How persistently we claim the right to decide (Step Three continued)

But the moment our mental or emotional independence is in question, how differently we behave. How persistently we claim the right to decide all by ourselves just what we shall think and just how we shall act. Oh yes, we’ll weigh the pros and cons of every problem. We’ll listen politely to those who would advise us, but all the decisions are to be ours alone. Nobody is going to meddle with our personal independence in such matters. Besides, we think, there is no one we can surely trust. We are certain that our intelligence, backed by willpower, can rightly control our inner lives and guarantee us success in the world we live in. This brave philosophy, wherein each man plays God, sounds good in the speaking, but it still has to meet the acid test: how well does it actually work? One good look in the mirror ought to be answer enough for any alcoholic.

I vaguely remember wrestling with the God problem, because when I came to AA I was very anti-God.  I would hold hands but not say the prayers.  Things like that.  I was such a mess, and I wasn’t at AA because my intelligence and will power put together could do anything. My intelligence and will power up against alcoholism were powerless to keep my alive.

It’s an amazing experience to watch new people get it.  The degree to which they can go along is so often the degree to which they will be happy.  I struggle with that now, today.  I’m sure my intelligence and willpower still seek to control me in ways that are much less deadly than active alcoholism, but deadly none the less.  What kind of old-timer am I?  How much have I given over, and how much do I still withhold?

Consider Next the Plight of Those Who Once Had Faith (Step Two continued)

Consider next the plight of those who once had faith, but have lost it.  There will be those who have drifted into indifference, those fill with self-sufficiency who have cut themselves off, those who have become prejudiced against religion, and those who are downright defiant because God has failed to fulfill their demands.  Can A.A. experience tell all these they may still find a faith that works?

Those who have become prejudiced against religion I meet many of in the rooms of AA.  It’s a common occurrence and an affinity many of us have for each other, and it can take a little explaining to help people understand that AA itself is not religious.  I was very young when I started, and I didn’t know much about AA, and I didn’t have the “cult” perception that seems common now.  But I was smart enough to understand that they were praying and chanting and that did seem like religion to me.  For that reason I’m personally against chanting at meetings.  I politely stand there and probably no one knows I don’t chant.

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Those filled with self-sufficiency make me smile.  How self-sufficient is someone who shows up at AA due to a drinking problem?  Most newcomers I meet and some degree of terrible shape or they wouldn’t be at an AA meeting.  “Your best thinking got you here” applies in more ways than one.

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Indifference and defiance.  The long and short of it is that AA taught me a different kind of belief in a higher power, and different reliance on concepts outside of my own making than I had ever understood before.  Defying a higher power is just stupid.  It’s higher, it will win.  Alcoholism is also more powerful than I am.  If I fight it, it will win.  Me against it is a match with only one outcome.

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At this point in my sobriety I find it very difficult to keep going forward and to keep increasing my understanding of these concepts and what the universe wants from me.  Somewhere else in the literature there is a sentence something like, “this is the way to a faith that works,” or “a faith that works under all circumstances.”  I’ve shared before that my circumstances have never been all that difficult and I really haven’t been tested with big time hardship or tragedy.  So I don’t know if my faith would work then.  I do know that “God” does give people more than they can handle.  It happens all the time.  It’s happening now.  For what I’ve been through, the program has been more than sufficient.  For what’s to come I will have to wait and see.

. . . their faith broadened . . . (Step Two continued)

“All of them will tell you that, once across, their faith broadened and deepened.  Relieved of the alcohol obsession, their lives unaccountably transformed, they to came to believe in a Higher Power, and most of them began to talk of God.”

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It’s a wonderful thing that, from seeing the miracle of sober alcoholics around me at meetings, I could begin to count myself among the lucky success stories, just for today.  From drinking to destruction, feeling like I couldn’t live one minute without it, to not drinking at all, and viewing it as poison.  The earlier analogy of making AA the higher power holds true and works out.  Following their directions and advice lead me to a miraculous reprieve.

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Maybe that is “God,” whatever most of us mean by God.  Maybe there is a supernatural being controlling and directing, or maybe only watching.  Or maybe there isn’t.  It’s not critical to my sobriety today, it’s not critical to my peace of mind today to know the answer to that question.  I’m pretty sure I can never know the answer or the nature of God.  Does allowing that the higher power may not be supernatural make me an agnostic still?  I don’t know, and I don’t care.  AA, wherever it came from and wherever it is, saved my life, and gave me an excellent quality of life, and that is the truth, 100%.

A.A.’s Tread Innumerable Paths in their Quest for Faith (Step Two continued)

“This is only one man’s opinion based on his own experience, of course. I must quickly assure you that A.A.’s tread innumerable paths in their quest for faith. If you don’t care for the one I’ve suggested, you’ll be sure to discover one that suits if only you look and listen. Many a man like you has begun to solve the problem by the method of substitution. You can, if you wish, make A.A. itself your ‘higher power.’ Here’s a very large group of people who have solved their alcohol problem. In this respect they are certainly a power greater than you, who have not even come close to a solution. Surely you can have faith in them. Even this minimum of faith will be enough. You will find many members who have crossed the threshold just this way…

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This worked for me.  As I have written, I was anti-religion and anti-God when I came in, but I was able to see that the people of AA were a power higher than me.  It was not suggested to me that I make a person, an inanimate object or anything other than the combined wisdom of AA my higher power.  I was never told to blindly follow any person, and I’ve never heard that suggested.  Making a rock (or some such thing) a higher power is ridiculous, and I can’t see how that would help someone stay sober long enough to begin to grasp the program and really heal.
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As the text suggests, that is just a beginning.  I’ve come to believe that it’s a necessary beginning, and that anyone presenting him or herself at an AA meeting is not handling the alcohol problem satisfactorily alone.  Acknowledging a higher power, whether God or the program, is a needed step on the path to recovery.  A stubborn insistence that no power is greater than me is bound to keep me sick and getting sicker.

Let’s look first at the case of the one who says he won’t believe (Step Two continued)

Let’s look first at the case of the one who says he won’t
believe—the belligerent one. He is in a state of mind which
can be described only as savage. His whole philosophy of
life, in which he so gloried, is threatened. It’s bad enough,
he thinks, to admit alcohol has him down for keeps. But
now, still smarting from that admission, he is faced with
something really impossible. How he does cherish the
thought that man, risen so majestically from a single cell
in the primordial ooze, is the spearhead of evolution and
therefore the only god that his universe knows! Must he
renounce all this to save himself ?
At this juncture, his A.A. sponsor usually laughs. This,
the newcomer thinks, is just about the last straw. This is
the beginning of the end. And so it is: the beginning of
the end of his old life, and the beginning of his emergence
into a new one. His sponsor probably says, “Take it easy.
The hoop you have to jump through is a lot wider than you
think. At least I’ve found it so. So did a friend of mine who
was a one-time vice-president of the American Atheist Society, but he got through with room to spare.”
This was me, in that I wouldn’t believe.  I wasn’t all about science, not at all, but I was severely disillusioned with my quasi-religious upbringing and I just thought God and the church were ridiculous.  I absolutely rejected this spiritual side of AA.  I stood and held hands at meeting, but I did not pray.
No one laughed, for which I am very grateful.  And thinking back, it seems to me it was the language of the books that finally cracked my door open just a little, just enough.
I try to maintain this attitude today with many issues.  I am very stubborn.  It is difficult.  But I have such a shining, such a drastic example of how this worked for me in my past.  I wonder if there are any more new lifes for me to begin.

Came to Believe (Step Two)

Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

The moment they read Step Two, most A.A. newcomers are confronted by a dilemma, sometimes a serious one.  How often have we heard them cry out, “Look what you people have done to us!  You have convinced us that we are alcoholics and that our lives are unmanageable.  Having reduced us to a state of absolute helplessness, you now declare that none but a Higher Power can remove our obsession.  Some of us won’t believe in God, others can’t, and still others who do believe that God exists have no faith whatever He will perform this miracle.  Yes, you’ve got us over a barrel, all right–but where do we go from here?”

I was extremely fortunate at the beginning of my AA experience that I saw with wisdom in the concept of making the group my higher power.  I cringe when I hear people say were told that a doorknob or a rock could substitute, in the beginning.  I have never heard this suggest nor condoned.  The group, I believe, is suggested as a collection of people who have solved their alcohol problem.  In that way, they were a power far, far greater than me.  I understood it and I accepted it.   I had turned away from the church in a big way and at first I didn’t pray with the people at meetings or pray at all.  Not until I was desperate.   Now it seems to me that the belief in a higher power is necessary for newcomers to stop thinking they know everything, and that they can run their own lives.  We show up at AA because we are desperate for help, then we refuse to accept the help offered because we can do it ourselves.  Such is often the dilemma of the chronic relapser, a group I belonged to for a long time.   So now, oldtimer that I am, having had the alcohol problem removed from my life, how do I let my higher power restore me to sanity?  I think of it in terms of other physical things that bind me and make me unhealthy and unhappy.  I stopped smoking ten years ago now after many many attempts and partial victories.  I battle food now in a way that really isn’t very sane.   I also have to record that my little corner of AA suffered yet another loss, though this time the gentleman was older than the aforementioned Shaums, and this time he was sick.  He died sober, a victory.  They show me I can hope for this, and that is amazing.

What Characteristics Does Your Higher Power Have?

From my Character Defects Page:

Betty

I am doing my second step : I am trying to figure out What charaterists my higher power does not have? If you please give feed back ? Thanks

I don’t understand your question. My higher power doesn’t have any character defects – my higher power is ideal. I, as a human being, have all character defects to one degree or another. Talk to the people in your meetings, and more will be revealed.

That is NOT what she asked. She asked about what CHARACTERISTICS her HP lacks or owns—sounds to me like she needs some help on how to determine what a Higher Power means to her. Got any pointers there? I’d love to know what advice you have too!

 

Now I doubt Betty is still reading.  The question was from over three years ago.  Anonymous probably isn’t still reading either, and I am sorry it takes me so long to approve and then answer questions.  Anyway . . .

Right after I read this question I went to a Big Book meeting and we read from page 53

When we became alcoholics . . . we had to fearlessly face the proposition that either God is everything or else He is nothing.  God either is, or He isn’t.  What was our choice to be?

Last night at my meeting, someone asked for the topic to be “fake it till you make it.”  Many people shared on their experiences faking a faith in a higher power until they actually developed one.  One common suggestion I’ve heard given to people who are having a hard time conceiving of God is to make a list of all the qualities you would want God to have, and let that serve as your description for now until your understanding grows and your description of God changes.

AA does not, to my knowledge, answer the age old human questions about God and why bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people.  It doesn’t even answer the question about why some of us get to sit at AA meetings and wonder these things while other people suffer and die, never having heard of AA or unable to “get” it.  Many people in AA find answers to their questions about God in a religion.  It’s my personal opinion that the crucial part of all this is the belief in a higher power, be it human or divine.

I was blessed in my early belief that the people and the program of AA had a solution to my problem, if only I could grasp it.  That was enough of a higher power to get me started.  The description of the higher power is left wonderfully vague and in that way practically anyone can find it.

But For the Grace of God (there go I)

IMG_0944But for the grace of God is a phrase that gives me trouble when it’s not used in the AA sense.  To use it when referring to some unfortunate person, and to mean that God’s grace has somehow favored me and spared me some misfortune or disability or tragedy or something, to me is just wrong.  I don’t know why bad things happen to good people, but they do.

 

In AA that it not what I believe it means, though we may use it to refer to someone who can’t get sober.

 

Grace is mentioned many times in the AA literature.  In the 12 & 12, grace banishes our deadly obsession (page 76), but we find that grace by achieving some humility.  Grace enables us to carry out God’s will (page 102).  Page 69 in the 12 & 12 may explain it best.

 

The moment we say, “No, never!” our minds close against the grace of God.

That’s the heart of the my understanding.  God’s grace is there for everyone, but some people can’t or won’t be open to it, and so can’t recover.  I was one of them for many years.  I wanted it, but I couldn’t be open to it.  I don’t think that God’s grace will leave me, but I know from the experience of others that I can turn my back on it and stop accepting it and relapse.  I can receive God’s grace, but only through work on my part.

 

(We) Agnostics

I’m just home from a meeting where the topic was “God’s will.”  It is the third step of AA that we turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand God.  It is the eleventh step of AA that we pray for the knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.

These are not easy concepts to grasp.  I know my understanding has changed through the years drastically.  I came to AA pretty much atheist, and it wasn’t good news to me that only a higher power was going to save me from my fatal condition.

But that was a long time ago.  Thankfully, immediately, I was able to understand the concept that the people and the program of AA were a power greater than I was, and I could go along.  Sort of.  But that’s another story.

Now to me, mostly, “God’s will” can be found by following the steps, still.  I think they contain the wisdom of the ages, and since I’ve been practicing them with varied success, but enough to stay sober for quite some time, they are the form I will stick with.  I still don’t think God is in the details.  I don’t think God cares what shoes I wear or what job I do.  I don’t think God chooses, moment by moment, who lives, who suffers, who dies, or who gets sober.  That’s not my understanding.

I’m pretty much comfortable with not knowing.  Every day we can easily see people who spout all kinds of hate and even physical harm in the name of God’s will.  If they are right, and I am wrong . . . I don’t know.  I guess the last laugh will be on me when I’m thrust down into eternal fire for being gay.

The not knowing, the agnostic aspect of it, is still with me.  I say it isn’t known and isn’t knowable.  I sit comfortably in AA by working the steps, having a guiding principle of kindness at least on a superficial level, and by sitting around church basements talking and listening about such things and trying to get deeper and better at it.

Pretty much, it is a wonderful life.

This All Meant, Of Course (Step Twelve continued)

This all meant, of course, that we were still far off balance.  When a job still looked like a mere means of getting money rather than an opportunity for service, when the acquisition of money for financial independence looked more important than a right dependence upon God, we were still the victims of unreasonable fears.  And these were fears which make a serene and useful existence, at any financial level, quite impossible.

Rarely do I experience a “this was meant for me to read it right now” moment, but this is one.

These were fears which make a serene and useful existence, at any financial level, quite impossible.

The nature of my job is that it happens, from time to time, that I worry about losing my job.  It is regulated my many entities and the regulations and regulators fill volumes.  My job is not protected or unionized in any way.  If I am wrongly fired, the most I will get is unemployment payments.  Another aspect of the nature of my job is that I work with fragile, fragile people.  The fragility and the regulations and rules all combine to give me many opportunities every single day to do the wrong thing.  And sometimes I do the wrong thing.

So it happens every few years, I think, that I worry about losing my job.  That is happening now to me.  And as usual I won’t know for some time how this particular situation will play out.  It is not unlike waiting for tests results in fact, it’s a lot like that.  Because all the while I know that while I’m focused on this, some other thing could be conspiring right now to bring me down.

Which it hasn’t.  Not yet.  Not one time that I worried, was I in danger.  And my worries are couched in the cushiest of human circumstances that anyone ever had.  It embarrasses me to list them.  But there they are.  If I lose my job I will not lose my – health insurance – marriage – children – home – pets – lifestyle – retirement – friends – sobriety – or anything else, really, but my job.

I love my job.  I’ve been at it for almost 14 years and the experience and relationships are irreplaceable and precious.  They are also not mine forever, but only for a time, and I don’t know how much time.

I have never looked at my job as a mere means of getting money.  It’s hard work and it doesn’t pay well at all, not compared to what it asks.  It has always been an opportunity for service and sometimes that service can be quite humble, like wiping someone’s butt.  Financial independence rather than a right dependence on God?  I have more of a problem with this one.  Financial independence is important, and I don’t know that I could be serene without it.  Depending on God is great, as far as it goes, but I know that as I write, people are starving to death for a lack of food, and that they could be me.

Am I missing something there?  I know that I have far, far, far more than I need or deserve.  I’m not really afraid of starving to death because of my circumstances, I think that I won’t ever starve to death.  I don’t feel special or blessed or chosen in that way, just lucky.

But back to me and my job.  The lesson I keep trying to learn better is that these times teach me I have only today.  Today I have the job.  These times help me appreciate, during the hard times at my job, that I have it and I love it all the more for having been afraid of losing it.  That keeps happening to me, and I’m glad.  I’m acquiring more serenity and appreciation as I get older and that is all good.  And all due to the program.

And I feel like a bit of a failure that my anxiety peaks so high on these occasions.  There’s something I’m missing.  I’m not done learning yet.