When I walked into my first Al-Anon meeting fourteen years ago, life as I knew it was over. I didn’t understand that at the time, and I continued to fight desperately against that reality for quite some time. But, still, it was over. The gift of the 12 Steps of Al-Anon is that the life I have today is SO much better than the life I had planned, and the life I thought I should and could have, if only I fought a little harder, and a little longer.
“A little harder, and a little longer” turned into a lot harder and a lot longer when the disease of alcoholism swept through my family. No matter how hard I tried to keep our family from falling apart, my efforts failed. Yet, even as my world seemingly collapsed around me, I just kept fighting. My head spun and my thinking moved into panic mode. The panic was fueled by the wrong belief that if I were in fact a worthy human being, I would find a way to save us from this disease. With my self-worth on the line, I didn’t just WANT to fix this problem; I absolutely HAD to fix it, even at the cost of my own sanity.
Thanks to the Al-Anon program, I now recognize that I get to live the life I have, not the one I want or planned. I can see the insanity of thinking that I should be so powerful that all I have to do is try harder in order to determine the outcome of a disease as powerful as alcoholism. It’s bigger than the alcoholic, and it’s bigger than me.
Steps One, Two and Three elucidated the simple illogic of my thinking. And, when I was ready (let me emphasize, when I was ready), Steps One, Two and Three led to a profound and permanent shift in how I view myself in relation to others, to the world around me, and to my Higher Power. The 12 Steps guided me to a spiritual peace I never thought possible.
Today, I use three images to maintain the perspective of Steps One, Two and Three.
Step One. I’m standing in the middle of a river, knee deep in the water. I see a point up the river where I think I should be, and if only I could get there, everything would be okay. At least, everything that really mattered would be okay. As I start heading up river, and with life being what it is, the water starts getting deeper, and the current starts getting stronger. Now it’s so deep, and the current is so strong, I am swimming with all my might and becoming thoroughly exhausted. But I keep fighting the river because I just don’t know any other way to get there and I think I HAVE to get there. Finally, I am so exhausted, and so close to drowning, I admit my defeat. I admit that I am powerless over this river and that my life has become unmanageable. And, frankly, I am terrified by this admission.
Step Two. It is only after admitting my defeat that I poke my head up out of the water to look around. On the shore, I notice there are people who have gotten out of the water, who are NOT up the river where I think we need to be, and, they are okay. In fact, they seem happy! By and large, they are not any more or less capable than me, so I conclude that there must be a power greater than ourselves that can restore us to sanity. Of course, the people on the shore of the river were really the people in the rooms of Al-Anon. It was only after I truly admitted my defeat that was able to see that many others in my home meeting had in fact found solutions that allowed them to enjoy life again. There was hope!
Step Three. In Step 3, when I make the decision to turn my will and my life over to the care of God, as I understand Him, I get on my back, and I float. What a relief it is to give up the unwinnable fight and float with the river. Now, at this point in my recovery, I was SO exhausted, all I could do was float for some period of time. I relied very heavily on my Al-Anon sponsor, my home meeting, the literature and the fellowship in general, for support during this difficult period. But, Step Three does not tell me that all I have to do is float wherever the river takes me. I still need to steer myself out of the river when I can. What it tells me is that I don’t get to determine exactly where I will come ashore, but that when I get there, my Higher Power will be there with me, and I will be okay. Today, when I turn my will and my life over to the care of God, I am grateful for the relief. I have long known that the greatest stress in life comes from feeling responsible for things over which I have no control. I just didn’t realize how many things, people and outcomes that encompasses!