Acceptance in Advance

Problems defined my life before I stumbled through the doors of Alcoholics Anonymous. I had relationship problems, financial problems, career problems, health problems and all other kinds of problems large and small. As my drinking increased, my problems multiplied. I had only one problem-solving tool, a rusty old hammer of self-will. I pounded on my problems with that hammer day and night. My life was like Whack-a-Mole. I’d beat down one problem and another one would pop up. It was exhausting work and it made me very thirsty. Alcohol gave me temporary relief, but real peace of mind was impossible.

In AA I learned that until I was able to accept my alcoholism, I couldn’t get sober. In the same way, until I can accept the problems in my life as gifts from God, I can’t hope to live with peace and joy. Today I know that problems are in my life not to punish me, but to help me grow. There is a lesson especially designed for me in the center of every problem I encounter. The problem keeps reappearing in my life until I learn the lesson. Usually that lesson is about letting go of someone or something.

Recently, I’ve been practicing acceptance in advance. Whenever I sense I have an expectation of a specific outcome, I remind myself up front that God may have another plan. I accept in advance whatever the outcome is without even knowing what it is. I have the faith that if it doesn’t go my way, there’s something better in store for me. This has worked beautifully during my recent travels in my RV camper, Acceptance. During every trip some mechanical challenge pops up that I can’t handle. In the beginning I was frustrated when something did not work properly. Today when I experience a problem, I have a Plan B. Instead of gnashing my teeth and pointing my finger, I accept I have a problem and rely on intuition for a solution. Usually the solution is to ask for help. I’m totally amazed how easy life is when I live in the solution instead of the problem.

Must Hit Bottom First

“Why all this insistence that every A.A. must hit bottom first?”

I bounced along the bottom for years as relationships, jobs, finances and health disintegrated. I tried therapy, fire-walking, and reading spiritual books but nothing changed the downward trajectory of my life. I was unemployed and running out of borrowed money. I was getting drunk twice a day, but the thought of quitting drinking never entered my mind because denial had me believing that a new big paying job would solve everything. Yet, I seemed to be paralyzed to take any actions to look for work. For months I trudged through every day with an ache of fear in my gut. Apparently something inside of me let go.  Then grace happened.

In a moment of clarity I was allowed a tiny glimpse of truth about myself. I was shown that there was a better way to go through life than the way I was going. Grace gave me the strength to get off the couch and ask a therapist for help. A little while later I walked into my first AA meeting floating on a pink cloud. From the very beginning I wanted what you had and was graced with a willingness to do what you did.

My higher power waits patiently for me to run out of my old ideas before showing me an easier softer way. It seems that ego needs to be beaten to a pulp before it takes a step back and makes way for spirit to enter my life. I found this to be true, not only with alcohol, but with every other defect of character. I have to become sick and tired of being sick and tired to be willing to let go of my old ideas and be changed. I still have many of the character defects I walked through the door with. The simple reason is because I haven’t yet hit bottom with them.

I learned that bouncing along the bottom is not the same as hitting bottom. A good example is my relationship with caffeine. I’ve been bouncing along the bottom with coffee for most of my adult life. I don’t sleep well if I drink coffee after about 12 o’clock in the afternoon. If I don’t sleep well the next day I’m tired and cranky. I’ve suffered hundreds restless nights and tired and cranky days. Yet every so often I still reach for a cup thinking this time will be different. When I was new I remember complaining to my sponsor about drinking too much coffee. He said, “Well, at least they won’t put you in jail for drinking too much coffee.” Maybe someday I’ll truly hit a bottom with coffee. Then God can come in and remove the insanity of believing I need coffee to live.

The Trap of Specialness

When I was new the old timers told me to identify with the others in the room, not compare myself to them. Easier said than done! One of the old ideas I came through the doors with is the belief that I have to be special to get all the goodies life has to offer. My egoic need to be special requires me to constantly compare myself with others—to see where I stand. The process of comparing myself with others separates me from life because I am always better than or less than, but never equal to. As long as I hold onto this deep seated need to be special I cannot be a worker among workers or a friend among friends. I stand alone outside the circle of life with my nose pressed up against the window wondering how to get in.

What I don’t realize is that I am already inside. In God’s eye I am already special, unique and different. I don’t realize this because I’m blocked by self-centered fear. When I identify with you I connect with the truth of what I am. Our drunk-a-logues may be different, but the feelings we suffered to reach our bottoms are exactly the same. I know all about your anxiety, your self-hate, your frustration and your confusion because I’ve felt the very same way. I identify with your moment of clarity. How life whispered to you that there was a better way to go than the way you were going. Finally, I identify with your courage to walk through life without the crutch of alcohol, drugs or other addictions. I know how hard this can be.

I have not entirely freed myself from the trap of specialness. But today I’m more aware when I separate myself from you. When I catch my frightened little ego judging, comparing, and struggling to win your approval, I realize I’ve strayed away from the herd. I reach into my toolbox to take some actions to bring me back into unity with what is, one drunk at a time.

Hindus have a cool way of greeting each other. They clasp their palms together in front of their hearts, bow their heads slightly and say “Namaste.” Namaste translates “the God in my greets the God in you.”  Wow. This is real identification, real connection.


Life on Life's Terms

One of the many self-help books I read before I got sober suggested I live a God-centered life. I tried to incorporate the author’s suggestions, but I lacked the discipline to practice them consistently. It wasn’t long before I gave up. The book joined all the others on my bedside table gathering dust.

Twenty plus years later, I still don’t know how to live a God centered life, but I do know how to live an AA centered life. I put myself in the center of Alcoholics Anonymous taking the suggested actions over and over again. There I find God working non-stop miracles in my life.

A year or so before I got sober, I flew to Florida from California every other weekend for the last few months of my mother’s life. I remember feeling totally useless during these trips. I couldn’t care for her physically or support her emotionally. I certainly could not provide spiritual comfort since I had none myself. The best I could do was to sit by her bedside and drink. Sometimes I wished I didn’t have to be there.

Fast-forward through 20 years of recovery. With God firmly in the center of my life, I had the honor of care taking my wife during the last year of her life. Besides daily care there were 911 emergencies, two major surgeries and long stays in hospital. I learned way more than I ever wanted to know about nursing, doctors, hospitals and cancer. I never would have volunteered, but it turned out to be the best experience of my life. I had no choice. We had just returned back to the US from China and there was no one else. God had me right where he wanted me.

Sure there were stressful, painful, disappointing times, but happiness was present through the whole experience. Apparently I tapped into a deep reservoir of spiritual power I didn’t know was there. I suited up and showed up every day 24 and 7 with a great attitude. My wife and I became closer than ever. She died peacefully with a smile on her face.

I’m convinced that my recovery is nothing I do and everything God does. Without God in the center of my life, it is impossible for me to experience the joy that comes from living life on life’s terms with balance, order and harmony. I think I’ll keep coming back.

Spiritual Fitness

A few months ago I received a free gym membership as a benefit of new health insurance. Since then I’ve been to the club a grand total of three times including the first visit when I signed up. My muscles are flabbier and my joints are tighter, but I can’t seem to find the motivation to take the action. I know from past experience I feel better when I work my body, but ego keeps saying “You’re fine, Jeff. Take it easy.” It’s very much the same with my spiritual fitness program.

It is impossible for me to live to good effect one day at a time if I am not spiritually fit. Without a solid connection to the God of my own understanding, ego continuously catapults me into the future where my mind goes round and round searching for solutions to problems that don’t even exist. Or it drags me back down memory lane in morbid reflection, pointing out all the times I was a jerk and all the things I could have done better. The net result of living in the past and future is that I miss the joy of living today. I missed big chunks of life for more than thirty years before I stumbled through the doors to Alcoholics Anonymous. The obsession to drink was removed from me in the first week. Yet, I know it can return if I take my foot off the gas and let down on my program of action.

AA provides me with a spiritual fitness program, but like a physical fitness program, I have to get off the couch and take the actions. Along with meetings and sharing with other alcoholics, I find Steps 10, 11 and 12 -- the maintenance steps -- to be an effective daily exercise program. It’s easy and takes very little time.

Step Ten simply asks me to recognize when I’m feeling disconnected from life and to inquire about the cause. Have I been fearful, dishonest, selfish? I don’t need to figure it all out with my mind. Just be aware of what’s going on. In Step Eleven I ask God for help. I tune into the power and receive the intuition to handle whatever challenges the day holds. Step Twelve reminds me I’m alive to be of service. Not only to other alcoholics, but to the world at large. When I take these steps every morning as part of my quiet time, living in the present moment is no problem.

Like our book says, it all boils down to willingness. When I am willing to take these simple actions, life is unbelievably good. When I’m not willing to go to the gym and sweat, it gets harder to bend over and tie my shoes.