The Little House Builder

I was sharing with a sobriety buddy the other day about some of the darkness in my head around my wife's medical challenges. He said, “so you’ve been awfulizing,huh?” Yep. That’s exactly what I do. My mind takes a tiny fragment of reality and magnifies it until it becomes the worst possible thing that has ever happened to me. It could be almost anything: an unexpected bill in the mail, an abnormal number on a medical report, or a pain in my body that wasn’t there yesterday. Buddha called the ego “the little house builder” for it’s ability to grow a concern into a crushing fear.

Concerns are a good thing. They focus my attention and prompt me to take action - to do the next indicated thing. But I suffer when a concern morphs into worry or dread. When the same fearful ideas spin around in my head over and over, I leave reality and get stuck in illusion. Now I am cut off from spiritual guidance, I short circuit my intuition and I’m baffled by situations instead of handling them. Without my internal guidance system, I’m liable to stand up when I’d be better served by shutting up.

The only time I can have a spiritual experience is NOW. The key for me is to realize that one more time my mind has catapulted me into the future and separated me from NOW. Every single thing that can possibly go wrong will go wrong tomorrow, next week or next year. Today, right now, in this moment, I’m OK. I’m safe. Sure I have challenges, but I’m OK.

My mind slips into the future constantly. Like a puppy that won’t pee on the paper, I’ve got to keep dragging it back to the present. Fortunately I am an alcoholic and I have a program. Once I realize what’s going on, there are some things I can do to come back to the present moment. I can get out of my head and into my body with a little exercise. I can share what’s going on with another alcoholic and bring the dark thoughts out into the light. I can get to a meeting, connect with the presence in the room and put my hand out to a newcomer. Sometimes I don’t want to do any of these things. Sometimes I’d rather sit in my own crap for a while. Thanks entirely to Alcoholics Anonymous, I don’t sit and suffer for nearly as long as I used to before I get up and take some action. 

Practicing Step Eleven

I’m coming to believe that “conscious contact” is not in my head. It is something I feel, something I am aware of. My awareness of my HP has grown each time I make my way through the steps. When I practice Step Eleven I receive honest feedback about my relationship with God.

When I was new I began a practice of quiet time first thing in the morning. I read the thought for the day and dutifully recited the third and seventh step prayers. Often the words didn’t resonate with me. I didn’t “feel” them. It felt like I had my fingers crossed behind my back when I was saying my prayers. I asked my sponsor about this and he said. Don’t worry about it. Say the prayers anyways. God seems to appreciate it when I make the effort even when I don’t feel I’m getting anything out of it. I know today that praying is a terrific demonstration of my willingness to be changed.

One prayer that stayed with me is the “thank you prayer.” Just after I close my eyes at night I silently say to myself, “thank you God for a beautiful day.” I said this prayer for so long it became etched in my consciousness. I found that I could not sleep until I repeated this prayer. I remember one night a few years ago, after a day of non-stop stress during one of my wife’s surgeries, I lay down to sleep and automatically said my prayer. A voice said “hey, how can you say today has been beautiful?” I thought, “I don’t know how I can say it, but I do.”

I became a spiritual junky early on in recovery. An alcoholic picks up a drink when times get tough. A spiritual junky picks up another spiritual book. I was drawn to understand spiritual mystery. I read countless spiritual books. I listened to spiritual teachers on my Ipod as I walked to and from AA meetings. I wrote and recited my own prayers and experimented with different forms of meditation. It took me years to realize that God cannot be found in ideas in books. Spiritual ideas may point to God, but they aren't God. Finally, I gave up (well, almost). I stopped picking up search for answers outside of me.

A friend told me once that sometimes he feels God’s arms wrapped around him when he prays. Now that's conscious contact! I haven’t had this experience, but I often “feel” the presence of God when I’m hiking in the hills near my house. In the quiet and solitude and raw beauty of the rough Southern California landscape, I feel connected to something larger than my life, something vast. Something more beautiful than I can just now describe. This is my Eleventh Step practice today.

Me-go Amigo

When I was new my first sponsor used to irritate the hell out of me with the expression, "sounds like you are right on schedule." I'd be whining about one thing or another -- no job, no girlfriend, no money -- and he'd say, "sounds like you are right on schedule." I pretended to know what he meant, but I hadn't a clue. Was there some kind of secret AA schedule no one told me about? Today I know what he meant. At every moment of my life, through every single experience, I have been in the exact right place for my highest and best good.

Ego has been along for the ride the whole time. Sometimes ego drives the bus. Sometimes it sits shotgun and gives directions. It's ego when I react defensively to criticism. If you say something I don't like, it's ego that replays the scene over and over again. It's ego when I say the words, "you should" in conversation.  But it's also ego that motivates me to reach up ambitiously to be a fuller expression of the life force within -- ego drives me to be all I can be.

It's ego to believe there is something I can do to "right-size" myself.  That's God's job.  I can't make myself more spiritual because I am already 100% spirit. I just don't realize it yet. I can get to a meeting and share, pray and reach out to a newcomer and I might feel better, but I haven't grown one ounce in humility. Perhaps humility happens when I fully embrace my ego instead of fighting against it.  I haven't done so yet, but I'm right on schedule.

Six and Seven

I did not have any white light experiences when I took steps six and seven. I took these steps for the same reason I took the other ones -- I wanted what you had, so I did what you did. When I took my fifth with my sponsor, we identified a handful of my character defects that made it impossible for me to form true partnerships with other people and my higher power. This was new behavior for me because before this I could not admit there was anything wrong with me. I just drank a little bit too much.

In six and seven I learned that my character defects had guilt, shame, anger and self-centered fear at their roots. Since I had carried these negative
qualities of spirit deep inside all my life, they felt like a part of me
 -- like who I was. I was instructed to stay aware of these defects as I went throughout my day. I took a nightly inventory of my most glaring defects to see where they popped up during my day. I used the dictionary to discover the antonym of the defect. I prayed to be forgiving instead of indignant, calm instead of angry, and right sized instead of arrogant. Slowly, slowly I became aware that my insecurity expressing through my character defects was not serving me well.

In 2009 I had a mini-breakthrough. After one particularly angry, emotional meltdown with my wife, I heard a voice say “You don’t have to live this way anymore if you don’t want to.” After fifteen years of recovery, I had finally become sick and tired of being sick and tired of being manipulated by fear. I was allowed to see I had been repeating the same set of fearful behaviors over and over again and receiving the same crap tasting sandwich for my trouble.

I’d like to report that today, after more than twenty years in Alcoholics Anonymous and working a pretty good program, that my character defects are a thing of the past. This is not the case. They are all still there waiting to rear up if I let up on my program of action. Fortunately for me I love AA and have no intention of letting that happen.


I was taught that God is an experience not an idea. God is hard to find when I am spinning in my own head, searching the Rolodex of my mind for answers. God comes alive the moment I ask for help.

AA didn’t get me sober, God did. AA simply offers me infinite opportunities to ask for help. I ask God for help every time I attend a meeting, every time I work a step and every time I put my hand out to a newcomer. Help is what I needed twenty years ago when the best I could do was get drunk twice a day and watch TV in my darkened, messy apartment. Help is what I need today. 

I see evidence of God’s hand in my life when I look backwards from where I came. It’s God’s job to get me out of any jam I get myself into. God was there at my bottom with a moment of clarity that led me to AA. God was there to send me to China and a brand new life when, at three years sober, I lost a job that I thought I could not live without. God has been with Lola and me throughout the past six months as we battle her cancer together. There have been too many “miracles” to write off as coincidences.

My experience of God has blossomed as the twelve steps grind away at ego. Today, if I’m in the right space I experience God most everywhere. I see God in a little Chinese child who squeals with delight as he learns to walk on wobbly legs. A hawk glides through the eggshell blue sky in the hills near my home. Defying all odds tiny wildflowers bloom on the harsh desert floor. The same infinite intelligence that heals a cut on my finger keeps the planets spinning around the sun. The light comes on in a newcomer’s eyes, the same way it did for me.

God is, God was, God always will be. Of this I have no doubt.

Love and Tolerance

Charlie showed up regularly to one of the meetings I went to when I was new. He had a nice appearance and a good smile. Charlie didn’t sit in one of the hundred or so folding chairs, organized theater-style for our podium meeting. Charlie sat on the floor half-in and half-out of the door leading to the outer staircase. Like all of us, Charlie battled inner demons, but Charlie’s demons wanted to talk during the meeting.

A few times each meeting, one of us would be sharing at the podium and Charlie would start talking. No one could figure out what Charlie was talking about.  He wasn’t drunk. He didn’t rant or rave. He just talked out loud, diverting everyone’s attention from the speaker. The room fell silent until Charlie finished. Then when he was done, the speaker continued on. A couple of times when Charlie going real good, one of our group’s old timers sat down on the floor next to Charlie. This usually this did the trick.

As I newcomer, I could not understand why no one asked Charlie to leave. Today I know why.