Alcoholism creates a gladiator pit where the will and ego do battle against the unpredictable forces of life, fate, and human interaction. Bloodied and battered the will and the ego drag themselves up from the sand and launch more futile assaults to wrest control of the alcoholic’s existence. The masked and shielded victors cut them down again. To this day my will is so formidable, and takes great convincing that it needs to fall to its knees. It always has an answer. It always envisions victory.
So long as I remember that there is One who has all power, I do not thrash around any more than necessary. I came here seeking power, because I had none. The Power I found here could do much more than relieve the insanity of my alcoholism. If I surrender completely to this Power, then something remarkable happens: my will is busy practicing the skills and abilities given to me in this life, while a larger, omniscient presence guides those skills and abilities to their highest good, their optimal use. When I give myself over to the Power, I become a living expression of love. All Power becomes mine.
Alcoholism and addiction destroy and distort many relationships. Even after we achieve sobriety and try to maintain it, there can be new damage done within families and between friends and acquaintances. It is not easy to find a bridge toward someone we have distanced. There is very little that counts as black or white in human relations. Nearly everything is complex and nuanced, layers of meaning wrapped around guarded fears and hidden truths.
Before I had AA, I had no way to apologize. I never knew how. It also never seemed to be worth the risk of being shamed, diminished, and weakened. I also grew up with the impression that other people’s opinions of me were very important, that I had an image to uphold. In stark contrast to this, AA taught me that what other people thought of me was “none of my business.” As time has gone by, I have looked at this statement with more discernment. It is not my job to get everyone to like me, or to be distraught if they don’t. That part is none of my business. But when I encounter hostility or criticism, I do need to look for any truth that may lay in the rubble. I need to take what is valid and disregard the rest.
AA has taught me that great things can be achieved when I am willing to give up my self-importance and my desire to control others. It has taught me that there is no danger in risking another’s rebuke or rejection. I have learned the peace that comes with knowing I have tried the best I can to reach out. I have relationships that remain a frozen, barren landscape. I do not know if the ice will ever melt, if the ground beneath our feet will once again be a lake on which we sail our boats together. But unless I cross the ice, I will never give it a chance.
At some point in my sobriety I learned that maintaining serenity would require moderating the ups and downs of my emotions. The old timers told me that controlling my excitement and over-elation would automatically lead to fewer emotional valleys. At first this seemed inherently wrong, like artificially dampening my normal enthusiasm. But there was nothing “normal” about my emotions. They were all over the map and capable of ambushing me from left and right at the worst possible times. AA offered me some tools to start getting emotionally grounded. One of them was the phrase “this too shall pass.” I learned to say these words to myself when Snoopy was doing his dance in my head because of some good news or accolade that had come my way. By telling my self “this too shall pass,” I was not killing my own buzz, I was simply cautioning myself, “easy does it.” Once I associated the manic highs with the painful crashes that inevitably followed, it was easier to tame the over-excitement. When the lows came, I would whisper to myself all the encouragement I had learned in the Program: “this too shall pass,” “progress not perfection,” and “one day at a time.” All these forms of self-care have become easier over time. When I recall how fragile my emotional state was during active alcoholism and early recovery, I think of being a “candle in the wind”. But I have kept coming back to AA, and that has given me the opportunity to stay strong and centered.
I’m getting better at expressing my feelings. I still work to consider them valid, or just as genuine as the feelings of others. In the past I would look to others and then try to emulate their feelings, even when they were contrary to my own. Today, I try for more honesty when it comes to my feelings – emotional honesty is so much more complex and difficult than “pocketbook” honesty. Telling another that I disagree with them is not so frightening as it once was. I am – I am important to me, I am a legitimate person with valid feelings – I am.
I am also responsible for my expressing my feelings. I am responsible for what comes out of my mouth. I am responsible for my behavior, as the result of my feelings. I don’t have to react to every feeling I have, I can just feel it, release it and get on with my recovery. I used to be driven by my feelings, and much of those feelings were anger based – as I lived a life of being a victim, therefore justifying those angry feelings. I am responsible for me. “The most beneficial act we can perform is to be true to ourselves, and let others take responsibility for themselves.” Taking responsibility for myself is a big step forward, away from trying to take care of the whole World, and towards simply taking care of me.
For Newcomers who may nervously and reluctantly enter the door of their first AA meeting, hearing themselves applauded and acknowledged as “the most important person in the room” can seem very ironic and maybe even manipulative. It takes them a long time to learn the truth – that they are extremely important, not because they desperately need to get sober, but because we need them in order to stay sober. Even that can sound a little vampire-like. But it really has to do with the fact that Newcomers help us remember how it felt to pry ourselves away from the grip of unmanageability. If we allow ourselves to forget, then we will slip out the same door we entered, maybe never finding our way back. As the Newcomer struggles with understanding what has happened, how he has come to this point, and what lies ahead for him, we light the way for him. In doing so, we teach ourselves again and again how it works, what must be done, how to help, how to give back. We sound the trumpets and herald his entrance. We bow and greet him. He is the messenger who has traveled across the battlefield to find us. He is the agent of our continued reprieve.
Most of the time, I am comfortable everywhere I go. But when I am feeling “squirrelly” (as a dear friend in the Program calls it), there is only one place I am truly comfortable, and that is at a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. Meetings are the one place I can walk in, regardless of my state of mind, and not worry about how I will be perceived or whether I am explaining my discomfort in a socially acceptable way. I can sit in that chair (or slump in it, depending on the day) and just let the place work its magic on me. I will sit and listen, and soon I will hear myself taking deep breaths. Eventually I will feel my head nodding in response to something I have heard. I will hear myself greet people, thank them, clap for them. Finally, I will hear everyone’s laughter, including my own. Without really articulating it, I will have a deep understanding that (a) I remember (again) what to do about my problems and (b) everything’s going to be alright.
It can get gloomy and foggy in my town. When it goes on for weeks like that, people smile less and seem more weary. When the sun finally does comes out, there is a happiness that washes over people, they relax and laugh again, they soak in the warmth and behold the beauty that the light brings. Page 66 of the Big Book states that harboring resentments causes us to “shut ourselves off from the sunlight of the Spirit.” Sunlight is a great metaphor for the peace, joy, relaxation, confidence and appreciation that come from a close connection with my Higher Power. When I stop relying entirely on my overly analytical brain, when I trust my Higher Power to show me the right thing to do or say at the right time, I stop struggling and spinning my wheels. I make fewer mistakes and fewer enemies. I stop burning bridges. I stop my dark imaginings. That spiritual sunlight is there anytime I am willing to turn toward it. Even on the coldest day, if I close my eyes and imagine the radiance of a Higher Power shining on me, I actually, physically, feel the warmth. The more I turn my heart toward this Spirit, the more calmly and intelligently I handle all the challenges that life brings. The sun is life giving. The sunlight of the Spirit is peace giving. I want a life bathed in light, a life lived in grace.