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Giving It Away

I do not believe Bill was trying to save Dr. Bob’s ass when he picked up the phone in the hotel lobby. He was trying to save his own. A business deal had just blown up. The disease was clawing at him. He needed another alcoholic to help. He had experienced a spiritual awakening in the hospital, but now he had to give it away to keep the spiritual power flowing. It's no coincidence Bill's phone call led him to Dr. Bob.

I've been spending a bit of time on the phone with a new AA friend. We have agreed to talk every evening for 30 days.  We hope to take the first three steps together by then. So far we've shared about the Dr.'s Opinion and Step One. In the process we've learned a lot about each other.  I don't know how much our conversations are helping him, but I damn sure know they are helping me.

Despite all that's going on in the world, I’m enjoying the best life I’ve ever had, but it is dangerous to think I’ll never drink again. What I know is that I probably won’t drink today because I’m giving away what was so freely given to me. I can't rest on my laurels. With my meeting attendance way down due to the pandemic, I needed more opportunities to share with other drunks. the new man came along at just the right time. 

The Best Medicine

I had been standing on the outside of life looking in for as long as I could remember. I was not a joiner. Intimacy made me uncomfortable. Other people were just too much trouble. I’d spent the last eight months unemployed and drinking at home in almost complete isolation. Then I was graced with  a moment of clarity that lad me to Alcoholics Anonymous.  It was grace pure and simple that led me to AA, but it was the laughter that kept me coming back until I became hooked. 

After my very first meeting the man who would become my first sponsor said, "Some of us go to Harry’s for breakfast after the meeting, why don’t you come along.” I said, “I’d really like to, but I’m very busy this morning.’ He gave me a knowing (you are full of crap) smile and said, “I’m sure you are busy, Jeff, but why don’t you come along anyways?” An unseen hand pushed me to the breakfast with five or six other men. I remember laughing, really laughing, for the first time in years. Driving home from breakfast I had the feeling I had finally found my way home after a long painful journey. I had no idea what had happened, but I knew I would go back the next week. And I kept coming back ever since. 

The laughter drew me into the center of the herd. I became a part of.  The clenched fist inside my head began to relax. I began to see I wasn't unique. Our stories were different, but the underlying feelings of fear, self-hate, and hopelessness were exactly the same. As I connected to others in the rooms, I connected to the God of my own misunderstanding. 

I'm coming to believe life is a third rate comedy and we are all slipping on banana peels. Growing along spiritual lines allows me not to take myself too seriously. I simply can't enjoy life fully if I do. It took many years, but today, thanks entirely to AA meetings, friendships and sponsorship, I have learned to laugh at myself. I'm pretty sure I have a lifetime supply of material. Laughter is definitely the best medicine for this alcoholic.

Anonymity

 I was taught anonymity means giving all credit to God, taking no credit for myself-- for anything. This idea is clearly stated in the other big book where it says “of myself I am nothing, He does the works.” I’m coming to believe there is not me and God. There is only God. Growing spiritually is about me slowly disappearing.

I’m just a channel for God like it says in our Eleventh Step prayer. I practice the steps. I empty myself out of old, mistaken ideas about me and how life works. I become an ever fuller expression of God. Struggle and suffering fall away as I stop believing the crap in my head. I experience moments of bliss as God’s peace, love and power flow through me.

I did not come by this realization quickly.  In fact, God is so anonymous He has me continuing to believe I am doing the work. After all, don’t I decide to go to the meeting? Don’t I drive myself there? Don’t I put my hand out to the newcomer? I want to take credit for this stuff, but then I remember How It Works. “There is One who has all power. That One is God.” All power. Not 99% of the power.

My ego asks, “if everything were God and God is Love, then why would there be starvation, disease and wars and killing? The only answer I can come up with is that God doesn’t will these things to happen, but He allows these things to happen for our highest and best good. In the same way God graced me with alcoholism. I could not have traveled from where I was to where I am today without having a deadly disease that was going to kill me unless I treated it spiritually.

God and I play a continuous game of hide and seek. God tries to stay totally anonymous, but I see God every time I am willing to seek God. God hides in plain sight, everywhere I look. Our book asks me to choose. Is God everything or nothing? I have seen way too many miracles to believe nothing.

Spiritual Fitness Program

 I guess I must be a real slow learner. The promise that I will stop fighting everyone and everything has not come true for me. I continue to have trouble with that restraint of pen and tongue thing. I still need to be right much of the time.  Then there are a variety of pesky character defects that might pop up at a moment's notice if my fear button is pushed. I'm much better today, but I'm not cured. But I'm not complaining. I haven't had a drink or even the desire to drink in more than 26 years. This is truly a miracle for a man who hid from life and truth in a bottle for thirty years.  

The obsession was lifted clean out of me at the very beginning of my spiritual journey. This experience is the foundation of my recovery and the bedrock of my faith in my Higher Power. I still can’t explain how it happened. I just kind of woke up one day and it was gone. Like the promise says, I have been placed in a position of neutrality regarding alcohol. I don’t want to drink. I don’t want not to drink. I don’t even think about it really. It feels like I am bulletproof as far as alcohol is concerned. But I’m not taking any chances. I’ve seen too many seemingly bulletproof alcoholics go out and get drunk. So I continue to take all the actions you suggested to me in my first two weeks: meetings, steps and service. Taken all together these suggestions form 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 Now, the only time there is.

Like our book says, it all boils down to willingness. When I am willing to take the simple actions to maintain my spiritual fitness, 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.

Conscious Contact

 Conscious contact for me means the experience of God showing up in my life, not an idea of God I read in some spiritual book. When I’m awake and aware, I can see my life is everything God does and nothing I do. There is no place God isn’t. But it’s so easy for me to get distracted, fall back asleep, to take God for granted. Then I begin to believe that I am the power making my life happen. I need daily reminders to maintain my conscious contact with God. Fortunately I’m surrounded by powerful reminders everywhere I look.

I become aware of the presence of God in most every meeting I attend. The other big book says, “where more than one are gathered in His name, God is present.” When my mind is not wandering off, sometimes I can actually feel the presence of God in a meeting. Sometimes when I’m sharing with another drunk I hear the words come out of my mouth and I think. “Wow, I didn’t know I knew that.” I reach out to newcomers and occasionally there’s a big payoff — seeing the light come on when the person finally “gets it.”  I listen to you share what your life was like, what happened and what it’s like now. When I hear how God is working in your life, I am reminded God is working in my life too.

Besides staying active in the AA program, I seek to maintain conscious contact by hiking alone in nature with my cell phone turned off. This is my primary Eleventh Step practice. Solitude is so wonderful after a lifetime of isolation. I strive to keep distractions to a minimum. I do not belong to Facebook, I watch very little TV and have no strong opinions on outside issues. Recently a friend called me unpatriotic because I wouldn’t get caught up in politics. It may be selfish, but my peace of mind is more important to me than who is president.

I like to travel extensively in Southeast Asia. It seems like there are ornate temples and beautiful statues of Buddha everywhere I look.  I am surrounded by these symbols, but they don’t trigger awareness of God for me. Yet when I glimpse the beautiful, joyous faces of the little Thai, Cambodian and Vietnamese children, I’m absolutely positive God is real and alive.

What Am I?

 I define myself as a spiritual being having a human experience. I feel extremely grateful to know and experience this truth.

The gentle power of spirit works through me when I open myself to it with the help of the 12 Steps. As I align with this power, my life feels useful and contented. I live in peace, harmony and balance.  I sometimes forget spirit is my true nature. When I forget this truth about me, I also forget the truth about others.

Although my human experiences can be rough sometimes, I know that every painful experience is necessary for my highest and best good. Without the hopelessness I felt before I stumbled into my first meeting, I'd still be sitting on the couch drinking cheap wine, watching stupid TV and thinking life was just great.

I feel grateful for all the gifts I've been given -- the good, the bad and the downright ugly ones. I practice an attitude of gratitude by slowly letting go of my attachment to getting what I want, by suiting up and showing up for life and by trying to be helpful where ever I can. I show appreciation for others in my life. I try not to complain. The willingness to do these things doesn’t come from me. It comes from spirit. It’s all grace.

What am I?

I define myself as a spiritual being having a human experience. I feel extremely grateful to know and experience this truth.

The gentle power of spirit works through me when I open myself to it with the help of the 12 Steps. As I align with this power, my life feels useful and contented. I live in peace, harmony and balance.  I sometimes forget spirit is my true nature. When I forget this truth about me, I also forget the truth about others.

Although my human experiences can be rough sometimes, I know that every painful experience is necessary for my highest and best good. Without the hopelessness I felt before I stumbled into my first meeting, I'd still be sitting on the couch drinking cheap wine, watching stupid TV and thinking life was just great.

I feel grateful for all the gifts I've been given -- the good, the bad and the downright ugly ones. I practice an attitude of gratitude by slowly letting go of my attachment to getting what I want, by suiting up and showing up for life and by trying to be helpful where ever I can. I show appreciation for others in my life. I try not to complain. The willingness to do these things doesn’t come from me. It comes from spirit. It’s all grace.

Design for Daily Living

 It took me a while in AA to realize that “restored to sanity” meant God was going to restore me to a fit spiritual condition like I was before I left the home office to begin my life on earth. Today I think of sanity as order, balance, and harmony. When I’m paying attention I can see the absolute perfection of creation. I see that day follows night; the planets in perfect alignment; the tides right on schedule. I figure that any power that can keep the universe in perfect harmony can certainly handle my puny little life. If order, balance and harmony is my true nature, why don’t I experience my life this way?

I learned that my perception is filtered by the old fearful ideas I'm carrying inside my head.  These ideas cause me to react in fearful, unloving ways and cause all the trouble there is. Our book is clear. We must let go of these old ideas. Absolutely. But how? Years ago our dear Louise shared a simple but powerful design for daily living: Show up, pay attention, do the next indicated thing, stay out of results, be grateful.

I show up by living in the present moment with the willingness to do what is suggested. I pay attention by getting quiet and listening for the still small voice inside me. I do the next right thing by following the guidance I receive, even if I don’t want to. I let go of results by not having any expectation of how my actions will turn out. I practice an attitude of gratitude by being constantly aware of all the blessings I receive each day.  Along with the Twelve Steps, this simple plan has allowed me to let go of old ideas and make room for God to work in my life.  

My life is pretty darn good today. More and more I feel like I'm being carried along by the river of life. I have the faith I’ll be given whatever I need to get through whatever life throws at me. I continue to have challenges but solutions appear effortlessly. Since I no longer worry very much, I no longer have to try and control people and events. Consequently, I go through life with a sense of ease and comfort and, like the promise says, I enjoy a new freedom and a new happiness. 

Treating My Disease

I was 24 hours sober. Dean S., a counselor at the treatment center I was considering, said something right out of the box that changed my life. "Jeff, you are likely here because you have the disease of alcoholism and I want you to know it's not your fault if you have it." Being still toxic, I didn't fully comprehend what Dean was saying, but I do remember what he said next. "It's not your fault you have this disease, but if you fail to treat it, your life will become unimaginably painful."

I signed up for treatment and two days later I went to my first AA meeting to get my little card signed.  Being a lifelong isolator, I wanted to be left alone, to remain aloof, to stand outside the circle of life where it felt safe. But you guys wouldn’t let me. You pulled me into the center of Alcoholics Anonymous with handshakes, hugs and pats on the back. You invited me to coffee. You told me to keep coming back. Something in me believed you really wanted me to come back. My icy veneer began to melt. It wasn’t long before I really wanted what you had and I was graced with the willingness to do what you did.

It took many years in AA to realize that drinking isn’t my real problem. Like our book says: “Bottles were only a symbol.” My real problem is self-centeredness. The alcohol sickened my body and mind, but it is self-centeredness that blocks spirit from flowing into my being. I know today that regardless of the name I give it -- God, awareness, consciousness, recovery-- spirit is the vital life force. It’s what moves me and breathes me. It’s my connection to the power of the universe. When this life force is blocked, I become bodily, mentally and spiritually sick. I am powerless to act in my own best interest and my life is unmanageable.

The 12 Steps, sponsorship and being of service open me up for divine help. With God working in my life, I've come out of the cold into the unity of all there is. Today I'm a part of, not apart from. I still enjoy being by myself, especially in nature. I thrive on peace and quiet. It's a wonderful way to live. 


My First Spiritual Experience

I believed in God, but I did not believe God would do anything for me. Thirty years of trying to control every aspect of my life had left me spiritually dead. I had no energy or enthusiasm for anything except drinking cheap wine, smoking expensive marijuana, and watching stupid TV hour after hour. I was getting desperate when a therapist suggested treatment. I received sufficient grace to say yes.

Something very curious happened on the day I signed up for treatment. I was getting ready for bed that night and realized I hadn’t thought about a drink all day. And I didn’t think about a drink the next day or the next or the one after that. In fact, I have not really thought about a drink for more than 26 years now. I don’t know how this happened or why this happened. I just know it happened. Without much effort on my part, God had removed the obsession to drink clean out of me.

Two days later I floated into my first AA meeting feeling positive about my life for the first time in years.  It felt like a bag of bricks had been taken off my shoulders. I was still unemployed and running out of borrowed money, but I had the sense that somehow everything was going to be OK. I
didn’t know how. I just knew.

I heard that trying to get spiritual is like standing in water up to neck trying to get wet. I am already 100% spiritual. God, as I misunderstand God, has been with me every second of my life. I just haven't fully realized this yet.

First Step

I was unemployed and spending most of every day drinking cheap wine and watching stupid TV. My checking account balance was nearing zero, but I couldn't find the energy to send out a resume or take any other positive actions. I awoke every morning with a growing ache of fear. I just couldn't understand how my life had become so pathetic. I didn't realize I had the disease of alcoholism that was killing me from the inside out.

Finally, I went to a therapist who had helped me quit smoking a few months earlier. I lay on her comfortable leather couch and whined about my life for the better part of an hour. When I was finished she said, "Jeff, I don't think I can help you. You are welcome to come here once a week and pay me $80 to talk about your life, but I don't think it will help." I was shocked. Then she lowered the boom. "From what I know about you, I don't think you have ounce of humility in your whole body, your brain is so cloudy from your daily drinking that you can't hope to get any clarity on your life, and you seem to have the emotional the emotional maturity of a 13 year old."

The voice in my head screamed, "You can't let this bitch talk to you this way!" but somehow I was able to keep my mouth shut. Then she looked right into my eyes -- like she was looking directly at my soul -- and said, "you're in trouble aren't you Jeff?" The voice screamed "don't admit anything, don't let her know." I looked down at my shoes. After a long pregnant pause, I whispered "maybe."

Without knowing it I had just worked the first step. For the first time in my life I admitted there was something I couldn't handle. As it turned out, that "maybe" was just enough ego deflation to allow God to come into my life and work His magic. Three days later I floated into my first AA meeting on a pink cloud of hopefulness and began, for the first time ever, to take responsibility for my life.


Letting Go

My best thinking was that if I had a new high paying job I would get a new girlfriend, get out of debt and live happily ever after. Of course I completely ignored the fact that I had had high paying jobs before and wasn’t anything close to happy or fulfilled, but this time would be different. I wanted God to change my outsides--to fix me--but I never really thought to pray to be changed inside. After all I was a pretty good guy.

It’s still hard for me to see that my life experiences are nothing but a reflection of my inner state of mind. Can’t I get away with holding on to resentment, anger, jealousy and fear--just a little? Nope. Sooner or later pain results and the pain morphs into suffering and the suffering continues until I become willing to let go. Pain is the only way the universe has to get my attention--to remind me that I’m swimming against the current of life. Without knowing it, I lived in spiritual pain for most of my life until I a moment of clarity guided me to Alcoholics Anonymous.

I’m coming to believe that it’s all grace, everything in life is grace. Alcoholism is grace; resisting spiritual help is grace and the resulting pain is grace--all gifts from a loving universe that wants nothing more for me than my highest and best good. I don’t have to learn anything new to receive the keys to the kingdom. All I really have to do is to be willing to let go: let go of everything I think that is right and everything I think that is wrong; let go of big things; let go of little things. Let it all go. The problem is I don't have the power to let go of anything. The best I can do is loosen my grip by working the Twelve Steps to the best of my ability and allow God to do the rest on God's time.

Becoming Ready

I’m coming to believe I needed every single painful experience to become ready for the miracle of recovery. I needed to drink every drink, take every drug, and tell every lie. I needed the two drunk driving arrest with nights in jail; the divorce; the bankruptcy; all the arguments with loved ones; the stupid decisions; the job losses; flunking out of college; and all the rest. I couldn’t have done with one less of anything. Which drink could I have passed up?

The Bedevilments on page 52 of our book describe what it was like for me before AA.  I was having trouble with personal relationships. I lived with the loneliness I believe only alcoholics truly understand. I was filled with resentment and simmering anger. I was taking Prozac for depression. I was unemployed and running out of money but unable to muster up the energy to look for work. I woke up every morning with an ache of fear in my gut. I wasn’t any real help to other people because I didn’t really care about other people unless they had something I wanted. I had no energy or enthusiasm for anything other than drinking and using. I was dead inside. Toward the end, everything was shades of gray. I drank for technicolor.

I’m so grateful for the “what it was like” part of my story. I needed all the pain I suffered over my thirty year drinking career to become ready to receive the priceless gift of willingness. Today I consider my alcoholism a blessing. There’s no way I could have traveled from where I was twenty five years ago to where I am today without having a disease that was going to kill me unless I treated it spiritually.

Change

I heard a young man was filling out a job application for work in a department store. On the first page he put down all the necessary information about himself including past employment. Then he turned the application over. The first question on the back was, “Have you ever been arrested?” The man checked the box marked, “No”. On the next line was the word, “Why?” Meaning if he had been arrested what was the reason. The young man wrote, “because I’ve never been caught.” That young man was me.  Until I could learn to catch myself saying and doing unloving things, I could not change.

I went through the better part of my life on auto-pilot, totally unaware of my words and deeds. I lied, cheated and stole. I judged, criticized and condemned most everyone on the planet. I rationalized, justified and minimized my actions because, in my mind, I was a pretty good guy. Only in the past few years have I realized that the self centered fear behind my actions separated me from you, God and everything good in the world. It’s no wonder I ended up in extreme isolation suffering a loneliness that I believe only an alcoholic truly understands.

It was in this painful state that God graced me with a moment of clarity that led me to Alcoholics Anonymous. I felt at home for the first time in my life and the obsession was removed on the first day. I wanted what you had so I did what you did. Slowly I began to change.

I’m no saint, but today even the perfectionist in me must admit that I have changed in some deep meaningful way. Today I look people in the eye when I'm talking with them. I’m quicker to forgive because I understand that, like me, people don’t have a choice but to do what they do. I don’t always have to flip off a driver who does something stupid. Mostly my life feels peaceful and serene. I often catch myself feeling happy for no particular reason. I realize God is doing for me what I could not do for myself.


Others First

When I was new, there was an old timer in my home group who shared often about the spiritual love one alcoholic has for another. I had no idea what he was talking about. The only kind of love I knew back then was the kind of love you see in the movies -- sticky, demanding, conditional love. Today I know spiritual love makes no demands, expects nothing in return. This is the way I was sponsored and the way I try to sponsor others.

Spiritual love is Grace--a gift from a loving universe. There is nothing I can do to earn this gift, but there are things I can do to experience this gift in my life. The most powerful mindset I can have to experience Grace in my life is to put others first. I always thought the secret for a happy life was to be loved. In Alcoholics Anonymous I learned the secret is to be loving.

Spiritual love does not begin or end with me. It begins at the source, with God, and flows through me out into the world. My job is to become a channel for this love.  Putting my hand out to newcomers, passing on what was so freely given to me, and being of service in any way I can open my channel  for spiritual love to flow through me. When the love is flowing, there is no possible way I would drink. No possible way.