He Has Been Granted a Gift (Step Twelve continued)

He has been granted a gift which amounts to a new state of consciousness and being.

New/old comparisons are difficult for me, though I know I should make a greater effort to be in touch with the old, no matter how old it may be.  Part of the problem is that I was very young when I got sober, and so my consciousness and being were bound to change.  The way I was going, they were bound to change for the worse, if I lived at all, but anyway . . .

Someone asked the question on the blog a while ago about why I needed AA to point me toward well-worn, well-known, universal principles of good and moral living.  Yes, I knew them before (things like “do unto others”).  This is the point, exactly.  AA history and my own history tells me that I could not live those principles while engaged in active alcoholism.  Both histories tell me that I could not stop drinking without the AA program.  While I was drinking, if I stopped for any period of time at all on my own, I was a world away from leading a good, useful, somewhat moral life.  I could not.

Through the years, through the repetition of the meetings and the readings I have come to understand that consciousness and being more than I could ever have imagined 26 years ago.  Overlearning is a concept in education by which things are learned beyond the point of competency to where they become automatic.  This is a slow, slow, slow process for me with the concepts in AA but I am hugely blessed to have been given the time and the desire to make some headway with this during my lifetime.

The old state of being was painful enough to make me wish for death, really, to bring about a slow and painful death.  Most of the time I knew, as I threw up then went into uncontrollable dry heaves that my body was trying desperately to reject the poison that was killing me.  I liken it to the way people and other living beings struggle automatically to live, no matter how unlikely or even unwanted life is.  The animal in us struggles to survive.

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Service

I know that it is service to hold an office in AA.  It is service to be the treasurer, coffee maker, secretary, GSR, chair person, leader, Grapevine rep.  It is service to open the door, buy the snack, arrange the chairs, lead the discussion, procure the speaker, move the tables, pay the rent, pay the central office, decorate, arrange parties, obtain and provide meeting lists, wash cups and dishes (and, in the olden days, ash trays).  It is service to offer your phone number, answer the phone, man the AA office phones, write to people, buy books and set them out, provide money for all the things AA needs.  It is service to clean the office and organize the picnic, cook the phone, get the drinks, wash the coffee spills and welcome people as they come through the door.

Is it service just to show up?

July 13, 2010 (this day)

Today was a work day and not too much of interest happened there.  I took the last of my antibiotic last night, now I’m waiting to get sick again.  I ended up having a CT scan to see why I can’t get rid of this sinus infection, and nothing showed up on the scan.  The doctor said to go to an ENT but I’m going to wait and see.  I know that if I go, they’ll find something wrong with me.  Who knows, I may actually be well.

I didn’t do much for my sobriety today beyond living it.  My home page on my computer is the Daily Word, so I’ve read that a few times.  I’m writing this, and I’m going to look at my character defects page.  I got a nice comment on it today, about it making someone’s Step Six easier.  I don’t claim to be any kind of authority, but when I researched a little, I found words and language I understood better than or in addition to what’s in the books.  My understanding of the whole concept of character defects grows and changes.  I find it an honor to share my understanding with anyone, and I hope it does help.

Our Twelfth Step Also Says (Step Twelve continued)

Our Twelfth Step also says that as a result of practicing all the Steps, we have each found something called a spiritual awakening.  To new A.A.’s this often seems like a very dubious and improbable state of affairs.  “What do you mean when you talk about a ‘spiritual awakening’?” they ask.

Maybe there are as many definitions of spiritual awakening as there are people who have had them.  But certainly each genuine one has something in common with all the others.  And these things which they have in common are not too hard to understand.  When a man or woman has a spiritual awakening, the most important meaning of it is that he has now become able to do, feel, and believe that which he could not do before on his unaided strength and resources alone.

This paragraph is so full that I’m going to stop there and take it one piece at a time afterward.

I completely understand the dubiousness.  It sounds new-agey to me, and not in a good way.  I reject most things that sound like this.  I think life is too short to investigate nonsense.

Too bad in AA we don’t use before and after pictures, like the orthodontist might.  I’m sure a picture of me like I was just before I got sober, compared to now, would prove a spiritual awakening of some sort.  My functioning level was close to dead.  The fact that between then and now a baby got fed, a cat was cared for, all the drivers on the road near me have been safe from my alcoholism, that I’ve supported myself at all prove the awakening to me.  I couldn’t do any of that before.  I believe it!  And I couldn’t believe it before.

My unaided resources and strength were not enough to sustain my very life.  In most ways yet I am still the same, in body and mind, as I was back then.

I can twist my mind around the question of what my spirit was doing then.  Maybe it’s something we’re born with?  If the language of AA uses the word “awakening,” that’s good enough for me not to question.  I’ll go with the thought that it was sleeping.  Or maybe it was drugged?

Discouraged

My hard time started around one in the afternoon.  It began with an anti-gay statement someone made, pointedly, in my presence.  Between then and three thirty, three more things that are difficult for me to handle happened.  All this in a heat wave.

I was in distress from the first happening, and I had decided a while ago that I’d try to look at my distress in terms of my character defects.  Today’s character defect is “being discouraged.”  I certainly was discouraged.  I could look at these situations, and my distress, through the lens of I guess almost any of the character defects, but that’s overwhelming.  So for today, it is “being discouraged.”

I was talking this over with Carole and we wondered why “being discouraged” is a character defect.  Some situations and some times seem to call for discouragement.  The dictionary says discourage means

to deprive of courage, hope, or confidence; dishearten; dispirit.
If I have lost courage, hope, confidence, heart and spirit, certainly I’m dwelling in a character defect or two.
Being discouraged seems to point to a lack of acceptance.  My continuing struggle is that, at work and other times (like with my children), I am called to try to change people.
I briefly discussed one of the problems of the day with my boss.  He said something along the lines of “they will always be with us.”  The people who take advantage and who try to get over will always be with us.  Some stay for a long time and others move on quickly, but someone always takes their place.  Dealing with these people and these issues is a not-fun part of my job.  I do it to help as much as I can to create a good environment for the people we work for, for the clients.
I have to learn how better to keep heart and spirit present when these things pile up on me.

The Serenity Prayer

God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.
~

Reinhold Niebuhr

This is the short version of the prayer that has been used in meetings all the time that I’ve been in AA.  Wikipedia says that Bill Wilson brought this to meetings and that the Grapevine has published it.  There is a longer version, and my view of the longer version is slightly colored by my feeling that I have read a political interpretation of it.  It’s hard for me not to see the longer version that way.

This short version, though, is something I gratefully learned almost immediately and it lasts so well and so long because it is oh-so true.

I’ve come to understand that primarily, all I can change is myself, mostly my attitudes.  Just about anything outside of me is off limits.  I influence people, events, and the physical world, to a very very small degree.  I dare say, not in a self-pitying way, that should I be gone tomorrow, my influence would be almost completely gone five years from now, except for the way I’ve influenced my children in the past, and what they go on to do in the future.

I ask God for serenity to accept almost everything outside of me.  Things I cannot change include but at not limited to: weather, politics, the price of eggs, most illness, disease and death, most poverty, time, the past, my physical limitations, your physical limitations, the opinions of most people, war, football.  Google collage of things I can’t change:  the way you feel, the direction of the wind, heredity, increasing age, anybody’s mind, color, what I am, language, THE WORLD.

I do believe I drank because I couldn’t accept the things I couldn’t change.

Jumping to the end, the wisdom to know the difference is imperative.  Nothing like knocking myself out against the same brick wall over and over and over again.  Honestly, sometimes I do realize after a time that my efforts to change someone else will not work.  Usually.  Not always, because some people in some relationships with me are willing and able to change because I’ve asked them to, or better yet, because I have inspired them to.  I’m also willing to spend time trying to have a small effect on a big change, like doing some small part for an election of a candidate I believe in.  Some would argue I can’t change events, but sometimes I’m willing to try a bit.

Courage to change what I can, for me, is mostly courage to change.  Carole and I were reading an AA book by that name until it got too cold to sit outside, and I’ve been thinking of going back to it.  The change that AA brings is fundamental and profound.  I don’t feel particularly courageous about it, because I, like so many of us, had to be beaten to the ground to get up the courage to change in that way.  Change or die, was the choice, and I’m grateful I was able to make that change.

As the years go by the changes are more subtle, I think, but in a way it gets harder for me.  The first changes were necessary to preserve life and freedom.  The first changes brought huge results and profound improvements.

Now I am a law-abiding citizen.  Now I have a job I can do and that, for today, they’re willing to let me keep.  Now my children will answer the phone if I call (usually) and my wife is glad to see me (today).  Now I have a sobriety I can (mostly) easily and (mostly) happily maintain in a way that fits in my life very well.

Now for me the courage and the will to change what I can don’t come often enough without, still, that wondrous touchstone of growth – pain.