“If you claim to have humility, you don’t have it.” That saying has some validity. But there’s a bigger picture here. Saying you have humility is a bit like saying you inhale. That is, it’s never a constant state we can hang onto, but part of a fundamental rhythm. I’m not really sure what the hell I’m saying here, but I’m going to keep writing.
We all have egos and self-will built in to help us hold our own in this hazardous world. It’s when they exceed their useful scope, as they often do for alcoholics, that we run into trouble. We become selfish and egotistical because those states seem to grant us power, to make us bigger and badder so we can vanquish whatever we fear (i.e. most of life). Unfortunately, what they really do is shut us off from faith in god – our only true recourse against fear.
Richard Rohr, in his discussion of the Twelve Steps (Breathing Underwater), quotes the bible in relation to Step 7. Now, don’t run screaming from this blog! I’m not a Christian and, trust me, not even a monotheist, but that doesn’t mean I can’t recognize wisdom from a Franciscan friar who dares to challenge his church. Just roll with me a minute. Anyway, Rohr quotes Luke quoting Jesus: “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” But he moves right along from there. He says it’s not the possession of stuff per se that blocks us from god, but an attitude of entitlement. “I am the shit!” is a stance that blocks us from spirit, as does its mirror image of self-c0nsumed self-pity, “I am a piece of shit.” Neither can co-exist with humility and faith.
The points Rohr asserts that I want to highlight are these: 1) That our truth is not in what we claim to believe, but in the way we live. 2) That we pray not in order to “change God” (i.e. kiss ass and win approval) but to “change ourselves.” 3) That prayer opens us to god, and that the gist of all prayer – here I’m paraphrasing – is essentially, I lack. I need you. Rohr writes,
So it is important that you ask, seek, and knock to keep yourself in right relationship with Life Itself. Life is a gift, totally given to you without cost, every day of it, and every part of it. A daily and chosen “attitude of gratitude” will keep your hands open to… receive life at ever-deeper levels…
What really wakes me up is to substitute the word “sobriety” in place of “life,” above. Sobriety is indeed a gift, given to me freely every day. And it started on the day I turned to god and said simply, “I lack. I can’t do this. I need you.” Something shifted then, some channel opened that allowed god to help me do what I’d spent years and thousands of desperate, failed attempts trying to do: Get well. God, not I, removed my mania for drinking.
Prayer relinquishes the illusion that I can do life, including sobriety, on my own. As a spiritual being, I am intricately connected to both my Source and my fellows. Prayer acknowledges this, re-opening the channel. And it stays open at meetings if I listen knowing I can’t stay sober on my own. Here’s where that mixed nature of humility comes up. Truthfully, I go to meetings in a hybrid of mind frames. Part of me (ego) says, “I’m comin’ up on 20 freakin’ years, dude! I so know this drill!” Part of me (compassion) says, “I’m here to help the newcomer and those who are struggling.” But a key part of me – the seed of genuine humility – says, “I am here to be taught. I am here to listen to god speak through my fellow addicts; and whether they drank just this morning, are fresh out of prison, or have thirty years and sponsor a jillion alcoholics does not matter.”
Humility and gratitude are inextricably interwoven, and both are essential to the fabric of sobriety. Both can be cultivated in mindfulness – living in the simplicity of the present moment, saying to ourselves, “I am a living creature doing this here now,” and seeing, as Rohr says, that all of it is a gift we can love. Ego lives in the thought-movies that our minds play, in the loveless illusion that we make shit happen, in the Teflon of coolness that causes meaning and responsibility to slide off us until we’re only half alive. Ego refuses to appreciate that we are everywhere dependent on one another for survival, and on god for sanity (and everything).
One more note, though. It’s important, too, for me to cultivate humility about my own arrogance. Here’s my fav quote from Thomas Merton (another Christian, but oh well), part of which kicks off my addiction memoir:
This is the terrible thing about humility: that it is never fully successful… [O]ur humility consists in being proud and knowing all about it… and to be able to do so little about it. *
Pride goes with the turf…and Merton didn’t even Facebook!
The bottom line is, I’m human and I’m flawed. I have a big, gaping hole in my guts and an ego determined to fill it with bullshit. I can either grab at mood altering drugs, attention, food, merchandise, etc. to try to fill the hole ego’s way, or I can acknowledge my incompleteness, my flawed nature, and turn to god for help. I can do this not only about drinking, but about my unmanageable life in general. When I open with asking, when I am humble and admit I am wounded, I let god in. And god lets me flourish.
Love to you, alcoholic! Love to you, seeking person!
*Thomas Merton, Thoughts on Solitude, p. 59
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