October 11, 2015 (this day)

IMG_0225I was part of a “higher power” discussion last night with a young man who is hesitant to do the steps because he is an atheist.  As he talked about the difficulty with finding a higher power as an atheist, he mentioned yoga, which I understand is a mental, physical, and spiritual practice, much like AA is a mental, physical, and spiritual recovery from active alcoholism and alcoholic drinking.  I don’t know much about yoga, but I wonder if it can “restore me to sanity.”  Do I need some semblance of sanity to practice it to begin with?  Do I need that to practice AA?

I’m in danger of twirling in a complicated mental circle.  Like I said last night and like I’ve said here, I don’t know if there is a supernatural or supreme being.  I don’t need to know to be successful in AA.  Our books suggest making AA or the group our higher power at first.  Here is a group of people who have solved the drinking problem, certainly a power greater than me.  That worked for me at first, and it works for me now.  I don’t mean the specific people who gathered at the group with me last night, although the same young man had a question about how to treat his sister.  All of the people within earshot voiced their opinion and agreed that he should not give her money.  I mean all of the people of AA from the beginning until now, and the program as it is written in the books and practiced by the people I come in contact with.  It is a power greater than me.  It is a plan for how to live and it is concrete, immediate, free and sane help with the specific details of my specific existence, here and now.

I don’t believe our young man should make a sponsor or a person his higher power.  Individuals are famously and sometimes tragically fallible.  But the program, its history, its present and its people are a higher enough power for me.  Personally, I can’t completely identify with someone who claims to be 100% atheist because I’m just never that sure of anything.  I can’t understand how those people don’t have a tiny doubt, but that doesn’t matter.  A power greater than them can restore them to sanity, and it can save them from an alcoholic existence and an alcoholic death.

The Intellectually Self-Sufficient Man or Woman (Step Two continued)

Now we come to another kind of problem:  the intellectually self-sufficient man or woman.  To these, many A.A.’s can say, “Yes, we were like you–far too smart for our own good.  We loved to have people call us precocious.  We used our education to blow ourselves up into prideful balloons, though we were careful to hide this from others.  Secretly, we felt we could float above the rest of the folks on our brainpower alone.  Scientific progress told us there was nothing man couldn’t do.  Knowledge was all-powerful.  Intellect could conquer nature.  Since we were brighter than most folks (so we thought), the spoils of victory would be ours for the thinking.  The god of intellect displaced the God of our fathers.  But again John Barleycorn had other ideas.  We who had won so handsomely in a walk turned into all-time losers.  We saw that we had to reconsider or die.  We found many in A.A. who once thought as we did.  They helped us get down to our right size.  By their example they showed us that humility and intellect could be compatible, provided we placed humility first.  When we began to do that, we received the gift of faith, and faith which works.  This faith is for you, too.”

This section gives me goosebumps.  “Reconsider, or die.”  It sounds melodramatic until I put names to the concept.  Today I’ll add Kelly.  We talked to her mother last night.

I think I came a generation after the “God of my fathers” had already been displaced.  My parents were and are decidedly not religious and of unknown but not obvious spirituality.  My grandparents likewise were not religious or obviously spiritual, though my grandmother was very superstitious.  My Catholic great grandmother warned all and sundry who attended my father’s wedding in a Lutheran church that God would strike them dead.  They attended anyway, apparently unfazed, and many have died but some still live 55 years later.  Such was my upbringing and, as far as it goes, being smart was viewed as a good thing in family, and it still is.    The idea I try to impress on the young people in my turn is that smarts is a gift, something unearned and that, as the passage says, humility has to come first if a smart one is to lead a happy life.

“The spoils of victory” weren’t mine for the thinking.  I could not think my way out of my alcoholic drinking.  I tried, to some extent.  I read about alcoholism, things like that, but I did so while and drinking and the happy result for me is that I concluded I needed help.  The psychological help offered by my school and by the therapists my mother sent me to never seemed like any kind of solution at all.  The people in AA said they understood, and I believed them.  They said they were sober and happy, and I believed them.  In terrible desperation, the times when I fought to stop drinking, there was something in my that cried out to “God” but the people and the program were, to me, a much more understandable, provable, tangible higher power.  And it took some time of just refraining from drinking for me to move beyond that.  I was such a case that I couldn’t stop, and I couldn’t think very much or very well while under the influence.

So, they showed me that humility and intellect could be compatible?  Yes.  Some have showed me this by example.  Certainly it is true for me that when I placed humility first, by admitting that the people of AA had a solution to my problem that I did not have, I was able to receive the gift of a faith that works.

But personally I find, sometimes, and anti-intellectual prejudice in AA (and elsewhere in the country, in the world) and I try to speak out about it every time I see it.  Yes, as this passage illuminates, you can be “too smart” for AA, if you can’t summon up enough humility to follow suggestions, stop drinking and work the program.  Reconsider or die.  But I think you can be too stupid for AA as well.  And by that I don’t mean having a low IQ.  It’s true for me that I need to still put some intellectual effort behind my participation in AA or I’ll get numb and bored and, for me, I think that could be dangerous and possibly result in my drinking eventually.  “A simple program for complicated people . . . ”  Well, it’s really not all that simple.  Which to me is a good thing.  I’m a complicated person (and I don’t mean that in a good way) and I need complications to engage me.  Or at least I enjoy having complications that engage me.  It’s worked for me so far.

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%.

Advanced Humility

Still, however, God continued with my spiritual growth. He showed me, as F. B.
Meyer suggests, that even while I sang His praises, I was inclined to admire my own
singing. He showed me that, while my face shone with a new light, I was noting that
fact in the mirror. He showed me that, in my most earnest appeals to come to Christ,
I was greatly admiring my own earnestness. He showed me that I was proud even of
my new humility and that I congratulated myself on the knowledge of divine things
which other men might not possess.
Carole and I are reading “I Was a Pagan” by V.C. Kitchen.  This was published in 1934 and it describes well some of the Oxford Group philosophy that helped form AA.  Honestly, there are phrases and concepts that leap off the page at us as being extremely familiar, they are so similar to what we find in the Big Book and the 12 and 12.  This book I do recommend that others read, though I have to say I don’t think I could read it nearly as well alone as I do with someone.  If I didn’t have Carole to read these things with, I would probably look to form some kind of meeting to do it, and I would probably run into problems with “unapproved” literature, but she’s here so I’m not facing that.  But that’s a topic for a different post.
We are almost to the end of the book and yesterday we read the passage quoted above, and it smacked us both in the face for its truth and humor.  The book IS Christian, and AA is NOT Christian, so readers will have to be able to get past the C-word in order to profit from the book.  My personal translation of “come to Christ” would be something like “follow the will of my Higher Power.”  So ” . . . my higher power showed me . . . that, even while I sang the praises of God (my higher power), I was inclined to admire my own singing.  God showed me that, while my face shown in a new light, I was noting that fact in the mirror.  God showed me that, in my most honest appeals to know and follow God’s will for me, I was greatly admiring my own earnestness.  God showed me that I was proud even of my new humility and that I congratulated myself on the knowledge of things which others might not possess.”
I just ran this past Carole and asked her what it meant to her, and she said something like, “It shows me where I still need to grow.”  Something like that.  I read it and know I’m looking right at something vitally important to my continued growth, but I’m left feeling a little bit disheartened that I don’t think I’ll ever advance in this way.  I can’t imagine getting to a place where I don’t note that I’ve made progress, if I have, where I don’t admire my own earnestness.
I work with people who have developmental disabilities, and the needs are endless and profound.  There is a young woman I’m trying to help right now, and while it is my job to help her I’m doing more than my job calls for, because I want to and I can.  I’m regularly getting praise for this and the occasional satisfaction of actually getting something accomplished, plus a measure of hope goes along with the situation that I can really change something by the force of my efforts for this person, and I find the hope reinforcing as well.  That’s all well and good.  What I’m trying to describe and maybe bring to light is the positive emotion it all engenders in me.  I cannot understand, at the base of it, if it’s wrong for me to get pleasure out of the praise, the internal satisfaction, the feeling that I really helped change something for the better.
I’m not suffering in the helping.  It does bring me closer to a bad situation than I want to be, but I’m not made to visit her awful environment. I give up a small amount of time and no amount of money or material goods.  Sure many people in my place wouldn’t do what I’m doing, but I know they probably do other good things.  I’m not better than most of them.  I say most of them because I’ve known some bad people but not many.  I think I need to think about more and come back to it.  There seems to be some kind of root of humility that I don’t understand.

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.

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.