The Middle Way

The first time I heard the Four Absolutes — absolute honesty, purity, unselfishness and love — I had the same reaction as when I first read the St. Francis Prayer: “Great, here are some more ideas I can use to beat myself up.” The Four Absolutes sounded way to much like the Ten Commandments to me. My guilt over repeated violation of the commandments simmered deep inside me. I drank at this guilt for thirty years.

Like most all of us, my self-esteem was not at a high point when I stumbled through the door to my first meeting. Beating myself up over perceived shortcomings was a specialty of mine. At one of my regular meetings there was a long time member who greeted me with a hug. She always asked, “Did you check your whip at the door, Jeff?”

Befriending myself has been a long process. It started with the folks in meetings.  I learned I didn’t have to pretend to be large and in charge. You guys loved me warts and all. But it took many years before I could begin to love myself. Being of service and sponsoring others is the key. Two years ago I had the honor of care-taking  my wife for eleven months until she died. While I wouldn’t have signed up for this experience, it turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to me. Sure it was painful and sad, but in the end I finally felt worthy. I became comfortable in my own skin and life took on a whole new meaning.

The Buddha prescribed the middle way to alleviate suffering. “If the strings of the lute are too tight, they will break. If the strings are too loose, it won’t play.” Just for today the tension in my strings is just right.

Where's the Juice?

I was a couple of months sober when an old timer in my home group asked me how it was going. I said, "To tell you the truth, I'm a little bored." He looked at me with a knowing smile and said, "That's not boredom you're feeling Jeff, that's Serenity!"

Serenity is boring to my ego. Stumbling through life in drunken delusion. Now that's exciting! Making stupid decisions; telling lies to cover up lies; pretending to be something I wasn't; manipulating others to get my way; alcohol fueled arguments; driving with my hand over one eye to see one white line instead of three; the list goes on ad infinitum. Non-stop struggle and drama characterized my life for as long as I could remember. Yes, there was pain and stress, but I figured this was just the way life is so I just sucked it up.

I didn't know any other way to live until I stumbled into my first meeting. Almost immediately the obsession was removed.  I floated on a pink cloud. Like any good alcoholic, I wanted more. I wanted the peace I saw in the eyes of the old timers. You said if I wanted what you had, I ought to do what you do. I began to take suggestions. Slowly, slowly I experienced moments of feeling a part of instead apart from. Ego resisted because ego wants no part of God, spirituality or Alcoholics Anonymous. Ego tries to convince me to go back to the "good old days." Ego wants me to believe in AA I am resigned to a life that is boring and glum. Ego keeps asking, "Where's the juice?"

Participation in Alcoholics Anonymous keeps life juicy for me, especially working with others. I get a kick out of walking with another man through the steps, seeing the light come on in his eyes, and watching him grow and change. Like it says in our book, it's an experience I'm glad I didn't miss. But there are a number of other things I do to keep my life fun, interesting and rewarding. I attend different meetings; read and study spiritual literature; and travel regularly to scenic spots in my new camper, "Acceptance," to hike alone in nature. Since I am no longer chased through life by the demons of guilt, shame and fear, my life is better today than ever before.

I heard once that the secret to a fulfilling, happy life is having someone to love, something to do that your really enjoy, and something to look forward to. Alcoholics Anonymous gives me all three. Perhaps my life today is not as heart pounding exciting as my life when I was drinking and living on the edge, but I don't miss it. Today I stay pretty close to the middle. No high highs, but no low lows either. Just even.

Emotional Sobriety

I listed the name "Danny" near the top of my  resentment list on my first fourth step. Until a few years earlier, he had been a life-long friend. He even served as best man at my wedding. In the second column I wrote "He's a jerk, he snubbed me." Under "How it affected me", I wrote: self esteem, fear, insecurity. I simply could not see I had any part so I left the fourth column blank. During my fifth step my sponsor asked for details on what Danny had actually done to me. I said, "He became a very successful lawyer and made a ton of money." My sponsor looked at me kind of funny and asked how Danny's success had harmed me. "It made me jealous", I said.  "How is making you jealous harming you?" I didn't have an answer so I reluctantly scratched Danny off my resentment list.

I was taught to refer to column three as the "Three Esses" - sex, society and security. Security has two components: physical security and emotional security. I didn't really understand the importance of emotional security until I read Bill Wilson's essay, Emotional Sobriety, a few years later. This paragraph jumped out at me:

"Suddenly I realized what the matter was.  My basic flaw had always been dependence - almost absolute dependence - on people or circumstances to supply me with prestige, security and the like.  Failing to get these things according to my perfectionist dreams and specifications, I had fought for them, and when defeat came, so did my depression."

Part of me still wants you to love me the way I think you should - to make me feel all warm and fuzzy. But a larger part of me understands that serenity comes not from dependence on others but from independence of spirit. I gain this independence by allowing the other people in my life to be exactly who they are. This is a daily challenge for me because there is so very much I could do to fix them (Smiling).

Emotional security means I no longer depend on anyone or anything for my happiness and well being. Instead I grow to trust my Higher Power with every detail of my life. I'm not quite there yet, but I'm closer than ever.


In some ways, my recovery means the same things to me that drinking did: release from care, boredom and worry; intimacy with friends and the feeling that life is good. But my drinking experiences, while pleasant at times, were nothing but illusions. Pipe dreams that evaporated shortly after the bottle was empty.  Now that I am no longer running away from life, I suit up and show up and face whatever the day has in store for me. I am graced each day with the strength to live my life the way it is, not the way I’d like it to be.  God, as I misunderstand God, makes this possible. I met this God in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous and our relationship has been growing ever since. My recovery today means I have a God in my life I can do business with.

When I was new I identified with the part in the big book about God being my new employer. Relating to God as my employer makes sense to me. I do my part as a loyal and faithful employee. God, a gentle and understanding boss, provides everything I need, not only to survive, but to thrive. My job is simply to show up each day and do the footwork. God takes care of the results and I enjoy outcomes better than anything I could imagine. We communicate freely with each other. The door to his huge corner office is open to me, 24 and 7. When I am willing to withdraw from the world for a few moments in silence, God provides the intuition I need to handle anything life throws at me.

I know much less about God today than I did when we first met, but I am more grateful for my job than ever. I enjoy lifetime employment, fabulous benefits, and work that I love. In God’s employment I live a real life, not a facsimile. I go through each day with peace of mind that comes from knowing I am exactly where I’m supposed to be, doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. It's simply a great way to live.