The Big Book, 12 x 12, sponsors, meetings and the working history of AA used as a template — it had come to seem repetitive and endless to me.
I have been in AA, in recovery, for decades. I’ve worked the program. I’ve gone through in-patient treatment four times. There are at least five 5th steps in my past. But after many years, something was clearly still missing — something essential. I was troubled and relapse stalked me. My life, inside & out, was both unmanageable and painful.
I asked Dick Rice, at that time the Retreat spiritual advisor, if he would visit with me. He very generously suggested we meet once a week to simply talk and reflect. After perhaps five sessions I told him I was working on a fourth step and hoped perhaps to do a 5th with him at some point.
To my great surprise, he smiled and said, “Why don’t we do one right now?” Unable to say “No” yet very, very nervous, I froze for a moment. The room became quiet for a minute. A really loud kind of quiet! Then I started to talk. I didn’t have time to think so it was spontaneous, solely from the heart and emotional. Time passed quickly and I soon found myself walking out to my car.
As I reassembled myself after this unconventional step, I actually felt a touch of confusion, disappointment. Had I been treated too casually? Had I missed out on being comprehensive ? These feelings stayed with me for quite a while. But I also kept reliving the emotional experience of that hour. I continued to feel it strongly.
With no time to rationalize or minimize, my sharing had been raw and unedited. And I had felt far more than I had spoken. My emotional shadows had found a candle, a bit of light. A rougher inner truth was peeking out. I began to be uncomfortably honest with myself. My fictions retreated and left painful conclusions. But now it all felt necessary and productive. Slowly the light grew brighter, it still grows.
That iconoclastic 5th step changed my life. I came to value it greatly. It gave me permission to be (mildly) a recovery rebel — to reject any set formula and to reject my own spin. My entire sense of finding sobriety began to change. Definitions shifted, purpose clarified. The 12 steps gained a patina of warmth and reassurance.
Here is what I came to understand and to believe in: There is no dogma in the Big Book. When it is in my hands it is mine, mine to interpret, value and embrace.
My program is uniquely mine. It is not a job or an obligation. It deserves no apprehension. The 12 steps, for me, ceased to be homework or even, necessarily, hard work. The Big Book is not a challenge, it is an expression of caring. It is a promise of endless possibilities. The 12 steps came to be far less about drinking and far more about living. Living as an alternative to addiction became life as a cure for my alcoholism.
Wow! What a storm that caused in my perceptions. I quit the carpentry of “working” the steps but kept the knee-pads! As I continued to re-absorb the Big Book, I came to see that my thoughts and feelings were the engine of my relapses. My discomfort and pain, my “otherness” kept my need to medicate alive. I came to realize that how I lived was the chief source of the power of my disease. My real affliction had become my misshapen reaction to life. And the Big Book gave me antidotes:
- Quit fighting anyone or anything
- Love and tolerance as a code
- Anger is for others
- Resentments are fatal
- Acceptance is the answer to all my problems
As I tried to live the philosophy of these five notions, my cravings eased and my obsessions slipped away. I failed daily at weaving these changes into my life, but even the ongoing awareness, the desire to try, gave me a newer energy. A sense of relief became common.
Finally, I realized that practicing acceptance was the sum of the other four. In the end, acceptance, for me, became the definition of belief in a higher power. It is also the much-needed practice of trust in that higher power. My prayers soon reflected that.
For me, Dick Rice bent the equation of the program just enough to allow me to re-envision my recovery. My program had to be uniquely my own. The Big Book ceased being abstract and Bill lost his iconic status. He became a tortured, late stage chronic alcoholic who was reaching out and trying to help me. I came to feel it as caring, nurturing, sharing and love. Love and tolerance. My heart had been touched and was healing, if even a tiny little bit, day by day.
My brief time with Dick Rice showed me an unseen horizon — the freedom to find my sobriety, the certainty that I deserved to be sober and a growing trust in my higher power. I’m still raw, flawed and floundering., but wherever I am at any point in time, I feel blessed that my Recovery, whether wounded or wondrous, is from the Heart. It became what I want. It has become something more than just what I need.
I like to think that Dick was inspired on my behalf, as he has been for so many others. I am truly fortunate and thankful. There are days now I can practice, with my little pot of gratitude, to paint the landscape around me with colors and light, and know I am blessed.