Everyday we make hundreds of decisions – choices. In fact, according to various sources on the internet we make an average of 35,000 decisions EVERY Day; over 276 involve food. Not all require a grand analysis. Many are routine like brushing your teeth or taking a shower. These simple choices have become so automatic they require little, if any thought, for most. Others, like deciding which is the fastest way to get to work, or where you would like to take your next vacation, require some analysis, planning, and weighing of pros and cons.
When it comes to recovery, the road map for many recovering alcoholics and drug addicts is laid out in the first 164 pages of the AA big book. There are 12 steps to follow.
Like many important decisions it wise to seek counsel and/or feed back from someone with experience regarding the choices and actions that need to be made. In AA that counselor is called a sponsor. A sponsor in AA is someone to guide your through the 12- step program of recovery. Yet even with resources and support at our side, many stubbornly declare, “I can do it on my own.” My response is, yeah you could, we have have the freedom of choice, but the odds are slim to nil that you will stay sober if you don’t seek help, not only from a sponsor, but also from a higher power.
As it says in the preamble of the Big book, Chapter 5 “How it Works”:
“Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves…”
In recovery, being honest can be the difference between life or death. Can I be blunt? If you want to get sober, follow and work the steps,preferably with a sponsor. Don’t bullshit yourself thinking you can do it alone. Half measures will avail you nothing.
In my previous two blogs of this series, I discussed steps one and two:
1-Admitted we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable.
2-Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Now, I address step three:
3-Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
What does this mean “a God of my understanding?” It means a power greater than yourself. Something that is not a derivative of your self will.
Why not be more specific? Because the founders of AA wanted to be as all encompassing as they possibly could with respect to varied religious and spiritual leanings. One thing they found to be true was that lasting sobriety required reliance upon a “power grater than ourselves.” In the Big Book they devoted several chapters to a deeper explanation of this topic.
How does one do this in AA? That is, how do you make a decision to turn your will and life over to something can’t see? That is a fair question and one I struggled with in early recovery.
In my memoir, Beyond Recovery: A Journey of Grace , Love and Forgiveness
I talk about the fear I had at my first meeting. During the reading of the steps I heard the word God and it scared me. I didn’t really have any frame of reference or reason to fear it, yet my own conception of what I thought it meant was enough to scare me away and back to the bottle.
Eventually I found my way home, back to the rooms that eventually became an integral part of saving my life.
It’s funny but it’s also sad how much we fear things we really don’t fully understand. In the early days of recovery there was an old-timer named Maxine who used to say for the benefit of the newcomers in the room, “If the word God frightens you, a bottle of booze will frighten you right back.” In the first 120 days of recovery those words saved me on more than one occasion.
Even though I was doing everything that was suggested: I went to ninety meetings in ninety days (as an over achiever full of fear, I actually went to 180.), I had a sponsor, I read the Big Book, had commitments at meetings and, most importantly, I was not drinking between meetings, even though I still thought about alcohol all the time. i heard others in meetings tell how they were sober; how the obsession was lifted from them. I was impatient. I wanted to be free from that demon so bad. I longed for the obsession to be removed from me. There were occasions where I lay on my back at night shouting in my head, sometimes out loud to take it away. I was still operating under self will. My knuckles were white from hanging on so tightly.
Finally the day came when I was ready to do my third step with my sponsor.
The weight of all that I thought I had drank over for so many years; my dad leaving and the multitude of anger and resentment, which I would later discover was just another form of self-centered fear, was weighing me down so heavily I worried if I would make it.
It was a sunny day and my sponsor had suggested we meet on the dusty hillside behind Mt. Carmel church in Mill Valley. I had done the first two steps to the best of my ability but was not confident that I would experience any grand miracle by just becoming willing to believe in this so-called “higher power.” But, honestly, I had no other choice.
Earlier we had read how it works and page 60 of “Alcoholics Anonymous.” Now in the bright sun my sponsor and I walked along the small path behind the church. He told me what we were going to do,”See this garbage can?” He asked, lifting the lid to the steel can.
“I want you to take all that anger, fear, hurt and resentment you’ve been carrying around like a sack of rocks, and imagine yourself dumping it into this can. Then we’re going to get on our knees, hold hands, and say the third step prayer out loud. Afterward the compulsion to drink will be lifted from you.” He offered with compassionate certitude.
Despite being briefly distracted with worry over what passers by may say or think if they spied two men kneeling in the dirt holding hands under the summer sun, I did as he suggested. My sobriety was more important. We said this prayer:
The Third Step Prayer
from page 63 of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous
God, I offer myself to Thee-
To build with me
and to do with me as Thou wilt.
Relieve me of the bondage of self,
that I may better do Thy will.
Take away my difficulties,
that victory over them may bear witness
to those I would help of Thy Power,
Thy Love, and Thy Way of life.
May I do Thy will always!
I spoke the words and let go.
As we stood I felt a peace wash over me. I had “dropped the rock.”
I felt protected, even if I didn’t fully understand what had just happened.
Being willing to let go was the cornerstone upon which I was able to continue along the path of recovery. That is not to say that the thought to drink was completely removed. That day though, I was given a reprieve from the mental obsession over alcohol.
It stuck. I have gone back to that hillside in my mind many times throughout my life. It symbolizes a safe place of letting go.
The next step would require more than just willingness, it would require deep introspection, faith, courage and work.
I was now at step four, “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”
Stay tuned for step four.