I’ll have 21 years sober on Friday, which is kinda unbelievable to me. That’s long enough to be of age to drink. Where did the time go? How did I get so friggin’ old?
No matter. My life’s damn good. On this ordinary Saturday I slept in til 8:00, then texted alternately with two sober friends – one joking about the “sober paws,” the other mired in grief, both of which I get: life lived fully awake is both a blast and painful as hell. Meanwhile, my 14-year-old son put an adolescent chicken on my head, because he and I are close and sometimes like to let our chicks scuttle around the house like cheeping Keystone Cops. I soon left for a ballet class where, keeping up with an advanced group, I nailed a few turns and jumps that pleased me. Came home to write this so I could postpone cleaning my house for the big fat 21st birthday party I’m throwing a week from tonight. Just normal life, and I’m happy.
Twenty-one years ago, I felt alone in a dead, condemning world from which I longed to vanish.
What’s made the difference?
Step 3: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood God.
When I first tried Step 3, I completely misunderstood it. I thought I was supposed to give up my will and live exclusively by god’s. Short of lying down and waiting for a windstorm or something to throw me into action, how was that possible? But that’s not even remotely what the step says. Look at the exact wording: we still have our will, but we’ll turn it over to god’s care. Or at least, we make a decision to do so. God’s will, you’ll note, isn’t mentioned.
Personally, I have a problem with the notion of god’s will or god’s plan for me. Why? Because each strikes me as a product of need. Will strives to realize an intention; plan foresees a chain of events that will bring about something desired. I don’t see god as having either.
People in my Near Death Experiences group who’ve been shown their futures describe it more as a 3-D Plinko board of endlessly branching possibilities. They say the spirit showing it to them had no agenda – any series of choices was dandy, including death. My own NDE was different: I was told “You’re not finished” and sent back against my will, revived by CPR despite lethal levels of drugs still in my system.
So let’s just say, if god does have a will or plan for each of us, it’s a super flexible one. Let’s say you planted two tiny genetically identical elm tree seedlings 50 feet apart. Then you came back 100 years later to find two huge, swaying, graceful elm trees. Would you expect them to be identical? Would one of them be wrong? Of course not. Because each grew into its own uniqueness. Incomprehensibly detailed variations make up the richness of this world. And if god wants anything for us, it’s that we grow into our incomprehensibly unique selves.
Unfortunately, growth seems a lot more complicated for humans. The trouble comes from dealing with fear and pain, and encountering the voice of ego which promises to protect us from both. I grew up with so much fear and pain that I poured all my trust into ego. What else was there?! As an alcoholic, I found booze boosted ego’s power, generating a workable substitute for the self-worth I lacked. My world shrank smaller and smaller as I pursued ease and comfort in the bottle. I learned nothing about myself or how to live. I hit bottom as a 15- year-old girl in 34-year-old body.
Step Three opens the door for learning. AA’s “psychic change” is what happens when we stop listening to ego and start seeking a deeper truth. Good Orderly Direction (GOD) was the term offered to help me ease into my own conception of god. I learned to subject each idea to this test: does it feel like Good Orderly Direction?
Working the 12 steps with a sponsor exemplified Good Orderly Direction. The process taught me spiritual principles – like gratitude, humility, love, and service – that shape a worthwhile life. I learned that they’re realized through daily acts of empathy and kindness, and that when I live in accordance with them, I can generate self-esteem by doing esteemable acts.
I’ve learned that meditation pays off in the ability to distinguish my awareness from my thoughts. A babble of ego-thoughts still passes constantly through my brain – stories of envy, self-pity, resentment, and how I could fix everything. Today I can detach (usually) from them, knowing (usually) that they’re worthless. I can sometimes glean the aftertaste of regret before I do the wrong thing.
I’ve learned that, for me, the biggest challenge of sobriety is self-honesty. Honesty with others is easy: I’m an open book. But to change the things I can, I have to be willing to see the need for change – and I don’t like to. I’d rather pretend things are fine. Or, if I do make a bid for change, it’s still a challenge to do the footwork and then LET GO of the results. Whenever I’m obsessing – needing to get what I want or for someone else to do/see what I want – I’m trying to boss reality, to shape it to my will – which is obviously insane. So the more life beats me up, the better I get at letting go.
As a result, I’ve learned some of most freeing stuff: that what seems urgent is usually not important, and what’s important is usually not urgent. I’ve learned the wisdom of “Don’t just do something! Sit there!” Life flows around me; people flow in and out of my life; I’m powerless over virtually all of it. My attitude alone is mine to choose, but no longer mine to choose alone.