The disease of alcoholism and addiction shows up in our lives in the form of a voice in our heads. That voice is like a channel of discouragement that is hard to totally eliminate. The addictive voice doesn’t have to make any sense to be effective. Because it has been there so long, and because its messages are so consistently depressing, we come to accept it, just because it wears us down.
I have been amazed at how many of us come forth from a good 5th step and immediately say, “I sure have a lot to work on.” We climb to the sixth step and realize that we have nothing to work on, unless our Higher Power indicates such to us. The 6th step is counter-intuitive. I am eager to get working on my defects but my Higher Power is telling me to hold my horses until He gives the command, pointing out which shortcoming He wants to lengthen and what he wants from me.
Recently in my home group, thanks to a brother’s presentation on the 7th step, I had the awareness of how the Divine comes alive for us as we work through the steps. We come into the community and land on the first step spiritually bankrupt and, for all intents and purposes, functioning atheists. As we climb to the second step, we at least acknowledge our wrongdoing to this Divine Power. On the third step we decide to turn ourselves over to a Higher Power, but only to a caring God, a God who is there for us.
Many of us begin our recovery as “functional agnostics”. That is, we may say we believe in a Higher Power, but we function as if we were on our own. It would be convenient if our Higher Power would show up and do something miraculous so that we could believe. It’s easy to assume that God, if there is one, should give us a “white light experience” so that we can believe.
Sometimes that happens. AA's co-founder, Bill W. had just such a miraculous experience. He had a sudden, overwhelming encounter with God, and did not doubt again. AA's other co-founder, Dr. Bob, had the educational variety of religious experience, in which he learned about his Higher Power over a period of time. This slower form is by far the most common in recovery.
One way to research whether there is an active Higher Power in our lives, is to begin looking for coincidences in recovery. Each of them could, by itself, be just a coincidence. As they pile up, however, we begin to detect the possibility that a Higher Power is at work in our lives. That possibility is scary. We wonder what this "Higher Power" might be up to next. In our anxiety, we sometimes drop the experiment. But when we keep it up, the coincidences reveal the guidance of the God of our understanding.
In treatment, or at The Retreat, we notice the way the “roommate from hell” turns into a lifetime friend; the way the assigned lecture or reading turns out to have just what we needed when we needed it; the way the unavailable sober house bed comes open just at the right time. When I married Priscilla thirty-nine years ago, we were so different that the minister who did the wedding began by saying "I never thought you two would go through with this." Over the years we really discovered how similar our childhoods and original families were, and how much we have in common inside. Of course, this could be just a coincidence.
On our honeymoon, we went off to a lonely corner of the Atlanta Airport between the two flights to our Florida destination, to have some quiet time together. A woman came up to us to ask if it was safe to fly. We told her that we were on our honeymoon, and if we thought it wasn't safe, we wouldn't go. It turns out she was on the run from an abusive husband, and was terrified both of flying and of going back to him. By coincidence, she was booked on our flight, and we rode with her to Florida. I think her Higher Power wanted her to fly to safety.
On my last afternoon working on a men's unit at Hazelden, after my work was done, I met a new patient who was lamenting that no one understood him or what his life was like. By coincidence, he was from a town I knew well. The counseling center he had been attending was set up in memory of my brother-in-law, who died of the consequences of alcoholism. We had a fine talk, he felt understood, and then I went home. His higher power and mine had given both of us a lift. Of course, It could have been just a coincidence.
One of the great challenges for those still struggling with alcohol and drug dependency - and even for those in long-term recovery - is surrendering to a power greater than ourselves. Giving up the internal battle to control our own lives and letting someone else guide us to a path of sobriety can often feel like the hardest thing we have ever done. Until we do completely surrender, however, we will never fully know the joys that a sober life can bring. The process of surrendering our lives to a power greater than ourselves must first begin with the realization that alone, left to our own devises, we cannot solve this problem. For most of us this was a painful, lonely and at times embarrassing process to reach a point in our lives where we are truly humble and teachable. Our self-centered out of control ways drove us to a point of utter despair.
Yet, for the fortunate of us, this it what was required to reach a point of absolute surrender. We had exhausted all of our will to beat this disease and reclaim our lives. Throwing our hands up in defeat we were finally given the gift of receptivity. We are now ready and available to receive the guidance and support that will lead us to a happy, sober and meaningful life. Whether it be with an AA sponsor, professionals in the recovery field, a spiritual guide or fellow members in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) we find that we are no longer alone and that there are many, who have come before us, that can show us the way.
At the age of 23, after a nine-year battle with alcoholism and drug addiction that nearly killed me, two old-timers in AA plucked me out of my misery and put me on a one-way airline flight from Cincinnati Ohio to Minnesota. I knew when I got on that plane that there was no going back. I had burned all of my bridges. All of MY efforts to change my life resulted in more pain, more loss, more trouble. I was utterly powerless to stop drinking and using on my own and my life was a mess. I was terrified of what may lie ahead, but I was completely willing to let someone else direct the next steps of my life. I adopted a posture of a student, looking at everyone who came into my life as teachers who could show me a better way to live my life.
This willingness to go to any lengths led me to two months in treatment, eight months in a halfway house and a year and a half living in a sober house, surrounded by a community of fellow travelers who taught me how to live the spiritual program embodied in the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous in my day-to-day life. I was introduced to a “Program of Living”, a community of support and a spiritual connection that for the past thirty-nine years, one day at a time, has given me an opportunity to live a whole, meaningful and productive sober life. And all I have to do to keep it is stay sober, live the Twelve Steps in my day-to-day life, stay grateful and teachable and help others.