Lightening My Load

I am on a train. On two outstretched arms I carry a heavy suitcase filled with the stuff of my life -- my attachments and desires, my worries and fears, and my beliefs and attitudes. Since the train and I and my suitcase will arrive at the destination all at the same time, why don’t I put it down? Because I can’t. I have been carrying this stuff for so long it feels like a part of me.

My arms burn and my legs are wobbly but I can’t put the suitcase down. I wouldn’t know how to be without it. As the pain of carrying the suitcase rachets up, I distract myself by looking out the window and dreaming.

I'm awakened from my dream by the pain. I just can't bear to carry the suitcase for one more second. With no other option, I ask for help. The porter comes, but, instead of taking the suitcase from my arms, he opens it and together we look inside. I notice a few old, musty things I had forgotten about. They are no longer useful and I wonder why I had been carrying them around for so long. I ask the porter to please remove them for me. He does so gladly.

Now the suitcase is lighter and much easier to carry. I tell the porter I won’t be needing his help anymore and continue on my journey. But I was wrong. The suitcase becomes so heavy again that I have to call the porter for help once more. We look again and I see many more useless things I’ve been carrying around. The porter quickly removes them.

Again I feel comfortable and believe I can manage on my own. Again I dismiss the porter but by now I have become sensitive to the weight of carrying around useless baggage. I call him back again and again until my suitcase is empty. As the train nears its destination, I ask him to take the empty suitcase from my arms. I know he will when the time is right.

Taking the Steps

A few days before I walked into my first AA meeting, I was graced with a vision about what a mess my life had become. A tiny bit of truth had seeped through the thick wall of my denial. In kind of an instant replay I was shown that all the negative events of my life had a common thread: alcohol and drugs. I was allowed to see that flunking out of college, two drunk driving arrests, divorce, financial disasters, job problems, relationship problem -- you name it -- were not just isolated cases of bad luck. They were ominous signs that I was heading in the wrong direction. I had ignored these signs for thirty years, but this vision was so clear and the pain of my life was so great that something inside of me let go. Unknowingly I had taken step one.

Steps two and three were no problem. I got that I needed to change and that something more than human help was required. That left only God. I began the journey of letting God restore me to sanity by committing to take the rest of the steps.

I got good whiff of myself in steps four and five and it wasn't a pretty smell. I became aware of a good-sized list of my negative qualities of character in step six and an honest desire to be changed in step seven. I wanted so much not to return to the pain, frustration and confusion of my old life that I became willing to do steps eight and nine. After serious hand-to-hand combat with my ego, I finally went to those people I had harmed and made my amends. I rode taller in the saddle.

In practicing step ten I saw how my stinking thinking had been robbing me of peace of mind and a chance at real happiness. I reserved a short time first thing in the morning to communicate with a God that I misunderstood. My prayers were mostly "please" in the morning and "thank you" the last thing at night.

As I stood at the doorway to step 12, the little spiritual pilot light inside of me ignited a desire in me to find out what I really am and to discover my true purpose for being on earth. But I was only a few months sober from 30 years of serious drinking. My cells were still saturated with the “ism” of alcoholism -- negative thinking patterns were hyper-active and the voices of self doubt were chattering constantly. Without both parts of step 12 the little flame may have died out.

I needed to begin to pass it on -- not to save another drunk's ass but my own. I didn't own many principles at the beginning, but I began to practice anyways. I suited up and showed up early to set up the chairs. I called other alcoholics every day -- a difficult assignment for an isolator with an inferiority complex. I became willing to listen to what my sponsor and others had to say. I held out my hand to newcomers. I made AA the top priority in my life. In this way I developed the feeling of being "a part of." This feeling is alive in me today. By practicing step twelve I remain a member in good standing. The warm breath of my Higher Power keeps my flame alive.

Spiritual Love

All I ever wanted in my life was to be loved. As a kid my parents and other well meaning adults filled me with ideas about what I must do to be loved: Behave, get good grades, set goals, work hard, don't fight with your sister. I failed at all these things and learned that love was conditional.
I picked up other ideas from movie and sports heros: be tough, don't cry, never back down from a fight, win at any cost. If I couldn't be the biggest and strongest or the best shot, then I had to be the smartest or the most ruthless. Perhaps the most damaging idea was that I should be self sufficient. I had to figure out all my problems myself and not ask for help under any circumstance.

Later on society bombarded me with the idea that I would be loved if became a success in business, make a lot of money, buy the right house, vacation in the best spots use the right deodorant. I had to keep up with the Joneses because it seemed to me that the Joneses we getting all the love. I was keeping up for a while. As Bill says "I felt I was winning at the game of life." But I still felt empty inside. I drank at that emptiness for 30 years and I pretended that I had love even though in my heart of hearts that I was certain I was unlovable.

It took 47 years, but in AA I found out that I had it all backwards. It isn't being loved that brings peace and happiness it is in being loving. My willingness to be of service both in and out of the rooms is being loving. When I have this willingness I am that channel that St, Francis talks about in his prayer. But I'm not channeling human, emotional love rather the unconditional spiritual love of the Universe, that I call God. This is what you meant when you told me that my job was to love everyone, but I wasn't required to "like" everyone. I try to remember that I don't have to "feel" loving to be loving.

"When you love you should not say, 'God is in my heart,' but rather, 'I am in the heart of God."
--Khalil Gibran, "The Prophet"