Wherever you are in the world, there is almost always an AA meeting available. That being said, not being familiar with a particular locale, many of us have wandered around trying to find the meeting itself. Hopefully, they’ve put out a small AA sign by the door, but that is not always the case. What has saved us and often gotten us to the meeting is the ubiquitous butt can at the entrance. That butt can has served as a beacon to guide us down the steps to a meeting.
In the early days of AA those butt cans outside the meeting were unnecessary. When you entered any AA meeting you would have been greeted with clouds of cigarette smoke.
At a meeting recently a member was reminiscing about those days where the room was a cloudy haze. He observed that even though we no longer have clouds of cigarette smoke surrounding us, we still have clouds of smoke surrounding us. He went on to explain that it was in AA meetings that he felt the perceptible presence of God. For him, it was almost like a comforting ether of spirituality. He viewed the words spoken in the shares of others as messages from his Higher Power. In meetings, he often had insights that he attributed to the God of his understanding.
Aren’t we lucky in AA? We can experience those clouds of smoke without ever having to take a puff.
Personal Reflection: Do I connect with my Higher Power at meetings?
In 2003, after 3 years of sobriety, I discovered that I had a serious case of cancer. It wasn’t until 2005 that I was cancer free. Along the way, I had multiple surgeries, various Chemotherapy sessions and a treatment which resulted in me contracting a form of tuberculosis.
Although I remained sober over that time I was seething with resentment towards God. Every day while I was sick I repeatedly heard a voice shouting in my head saying things like, “How could you do this to me? After all the work I’ve done to become sober this is my reward? I’ve worked for over 30 years and as I approach retirement I won’t even be able to enjoy it! You’re supposed to take care of me and my family, not take my life away.”
Although I had healed by 2005, a year later I was still walking around with those resentments toward God. In the spring of 2006 my wife told me about a shaman from South America who healed people from both physical illness and emotional trauma. She didn’t even charge people money and just asked for a voluntary donation.
I knew that my resentments were destroying my serenity so my wife and I decided to visit this healer. When I met the shaman she asked how could she help me? I told her that I needed help in forgiving God for what he had done to me.
She looked at me and said, “I see that you are a religious man. Do you believe in God?” I replied yes. She then asked, “Do you believe that everything that happens in the universe comes from God?” I once again replied yes.
She then said to me, “My friend you are asking for the wrong thing. You said you wanted me to help you to forgive God for what he had done to you. You need to ask God to forgive you for not having faith and trust in Him.”
When she said those words I felt like an electric current had passed through my body. I realized that I had been walking around for years totally off point. I had turned my lack of faith in a Higher Power into a resentment of major proportions. That moment with the shaman was the beginning of my truly understanding the third step which says, “made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.”
Personal Reflection: Have I truly surrendered my life and will to a Higher Power?
It’s been said that “it takes five years to get your marbles back and ten years to learn how to use them.” So, some of you are feeling pretty good right now because you’re walking around with some pretty useful marbles. And, as you look around you see that there are a lot of people out there who could really use some sagely sober advice.
Before you begin tapping into those marbles, a major ground rule is in order. People do not want to hear unsolicited advice. Even though the “answer to a problem” is incredibly clear to you; the other person may not be ready to even talk about it. If a person tells you they are not open to your “take” on an issue, that should be the end of it.
On a deeper level, we in the Program believe that when you have a deep insight about a problem, the source of this insight comes from a Higher plane. Your Higher Power has placed a person with a challenge in your path and granted you a moment of clarity. If the other person is open to your advice, that’s both of your Higher Powers at work.
So you sit down after a meeting and have an incredible conversation with someone about your solution to their issue. They are very open to what you have to say and commit to change based on your advice.
The next week at the same meeting you run into the same person who has not budged from their old way of thinking or acting. It’s not your business to repeat the conversation. The first time you spoke God was in the room. If you bring it up again, it’s your ego that’s in the room.
This doesn’t mean that your initial advice was lost. Maybe a week or a month or a year later that person might approach you and say, “remember that conversation we had?”
Personal Reflection: When you speak with others, whose will is in the room?
WAt the end of many meetings you will see people exchanging phone numbers. Often, one of them has said something that the other identified with and they decided to stay in contact. Most of us have collected a large list of phone numbers over time.
That little Rolodex of numbers is a valuable tool for the alcoholic, drug or food addict. We have our “regulars” whom we call on a weekly basis just to touch base and talk about how our Program is going. We can also use the phone when we need to make a decision about something and want to get some feedback or advice. Often, we make a call when something is bothering us and need to talk about it and ventilate some of our feelings.
Almost all of us have the luxury and immediate access of a cellphone. Before the era of cellphones, program members were advised to carry around a pocket of loose change. Back then, a phone booth was our cellphone.
Sometimes of course we do make that call and it immediately goes to voicemail. We try another number and it’s busy. We finally reach someone but they can’t talk with us. We really need to dump our feelings or seek advice and no one is picking up. At that point we make a virtual phone call to the One who is always available and who always answers our call.
That conversation often relieves our upset about something. Frequently we even come up with an answer to a problem that has been dogging us.
Remember, you never need to spend money to chat with your Higher Power.
Personal Reflection: When was the last time I called my Higher Power?
AA (NA or OA) introduces you to a sponsor……
Many a beginner has protested against the idea of getting a sponsor. They think that once they have put down their drug of choice, everything else will fall into place. What that don’t understand is that it is precisely because of their thinking while active that they ended up in unhealthy and often dangerous situations. Once they humbled themselves and committed to speaking with a sponsor they discovered just how convoluted their thinking was.
The sponsor introduces you to the Steps……
As we began to speak with our sponsor, we realized that he or she was not giving us random advice or opinion. Almost immediately they began to take us through the Steps. We began to discover more and more about ourselves as part of the process. Our sponsor also reminded us that a personal inventory needed to assess our strengths as well as our character defects.
The Steps introduce you to God……
As we worked the Steps there was a recognition that we could not successfully navigate sobriety without assistance. In the past, we had relied on drugs, alcohol, food, people, places and things to assist us. In step 2 we finally surrendered and “came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
God introduces you to yourself…..
Over time as we called our sponsor, worked the Steps and called upon our Higher Power something miraculous began to happen. We began to change. Long held resentments were dropped. Owed amends were made. We began to experience the hand of God more and more in our life. Our Higher Power began to reveal to us the possibility of the man or woman we were meant to be.
Personal Reflection: Is more work needed for me to come to know myself?
There are countless stories as to how people ended up on the doorstep of an AA meeting. Over and over again people have shared that they suddenly felt impelled to attend their first meeting. They might have gone years or even decades without nary a thought of AA. Even if the concept had entered their mind, it was quickly forgotten. Some of course had “tried” the program and had quickly dropped it. Yet here they were now sitting in a meeting and knowing in some deep way that the program was the solution to their problems.
Many of these people believe that their attending that particular meeting on that particular day was not a chance occurrence. Rather, it was a direct act of Divine Intervention.
This was all the more surprising because these same people had felt that G-d had given up on them a long time ago. In response, they had often also given up their belief in a Higher Power. Through the program of AA and it’s sister programs, they began to re establish a relationship with a Higher Power of their understanding. That relationship opened up many new vistas for their personal, emotional and spiritual growth.
Personal Reflection: How has My Higher Power been a part of my program of recovery?
Sometimes you walk out of a meeting in total amazement. When people tell their stories it is almost impossible to believe that the person sitting in front of you sharing a cup of coffee is the same one whose actions were just described. How could a person who had been sleeping on subway grates now be seated before you in a business suit? How could a person who had served time for armed robbery be the same one who is talking about emotional sobriety. Something must have occurred in the lives of these people to profoundly alter the course of their lives. Given their described history, willpower alone could not be the sole explanation.
In the cases mentioned above and in countless others the turning point was the discovery of a G-d of their understanding. When these people developed a conscious contact with a Higher Power their lives began to change. In addition, experience has shown that this conscious contact needs to be ongoing. As soon as we believe that we can go it alone so to speak, we are opening up a door to trouble. Before we know it, we will revert to our old ways of thinking and acting.
Personal Reflection: Do I need to revitalize my conscious contact?
At a meeting recently a person was having a good laugh with some of his friends. He said, “I guess if I walked around with my hands tied behind my back I wouldn’t have to worry about taking a drink”. The same principle could be applied to members in NA and OA as well. If only we had control over our hands we wouldn’t have a problem with alcohol, drugs or food. And therein lies the crux of the problem. Many of us had spent years attempting to control the use of our drug of choice. We had evolved countless strategies to deal with our addictive tendencies. Some of them were actually quite ingenious. Ultimately though all of them failed. We believe the reason behind this is actually quite profound. In our estimation, the ability to become truly sober goes beyond our own personal efforts. It was only with the help of our Higher Power that our obsession to use was lifted. This was the essence of step 2 where we “came to belief that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity”. This belief continues on a daily basis for our program of recovery. Without it, the only alternative would be to walk around with our hands tied behind our backs.
Personal Reflection: How do I apply Step 2 to my life?
People in the fellowship come in all religious and spiritual persuasions. There are many of us who identify with a particular religious group. Perhaps on the world stage there is conflict between different religions. In AA, NA and OA that is not the case. We couldn’t care less if you are Catholic, Jewish, Anglican or Sufi. What matters is that you have a desire to stop using your drug of choice. For those of us aligned to a particular theology, having a belief in a Higher Power is just an extension of our religious practice.
There are those in the program, who although not connected to a particular religion per se, are spiritual in nature. Their concept of G-d often does not fit into any particular religious ideology. They take comfort in having a G-d of their understanding in their lives. This freedom of choice allows them to have a connection to a power greater than themselves.
Even those who have no belief in G-d feel at home in the rooms. For them, it is often the power of fellowship which is considered a Higher Power.
The only person who will have difficulty with the program is the one who thinks they are G-d. Arrogance will feed many of our character defects and hold us back from true sobriety.
Personal Reflection: What is my relationship with my Higher Power?
At countless meetings people talk about the miracle of their sobriety. Many of them were under the influence of substances for years and sometimes decades. Almost all of them had repeatedly made attempts to put down their drug of choice. Usually these attempts had ended in relapse. Yet today there are millions of people in AA, NA and OA who are clean and sober. Many of these people will attest to the fact that they no longer have a desire, to drink, use or binge. How we account for this lifting of their obsession to use? If you query them, most will attribute this fact to their Higher Power. They will restate that often quoted phrase, “G-d is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves”. At their core, all 12 step programs rely on a deep connection to a Higher Power. We each have our own concept of that Higher Power. We believe a Higher Power is fundamental to recovery; even if it is the power of the group.
This level of belief helps us on a daily basis to cope with the challenges of life. If a Higher Power has helped us reach this far, we have confidence that He will have our backs regardless of what the future may hold.
Personal Reflection: Do I need to call upon my Higher Power today?