flight.  I hated (and still hate) airports, packing, and everything that goes with it.  Airports, to me, are awful places.  So many people are upset, frightened, sad, anxious, angry, hasseled, tired.  I always feel like I’ve neglected to pack something very important, without which I will surely be miserable.  But I can’t think of what it is.

There’s the traffic.  Will you arrive on time?  Once there, the parking.  The checking in.  The saying goodbye to your luggage,, maybe forever.  Is the plane on time?  Is the weather OK?  How much money has this cost?  I’m making myself sick just listing these things, and I’m just sitting at my dining room table.

And the overwhelming feeling that this is it, this is doom.  I’ve tried to avoid it but I can’t, I hear about plane crashes and near misses and terrible things every so often.  I imagine myself in that scenario.  I try not to.  I can’t help it.

From my first flight (not first of my life, but first of that time that I moved away) and the fear my cat wouldn’t make it, until the time I had to get off of a plane carrying two babies, because the plane had mechanical difficulties, my fear grew and got worse.  When finally my three year old daughter began to catch my fear, I decided to do something about it.

I bought a book about overcoming phobias.  One difficult thing about a fear of flying is that you can’t practice if you’re feeling brave, like crossing a bridge maybe or going in an elevator.  The book explained that my body was reacting as if there was an emergency, and really everything was fine.  I began to try to relax as a response to fear, kind of like the Bradley method of child birth I had tried with my son.  I had rubber bands to snap on my wrist.  It suggested biting a pickle or something very strong tasting, but I didn’t do that.

On the ground, if a popular flight path was going over my mother’s house, I sat in the living room and watched plane after plane go by – not crashing, not crashing, not crashing.  On the plane, I would concentrate sometimes with thoughts like, “Nothing bad is happening right now.  You’re just sitting here.”

I flew once the day after a huge crash, and the pilot welcomed us to statistically the safest day to fly.  I reminded myself again and again how terribly against me crashing the odds really were.  I considered, too, that if one has to die, dying in a plane crash would not be the worst way to go.  And yes, one does have to die.  An interesting aspect of my fear has been the fact that I’m only afraid planes I am on will crash.  I’ve put my kids on a plane to go visit my mother (when they were much older), and I’m pretty certain their plane won’t crash.  Just mine.

Right before I took a final flight from the place I was living, far away, to move back almost to my home, a plane crashed in Iowa.  They were unable to lower the landing gear, and they knew for a long time that the plane would crash.  It circled and circled and dropped its fuel.  Ideas were floated to manually pull the landing gear down, or give it a soft place to land, or I don’t remember what else.  I watched it live on the news.  There was the plane, in the air, fine, with everyone alive.  There was the ground, hard hard hard, and no way to stop the momentum of the plane from crushing itself and the people on it.

Some of the people on that plane did die, some didn’t, and I wonder if they knew what was happening.  I don’t wonder enough to look into it, since surely it’s been recorded many times.  But I remember voicing to an AA friend of mine that maybe God would punish me by making my plane crash.  Punish me for not liking my new home, even though I had everything I needed and much, much more.  She said something along the lines of, “God didn’t bring you this far to drop you in an Iowa corn field.”  But had God brought the others that far to do just that?  Why them?  Why not me?

I found a religious pamphlet at my inlaws house that had verses in it like, “Let it be done to me according to Your will,” “For everything that has been, thanks.  For everything that will be, yes!”  I found it while visiting them, facing a flight home.  I took that with me on every flight after that, and I read it on the plane over and over.

I’d like to say I conquered my fear of flying, and really I got much, much better about it.  By the end of my time living there, I was basically very nervous the day of the flight, and better on the plane, and generally OK with all of it.  But since that move back toward my home 18 years ago, I haven’t had much call to fly, and I’ve only done it twice.  I’m still afraid.

As my kids are now adults, soon I’d like to travel, and I want to go places on a plane.  I’m not sure what I’ll do about my fear, but I’m determined to do something, not to just be one of those people who won’t fly no matter what.

I’m not sure how my program has influenced this experience, but it’s probably shot through with program principles.  I hope that before I’m done, I will have a total success with getting over this fear.

The Higher Power Concept in AA

Disclaimer (disclaim – to deny connection with):  These are my own thoughts only.  They have no connection with the organization of Alcoholics Anonymous.

It is a common complaint held against AA by people who quit it or people who won’t try it.  AA is a spiritual progam, and we usually understand the concept of spirit best in terms of religion.  So many of us who make it to AA, though, have at least some history of having religion or trying religion.  If that works, perhaps we don’t make it to the doors of AA.  Because it hasn’t worked, and for a million other reasons, many of us have given up on religion and spiritual matters.  It can be discouraging, frighening, maddening to learn that this popular orgranization has a spiritual plan of recovery.

And although AAs quickly say that belief in God is not required, it doesn’t take long to hear God spoken of in meetings.  The official Twelve Steps mention God with a capital G and a masculine pronoun (his, him), and most meetings include prayers that are known to be of Christian origin.

I had rejected that God and the church and religion before I came to AA.  I was not happy to learn of the “God” aspect.  I stood and held hands, but I did not say the prayers.

The thing that’s needed to begin to recover is a belief in a higher power.  This is not a cynical lie, designed to trick people into believing in God.  I personally tried under my own power to stop drinking many many times.  I easily accepted the AA group as a power greater than me, because they were able to do what I wasn’t.  In order to follow directions when it is so very very difficult to do so, I think a person has to have some faith that the directions will work out.

AA asks us to just keep the door open to the possiblity of a higher power that is spiritual in nature.  It can be hard to listen to people go on about God when we don’t believe.  It’s possible though.  I’ve known people who are Jewish who have done well in AA.  I’ve known people who have no more than a very fuzzy concept of the the higher power is, who have done well in AA.

I’ve read a few things attributed to Bill W that said something along the lines of how glad he was when religious leaders from varied traditions found the Twelve Steps to be compatible with their religion.  The concepts are ancient, and they existed before Christ.  Maybe one of the most important things about all of this is that someone who is not willing to crack the door just a bit, to admit there is a tiny chance he is wrong, will not follow the program enough to recover.

The main thing is that someone who is suffering has got to give it a chance, or she just can’t know if it would work for her or not.  She’s free to say she does not believe in a higher power, and to still give AA a try.  She’ll hear some God talk, but she’ll hear much more.  Without hearing it, she will never know if the program of AA holds hope of recovery for her.

During This Process (Step Seven continued)

During this process of learning more about humility, the most profound result of all was the change in our attitude toward God.  And this was true whether we had been believers of unbelievers.  We began to get over the idea that the Higher Power was a sort of bush-league pinch hitter, to be called upon only in an emergency.

I’ve been wanting to address the issue of the Higher Power again for some time.  I read the words of people who refuse to try AA or Alanon because of the Higher Power concept.  Yes, it is Christian-inspired.  Yes, it is expected and encouraged that people who are atheist or agnostic come to believe in a power greater than themselves.  Yes, prayers which have their roots in Christianity are said at AA meetings.  No, this is not a good reason to not give AA a try and possibly lose your life and all that’s important to you.  Give it 90 days, and after that, if you don’t like it, your misery will be fully refunded.  I promise, people who do not embrace the Christian diety can live long and prosper in AA.  It is the concept of a higher power that is crucial.  No human being has much power over anything.  A human being who feels powerful, like a god, will continue to struggle as this turns out to not be true.

But this blog is my own working through the steps, and I’ll explain it for me.  Personally.  I do not speak for AA.  AA has no opinion on outside issues.  I am not AA.  I have opinions.  And they are crucial to my working through these steps.  The next ten people at any given AA meeting will have ideas drastically different from mine.  We are individuals.  No one speaks for AA.

So I was brought up as a half hearted Lutheran.  At times I know my mother has stated out right that she is an atheist.  It was some combination of superstition and formality that made her force me to church, Sunday School and confirmation.  By the time I was confirmed, I didn’t believe in anything either, and I headed quickly for the door, vowing not to come back.

Yet I know that the time I spent in church or hearing the stories of seeing the religious part of our American culture planted in me some kind of mystical magical something.  It may be that when we’re told this stuff is true, as children, we internalize some sense of it.  I don’t know.  I know I then and still could not interpret any part of the Bible literally.  Too much time and too many translations have gone on for me to think I could ever get near the truth.  That bothered me as an adolescent, but I’ve made peace with it now.

Something in me, anyway, would call out when I was in terrible trouble.  Kind of like the bush-league pinch hitter mentioned above.  Of course the more I drank the worse my emergencies got.  When I encountered the higher power concept in AA, the prayers, I am very very fortunate that I took them at their word and gave it a try, even though I did not believe and I never intended to believe.  I grasped the group as my higher power right away, because they just so obviously were more powerful than me.  I hung in.  I accepted that one day I might change my mind.  I believed I could learn from the experience of others and that is one reason I’ve lived to tell this tale.

It took years. All through the six or so years I drank while in AA.  Through much of the beginning of my lasting sobriety I fought and tried and very gradually came to believe.

So how is it now, these many years later?  I know I’ll write more about the transformation as I keep writing my story.  Now.  I have a huge character defect which is intolerance. I try to be accepting of all people as fully people, although I have a very hard time accepting conservatives.  There are so many ways in which I just feel that I am right, and they are wrong, even as I understand my very attitude is very wrong.

I can believe and accept that there is or isn’t a universal higher power, a God.  I don’t know.  I don’t know about the miraculous aspects of the stories of Jesus of Nazereth.  I find that his basic message of love is something I want to strive to live by.  I go to church.  I was about to leave the Lutheran church, and perhaps look into Quakerism, when I met and fell in love with Carole.  She was an active Lutheran, and so I stayed.  I go to church but I don’t receive sacraments.  I’m not sure enough about that aspect of it.  I don’t necessarily believe in “the forgiveness of sins,” at least not like it’s practiced in my church.  I do not believe that the pastor or any person can know whether or not I am forgiven.

I pray and I say the rote prayers as a kind of practice.  I’ve recently been looking for other prayers, and I’ve collected some here on a special page, and I rotate them in the side bar.  I believe they help give expression to something within me, and that they remind me of ideals I’m striving for.

I’ve decided that I’d rather make a mistake in this manner.  I’d rather live as though there is a God, even if there isn’t, then live as if there isn’t, if there is.  It goes along with my psyche to try to live (somewhat) for the ideal of serving others.

So yes, I’ve come to understand that God is much more than a bush-league pinch hitter.  The goodness in others touches me so when I’m in an emergency.  But this concept and understanding can become part of my every moment.  It should inform every moment, and as time goes by, it does, more and more.

Fear of Flying (My Story continued)

I don’t think about this often, and this is my opinion only.  I think (and I’m far from sure) that with regard to myself, alcoholism resulted from or occurred along with other mental illness in me.  I can’t remember if I included some of my craziness in my story.  I did things, at 12 and 13 and 14, like cut myself.  Mentally ill for sure.  When I tried alcohol, and fell quickly into the bottom of that particular pit, the way out took care of so many of my issues with myself and my life.  Being drug and alcohol free, and working the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, really took care of all of my issues almost completely.  This is not to say that would work for anyone else, but it worked so far for me.

Of course 12 and 13 and 14 are difficult ages for most human beings.  By the time I was 24 years old, I was someone’s mother, and I had settled down a lot.

When I was 24, I agreed to move many miles away from my home and family, for my husband’s job.  I did not want to go, and I naievely thought that if I didn’t like it, I could just move back.

I had flown on planes many times.  I remember one flight, when I was a kid, full of turbulance, lurching and circling of the airport.  The man next to me chain smoked.  Yes, I’m that old.  The plane dipped and turned and I thought it was sort of fun.  The flight I had been on last, previous to moving, was on a small plane, in the freezing cold, in a storm.  I was fine.

As the time approached for me to be on the flight that would move me away from home, I focused more and more on my cat.  I had a cat, the first cat who was “mine” and not my mother’s.  She was about five years old at that time.  After researching it, someone bought me the under the seat carrier that the airline would allow her to be in if she stayed in the cabin, under my seat.  It was just a few inches tall, she would have to be squished.  The flight would last six hours, and the time before the flight, in the car, in the airport, in the next airport – it just seemed too awful to make her do that, so I reluctantly put her in baggage.

And I got more and more and more sure she would die in flight, and by the time I was on the plane, I knew she wouldn’t make it.

She made it.  She made it on that flight and on the return flight when, years later, I moved back again.

The way I see it now, I believe I focused my anxiety about moving on the cat.

The next time I flew home, and few months later, to visit, I had an overwhelming premonition that my plane would crash.  I just knew it would.   And it didn’t.  With each subsequent flight my fear grew worse.  Two years later, when that baby was three years old and I had another infant, I boarded a plan with the children only to sit there for some time and then be told to get off due to mechanical difficulties.  Another flight was secured for several hours later.  As I waited, I grew more and more paniced, and when it was time to get on the plane, I almost didn’t make it.

What made that the bottom of this particular problem was my daughter.  At three years old, she began to look at me and wonder what the heck was wrong and dangerous about this.  So I bought a book about phobias, and I began to get over it.

I made lots of progress and kept doing better and better with it, until I did move back home, and I didn’t have to fly anymore to see my family.  Since then I’ve flown only once, and I was afraid again, but that belongs to a time far far in the (present) future.

I could try and draw conclusions about this.  I think I’ve since read that the early 20s is actually when a fear like this is likely to begin.  I do think it’s entirely possible that I focused all my fear and dread about moving onto the experience of the flights.  I don’t know.  I’m just going to leave it here for now.

The Fast Track to Gratitude

For me, that’s to have my situation threatened.  Threatened with losing what I have, I’m suddenly much more grateful for it.

I’ve had big and small and medium sized losses.  Lots of them over 24 years.  A few of them came at the same time about 18 months ago, and that contributes to my hard time.

Each time I vow to appreciate what I have more, knowing for real that it can be gone in a second.  And as I get older and experience more loss, I do get better at appreciating what I have when I still have it.

So making a long story short, my job was threatened today.  My job has never been secure.  That has become painfully obvious over the past 18 months.  People have been let go with no warning and no chance for change.  I understand that.

I am also in the most super excellent place to survive this situation.  Carole can support me, and recently, with same sex partner benefits, she has been able to insure me and my son as well.  She is very supportive of me doing what ever is best for me (if only I knew what that is).  So in practical terms, I have almost nothing to fear from possible job loss.  I know I am more fortunate than the vast majority of people in this respect.

But, I’ve been where I am for ten years, and I really really love the actual job.  I just can’t picture ever loving a job as much as I love this one.

So threatening it, I appreciate it more and more and more.  I also know, from years of practice, that I just don’t know what will happen moment to moment, and I surely don’t know what’s best for all involved.  In this case, that’s important, because the people with disabilities that I serve are much more important than I am, at least in this situation.  I honestly want what’s best for them, whatever that looks like to me.

I don’t know if God has an actual hand in these things.  Though I think it’s possible, I mostly guess that God doesn’t much care about the details.  As long as I am serving others I’m doing the right thing.  And there is so much need in the world, finding another way to serve should not be difficult.

Then, in A.A., We Looked and Listened (Step Seven continued)

Then, in A.A., we looked and listened.  Everywhere we saw failure and misery transformed by humility into priceless assets.  We heard story after story of how humility had been the price of admission into a new life.  But this admission price had purchased more than we expected.  It brought a measure of humility, which we soon discovered to be a healer of pain.  We began to fear pain less, and desire humility more than ever.

Honestly, I may have gone backwards with this a bit.  I understand that the humility to admit I had a problem with alcohol and couldn’t stop drinking on my own brought me to the program and the steps and to all I have today.  The pain of active alcoholism became unbearable for me.  I couldn’t humbly submit until then.

For at least a lot of my beginning sobriety, I was able to get over lots of fears.  Working the steps and talking to the people who are working the steps makes all of life easier.  I think I did really well when, for example, I was left with two small children.  That was painful and I was fearful, but I came through well.  Having the example of story after story of other people’s struggles made it much easier.  Having the humility to know that I could not control my ex, my way was fairly smooth.

The books also tell me that people make it through impossibly painful situations, and they thrive.  In all those ways, I fear pain less.

But my recent difficulties still have me down in a way.  I sort of understand that greater humility would help me be more peaceful.  The things that have happened to me and that I endure are not really difficult at all.  As to the if only that dogs my serenity, I know my wishes and demands are unreasonable.  I think greater humility would help me be more accepting, and help me have more peace.

The way I’m afraid I’ve gone backwards a bit is in my still there fear of the future.  The pain of some of the recent events has been breath taking, and I don’t want any more.  It’s shaken my very foundation.  I feel a bit old, and a bit less able to bounce back than when I was younger and less scarred.

The beauty of the program for me is that I have a plan, and my plan is working the steps.  I’m here in this seventh step to try and grow and have more humility and less pain.