“Finding a Power greater than me, and working to submit myself to that Power are the most important priorities in my life – without which I’ll gain little, lose much, and hurt a lot more people along the way.”
A week ago, a good friend of mine left me with a question, on which, I’m still chewing: “Do you still think that if you took care of the mental and emotional issues in your life, and got on the right med, that you could, then, drink normally?”
The question stopped me dead in my tracks for all the right reasons, and I’ve spent the last two weeks reconciling – with all the self honesty I can muster – where I’m really at with it. It was asked in the context of finding a spiritual solution to a problem that science has determined as both physiological and psychological. Furthermore, addiction science has shown multiple paths toward addressing the twin problems of substance abuse and addiction. For many, a spiritual solution has proven effective, though it is hardly the only pathway to addressing the problem.
It is the spiritual solution that seems to work best for me. So, his question made me ask myself: “Have I conceded that neither my own willpower, nor the power of someone else, is strong enough for me to recover from my addictive behaviors? Have I surrendered the long-held idea that I could drink without consequence if only I could get my mental and emotional mess in order?”
As of this writing, I can’t say with certainty that I’ve completely jettisoned that falsehood. I only know that this particular lie is where my diseased brain will take me, when the thought of a drink crosses my mind. So, at the very least, I better be prepared to shut that crap down. And, for that alone, I’m going to need Divine Intervention. Left to my own devices, and without an effective mental defense, that tempting thought will take me toward the next relapse – from which, I’m not so sure I’ll recover. Decades of on-and-off drinking, poor decisions, and not dealing with the mental-health issues – both related to my addiction and apart from it – have put me in a seriously vulnerable spot, which truly means that going back to a life of substance abuse is the worst possible option I can exercise.
A couple of nights ago, this same friend and I had coffee at a favorite spot near his house. Our work at hand involved learning how to believe in a spiritual solution, and addressing the many roadblocks that keep such a thing possible.
Over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that both finding a Power greater than me, and working to submit myself to that Power are the most important priorities in my life – without which I’ll gain little, lose much, and hurt a lot more people along the way. Getting here has taken decades – a few good years, and many bad ones, whole periods of my life colored by depression, some instances of spiritual abuse by past mentors, and years of reticence to get close to anyone in that position, ever again – lest that individual place themselves in an authoritative position in my life. This, unfortunately, is part of the cult-like behavior that can happen within a group of people, when truly sick people attempt to guide other truly sick people through the process of recovery. Or, as an old friend used to put it, “we’re all here, because we’re not all there.”
My last mentor, a man I continue to love and deeply respect, hammered two things into my consciousness: 1) I alone am ultimately responsible for my recovery; 2) The whole point of the spiritual path to recovery is to find a Power greater than oneself, which can solve the problem of addictive enslavement. By existential definition, that power cannot be another human being. Yet, so many of us give other people that kind of power all the time. Otherwise known as codependency, it is, too often, the residual characteristic of family members impacted by alcoholism.
Such was the case for me, as I was incapable of any real partnership with another human being. Simply put, it was a part of my baggage that I had yet to fully face, much less address. Sadly, there’s still truth to that; hence the rigorous spiritual housecleaning that my friend and I are undertaking.
My experience has shown that I can stay sober for long periods of time, but being happy during those periods has – until recently – proven elusive. During one of those early stints of long-term sobriety, I got hung up on finding the right Higher Power – the one conception of God that would work for me. How I landed where I did is pretty typical of how God works in my life – using my weakest points to draw me into taking the actions that work best.
It always starts with a woman.
I became really interested in a female coworker, while at a radio station in West Texas. She was going to a non-denominational church – one that I, later, discovered to have Charismatic roots (Texas is, after all, a very Southern state). Aside from some of the doctrinal weirdness – of which, I would become fully aware later – I heard a pastor who was able to communicate The Bible and Christianity in plain English, and it was there that I began to see the relevancy of Christ in my life.
To this day, I consider myself a professed Christian, having committed to the continual process of submitting both will and life to Christ. I wouldn’t have it any other way, though the process of getting there warrants its own separate post.
The thing with the woman didn’t work out the way I wanted it to (It never does, though she and I are friendly toward one another, today). The slow march toward surrender, however, is what stuck with me. That was in late 2000, and there would be five different relapses into active addiction, over the next 18 years – taking with them a marriage, a job, my financial future, the trust of family and friends, my overall integrity, my mental health, and my hope for a meaningful, rewarding life.
During that period of time, I became increasingly, gradually, more honest with myself, regarding my part in my life’s troubles, the impact that alcoholism has on the family – and how my growing up with a lot of drinking around me affected me – the mental health issues that have always worked in concert with my addictive behavior, and the childhood traumas that drove my need to escape reality, from an early age.
That last part – that particular set of demons – is the one holding me back. And, I’m tired of it. While I know better than to believe such things can be healed in one fell swoop, my experience shows that facing the crap head on – with the help of professionals, a spiritual pathway…and, frankly, Divine Providence – will allow the greatest progress in this last dark corner of my life.
How In the World?
So, how, exactly, does one surrender, in order to win? That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it? The very concept brings about existential conflict not unlike an internal, civil war. Winners don’t surrender, don’t shrink, don’t give up – or so we’re told. Ask a veteran what he or she thinks of surrendering, and you’re likely to be told off. The idea that we surrender anything – much less, doing so in order to win in the long run – is counter-cultural.
Once, I heard somebody frame it this way, and it’s stuck with me, ever since:
In the throes of my addictive behavior, or during periods of sobriety when I was still hellbent on running the show, I surrendered a lot: my academic goals, a good GPA, my financial health, genuine relationships with friends and loved ones, and a clearer-headed path toward growing into the kind of person God wants me to be. Those were the things I gave up, when I insisted on doing things my way – drunk or sober.
While actively drinking, I surrendered my credit rating, a house, my marriage, a job that – while increasingly stressful within a changing political environment – remained rewarding and provided a career pathway to really making a difference in the realm of local government policy. I surrendered the trust of my family and friends, and for several months I surrendered my dog, because I was incapable of caring for her. I surrendered my integrity, and along with that, what little bit of love I had for myself.
I had become someone that I totally despised, completing the subconscious, self-fulfilling prophecy of self hatred. This alone – for the amount of turmoil this attitude toward myself has created, both within and around me – deserves its own post, as well.
So, what would it hurt to surrender to a God concept that loves me? Since the evidence of my life’s experiences proves I do a horrible job of running the show, what would it hurt to give that job to Someone Else?
And, what, exactly, would that mean? Another astronomically expensive question, I suppose, and one, for which, I don’t have a pat answer. There is none. Different spiritual pathways teach different things on the concept of prayer, Divine Guidance and working out one’s “stuff,” (known in Christianity as Sanctification).
As a practical matter, and because my personal demons involve various addictions, I follow a 12-step pathway in this process of working out one’s issues. This is totally compatible with professing the Christian faith, as all I’ve done is define the Power greater than myself, in a way that works for me.
Regarding my recovery process, I’ve kept everything vague, intentionally, since all 12-step-based recovery fellowships are anonymous. By its intended nature, this blog is a public forum, and that means I have a responsibility to treat it as such. The steps themselves have been featured prominently in all forms of media, and you can find them online. I would encourage you to do so. My linking them would give the appearance of breaking anonymity. And, that I simply will not do.
Suffice it to say, the decision to surrender to a Power greater than one’s self is the crux of Step Three. The action implicit in that decision is to work the rest of the steps – which involve serious personal housecleaning, paired with an even greater dependence on The Divine, in a way that makes more and more sense, as we reach Step Twelve. This isn’t a one-and-done deal, either, but rather, a process – one that will take a lifetime to finish, while in the meantime, providing a clear pathway toward a rich and meaningful life – the details of which are as unique as the people who trudge this particular pathway.
Doing so has made me a better son, friend, co-worker, leader, volunteer, congregant, Christian, human being. I’m only beginning, and have much more work ahead of me. But, I am ready. Finally.