About two months before I got sober, a voice spoke to me — one I now know as my angel’s (I call him Egnacio). I’d just driven to my log cabin completely hammered, tearing along winding, wooded roads as fast as 80 mph with the radio blaring, seeing quadruple as I bombed through the narrow railroad overpass where I should have died. Instead I reached home, but as I clung to my car door for steadiness and glanced up at the stars, congratulating myself on my badass driving skills, the voice shot through me like a thunderbolt from Zeus, except it was a bolt of telepathy, of knowing, extremely urgent and somehow stern: “This is the last time I can help you. And you DO know right from wrong!”
In the nearly 28 years since that night, sober all but those first two months, I’ve come to realize that Egnacio’s two brief communications actually contained a template for living, a standard on which to base all future choices and judgments.
The first, “This is the last time I can help you,” meant essentially, “If you really want to bash your brains out on a telephone pole or scar your life with paralysis or the guilt of having killed another driver, have at it.” What he was conveying was this: I (Louisa) am responsible for my own life — for my choices, my outcomes, and the caliber of my character. The same is true for everyone, and there comes a point when even a guardian angel has to quit trying to help.
The second, “You DO know right from wrong!” was essentially a call for the 3rd step. At the time, I was letting all my addictions, whether substance or emotional, run rampant. Egnacio asserted that I knew better, that I had the capacity to search within for god’s take on my every thought, communication, and intended action. I can consult Good Orderly Direction on whether what I’m doing is good and right, based in love and truth. I can also sense if other people’s behavior strikes me as good and right, based in love and truth. But if I think back to communication #1, I must accept that their ways are THEIR responsibility, not mine.
We all encounter teachers in our lives. The teachers we EXPECT are those we look up to: sponsors, mentors in life or work, wise friends, maybe even (if we’re very lucky) parents or grandparents. We look to these people to demonstrate for us how to navigate life with grace and insight. For example, I love and admire my AA/Al-anon sponsor because she’s constantly telling on herself, sharing in AA meetings and recovery conversations all the petty jealousies, insecurities, habits, and worries that fill her thoughts throughout the day.
In fact, she finds herself hilarious! Why? Because she doesn’t identify with the ego that’s constantly churning out these thoughts and reactions. She doesn’t buy into her own thinking. In light of Communication #2 above, she has access to a gauge of reality beyond her own flux of thoughts — her god.
Similarly, she has fun describing her flaws because her self-worth comes NOT from how she looks to other people, NOT from whether she’s seen as an AA guru (as she comes up on 38 years’ sobriety), NOT from what I or her coworkers or husband or anyone else thinks about her. She knows god loves her, and that’s all she needs. On good days, I can follow her example.
Then then are the unexpected teachers. All of us have been betrayed by those we thoroughly trusted. Supposed friends, admired mentors, sponsors, family members, lovers — each of us will have the experience of being hurt by such people, and the stronger our trust in them was, the more profound the pain.
Among the most important learnings of sobriety is that these people, likewise, are our teachers. They showcase how to cause pain with our words, judgements, assumptions, indifference, and carelessness. They demonstrate for us the harm these attitudes and resulting actions inflict, and as we smart from their deeds, we learn firsthand how devastatingly they hurt.
In short, UNEXPECTED teachers model for us how NOT to live. Once we understand that, we can view them as assets. We don’t have to analyze exactly what made them choose to do X. Many of us waste a tremendous amount of time trying, but such thinking has a name: Resentment. We must instead remember that, in light of Communication #1, they alone are responsible for figuring out the machinations of their egos. All we need to take to heart is their EFFECT.
Step 3 is a core decision, a choice to always run our thinking past our higher power and seek to do right, not wrong. Via steps 4-9, we gain insights that can increase the honesty with which we perceive our own motives. We can learn to see the ways we are just like our UNEXPECTED teachers, how easily we inflict the same harms, maybe more subtly. And we’re resolved to continuously strive to do better.
On the surface that means damage control in not causing harm impulsively — not saying what anger burns to say, not sending the righteous text, calling someone out, acting on the whims of antagonistic emotions. At a deeper level, it means showing up with honor to do whatever we’ve said we’ll do. But at the deepest level, it means trusting, as my sponsor trusts, that we will in time be able to distinguish “right from wrong.” We pause, if possible, long enough to differentiate our ideals and responsibilities from simply meddling with others.
Egnacio made such a call when he let me go after saving me one last time: “Live blindly, chasing ego’s chimeras, if that’s what you choose!” That’s what I myself sigh inwardly almost every week to the main unexpected teacher in my life. I’m so grateful to have found another way to live!