Sunday, May 1, 2011

Step 3

Step Three - Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

"I don't care what you think, I don't care how you it anyway."

That is a phrase I have heard many times from my sponsor, it is a phrase which I now use on the women I sponsor and it is a phrase that changed my life. I used to believe that what I thought/think and what I felt was vital in life. Doesn't it govern every aspect of our lives? We strive to think positive thoughts and have a positive attitude. We feel resentment, love, anger, valued, depressed, appreciated, fulfilled. When I got to Step Three I was so stuck in what I thought and how I felt that it was impossible for me to even consider doing it. Life was miserable with alcohol, but without alcohol life was still unbearable and sobriety was a nightmare most of the time. I needed the numbing, calming, soothing effects alcohol gave me in life.

What I thought was that I had done everything right but it didn't make any difference in life, that god let me down, that church was full of hypocrites and pathetic people who were intolerant, that the whole god thing didn't work and that I would never have anything to do with god again. I thought the problems, difficulties and drama in my life were because of others and that if I was not happy it had to be "him", my job, where I lived, my friends or my lack of money. I thought I was justified in doing what I wanted, when I wanted and how I wanted. I thought a person should eat, drink (massive amounts) and be happy because that was all there was folks. I had no evidence that god worked in people's lives because I saw only abuse, anger, disappointment and unhappiness around me. How I felt was bitter, resentful, angry and hate for the church, god, religion, the bible and people who pushed god. I wanted nothing to do with any of it and I completely rejected anything to do with my past religious life. I felt intolerant towards intolerant people. I felt no faith, love, hope, or forgiveness. I felt unhappy all of the time. I did not know it at the time because I was so out of touch with the truth, but I also felt fear, in fact my entire life was shot through with fear. I was afraid of not getting something I wanted or losing something I had. I felt restless, irritable and discontent. I felt dead inside. I thought and felt that there was no point in this life and that it was one big joke that only fools bought into.

So, when I came to Step 3, what I thought and how I felt presented some serious obstacles in turning my life and will over to the care of anyone, especially god.  I was not going to have anything to do with that type of action. To turn my life and will over to a god who let me down, who in my mind was the most evil concept I could imagine seemed to be utterly ridiculous. Forget it!  I had already held a "trial" in which god had been accused, tried, found guilty and condemned by me and which had been completely justified by the evidence. What I thought and how I felt, without a doubt, was 100 % true.

It was at that point my sponsor asked me a couple important questions. The first was "are you willing to go to any lengths to know peace, to be happy and joyous...just how free do you want to be?"  After I had finally admitted that I was an alcoholic, I had made a promise to myself that I would put as much time and effort into AA/not drinking as I had put into my drinking. When I was drinking there was nothing that would stop me from getting alcohol, not a husband, step kids, family, job, lack of money, a blizzard, having to drive drunk to get more alcohol, absolutely nothing. Not even love is enough to stop me. So I knew that for me to stay sober I had to be as committed to the program of AA as I was with my drinking. I knew I had to work the program and take the suggestions with the same kind of effort. I desperately wanted to be happy, although I doubted it was possible (joyous was so far beyond me that I wasn't striving for that lofty goal), I was desperate for some sort of peace and I wanted desperately to be free. I was going to give the program one year max to work and after that if it didn't work I planned to drink myself to death or worse.  Since I had no other ideas and I was all out of plans I knew I had to give 1000% or nothing.

The second question my sponsor asked was, "is it possible...just possible that, even though you feel and think the way you do about god, you could be wrong? That question really put me in a bind. I prided myself on my knowledge, training and experiences. If I didn't think I was right I wouldn't have thought the way I did. I had no idea, but I would eventually see, that being right had been as essential to me as breathing. I would rather be right than useful. I would rather be right than loving. I would rather be right than to feel happy. I was so right all the time that I was sick inside. Eventually I would discover that I lived with a self righteous rage boiling just under the surface that was covered from public view by sweetness, kindness, control and manipulation.
So when my sponsor asked me if I could be wrong, I had to admit it was possible...slim but possible. Plus, could I really be that arrogant to think that there was no possibility that I could be wrong.

So, having been backed into a cornor by my sponsor, I was given the following instructions. Every morning I was to get down on my knees and pray out loud the 3rd Step Prayer for two solid weeks without fail. If I missed a morning I had to start the two weeks over. I can not even begin to describe the rage that exploded in my head and chest...I have no words. I managed to keep my composure, but I did inform my sponsor that I thought that was the most asinine, idiotic plan I had ever heard and that there was no way that saying a stupid prayer was going to make any difference in my life. I didn't believe in god, I hated god and had no intention of giving god anything least of all my life or will. If I said this prayer I would be the biggest hypocrite of all because I wouldn't mean it and I didn't feel it.  My sponsor calmly said, "If you want what I have, than do what I do. Besides I don't care what you think or how you it anyway."

The next morning it was the first thing on my mind when I woke up and as I got ready for work my mind was full of chatter. All the reasons why I shouldn't pray where spinning around and around, it just wasn't logical to do something that you didn't believe in, agree with or feel right about. The only reason to do as I was instructed was my agreement to be willing to go to any lengths. So, I was completely dressed and ready to walk out the door to work when I finally gave in, groaned and went to my bed. I was embarrassed and angry. Although I lived alone, I looked around behind me to make sure no one was watching my humiliation and slowly sank to my knees. Through gritted teeth and a heart full of rage I choked out the words.
"God, I offer myself to Thee.
To build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt.
Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do thy will.
Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of thy power, thy love and thy way of life. 
May I do thy will always."
I got up off my knees. Nothing was changed, I felt exactly the same way as I had felt before, except for now a little added fear was on top of it all. Fear that maybe I was right after all and that this wasn't going to work for me. That somehow everyone else got it and felt it, but that I would not or could not. The next morning I did it again, no change. The morning after I did it again and so on with only one day in which I forgot and so had to start over from day one. Every morning I got down on my knees and prayed for one reason and one reason only, because my sponsor had told me to take the action. There was no seeking god, no faith, no belief and no hope on my part. My thoughts and my feelings were at 100 percent odds with what I was doing on a daily basis. However, what I had was one small tiny speck of willingness and a whole vast tonnage of desperation and that appears to have been enough.

We are told in the Big Book that Bill W had a dramatic, white light spiritual experience when he finally gave in and cried out to god, but I think many of us have the more gradual, educational variety of spiritual awakening that the book also describes. I don't know when that super tiny speck of willingness began to grow but after the two weeks were up I kept praying that little prayer every morning on my knees. I don't know what day it was when my teeth were not clenched together as I spoke the words out loud. I don't know when I stepped out from the shadow where I had been shivering for decades into sunlight of the spirit. I don't know when the mile thick, cold ice around my heart began to slowly melt. My spiritual awakening was gradual, but it did happen. By the time one month had passed I was not only saying this prayer in the morning but about 50 times a day, all throughout the day. I clung to it like a life preserver. Giving up control of my life has given me the relief I was so desperate for in life. The kind of relief I could start to feel after 3 glasses of wine or 4 shots of whiskey when I felt like I could breathe, exhale that deep breath and finally relax. It relieves me of fear by keeping me out of the past or future and by staying in the present...right here, right now. I no longer live as management of my life, as my sponsor says management is above my pay grade. I no longer say that I am having a bad" day; I do have difficult days, but if I label a day or event as bad it simply means I am not getting my way and things are not going how I want them to go. It means that I am taking back control and I'm saying that god doesn't know what the hell is going on. The prayer reminds me that everyone god brings across my path are noble guests in my life, that they are god's kids and so I treat them as such. The prayer also shows me that I have been in the bondage of self...self will run riot, but that I can be relieved of that bondage. My life is no longer about me. Even having my difficulties in life removed is for one reason and that is to bear witness of a power, a love and a way of life that is beyond our expectations. It also assures me that I will be granted strength to make it through the day. I have found peace and a new freedom.

Today I still say the prayer every morning like I did it that very first day, out loud, on my knees and only very rarely do I forget. There have been a few small changes to my morning prayer. Once I got to Step 7, I added the 7th Step prayer and sometimes I will add two phrases at the end which are "teach me to love and serve your kids" and since I did my 9th Step amends "help me treasure my husband."  I am not saying that the 3rd Step prayer is somehow magic or that there is something special about saying it out loud for two weeks or on your knees, although I do think that for me being willing, taking the action regardless how I felt or what I thought and the exercise in humility did me world's of good. What I am saying is that the prayer gave me the words to talk to god when I could not form any of my own. My higher power (creator, god) took my willingness and action in saying a little prayer and before I was half way through the steps god saved my life.

There is a joke in AA that my best thinking is what got me a seat in these rooms. It is no longer important what I think, nor is it important how I feel (I offer both my thoughts and feelings to god to build with and to do with). What is of vital importance today is what I DO.

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