A Faith That Works

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t grow up in a family where we discussed our fears. I never went up to one of the kids in the neighborhood and said, “I’m feeling a little fearful today.” I learned to keep my fears a secret from everyone, even lovers and best friends. I tried to outrun my fears by doing more, making more, having more. The fear of failing created more fear, but instead of feeling my fear, I drank against it. The more fearful I felt, the more I drank. Toward the end I was getting drunk twice a day to keep the fear at bay.

Then the worst possible thing happened. The anti-fear medicine stopped working. Oh I still got drunk alright, but the booze no longer took the fear away. I felt the fist of fear in my gut even sitting in the bar with my lower companions during “happy” hour. For a few months I woke up in fear and turned out the light in fear until something inside of me let go. I experienced a moment of clarity and a few days later I stumbled into my first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. I was taken by the honesty of the people who shared. I identified. I felt safe. I didn’t know it at the time, but my journey from fear to faith officially began that day.

My sponsor was the first person in my life I fully trusted. My faith took a giant leap forward when I took my fifth step with him. Until then, my desire to recover was largely theoretical. Certainly my ego fought against honestly admitting my faults, my resentments, my fears and my icky secrets, but I really wanted to be a member of the AA club and taking the fifth seemed to be a requirement for permanent membership.

At three years sober I was asked to resign from a job I thought I couldn’t live without. The voices of the demons that lived in my head screamed about what a loser I was and how I’d never work again and how all these AA meetings I’d been attending were a waste of time. I called my sponsor who suggested I go to the noon meeting and share about it. Boy, I really, really, didn’t want to do that. But because I trusted this man, I went to the meeting and shared honestly about what was going on. I didn’t get much relief from the fear but I didn’t drink.

The fears continued unabated until another alcoholic suggested I work the steps around my job loss beginning by admitting I was powerless over the fear in my head. The fear began to lift when I discovered my part in the resentments I held against the folks at my workplace. The fear receded even more when I identified the major character defects that led to my job loss. The fear was lifted completely out of me after I wrote letters of apology to my boss and a few of my subordinates. I was lifted up onto a pink club, filled with the sense that somehow everything was going to be OK, even though I had no idea how.

The most important instruction in the Big Book to me is “ask him in your morning meditation what you can do for the man who is still sick.” I’m often relieved of fear just by picking up the phone, calling another alcoholic and talking about them. Today I have a small group of AA friends who I love and support. I make it a point to stay in touch. My peace of mind depends on it.

If a perfect faith casts out all fear, my faith is not yet perfect. Fear still creeps in when I contemplate the end of my life. Yet for twenty plus years I’ve watched other alcoholics walk through terminal illnesses, deaths of love ones, financial ruin and all manner of other catastrophic life events -- all without picking up a drink. By watching my AA brothers and sisters live life on life’s terms I gained the faith that I can too. This faith carried me through many dark, fearful days during my wife’s year-long illness and recent death. Today, by taking the actions suggested, I have a faith that works under all conditions. I owe it all to Alcoholics Anonymous.

Closer Than Ever

My Higher Power has a knack of taking the worst possible thing, like my alcoholism, and making something beautiful out of it.

My wife lost her almost twenty-year battle with cancer recently after a year-long struggle that included two major surgeries, seventy-seven total days in hospital, seven trips to the ER, countless procedures and an ineffective clinical trial. Since we were far from home and her parents, I served as her primary care-giver for most of this time. God showed up in my life more intensely, more lovingly during this past year than ever before.

I learned how to be a stand-up guy in Alcoholics Anonymous. Instead of running away, I showed up every day for her, twenty-four and seven, I did the next indicated thing and stayed out of results. I lived in the present moment because tomorrow didn’t exist. It was the worst when she suffered, either from an uncontrollable pain spike or when we received news that nothing was working. Looking back I can see God was right there in the middle of those darkest moments.

Our love for each other grew dramatically during those last few months. We prayed together every night holding hands just before turning out the light. She prayed to her beloved Jesus and I prayed to the God I discovered in Alcoholics Anonymous -- One and the same. We prayed for others, we prayed for healing, but mostly we gave thanks for the day we had just spent together. Now, every moment was precious.

I had to be strong, but often I didn't feel strong. I couldn't let her know I was afraid.  Our condo was loaded with all kinds of strong pain meds, but I was never once tempted. I was connected to something much more powerful. When fear and exhaustion tried to have their way with me, the strength to make it through another day magically showed up.  God appeared as loving friends, family members, and caring nurses and doctors.  Neither of us ever once gave up, but both of us slowly loosened our grip.

I feel closer to my HP than ever before, closer to my humanity and closer to the truth of what I am. I have been opened up to deeper emotions than I’ve ever felt. Surely I grieve. There’s a hole in my heart that will never fully heal. I miss her smiling happy face, but I know she hasn’t really gone anywhere. She’s just in the next room.

What's In It for Me?

Before I stumbled into the rooms I had been too busy looking out for number one to care about anyone else unless there was something in it for me. It took me a few years to discover that -- lo and behold -- there is something in it for me. By caring for the common welfare of Alcoholics Anonymous, I have been able to stay sober and to enjoy a life beyond my wildest imagination.

My journey from a separate, frightened ego to a friend among friends is an ongoing process. I believe it started in my first meeting. I sensed you guys had something I wanted. You told me if I wanted what you had, I should do what you did. You suggested I ought to identify and not compare with others in the meetings. Recovery, you said, starts when I begin to overlook our differences and see our similarities. This is perhaps the most difficult lesson of all for me.

My mind seems to automatically default to judging you instead of accepting you exactly as you are. I cannot see our similarities if I am looking through the eyes of ego. I cannot really care about the common welfare of AA as an ego. As the 12 Steps continue to grind away at my self-centered fear, my sense of unity is growing. Each time I hear, “There is One who has all power”, I’m reminded that we are all joined in Spirit. One. Like a good friend of ours used to say, “we are all bozos on the bus and none of us are driving.”

I connected with the truth of life through Alcoholics Anonymous. I’m better today only because you guys loved me first. You didn’t care about where I had been or what I had done. You handed me the keys to the kingdom. I am responsible for passing them on to others.

Fellowship of the Spirit

I became a member of Alcoholics Anonymous as soon as I said, “My name is Jeff and I’m an alcoholic” and honestly believed it, but I did not connect with the Fellowship of the Spirit until I began the ego-deflating process of the Twelve Steps. Spirit is broad, roomy and all-inclusive, but egos can only stand outside the circle and look in.

I felt my first connection with Spirit after I completed my fifth step with my sponsor. I dropped a ton of guilt and shame in the process. I spoke honestly to another human being for the first time in my life. I had demonstrated my willingness to go to any lengths. I felt like a full-fledged member of the AA club.

During my ninth I made amends for stealing money from a hotel where I had tended bar 20 years earlier. I wrote letters to my deceased parents asking for their forgiveness for a variety of harms. I cleaned up my side of the street on a fairly long list of resentments. I began to put my hand out to newcomers and my life took on new meaning and purpose. Alcoholics Anonymous became an enjoyable way of life.

I don’t believe I have abandoned myself to God by any stretch. My journey from ego consciousness to God consciousness has not been without challenges. Old cunning, baffling and powerful continues to try and run me off the road. Sometimes I end up in a ditch, but you guys are right there to pull me out and I continue on my way to my happy destiny.