To Thine Own Self Be True

Life decided not follow my script yesterday morning. I purchased some gifts to give at a luncheon an hour later, but I didn't notice they were slightly damaged until I got them home.  I didn't have time to take the gifts back to the store. Now what was I supposed to do?

I was an unhappy camper and I called the store manager and let her know about it. I needed them to make things right.  NOW! Surely she didn’t expect me to give damaged gifts. I didn’t use any four letter words, but my tone was condescending, sarcastic, and argumentative. I was right and the store was wrong.

My blood pressure went off the charts when she said she didn’t have the authority to offer an acceptable solution and no one else higher up the food chain was available because they were too busy due to the holiday. I became indignantly self-righteous. I demanded, cajoled, criticized all to no avail. Finally I hung up in disgust. I burned with resentment for a good hour.

I was in the shower when it happened…I suddenly realized I was suffering. All at once I felt the full force of the anger, frustration and fear coursing through my body. It registered that it didn’t feel good. Then I remembered I had a choice. I didn’t have to feel this way if I didn’t want to. This thought — that I had a choice — was like turning on a light in a dark room. The darkness disappeared. My balance returned.

It says “To thine own self be true” on the back of my twenty year medallion. Was I true to my own self throughout this incident with the store manager? Part of me thinks, “Jeez, twenty years and I’m still acting like a three year old. I should have done better.” But another voice reminds me to be gentle with myself. It urges me to be grateful for the pain and the opportunity to grow from it.


In the Chapter to the Agnostics on page 57 we read:

“What is this but a miracle of healing? Yet its elements are simple. Circumstances made him willing to believe. He humbly offered himself to his Maker-then he knew.”

This is my favorite passage in the Big Book. It describes my AA experience perfectly - What it was like, what happened, and what it’s like now. It reminds me that my recovery is a miracle. It is nothing I do, but everything God does.

I heard there is no in-between when it comes to believing in miracles. Either I believe everything is a miracle or I believe nothing is. I never believed in miracles before I came to AA. I relied on science to provide a plausable explanation for everything that happened. If I didn’t understand it with my mind, if I could not explain it, it simply wasn't real. Today that's all changed.

When the obsession was removed from me I didn't label it "miracle" at the time, but I did find it strange. After all, I drank almost every day for thirty years. I'd been getting drunk twice a day for the past eight months while I pretended to look for work. Now, before my first AA meeting, before getting a sponsor and taking the steps, before practicing any principles, the desire to drink magically vanished from consciousness. What the hell had happened? Today I know what happened. I was ready.

God had been setting me up for this miracle for thirty years. I had been living in a constant state of dis-ease for as long as I could remember.  Then there were the drunk driving arrests, the financial chaos, the divorce, the job losses. My disease convinced me that all these things could have happened to anybody. After all I was winning the game of life. I had success, money in the bank, new cars and fancy vacations. Yet, deep down I was plagued with a growing sense of dissatisfaction that no amount of material stuff could take away. Today I see all this pain and suffering was grace -- God's way of preparing me for the miracle of recovery.

I find the phrase "then he knew" to be downright mystical. Then he knew what? I know much less today than when I walked into my first meeting twenty years ago. I know that I feel better when I'm living a life of love and service. I know there is a plan for everyone of us even if I don't know what the plan is. I know that all the sickness, disease, war and poverty in our world is not the result of some cruel God punishing us for our so called “sins” but a loving God simply setting us up for a miracle.

Ten and Eleven

When I was new I heard the lady pastor of a new age church say our prayer-life is important, but equally important is our life-prayer. I cover both those bases when I am willing to practice Steps Ten and Eleven. I admit to running hot and cold on these steps. I use them most when the you-know-what is hitting the fan.

My practice of Step Eleven changed frequently throughout the years. Early on I recited the prayers in the book, but most of the time it felt like I had my fingers crossed behind my back. I didn’t really believe what I was saying. I finally settled on “please” in the morning and “thank you” at bed time. Just before closing my eyes at night, I say “thank you God for a wonderful day.” I say this prayer whether or not ego thinks the day has been wonderful. It seems to be working.

I always prayed alone. But a few months ago I began to pray with my wife. And you know what? I really like it. We lie in bed and just before we turn out the light, we hold hands and take turns praying out loud. We have slightly different conceptions of God, but it doesn’t seem to matter in the least.

I was a little embarrassed at first, but now I find I look forward to our prayer time. When it’s my turn, I just start talking to God. When I get stuck for something to say, I simply remember another thing I’m grateful for and go on. Our prayer time has brought us closer together than ever before.

I experimented with various forms of meditation and mindfulness. I read books and took classes, but never quite felt like I ever got the hang of it. These days walking alone in nature clears out the cobwebs for me. I’m grateful to be back in So Cal and the abundance of natural beauty. There is absolutely no nature in Shanghai, unless of course you include the pig farms on the outskirts of the city.

In the ‘70’s we used to say “whatever goes around, comes around.” Whatever I put out into the universe comes back to me as my living experience. I unknowingly pray for misery when I act like a jerk (my specialty), burn with a resentment, or point my finger of guilt at others on the planet.

Practicing Step Ten helps me stay aware of my life prayer. I heal when I am willing to focus the light of awareness on my thoughts, words and, especially, my deeds. Only then do I receive the whole package: sobriety, sanity and serenity. And life is pretty darn nice most of the time.