True Identity

I am a miserable failure at turning my will and life over to the care of God, but I'm beginning to understand why. It's because a part of me continues to believe that I am a limited separate individual self that will pass away when my body dies. The truth is I am an unlimited eternal spiritual being. All attempts to get "more spiritual" will fail because I already am 100% spirit. I just haven't fully realized it yet.

I like the story of the baby eagle that falls out of the nest and is adopted by a flock of chickens. The little eagle grows up thinking he is a chicken. He pecks and clucks and does all the other things chickens do. Then one day another eagle swoops down for a fresh chicken dinner and spots the chicken-eagle. He says "Dude, what are you doing with these chickens? Why don't you fly away?" The chicken-eagle responded, "I'm a chicken. Chickens can't fly" Nothing the eagle says can convince the chicken-eagle that he is not a chicken. So the eagle walks him over to a nearby pond to see his reflection. When the chicken-eagle sees the truth about himself, he spreads his wings and soars away.

So it is with me. As long as I identify myself as being purely human, I must live in constant fear of sickness, death and abandonment. This fear drives me to control people, events and circumstances, to hold onto life instead of letting go. Out of my need to control outcomes, my character defects grow up like weeds -- people pleasing, perfectionism, pride. The roots are deep. Just like the chicken eagle, I don't think to question them.

The twelve steps help me realize my true identity. They offer me a process to become aware of my character defects, to question them, to discover their roots. All I need to be is willing to take the suggested actions and fail repeatedly.


When the you-know-what is hitting the fan I repeat the Serenity prayer like a mantra. I am no longer trying to change God's mind, I'm am trying to change my mind. I don't know how it works, I only know that it does. When I remember I'm not here to judge, compare and control, but only to accept people, events and circumstances exactly as they are, I open a tiny door to peace. When I fail to accept life on life's terms, I am arguing with reality. I've learned the hard way that every time I argue with reality, I lose.

In the face of certain failure to effect any meaningful change in myself, I need courage not to give up, roll over and go back to sleep. Oh I might be able to change my behaviors for a little while, but, like the good doctor said in his opinion, something more than human power is required for any kind of permanent change. So about the only thing I can change is to hold on no matter how much it hurts, keep coming back and do what is suggested.

I'm coming to believe that wisdom has very little to do with ideas in my head. Along with spiritual qualities like strength, courage and serenity, Wisdom arises from my innermost being as my attitude and outlook change. Wisdom can't arise if I think I know what's best. As I continue to recover and let go, more and more the power of the universe guides me peacefully though life.

The Circle of One

I took my first step towards "we" when I said "I'm Jeff and I'm an alcoholic" at my first meeting. I was four days sober. Big Al was the first one to speak that day. I don't remember what he said, but I was shocked at his sincerity. Even though my cells were saturated with alcohol, I sensed something magical at work. I kept coming back.

I was drawn to the laughter. The clenched fist inside my head began to relax. I began to see I wasn't unique. Our stories were different, but the underlying feelings of fear, self-hate, and hopelessness were exactly the same. I tried to hang on the outside of the circle, but you put out your hand and pulled me in.

I saw peace and freedom in the eyes of some of the members, a lightness of being I lost years before. I really wanted what you had so I got a sponsor and began to take the steps. After taking my fifth, I felt I was a full-fledged member of the AA club. My home group elected me "doughnut guy." Without any effort on my part, a power greater than me removed my e obsession to drink--proof positive that it works. I was hooked.

I experienced the joy of recovery when I began giving away to others what had been so freely given to me. The greatest pleasure in my life today is playing some small part in helping a shipwreck of a person find his or her way into the circle of we. This has to be the best way to live.

Disturbed vs Concerned

“It is a spiritual axiom that every time we are disturbed, no matter what the cause, there is something wrong with us.”

No matter what the cause? My wife is facing another major surgery. Wouldn’t there be something wrong with me if I wasn’t disturbed? No. I think Bill had it right. Anytime I react to any one of a hundred forms of psychological fear, there is something wrong with me. I am believing what my head is telling me even though it is not true. It is only False Evidence Appearing Real.

My mind, trying to protect itself, takes fearful memories and other "old ideas" from the past and projects them into a worst-case future scenario. My body experiences this fear like the future is happening now. It feels real but it isn't. I feel anxious even though nothing has actually happened. I drank against this anxiety for thirty years.

As long as I choose to believe the illusion my mind creates, I am constantly living in the fearful future, not the present moment. I feel compelled to try to control outcomes--to change a future that hasn’t even happened yet! Whenever I try to control the people and events in my life, I am doing my will, not God’s will. Even though I know this intellectually, I can’t stop trying to control. These currents of fearful belief are deep. The best I say is that I’m a little better.

I am learning there is a difference between being disturbed and being concerned. I'm concerned for my wife, but I'm not constricted in fear. This way I can show up, stay positive and see where I can be of service. I learned all of this in Alcoholics Anonymous.

Mistaken Identity

I have not slipped or stumbled on the so-called spiritual path because I've never stopped doing what was suggested to me in my first week. I keep coming back to AA, not anymore because I fear picking up a drink, but because I enjoy it. My life feels useful and contented when I am passing on to others what has been so freely given to me. I am becoming less interested in having and doing and more interested in learning how to simply be.

Like a moth to a flame, I am drawn to learn more about spiritual truth, both in our program and in other spiritual traditions. It doesn't feel like I'm making any conscious effort, more like I'm being gently pulled deeper into a mystery. I can report I haven't learned anything about what is true, but I've learned quite a bit about what is false.

I've discovered there is much freedom in realizing that I am not the "self" my mind tells me I am. More and more I realize that this self is nothing more than a bunch of old, tired ideas that keep me in everlasting bondage. It's taken a while but I'm beginning to see that Jeff, as I understand him, is only "false evidence appearing real." As I continue to let go of these beliefs and concepts and stop playing God, my true identity, spirit, begins to wake up.

Keeping It Green

At every moment of the day I stand at a "Y" in the road. One road leads away from a drink, one road leads closer to one. When I'm spiritually fit, I tend to choose the path leading away from the drink. I am more focused on connecting with others rather than achieving more stuff for myself; I'm better able to overlook the differences between us and see similarities; Peace of mind is my number one goal.

If I get loaded down with fear and doubt I choose what appears to be the easier softer way. Comfort becomes my number one goal. As I move toward the drink, I struggle to be special and unique; I believe the noise in my head is truth; I complain, criticize and condemn. Sooner or later my program becomes stale. I get restless irritable and discontented. I may not drink, but life begins to lose its luster. I know what dragging myself through life like a zombie feels like. I don't want to go back there.

So the challenge for me is to keep it green. I've found that annual retreats, going to different meetings, performing annual house cleanings, and developing new friendships within the fellowship all help to keep my program fresh and growing. But sponsorship is still the most valuable component. There is no bigger thrill for me than seeing a human shipwreck turn his or her life around and sail proudly out of the AA harbor. Playing a small part in this miracle is simply the best way to live.

Sweet Surrender

I've had very little experience with dying, actually none personally, but I'm not sure I'll be very good at it when the time comes. I just recovered from a change-of-season cold/flu and felt so shitty I didn't smile for two weeks. They told me when I was new that God never lays more on a person than he or she can handle. I'm not so sure about that.

Yet I've known people both in and out of the rooms who are terminal. They have no hope of ever getting better, but they seem to be doing OK, some seem happy in fact. I don't know how they do it, but I'm guessing there must be some kind of major surrender that goes on that I just can't now imagine. I guess faith is the certainty I'll be given what I need when I need it. Not a moment before.

Thinking about death brings up self-centered fear. My mighty ego cannot imagine itself no longer in existence. Fortunately I am working an ego-dissolving program called the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Even though I'm not yet "wearing life like a loose robe," I'm no longer being dragged kicking and screaming through life either.

I plan to continue grinding down ego, making tiny surrenders each day. Hopefully I'll get to the point, when I'm standing in front of death's door, that I am more a human "being" and less a human "doing." I want to be able to let go of the steering wheel in my little boat completely and just float on down the river. Merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream.


Shit happens. Life is a wonderful, awful mix. In my heart of hearts I know that it takes both the wonderful stuff and the awful stuff to give life it's texture. I've faced a few calamities in my sobriety: unexpected job losses and my wife's painful battle with cancer to name a couple. I've watched others walk through much, much worse.

On any given day my recovery program has to be just good enough to get me through the absolute worst thing that can happen without picking up a drink. This is what I believe Bill meant when he says "matching calamity with serenity." If I can walk directly into the fear of whatever is happening without picking up, I have a chance to grow my faith. If I pick up, I forfeit that chance and probably make things a whole lot worse.

I have the power to resist the drink and walk through the fear if I do the things that invite God into the center of my life: I get out of myself by looking for another alcoholic to help; I dont' keep secrets, but share honestly about what's going on; I comb through the wreckage until I discover the black box -- my part and I make direct amends; I double up on my meetings to strengthen my connection with the fellowship.

When I take these simple actions I open up the channel to my Higher Power and my peace of mind eventually returns.

Psychic Cesspool

I drank against the anger, the anxiety, the guilt and shame, and against the dark secrets that were going to my grave with me. I stuffed a life time of fear into the psychic cesspool hidden deep within my subconscious. This toxic cesspool spawned faulty beliefs, “old ideas,” that motivated my thoughts, words and deeds, making a life of peace, beauty and freedom impossible. The steps ask me to clean out my cesspool one bucket at a time.

I hold my nose, but can’t help getting a good whiff of myself in steps four and five. In step six I begin to see the weeds of my character defects growing up from the cesspool. I try pulling off the tops but the weeds grow back. After a persistent effort in step seven I discover the old idea at the root of the defect. I allow HP to change my mind, to re-mind me, and the character defect falls away effortlessly.

Steps eight and nine - getting right with the world and the people in it -- provide the greatest opportunity to bucket out my cesspool. I am no longer “Mr. Wonderful” who can do no wrong. I am a fallible human being who makes mistakes. I become teachable, willing to learn how to live in peace and harmony with others. It’s easy to understand why Bill put the promises after step nine.

Step ten helps me continue to spot faulty beliefs and resist falling backwards into old energy habits, dumping new crap into my cesspool. It asks me to compare my life with a perfect ideal and to take corrective action. When I practice step ten I demonstrate my willingness to grow along spiritual lines -- the whole point.

I’m not sure if it is possible to clean out my psychic cesspool completely and exorcize the demons that still live there. I’m not a saint. But I do know that the bucket work I’ve done so far has been well worth the effort

Staying Awake

The program of Alcoholics Anonymous is like "No Doze" for spirit. As long as I continue to do what is suggested, spirit stays awake. But if I let up on my program of action, spirit rolls over and falls back asleep, just like I do sometimes on a lazy Sunday morning.

If spirit falls back asleep, I'm right back to sleepwalking through my life, interested only in entertaining myself, always struggling to squeeze a drop of happiness out of people, places and things. Eventually discontent sets in, then irritability and restlessness. Sooner or later I'm suffering -- right back in my darkened apartment, drinking cheap red wine and smoking pot, full of fear.

Waiting for pain to motivate me to continue to grow along spiritual lines seems like such an inefficient way to live. I'm learning the hard way to take my hands off the steering wheel and let spirit, fully awake and free, guide me to a useful and contented life.

Reminders of Recovery

My anniversary chip is the shiniest thing in my pocket. But the most vivid reminders during moments when I catch myself feeling comfortable in my own skin -- when I compare what it was like then to what it’s like today.

Today I experience moments of happiness for no reason. Adrenaline pumping excitement is no longer necessary for me to feel like I am alive. I don't seem to struggle to win attention and approval. It might be that I'm just getting older, but concern about what other people think about me is diminishing. I seemed to have miraculously recovered from a severe case of terminal seriousness. I somehow have begun to see that we are all just two bit comedians in a third rate play. I laugh more. I am no longer deeply concerned with how the movie of my life turns out. After cringing and wincing at myself for for the better part of 50 years, I have finally concluded that my movie has very little entertainment value. I am no longer obsessed with the way it turns out. I read "when the shoe fits, the foot is forgotten." Today I fit better in my own skin than ever before. Walking through life no longer gives me blisters.

These reminders help me realize that I’m being restored to my natural state of being. I am closer to being the person I was intended to be than ever before.

Resisting Life's Lessons

Like is says in Step Two, I’m coming to believe that, as long as I’m willing, the the universe pulls me towards spiritual wholeness. It provides non-stop lessons that point me away from self-centeredness towards truth, towards peace, towards love and tolerance. If I resist the lessons, the universe, in all it's benevolence, keeps ratcheting up the pain. The pain turns into chronic suffering. I drank against this suffering for thirty years until a moment of clarity led me to Alcoholics Anonymous.

I was chained to the belief that success in the world was all I needed to live happily ever after. Success was my north star. I believed that as soon as I had the world’s approval, as soon as I had enough money, power and prestige, then I could rest. I spent my life getting close, but never arriving. The silver chalice was always just out of my grasp. I watched my alcoholic father take this painful journey, but somehow it would be different for me. Such is the power of illusion.

Finally, the pain of resisting spirit’s pull towards sanity became too great to ignore. Something inside of me said “uncle” and I reached out for help. AA was there with the road map for the journey and a whole bunch of friendly traveling companions.