Tag Archives: Step 3

Agnostic? Think: Good Orderly Direction

My addiction memoir tells how I went from a bright, healthy teen (okay, with a teeny hypersexual disorder) to a lonely, depressed, obsessive, codependent, underachieving, and increasingly reckless drunk who disdained Alcoholics Anonymous as a doom just short of suicide. Why so reluctant?  The God thing.  The book’s second half describes my ungraceful but dogged ascent from that pit of misery toward the healthy, friend-filled sober life I get to live today.

Much as I’ve love for everyone to read the book, I can give you a major spoiler here: I didn’t do it.

The words that opened the door to faith in something that might help me were shared by a woman in large pastel stretch pants sitting against the wall at my third or so AA meeting: “If you can’t deal with the word ‘God,’ that’s fine!  Just think ‘Good Orderly Direction.'”

I perked up. Certainly I could not deal with the word, “God.” That religion-based concept seemed to me a preposterous character created by humans to explain what rudimentary science couldn’t. Such a deity was not going to advise me on whether I should stuff the tip jar at work if a customer paid cash or continue stalking the guy I was obsessed with.

But Good Orderly Direction — that was something to be sensed in my inmost heart. That I could look for, because I remembered going against it when I was busy screwing up my life. For me, Step 3 was essentially a resolution to start listening for it and going with it. Who knew the source of G.O.D. would turn out to be my higher power? And who knew that following its guidance would migrate me from the self-generated heartless world that had defeated me toward the sweet experience that’s now my normal?

Goodness as True North
As an active alcoholic, the only compass I ever consulted was ego. I was a popularity materialist — never enough! — as are many in our “individualistic” culture (thanks to marketing).  I longed to be seen as cool (see also Coolness) and liked by designated cool people. I was convinced that the more I could make that happen, the better I’d feel about myself. And even though this model had failed to bring me anything but discontent for 34 years, I kept thinking the problem lay in my performance, not the model itself.

Good Orderly Direction, however, does not hinge on what others think. It’s a compass deep within, with Goodness as its true north.  The first half is sensing it — what is the good and right thing to do here?  The second is acting on it without hesitation.

I remember a conversation I had a few years back with my relapsed alcoholic boyfriend. As a rationale for getting drunk, he asked me, “Don’tcha sometimes just wanna say ‘fuck it’?” As it turned out, he had indeed been saying “fuck it” for some while, carrying on a second relationship behind my back. Sober, he’d been a man with integrity and compassion.

By contrast, my father drank alcoholically while retaining integrity and compassion — toward everyone but himself. Alcoholism wheedled him into deferring day after day the ultimate reckoning: “Why do I drink so much every night?” He resisted looking inward to all the clamors he muted with booze, saying, in his own academic way, “fuck it.”

But Good Orderly Direction is more than the antithesis of fuck it; it’s the antithesis of ego. It is a form of caring, of knowing that your choices matter and seeking those that will feel right in the long run. You may have trouble at first distinguishing Goodness from ego’s “best for me”; you may also mistake it for what other people tell you to do, whether they’re in your family or your AA group. But gradually, as you become more attuned to seeking, the voice gets louder, so you gain a clearer sense of whether you’re tuned into it.

As the choices people make based on the north star of Good Orderly Direction begin to alter the course of their lives, as even cynical or bottomed-out addicts begin to heal and build self-esteem by doing esteemable acts, a lot of us begin to realize — “Hey, this isn’t coming from me!”

God Ain’t Religion
As people who follow this blog know, I got to cheat. The spirit world operates all around us all the time, but we’re as deaf to it as the barriers we maintain against love are thick. For me, having had a Near Death Experience followed by paranormal after-effects even as I fought to maintain my atheism, the presence that had spoken to me on the other side began interceding in my thoughts as soon as I started seeking Good, until I had no choice but to fold and acknowledge, not religion’s God, but my god.

Religion is a bit like agriculture, while the spirit world is nature itself. Religion quantifies something omnipresent yet inexplicable — the power of the life force — by reducing it to the equivalent of rows and crops and acreage.  To be atheist because we reject religion is like saying because there is no Great Farmer, nothing grows — all the while discounting the fact that we and all living things around us are exquisite expression of nature, of the life force.

No one can give you god-awareness. You have to develop your own, based on your own experiences both inner and external. The most direct route to get there is by seeking Good Orderly Direction. Eventually, seeking will become part of you, as it has for me: No one at Fred Meyer saw me miss self-checking a bag of avocados yesterday, but when I discovered them in my reusable shopping bag, I handed them to the attendant on my way out simply because I had not paid for them — end of story. I know not only that Karma is a real phenomenon, but that guilt is a real feeling, even when we pretend not to feel it. Both carry a price tag that far exceeds four avocados.

Ask for guidance.  Look deeper.  Listen harder.  Within you, something magnificent will sprout.



Filed under Alcoholics Anonymous, Faith, God, living sober, Near Death Experience, Recovery, Spirituality, Step 3

Step 3 and Happiness

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 toAdolescent chick 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 needWill 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’veGalton Board 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. 

Potential FuturesSo 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?

GODWorking 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.



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Filed under AA, Addiction, Recovery, Sobriety, Twelve Steps

Step 3: A Decision

What if I trusted god?

Doesn’t trust by definition mean not knowing?  Isn’t god by definition something I can’t know?

But what if I truly trusted trust?  Could I place mine in this unknowable god?  What if I surrendered this constant fight to fend off invisible threats and beat every dark fear to the punch?  Maybe I could give it up this constant need to choreograph the people and events around me if I decided it wasn’t necessary.  What might that feel like?  Why is it so difficult?

I could try thinking about how I got here.  embryosHow much say did I have about what I thought ought to happen in my mom’s womb?  Innumerable complexities aligned with inconceivable precision to bring about the organism that is me.  My mom herself had no clue what was happening.  All life originates from a process far beyond anything humans could ever comprehend or rig.  To give that process a name or classify it as “biology” doesn’t make it any less dumbfounding.

At birth our consciousness consists of trust and little more.  What is crying but half a bridge-?  As a survival strategy, it’s founded on the blind, helpless trust that someone will respond, someone will care.  That impulse – a precursor to prayer – is the only power given a human infant, but it’s the only one we need.

All that for what?  So I could grow up to earn money and buy groceries?  So it seems.  What if god has no extravagant “plan” for my life but loves me overwhelmingly regardless, simply for being me?  What if all the love I’ve ever felt and absorbed, every embrace from intimates and each kindness from strangers, every affection to ever move my heart – what if all of that energy pooled together were just the tiniest smidge of god?  What if an ocean of love is what generates every leaf and imbues every living thing with the urge to venture and delight and to rest and heal?

I might decide that, in ways far beyond my understanding, this intelligence orchestrates the outer world as much as inner, shapes every circumstance as much as every cell.  What if I could see that there is even more beauty, grace, and agility in the spirit of the gazelle in that moment when the cheetah’s jaws close on its throat than there was in its spirited flight, as it escapes the bonds of muscles and neurons to rejoin its brilliant source?  What if my perspective let me understand that from the beginning those two have been one, because the cheetah (in its mother’s womb) and the gazelle (in its mother’s womb) are two notes of the same symphony, one wave overtaking another with the same momentum?

earthMaybe then, in the same way, I could be okay with whatever happens.  Maybe I’d get it that my life is just a life, a storyline beaded with random incidents but beautifully embedded in some enterprise both gargantuan and exquisite, more vast than I can ever conceive.  It could be that the universe is indeed unfolding as it should, with me in it, so that I am still, in a sense, within a global womb.

Maybe I should think about the clear-eyed toddler I saw today outside Fred Meyer whose mom had just put her astride a fiberglass horse (without even feeding it quarters), who squealed with the uncontainable delight of now: something AMAZING was happening!  The mom’s love showed in her eyes, but my love for the two of them flooded inward from my smile – just some lady walking by – with intensity neither could guess.  Why?  Because they were me with my son ten years ago, and my mom with me half a century ago.  With them were the echoes of children long since aged and dead from centuries past, their horses of ceramic or wood now crumbled to dust.

That child will die.  My friends and family and pets have died.  And, yes, sometimes shit happens that is not of god.  There’s suffering and loss and disease and unfairness, so that my eyes teared at the child’s tender vulnerability, like mine and like yours.  God can’t guard us from pain and mishap.  But always, always there is love and more love – growing back, surviving, passed down – and the chance it gives us to cast its brightness on the now, to delight in our sheer being, to know joy.  The avalanche takes down trees centuries old, but amid the rubble, with the season, springs a tiny seedling.  These are the ways of god.


Fir Seedling

What if I put my trust in that ongoing love – mine, yours, god’s – as a tremendous net I can fall into?  What if all of it is good – not just striving but failing, not just birth but death?  Then I can fill in the dark unknown future with a flickering faith that god’s goodness is the ultimate power underlying all life, that it has always supported me whether I’ve known it or not, and that it always will.

That way I’m freed to seek out my own fiberglass horse in whatever form it takes.  I can rejoice right now just because I’m alive.  I’m here solely to be me and love you, not to stress and plot and worry about stuff I’m powerless over anyway.  I seek god’s guidance, try my best, end of story.  My ideas of how everything should come about or end up are just that – ideas.  As for reality, God’s got it.

I’ll roll with that.

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Filed under AA, Al-Anon, Alcoholism, Faith, God, Recovery, Sobriety, Spirituality, Twelve Steps