Years ago when I first came to AA these words terrified me. They hung from the walls in meetings, impossible to ignore and stated clearly in the 12 steps. I had given up long ago on waiting for the god of my childhood to descend from above to rescue me from my demons. Where had he been when I’d cried out in desperation for his help? I honestly believed that I had already tried “the whole god thing” and that it didn’t work for me. If my sobriety was dependent upon believing in a power greater than myself, then I knew I was in trouble.
Even now, I am hesitant to talk about God. I feel that my relationship with my Higher Power is deeply personal and might look different from someone else’s. Everyone has their own unique journey, and if they find God, it is in their own way and at their own time. The last thing I want to do is make others feel as though I am pushing my beliefs onto them. Clearly, I am no expert in spiritual matters. I am really just an alcoholic that was once agnostic, and now I’m not. Today my dependence on my Higher Power is at the root of my recovery. Any description of my life today that leaves out God is incomplete.
Let me start with a story that may seem a little trivial and silly. For me it was a turning point. I was living in a sober house at the time, fresh out of rehab. I had a part time job at a retail store and barely enough money for rent. Years of struggling with addiction had left me feeling pretty bad about myself. I didn’t think I was successful enough, pretty enough, or good enough. I was broken, and I still felt hopeless. I had stopped using drugs and alcohol and was left with all of the insecurities and fears that had led me to abuse them in the first place. I got this crazy idea that if I could change my outward appearance then I would feel better on the inside. One thing that I thought I needed was a really expensive type of shampoo. Of course I couldn’t afford it, but that had never stopped me from getting things I wanted before. I went to the store with the intentions of stealing it. I had been a thief almost as long as I’d been an alcoholic and a drug addict, and stealing had become a completely normal part of my lifestyle. The feelings of guilt around it were repressed, because I would tell myself that I had been given an unfair hand. I wanted to believe that I deserved these things that I wanted, even if it meant ignoring all the moral teachings and ideals that made up the persona I needed the world to see. However, as I stood in front of the shampoo display I had a moment of clarity. I saw myself repeating old, dishonest, and selfish behaviors and getting the same terrible results. My own immediate and selfish desire to feel okay continued to block me from being the person I wanted to be. I suddenly saw a direct correlation between stealing this bottle of shampoo and getting high again. Maybe not that day, but eventually. Something had to change or I would be lost forever. I began to understand how those self-seeking behaviors were destructive to my emotional well-being and my recovery. I decided not to steal the shampoo (and I have not shoplifted since).
No amount of stolen goods could have touched the way I felt as I left the store empty-handed. I felt good about myself for the first time in years. As I had no physical explanation for why I felt this way, I came to realize that something much bigger than me was at work. I began to see a pattern between doing the right thing and starting to feel whole again. When I told the truth about something I had been lying about, I felt lighter. When I tried to be helpful to others, I felt true happiness. As I came to the conclusion that there was goodness within me, I became interested in living again. I knew that this goodness was essentially a power greater than myself. Today I choose to call that power God.
From its humble beginnings, my relationship with my Higher Power has grown immensely. Since the days of living in that sober house I have found a sponsor in AA and work those same 12 steps that used to bring out such feelings of fear and cynicism. As a direct result, I now have a life I would never have imagined possible. Prayer has become an indispensable part of my life. When I pray, I find that I have an easier time dealing with my life and the people in it. When I don’t make time to pray, I quickly fall back into old behaviors. These behaviors are uncomfortable now, and I am almost always able to recognize where things went astray. I have also learned that when I focus on being of service to others, I feel as though I have a purpose. When I think only of myself and the things that I want, I am irritable and impossible to please. It is by giving myself and my time to God and others that I find peace. I no longer struggle with the obsession to drink and do drugs, which I truly believe is nothing short of a divine miracle. I have seen this change occur in many desperate alcoholics and drug addicts, and watched in wonder as they became sober, honest, and useful members of society. I strive to live in congruence with the goodness that I know is at my core, and when I do, I feel closer to God.
“We found that God does not make too hard terms with those who seek Him. To us, the Realm of the Spirit is broad, roomy, all inclusive; neither exclusive or forbidding to those who earnestly seek. It is open, we believe, to all men.” Alcoholics Anonymous p. 46