Should His Own Image Be Too Awful (Step Three continued)

Should his own image in the mirror be too awful to contemplate (and it usually is), he might first take a look at the results normal people are getting from self-suffciency. Everywhere he sees people filled with anger and fear, society breaking up into warring fragments. Each fragment says to the others, “We are right and you are wrong.” Every such pressure group, if it is strong enough, self-righteously imposes its will upon the rest. And everywhere the same thing is being done on an individual basis. The sum of all this mighty effort is less peace and less brotherhood than before. The philosophy of self-sufficiency is not paying off. Plainly enough, it is a bone-crushing juggernaut whose final achievement is ruin.

Last night I was at a meeting where we discussed, among other things, miracles.  While recovery is a miracle, we said, there is work involved, so are the results miraculous?

I think so.  Even though I’ve known this for a very long time, I’m still amazed that the program of AA packages the wisdom of the ages into a form I can USE IN MY LIFE to stay sober.  I’m a sober alcoholic, and that is a miracle.  It is so rare, I am so blessed.

Part of the reason I stay sober over decades is that I can take just about any part of the program and apply it to my life to help me live better.  Yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  I’ve written about this American election of 2016 and how it distresses me.  This happened eight years ago, and, to a lesser extent, four years ago.  It happens to me every time, whether my candidate wins or loses.  I’m distressed that there are people on the “other” side, the side I see as clearly wrong.  I wish I was one of the people who don’t care much about politics.  I harbor bad feelings about people on the other side.  Even if they are in AA.

AA is my closest family in that if I don’t keep it intact, I won’t have any other family by blood or choice or anything.  I have got to interact with other alcoholics in recovery so that we can both live, and politics does not play into it.  Yet once I know the political feelings of a person, AA or not, it changes my mind about that person, for the good or for the bad.

And then there, in the program, is my answer.  For me, today, with less than a week to go before this awful election, it states an ideal that I am so far from achieving I think it would take a miracle to change my mind that much.

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?

Suppose that Instinct Still Cries Out (Step Three continued)

But suppose that instinct still cries out, as it certainly will, “Yes, respecting alcohol, I guess I have to be dependent upon A.A., but in all other matters I must still maintain my independence. Nothing is going to turn me into a nonentity. If I keep on turning my life and my will over to the care of Something or Somebody else, what will become of me? I’ll look like the hole in the doughnut.” This, of course, is the process by which instinct and logic always seek to bolster egotism, and so frustrate spiritual development. The trouble is that this kind of thinking takes no real account of the facts. And the facts seem to be these: The more we become willing to depend upon a Higher Power, the more independent we actually are. Therefore dependence, as A.A. practices it, is really a means of gaining true independence of the spirit.

Let’s examine for a moment this idea of dependence at the level of everyday living. In this area it is startling to discover how dependent we really are, and how unconscious of that dependence. Every modern house has electric wiring carrying power and light to its interior. We are delighted with this dependence; our main hope is that nothing will ever cut off the supply of current. By so accepting our dependence upon this marvel of science, we find ourselves more independent personally. Not only are we more independent, we are even more comfortable and secure. Power flows just where it is needed. Silently and surely, electricity, that strange energy so few people understand, meets our simplest daily needs, and our most desperate ones, too. Ask the polio sufferer connected to an iron lung who depends with complete trust upon a motor to keep the breath of life in him.

Instinct and logic always seek to bolster egotism, and so frustrate spiritual development.

When I consider a character defect, or a way in which I think I should change, this is exactly what happens.  I’m grateful that I have the huge, miraculous example in my life of getting sober.  I can remember that instinct and logic fought my sobriety at every turn, and that it was an act of will to give up my will and do the program thing.  Now I try to apply that concept to my present difficulties which do not involve alcohol.

A list of things I’m dependent upon is long.  Along with electricity there is water, central heating, and all that goes into making food available to me since I could not feed and support myself without many complex systems and many varied people.  I depend on the police, firefighters, doctors, the list is really endless.  All this dependence makes me free to pursue things that don’t have to do with basic life support, like writing in a blog.  I also have the experience of working with people who have multiple, severe disabilities.  Some of them depend on others to give them a drink and for every movement they make.  My society at this time and place is incredibly supportive.

I had to depend on the program in order to stop drinking and live.  A crucial point of that was to understand that I couldn’t follow my own will any longer.  My own will was trying to kill me by driving me to drink.  My own personal logical experiments with drinking sanely did not work and nearly killed me.

Today, honestly, I’m dealing with a little bit of fear inspired by the current political situation.  My support of Hillary Clinton is making me a little bit of a target for some negativity and violence.  Instinct and logic are telling me, at the extreme, to move, and start my life over again as someone who doesn’t particularly care who gets to be president.   It is a complete and total coincidence that the portion of the 12 and 12 I was set to write about today addresses just this dilemma.  Spiritual development, here I come!

 

 

This Step Looks Hard (Step Three continued)

To every worldly and practical-minded beginner, this Step looks hard, even impossible. No matter how much one wishes to try, exactly how can he turn his own will and his own life over to the care of whatever God he thinks there is? Fortunately, we who have tried it, and with equal misgivings, can testify that anyone, anyone at all, can begin to do it. We can further add that a beginning, even the smallest, is all that is needed. Once we have placed the key of willingness in the lock and have the door ever so slightly open, we find that we can always open it some more. Though self-will may slam it shut again, as it frequently does, it will always respond the moment we again pick up the key of willingness.

I remember being comforted by the thought that all I had to be was willing.  I still am comforted by that.

Step Three calls for affirmative action (Step Three continued)

Like all the remaining Steps, Step Three calls for affirmative action, for it is only by action that we can cut away the self-will which has always blocked the entry of God— or, if you like, a Higher Power—into our lives. Faith, to be sure, is necessary, but faith alone can avail nothing. We can have faith, yet keep God out of our lives. Therefore our problem now becomes just how and by what specific means shall we be able to let Him in? Step Three represents our first attempt to do this. In fact, the effectiveness of the whole A.A. program will rest upon how well and earnestly we have tried to come to “a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”

This may be why for me, the whole AA program was not effective and I drank again and again and again in AA.  Because I did have faith.  I believed that the program worked for those people who said it worked for them.  But when it came to actually turning my will and my life over, I didn’t do it well enough or completely enough to stay sober.

I think it’s a fairly simple proposition.  What it means to “turn it over” in this context is to work the rest of the steps.  I had to also follow suggestions well enough to get some sober time.  I had to go to meetings, I had to call people before I drank, things like that.  But my own mind would change sufficiently until I put a concerted effort into all of the steps.  That’s what “turning it over” means to me.

Made a Decision (Step Three)

Step Three

“Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”

PRACTICING Step Three is like the opening of a door which to all appearances is still closed and locked. All we need is a key, and the decision to swing the door open. There is only one key, and it is called willingness. Once unlocked by willingness, the door opens almost of itself, and looking through it, we shall see a pathway beside which is an inscription. It reads: “This is the way to a faith that works.” In the first two Steps we were engaged in reflection. We saw that we were powerless over alcohol, but we also perceived that faith of some kind, if only in A.A. itself, is possible to anyone. These conclusions did not require action; they required only acceptance.

“This is the way.”  What is the way?  The Steps are the way.

How much willingness?  I think it takes a lot of willingness.  Maybe just a tiny bit to begin, but for me not having a huge amount of willingness results in failure.  It did when I was “trying” to stop drinking.  A little willingness kept me going back to AA, it kept most of my attempts to resist the urge to drink successful, but not all.  Eventually I would give in and drink.  I don’t think I became truly willing until I perceived that I had to sober up or die.

Now.  I believe that these principles have the power to transform my life still, if I would follow them.  I love being associated with this program.  I love working with these words and thoughts over the long haul of my fortunately-long life.  I am going to ask myself, when I set out to knowing do the wrong thing, if I’m willing to turn my will and my life over.  Either to a supreme, super natural being or to the good direction that I know brings results, or both.

Step Three

Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

Before I begin to look at the text, my general impressions and basic understanding.

An important part of the step is making a decision.  Not “turned our will and lives over,” but rather made a decision to do so.  The actual turning over, I’m pretty sure, can never be complete, not even for someone who dedicates his or her life to God in some kind of religious vocation and life.  Even the decision needs to be made again and again, as I realize I have taken my will and my life back, and am doing something contrary to what I know is right.

It can seem mysterious and complicated, but in a nutshell I think it means working the rest of the steps, and then all of the steps again and again for the rest of my life.  The steps show me God’s will for me.  Or, if there is no superior being, the steps show me the right way to think and act and live so that I, as an alcoholic, so not have to drink.

I need to consciously consider each step purposefully over and over again through the years and decades.  I know that other people who have long term sobriety do it differently, but this is what has worked for me.  As I consider each part of each one my understanding grows and I find additional ways to put the steps into practice.  This is one of the ways that AA stays relevant and fresh for me after more than three decades of sobriety.

Today, I often do what I know to be wrong.  I speed.  I eat foods that damage my health.  I fail to exercise.  My house isn’t as clean as it should be.  I don’t walk the dog as often as she deserves.  I slip something into the garbage that I should recycle.  I don’t answer the phone, or make a call I should make.

All of these examples and many more are evidence to me that I haven’t turned my will and my life over.  The wrong actions may take only a small part of my day, but they are there.  Just because I’ll never be perfect, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t strive toward perfection.  I hope that my coming reading and writing about the third step brings me just a fraction farther down that road.

Turning it Over

Recently I read something that said, sort of, that “turning it over” is working steps four through twelve.  I really need to think about that more deeply.

Usually what I mean by “turning it over” is that I’ll stop trying to influence an outcome, maybe by arguing a point or presenting more evidence.  Or that I’ll mentally try to stop rebelling against some awful truth that I can’t accept.

But I really like this new definition much better.  My will and my life are not momentary, specific things.  My will is constant and so is my life.  I guess I try to live in accordance with what I think a higher power wants.  Many good habits are deeply ingrained in me (and many bad ones as well).  And the “work” I do on myself as I strive to get better goes on purposefully and also unconsciously.

But that all seems so nebulous.  Inventory, amends, prayer and good works – maybe it is the doing of these things that is the act of turning it over.

Self-Will

The alcoholic is an extreme example of self-will run riot, though he usually doesn’t think so.

The text goes on to say that we need to get rid of selfishness, of self, or it will kill us.

This is painfully obvious to me, as it relates to drinking.  No question I was not going to live much longer the way I was drinking.  That’s an extreme example of selfishness, in that everything and everyone fell by the wayside and came second to what I wanted, which was to drink.

This seems as good a place as any to mention a sort of debate I’ve been having with Antonahill.  This person has commented on my assertions that AA is not a cult.  The discussion has gotten too convoluted and difficult for me to follow, with Anton quoting me and me quoting Anton.  Our discussion travel over several posts and I have printed all of Anton’s comments in full.  I just find I can’t really answer them anymore and make any sense, though I can address ideas one at a time.

Somewhere in there Anton asks if I hadn’t been exposed to the ideals of AA before.  Ideals like honesty, hard work, and taking care of others.  I was very young when I got sober, but of course I had been exposed to those ideals since I was born.  Part of the magic of AA, for me, is that it gave me a concrete way and unlimited support to actually progress in my ability to live those ideals.  If I had been able to do it alone, believe me, I would have.

I started to write this post with the Big Book quote, then I saved it as I was going to a meeting.  At the meeting they read this very paragraph and talked about it for an hour.  They talked about prerequisites for taking the Third Step and formally opening the door to giving up my own will to a higher power.  Somewhere in the cult posts, Anton asserts that saying I am powerless is ridiculous.

I picture a tantruming toddler who has been put in her crib.  She is powerless to get out of the crib or to bend circumstances or people to her will.  She has the power to rant and cry and hurt herself and possibly some property.  But really she is powerless over the conditions that set her off in the first place.

While I tried to have power over alcohol, I was powerless to make any kind of change for the better, to manage my life or to do anything other than race toward death.  My will, the will of an active alcoholic, was killing me.  I had to give it up to live.

Now I’m a bit farther down the road.  I don’t will my own destruction any longer.  But have I really reached the place where I want to be good just because it is good to be good?

My self-will battles with God’s will when I try to lose weight.  The battle continues when I know that I must love someone, or forgive someone, or do something for someone that I don’t want to do.  I can be stubborn to my own detriment and to the detriment of others.  My self-will won’t let me easily erase lines I’ve drawn in the sand, or opinions I’ve formed and that I use to judge other people.

The leap from wanting and needing to drink to wanting and needing sobriety was a huge and profound change for me.  The other changes are not so profound nor are they as long-lasting or as complete as that change was.  I think that each time I knowingly act on my character defects, my self-will is, if not running riot, at least disturbing the peace quite a bit.

My First Fourth and Fifth Steps (my story continued)

To reiterate:  I know that I am beyond lucky to have made it this far.  When there are parts of the program of AA that I have worked imperfectly or incompletely, I record that with a knowledge that I’m just lucky I made it at all.  Every day people die from this, they really do.  I would never suggest that anyone skip or skimp on anything.

To recap:  I had gone to my first AA meeting just before my 17th birthday.  I had gotten sober finally just before my 22nd birthday.  I quickly got married, had two children and moved very far away from my  home and family.  I moved several times, and I kept attending meetings wherever I moved.  When I was 26 and 27 years old, during the time I was pregnant with my second child and after he was born, my ex lost his job and hopes of being able to move back home were slim.  I developed a fear of flying over the years as well as a fear of my house flooding and a fear of death.  None of these crippled me, but they sure did make life difficult.

What comes next is a very important part of my story, and a key to my success.  All those outside factors (where I lived, my ex’s lack of job, having a toddler and a baby) amounted to severe psychological pressure for me.  What I decided to do in response it to work the program.  I am so very grateful and glad that’s what I did.

I had attended meetings for ten years at that time, and I had been sober for four years.  I hadn’t done a fourth or fifth step.

I backed up, and I took time to really read and think about Steps One, Two and Three.  Having been around the program and relapsing for so long, switching sponsors, moving and whatnot, no one had been overseeing my steps and I just hadn’t done them.  Today I know that nothing but luck kept me sober.  I would never recommend anyone do it the way I did.

So I read and thought about the first three steps, and thought about it until I could say a whole-hearted yes to them.  Then I set about doing a formal fourth step.  Next time I write about my story, I need to record what happened with my religion during that time.