It would be fair to say that most of us, recovering alcoholics, are typically not advocates of discipline, change, or structure – at least outside of our addiction. However, upon venturing into the realm of recovery, these practices have been my saving grace.
Early on, someone told me, “You only need to change one thing: everything.” I remember the feeling of impending doom that came over me, followed by a sudden sigh of relief. If I was going to achieve a life beyond my wildest dreams, this meant I must be willing to let go of my old ideas and surrender myself to an entirely new way of thinking and living.
Before ever picking up a drink or a drug, I was plagued with all of the ‘isms. I was self-centered, ego-driven, enslaved to 100 forms of fear, reclusive, seemingly inadequate, and utterly miserable. The truth is, I had no idea how to be happy. My life was comprised of self-propelled victimization and manipulation – seeking to achieve detachment from reality.
Substance abuse treatment kept me isolated from drugs and alcohol long enough to receive the proper detox and education on the disease of addiction, but rehab was not my solution. Abstinent from drugs and alcohol I was still left with the messy head of an alcoholic. I was still left with a cunning, baffling, and powerful opponent. Addiction is a disease of the brain and a spiritual malady that beckons for my call in the most sinister of ways. Without a spiritual solution found in the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, I am certain to drink again.
Skepticism About A.A.
When I was first introduced to the Alcoholics Anonymous program, I assumed I was about to be indoctrinated into a cult of fellow degenerates. I was convinced that addiction was an issue of morality. I initially believed that once I completed the “homework” set before me, I would be cured. My ignorance was soon shattered in the wake of more pain. Perhaps I was a glutton for punishment, or maybe I had absolutely no idea of the stark nature of what I was truly up against. Either way, I tried things my way. To no surprise, I failed miserably and eventually relapsed. I found myself more miserable than ever before.
I heard the promises that everyone in A.A. talked about, but I didn’t believe they would come true for me. I experienced almost a year and a half of abstinence but never the freedom found in recovery. I placed myself in a position to be the perfect victim — lost in an abusive relationship and hopeless without a solution. I was faced with two options – dive back into the steps or drink again. At this point, I was living in my own apartment, reunited with my son, given birth to my daughter, restored relationships with family/friends, and I had brief glimpses of the relief brought on by the 12 Steps and reestablishing a relationship with God. Perhaps it was my pride, fear of legal consequences, or my stubborn nature that led me back to A.A. Either way, I decided to re-join A.A.
An Honest Effort
This time around, I took the early advice that I received, and I decided to change everything. Half-measures never availed me much. I found a new sponsor, and I was desperate to go through the steps again. Every suggestion she gave (even the most unfavorable) I followed. I came to believe that I was the alcoholic of the hopeless variety. The Big Book speaks in specifics about a solution for alcoholics like me. There is but one solution, and that solution is grounded in spirituality.
“To be doomed to an alcoholic death or to live on a spiritual basis are not always easy alternatives to face.” – Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book pg. 44
Faced with two options, I was sure that I needed to have a spiritual awakening – but how?! I grew up in church, and I believed in God, but the truth is I was still playing the director, attempting to run the show. Time and time again, my life epitomized “self will run riot.” I needed a particular set of instructions to help me rediscover what living on a spiritual basis looked like for me. There are 12 spiritual principles behind each step, and through this discovery, the 12 Steps redefined my conception of God and recreated an entirely new matter of living.
Living the Principles
Honesty: I spent most of my life living with a false sense of self, consistently lying to myself and everyone around me in hopes of finding acceptance. Speaking of honesty, it wasn’t until I started applying the definition of honesty — “Fairness and straightforwardness of conduct: adherence to the facts.” — that I finally found acceptance within myself and the Fellowship. My sponsor says it best; “If you hold up the truth, in love, you can’t go wrong.”
Hope: When I came into the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous, I was completely hopeless. I truly believed I was in a horrible solution and I was doomed to a life of misery and suffering or likely an alcoholic death. Through the steps, hope found me. I was met by a solution that only required my willingness. For the first time in my life, I was able to see the Light.
Faith: I grew up believing I was full of faith. Truth be told, I only had faith in myself despite the unmanageability that preceded me. I didn’t have faith in humanity much less God. When I began looking back at all of the times that God rescued me and ultimately breathed life into my dry bones, it was undeniable that He had been acting on my behalf. I found faith in small situations, in which I was powerless. I began to pray and ask for help, and daily I continue to have faith that nothing happens in God’s world by mistake. Oh, the relief!
Courage: Courage is defined as “Firmness of mind and will in the face of extreme difficulty; mental or moral strength to withstand fear.” With 100 forms of fear, courage was not an attribute of mine. There is an intimate exchange of vulnerability required when working the steps and I was absolutely terrified. When faced with the reality that I could either drink again or walk through my fear of weakness; I chose the latter.
Integrity: Early on, my father drilled his definition of integrity into my head. His version was something along the lines of “doing the right thing, even when no one else is looking.” This concept instilled a sense of fear that anyone, especially him, could be watching me at any moment and I should probably always try to do the right thing. When I explained this to my sponsor, she suggested I look up the definition and find one that didn’t instill fear but rather encouraged me to practice this principle. The definition I found most suitable reads “The quality or state of being complete or undivided; soundness.” Through my inner unmanageability, I was always experiencing a state of incomplete division. At war with myself, I was never of sound mind. As I took an honest look at my past and shared my darkest secrets with my sponsor, I began to see integrity as a means for walking down a spiritual path.
Humility: Alcoholics are said to be “egomaniacs with an inferiority complex” — that was me. Humility was very far from the principles I followed. I spent my life desperately trying to convince the next person that everyone else was the problem, and I was the victim. This old idea brought me to the depths of hell. My inability to humble myself kept me sick, for longer than I’d like to admit. The freedom found in viewing my life experiences from an entirely different perspective cultivated humility that continues to save me from my insanity on a daily basis.
Service: “Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics. It works when other activities fail.” Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book pg. 89 Selfishness was the root of all of my problems. I came into A.A., and I began to realize that the women I met loved me just as I walked into the rooms. There was no requirement, and their unconditional love was contagious. The miracle for me came through acts of service. There is nothing more beautiful than sitting down with another alcoholic and dedicating your life to the service of others.
The spiritual practices I live by today are a natural byproduct of my continuous involvement in A.A. I owe my life to Alcoholics Anonymous because this Fellowship gave me my life back. Through working the steps, Fellowship, and service, I have begun the journey of becoming the woman I always wanted to be. Revived from the grave, A.A. placed my hand back into God’s hand. I have the opportunity to show up and be a productive member of society. I get to be the mother my kid’s always deserved. I am a loving, respectful daughter and sister today. I have the honor of sitting down with other women and sharing my experience, strength and hope while watching the light return back to their eyes. Ashes for beauty, my life has forever been changed through the promises cultivated by the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, and I wouldn’t change a thing.