Struggling to Find my Higher Power

AA Nighthawks By: Jeff J.

It’s an early Sunday evening, and I am required to attend an AA meeting at the local Alano Club. I have a choice between the speaker meeting downstairs, or the book study upstairs. Both start at 7pm, but there’s a problem. Both meetings are full, and there’s not a seat to be had at either. I am outside the downstairs meeting, finishing up my cigarette, when the community director comes by and tells me to get inside. I have been at my new rehab for less than two days. I haven’t found a sponsor yet. My head is spinning. I’m pissed, and my attitude sucks. Old behavior is begging to get out. That’s it. I say to myself. I don’t need this crap. I am a survivor who has spent his share of nights on the streets. I ask God one last time for help. “Did you bring me 1200 miles from my home in Texas for this??” Another minute passes as I hear the speaker meeting getting underway. Nope, this isn’t for me. I’m out of here. I start walking. Out of the blue, I hear a girl’s voice from behind asking, “Hey Jeff, where are you going?” I am 37 years old at the time, fresh out of detox, after years of alcohol and substance abuse.

First, a little background. My story isn’t unique. I started drinking at age 12, got drunk on the weekends at 13, and started smoking weed at 15. I loved the combination of weed and alcohol because it put me right where I wanted to be­— under the table. Somehow I graduated from high school, and earned a golf scholarship to a private university in my hometown of Austin, Texas. There were way too many distractions for a burgeoning alcoholic in Austin in the early ’80s. I flunked out after one semester and lost the scholarship. I started experimenting with harder drugs and fell in love with cocaine soon after.

I tried school again two years later. I joined a fraternity. My drinking grew exponentially, as did my substance intake. I was elected president of my fraternity, because I led by example. I was a hard partying 20-year-old leading a group of hard partying 20 somethings. It was the best of times.

It was during this stint of college that I was first introduced to crack cocaine. I dabbled with crack my first few years out of college. You know, a weekend thing, and I was in total control. After all, my drinking had decreased since college, and I was a successful weekend warrior able to hold down a job. This scenario continued into my 30s, but with some differences. I started losing jobs at a more frequent rate. My relationships with people started deteriorating. I tried to finish college in my early 30s, but I quit school, once again, because my drinking and drugging was my first priority. I lost my best friend at age 33 to a heart attack, and my life started spinning out of control proportionally to my drinking and using. At 36, I had lost pretty much everything, and I found myself homeless on the streets of Austin. I turned 37 on the streets in May of 1999. If I ever write a book about my life, an entire chapter could be devoted to the day of July 29, 1999: that was the day I said to myself, “Self, this isn’t what you bargained for.” Long story short, I picked up a pay phone and made a call that would change my life. I spoke at length with a gentleman named Bill S. Within 48 hours, I was on a plane heading to California for detox and a long-term rehab. I was done.

The person belonging to that girl’s voice was Lisa, someone I had met when I checked into rehab. She was at my first Friday night AA meeting as a resident. I chose AA over CA and NA because my alcoholism was the alpha and the omega when it came to everything that happened in my life the past 20 years. For me, I also found more solution in the meetings of AA.

I turned to Lisa as I was walking away and said, “I am out of here.” She could see my head was spinning, and she knew of a local coffee shop nearby where we could talk. She convinced me to come have a cup of coffee with her. I begrudgingly agreed, assuring her that it wouldn’t help, and my mind was made up. We spent the next 2-3 hours exchanging stories, getting to know each other, and her gaining my trust. Like the phone call I had made a week earlier, this conversation would change my life.

Lisa convinced me to sleep on it and make a decision about what to do in the morning. We also spoke at length that night about my Higher Power. I told Lisa that I was struggling with the concept of having and maintaining a conscious contact with my Higher Power, who I knew to be God. I had this grand notion that God would appear before me and say “GET YOUR ACT TOGETHER!” How grandiose of me. I knew deep down inside that wouldn’t cut it regarding a conscious contact. I knew I could do the steps and vigorously participate in AA, but I was genuinely concerned about not having that connection with God that people in the program told me was essential to my sobriety. Lisa also convinced me that, in time, I would make that connection with God that I desperately wanted to make. I went home that night to my sober house unsure what the next day would bring. I remember humming the classic Clash tune “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” on the way home.

I woke the next morning to my community director informing me that because I missed the required meeting from the night before, I would be under “house arrest” for the day and would not be able to participate in any daily activities. I was also informed that any more missed meetings after that day would result in more punitive actions. Great. I had been here less than three days and I was already in the doghouse. Little did I know that missing that meeting with Lisa was the start of many life-changing epiphanies that would affect my recovery in a positive way.

I had a good breakfast, and headed for the showers. While in the shower, I reflected on what had happened the night before. I realized that the thought of leaving had not entered my mind until that moment. Then, BOOM, it happened. A feeling of calm was taking hold in my body from my head to my toes. It was a feeling I had never experienced before that moment. I knew at that moment that everything was going to be OK. It was at that moment that I saw clear as day that God had answered my short prayer from the night before and sent Lisa to talk to me, and that He spoke to me that night, through Lisa. “SO THAT’S HOW IT WORKS!” I exclaimed. The angst I felt about not connecting to God was gone. He speaks to us through each other. Amazing. My life would never be the same, and I embraced it. I remember it like it was yesterday.

I haven’t forgotten it to this day. That was 16 years ago. My life continues to amaze.

Thank God the elevator was broken.

Step Five: The Exact Nature of our Wrongs

I recently lead a meeting on the following topic, and was asked to turn the prompt into a short piece for a recovery blog. The following observations and inquiries are based on my first-hand experience and work with my own recovery through AA. While this is grounded in the 12 Steps and the approved literature, I am not attempting to amend any AA text or practices.

Insights into Step Five

By: Bailey Bunge

Exact Wrongs to Nature

Step 5 of Alcoholics Anonymous charges us to, “Admit to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” So what exactly is Step 5 asking us to do? In order to better understand this instruction, I referred to the definition of the word “nature.” According to www.merriam-webster.com, “nature” is defined in part, as it relates to this context as:

1a:  the inherent character or basic constitution of a person or thing: essence

b:  disposition, temperament

4:  the physical constitution or drives of an organism

Step 5 is asking us to understand the exact nature, the inherent character, the basic constitution, of our wrongs in order to accept, own, and eventually, correct them. There is a powerful difference between making a laundry list of transgressions or character defects and understanding what drives them.

Starting on page 55 of the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, we receive instruction that it is only through full disclosure, complete honesty, and absolute thoroughness that we will successfully attempt Step 5. We are being asked for much more than a mere tally sheet. When we truly search for the exact nature of our wrongs, we are gifted so much more than a checklist. We begin to understand our “destructive obsessions,” (Twelve and Twelve 57) which is the first step to repairing them. In this we begin to tear down the wall of isolation and set about becoming who God would have us be. “To those who have made progress in AA, it amounts to a clear recognition of what and who we really are, followed by a sincere attempt to become what we could be. Therefore, our first practical move towards humility must consist of recognizing our deficiencies. No defect can be corrected unless we clearly see what it is.” (Twelve and Twelve 58) The inventory list we make in Step 4 is the recognition of our deficiencies. Understanding their exact nature helps us correct them. Here is an example:

Step 4 Inventory
Resentment: Cause: Affects: My Part
My husband We fight all the time Personal relationship Trying to control him

 

When we go back to look for our part and add column 4, we identify the character defect “controlling.” Now that we are armed with this bit of self-truth, the cause can move from “We fight all the time. He never does what I want him to,” to an understanding of the exact nature of this character defect. It might look more accurately like, “My trouble lies in trying to control him using manipulation, bribery, punishment, to coerce him into acting as I desire.” Understanding the function of our defects gives us the freedom to grow past them. Being aware of this behavior, we can work to amend it, as we move into a beautiful life, full of progress, not perfection.

Higher Power Auditions

Higher Power Auditions

 

After some conversation yesterday, I learned that not one person had any idea what my cartoon was about. So today, I tried to clarify. (PS- The silver thing is suppose to be a doorknob.) (PPS- I think if one has to explain a cartoon, it might not be that successful )  🙂

-AGK

Three Life Lessons I Learned from my Dogs

Self PortraitAnyone who knows me knows that I love my dogs. I got my first puppy, Dionysus, when I had about 2½ years sober. I had moved into a little efficiency apartment in the Heights area of Houston. I was struggling with loneliness and isolation after sober living. One day, a friend in the program posted on Facebook that his dog had a litter. He lived close by, and impulsively I thought, “Well, I’ll just drive by and look.” When I picked up the first puppy, she wriggled and squirmed. The second, a shockingly tiny thing with big, fluffy ears promptly fell asleep in my arms. I fell in love instantly. I took her home that day and never looked back.

So today, I bring you: Three Life Lessons I Learned from my Dogs.

1. Forgiveness: It is embarrassing to say, but I seemingly made it to adulthood with fully grasping the concept of unconditional love and forgiveness. I just didn’t get it. Instead, I judged people. I held them to impossible standards. When they inevitably let me down, I walked away. I rationalized my behavior in the spirit of self-preservation, without ever understanding the chaos and hurt I left in my wake.

I still had not learned this lesson when I got Dio. I stayed home for the first couple of days I had her, but eventually I had to return to work. I was a waiter, so my shifts were relatively short, and yet, almost every day, I would come home to some sort of puppy induced damage. She chewed through my cable wires, speaker wires, multiple pairs of shoes, my couch cushions, and my linoleum floor. One day she even ate the side of my door. I tried to protect my belongings. I bought her chew toys and bones to no avail. Every single day, as I assessed the new and totally incomprehensible form of destruction, I would become angry. “Dang it, Dio!” I’d say as I stomped my foot. Dio would sense my frustration and momentarily hang her head. And then, much to my surprise, I would instantly forgive her. She, in turn, would instantly forgive me. One day, I realized that there was nothing Dio could ever do that would cause me to stop loving her. She taught me how to love unconditionally.

2. Acceptance: My little apartment had floor to ceiling windows in the front of the apartment. It was one of the original reasons I got the apartment. But at the time, I had not envisioned owning a puppy. Now, had the windows been a normal height, my tiny Dachshund would never have been able to bark at the mailman, the neighbor’s cat, my landlord, bicyclists, walkers, or the kids who lived across the street

The barking was frustrating; I won’t lie. It tended to happen the most just as I was lying down for a nap, and as much as I went “Dio! Shush!” she did not listen to me. Do you know why? Because she is a dog. And dogs bark at things. It is in their nature to do so. So, on some level I had to let Dio be Dio, an insanely protective, vicious, barking attack puppy.

Alcoholics are like that too. We have a shared bond of insecurity and fear, bad judgment and self-centeredness. These shared characteristics are what make us relate so well to each other, and yet, when I see them in you, it drives me crazy. Just sit through a whole meeting for once, dang it! No crosstalk. You can go an hour without smoking. Stop smacking your gum. No need to curse. Eventually, though, I learned that my taking your inventory is not going to do me or you any good. Regardless of how much I wish you would, you will not listen to me. Most often, the life lessons we learn are a direct result of our own personal experience, not things told to us by other insanely controlling people. I learned to let addicts be addicts too.

3. Responsibility: Every family sitcom over the span of television has had the episode where Little Johnny brings home a dog. He wants to keep it. The parents have the inevitable conversation about how owning a dog will teach Little Johnny responsibility.

Dogs require a tremendous about of time and money. Before we go any further, let me tell you that I am not coming at this one from a place of moral superiority. My love for my puppies is equally matched by my procrastination. Even as I type this, I know I am a month overdue for their vet appointment.

There is something about a dog, though, that will eventually warm the heart of even the most cold-hearted, miserly, and selfish addict. Anyone who has a problem sharing their resources should get a pet that requires much from them. Having dogs has taught me that my time and money do not always belong to me. I have cute, lovable, little furry beings that are totally reliant on me for food, health, and safety.

I remember the old Sandra Bullock movie, 28 Days, when they tell her to get a plant. If she could make it a year without the plant dying, she could get a dog. If the dog made it a year without dying, then she could get a relationship. The movie is terrible, but the sentiment is good.

Learning to be a contributing member of society requires one to give of themselves. Sometimes this is difficult. Other people’s character defects can grind on us. Our own behaviors can push people away. But a dog’s loyalty rings true. My sobriety today has been improved by the forgiveness and character of my fierce, little puppies.