Wednesday, July 18, 2012

AA and Faith

I set foot in AA meetings several times before I was finally able (or ready) to let that organization help me. The initial problem was my own brain--the steps bothered me intellectually. Sure, I'd admit I had a drinking problem, but my life wasn't UNMANAGEABLE. I'd never lost a job or gotten a DUI or gotten into a bar fight or stolen from anyone to get money to buy booze. And as for character flaws that only God could help me get rid of, pffft. It was repugnant to me to have to sit there and mindlessly read aloud the step that said I had character defects, as if I were innately some despicable human being. No, in fact I was rather compassionate, my students loved me, I occasionally did volunteer work, and if I found a bug in the house, I was more likely to catch it and release it outside rather than just stomp it to death. (Spiders are the exception--ugh.) And I wasn't even sure I believed in God. With the linchpin of the entire program being faith in some Higher Power, that seemed like a losing proposition to me. God just ain't gonna help me unless I actually believe God will help me, and my rational mind said pooh-pooh to that.

Yet, over the years, I'd keep going back every now and then, and some meetings I even enjoyed--after all, a good drunkalogue delivered with humor can be pretty entertaining, especially if you can personally relate to some of the idiot things alcoholics do when they're drunk. But AA just never sat right with me, so I turned to the alternatives: Moderation Management, SMART Recovery, Rational Recovery--heck, I blasted through Ellis's books with great relish. Sometimes I even got better for a little while. Yet inevitably, my drinking would spiral out of control, as it always did, and I'd find myself drinking even when I didn't necessarily want to: I didn't want the hangover I knew I'd have the next day; I didn't even want to get drunk. I just wanted to feel better, to feel normal. These occasions increased in number, two, three, four times a week, and sometimes the hangovers were so bad I'd have to call in sick to work, making up some lie. "I threw my back out." "I must have eaten something that disagreed with me." "I have a really bad sore throat."

That's when you're gone, you know. That's when the Steps do start to make sense. Was I managing my life well anymore? Honestly? No. Is lying an attribute of good character? No. Can God help me? I didn't know.

So AA meetings sound sometimes like a Christian cult--so what? They start off with the Serenity Prayer and usually end with the Lord's Prayer or (my favorite) the St. Francis Prayer. At that time, I wasn't sure who God was, but as you do when you pick up a novel and start reading, you suspend your disbelief so you can get involved in the world of the novel, so I suspended my disbelief in God by simply thinking, "Well, there's something out there that's greater than me." It was enough.

Long story short, it was in seeking for a purpose in life that started to make me more mindful of the things I barely had given attention to--the smell of barbecue roasting on some neighbor's grill, how trees look fuzzy in the spring when they're sprouting new leaves, how the Buddha statue in the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park is surrounded by vibrations or waves of energy--if you just but look. Look, and you will see. I'd just never taken the time to look. And when you start looking, something shifts inside of you. I wound up becoming a student of Rosicrucianism--it's less a religion, more a philosophy--which satisfies my intellectual mind while satisfing my emotional being. I took up painting because it is a mindful practice--you have to SEE. I picked up the guitar again because music is vibrations, and it eases the savage breast. I began meditating because that's the best way in the world to HEAR and to learn how to separate the voices of the loud committee yabbering in my head from the true.

Know yourself, and you will know God. God is everywhere, residing in everything. The Divine is in all of us. We are all aspects of The One.

And while all of this learning was going on, I totally lost interest in drinking. You cannot be mindful when you're drunk, and the world is too marvelous a thing to not give your attention to. After struggling with alcoholism the better part of my adult life, you could not pay me to take a drink now. I don't want it.

So, I'll be darned if faith didn't save me, if God didn't in fact shift my attention away from alcohol.

That's how it worked for me. AA actually ended up working. I merely had to open my mind and adapt its language to work for me.

I close with a link to a 34-minute video (part of a lecture series) on the practice of meditation and mindfulness. It doesn't matter what faith you follow, as you will see.

Peace Profound.

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