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Putting Others First


I’m coming to believe that spiritual love does not begin or end with me. It originates at the source of all life and flows through me out into the world to return again and again. Putting others first is a demonstration of my willingness to be changed, to learn how to love more.

In our 11th step prayer, St. Francis asked God to make him a channel of peace. When my spiritual channel is open love pours through. My life feels peaceful and contented. I become an ever-greater expression of the One that has all power. When my channel is blocked by selfishness, fear, anger, judgment and the like, the love can’t flow. This, I believe, is the spiritual malady that causes me to feel restless, irritable, and discontented. I drank against the anxiety caused by the spiritual malady for 30 years.

I learned everything about putting others first in Alcoholics Anonymous. I didn’t show up feeling very good about myself. But the people in the meetings loved me anyways. Slowly through the years the 12 steps dissolved much of the self-centered fear I walked through the door with. I learned how good it feels to give back the love that was so freely given to me. Seeing the light come on in a newcomer’s eyes when they finally “get it” is my favorite of all experiences.

Putting others first means the willingness to practice love and tolerance not only in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous, but on the highway and in the checkout line at the grocery store. Putting others first without expectation of receiving anything in return is the highest spiritual challenge. I feel I’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s possible.

Gratitude

Early on I heard something that has stayed with me through the years. "It is impossible for a grateful drunk to drink." I'm coming to believe that an attitude of gratitude is the absolute best defense against the first drink. Drinking is suicide for a person like me who has admitted he suffers from the disease of alcoholism. Drinking says to the universe, "I want to die." Gratitude says to the universe, "I want to live and enjoy this beautiful thing called life more fully."

My feelings of gratitude expanded through the years. Early on, like most of us, I wrote lists of the good things I had in my life. Today I feel grateful for not only the good things, but the painful things as well. I've come to believe that there are no accidents in God's world. Every experience is intended for my highest and best good. I could not grow without each and every one.

I'm grateful to be an alcoholic. There is no way I could travel from where I was 23+ years ago to where I am today without having a disease that was going to kill me unless I treated spiritually. I had to drink every drink and tell every lie to get to that jumping off point our book describes. I couldn't have done it with one less of anything. Not one less drink, not one less drug, not one less ​failed relationship, not one less financial setback. I'm grateful for them all, every one.

Journey to Faith

I always believed in God. I went to church on Christmas and Easter and I even prayed from time to time when the you-know-what was hitting the fan. I prayed for money, jobs, girlfriends.  I prayed the pregnancy test would be negative. I always prayed God would come down from heaven and fix things for me. I never thought to ask God to fix me -- to change me in any way. After all, I was a pretty good guy. Why would I want to change?

My belief in God did not stop alcoholism from slowly but surely robbing me of everything worthwhile in life. I lost friends, interest in challenging work, creativity, and, finally, all enthusiasm for life itself. After years of suffering, I was graced with a moment of clarity and found myself in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous staring up at the Steps on the wall.

My faith began to blossom when, after thirty years of daily drinking, the obsession was lifted clean out of me at my first meeting. How the hell did this happen? Since I couldn't answer this question with my logical mind, I eventually decided it must be God. I was drawn into the spiritual mystery. I kept coming back. Slowly I began to see God in every detail of life.

Since then I've walked through many painful life experiences without picking up a drink. Each time I get to the other end, I am stronger and my faith has grown.  Faith allows me to trust that the universe has my best interest at heart. Faith gives me the courage to walk through fear and live my life fully. Faith assures me that regardless of how dark it seems, the sun is shining behind the clouds. What began as a wishy-washy belief in God, grew slowly into solid faith -- a faith that works for me regardless of what’s going on in the world.

Remembering


An old time member in one of my groups often says the most important word in the Big Book is “Remember.” My brain will never forget the relief I felt from alcohol. Step One helps me remember that without the spiritual help that comes from working the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, I am screwed. 

I was a few days sober and floating on a pink cloud. I sat in counseling circle in the treatment center along with five or six other outpatients. When it was my turn to speak, I said, “I feel so good, I know I’ll never drink again.” The woman that ran the center, an ex-heroin junkie from New York with a pronounced lack of tolerance for newcomer bullshit, sneered at me and said, “That’s just ego Jeff, we don’t say crap like that in here. You have no idea what you will or won’t do in the future. Better you stay out of the future and concentrate on what you need to do to stay sober today.” Step One reminds me that the very first thing I need to do to stay sober today is to remember I have a disease that will kill me if I give it half a chance.

I’ve seen what happens to alcoholics who forget. At almost every meeting, I hear of people going out, some with significant time on the program. Most report they stopped going to meetings first, but not all of them. One guy shared that he just woke up with a drink in his hand. Step One helps me remember I am not bullet proof. I am not immune from picking up a drink even though I haven’t had one in a while. 

A few months ago, I began a brand-new phase in my life. I moved into a new home and met a woman I am mad about. My meeting attendance dropped off a bit. I didn’t realize these major changes brought any consequences until yesterday. As I sat in my third meeting in three days, I felt the peace return. One more time I realized I need to attend meetings to be around other drunks who help me remember the truth: My name is Jeff and I have a disease called alcoholism.