Tuesday, May 4, 2010


*** submitted by Susan

SPOILER: This post is about AA, and God within AA. For those who aren't into that, right on, you may want to pass on this post. For those who are, or struggle with God in AA, it may be worth a look.

In early sobriety many folks go to AA meetings because someone tells them to. There are posts on this site that share memories of going to that first AA meeting: the fear, the anxiety, the sheer terror of entering one of those "cult" meetings. And many people in early sobriety hear How It Works in their first meeting, or even just a reading of The Steps, and they hear God and Him and God's Will, and stop. They either stop listening entirely, or close off from the spiritual part of AA. They are agnostic, they are atheist, they grew up in a religion, but no longer believe, they are still religious but believe in a punishing, spiteful god. They are people who believe that God wants nothing to do with them and has turned his back. They are women who took a Philosophy of Religion course in college and can't stand all this patriarchal bullshit (ok, that last one was me).

My first meeting was 18 years ago. I can relate to going to meetings and getting hung up on God in early sobriety. In those days, someone said to me, "Well, can you conceive of something greater than yourself, even if it's just the power of the group?" That, I admitted, I could fathom. When I bought and read my Big Book, I first read the 1939 publication date, and put a grain of 1993 salt into everything I read. It wasn't the letter of the book that mattered, but the spirit of what was written.

As my sobriety lengthened, I simply replaced the noun God when I heard or read it, with spirituality. Stopped getting hung up on Him, and substituted him-for-lack-of-a-better-pronoun. And there were many, particularly women, who were right there with me. In California, that's just how we rolled. As I claimed a spirituality of my understanding, and spent more and more time in sobriety, I saw how it worked in my life. It was good for five years. Looking back now, my mistake came in not holding on to that spirituality, not maintaining it on a daily basis and moving away from AA. I never really shared my true spiritual beliefs with my husband. I thought he might not understand, mock me in his head. As I look back to 1997, I recognize that thought was just that crazy bitch Ism slinking back into the cracks growing in my spirituality (anyone remember Chaos from Sinbad--the one Michelle Pfeiffer voiced? That's how I think of her). Still, life was good, I was in love, I bought a house, I got married, we moved to a beautiful new state, I got a great new job, we bought a better house. I still HAD IT, sure I hadn't been to a meeting for a couple of years and I only checked in with my inner god occasionally, but wasn't that power still working in my life? On the outside I had it dialed in. Then the day came when I took a drink. I drank for the next 11 years, with a small, white-knuckling break when I had my son. I drank hard, I drank every day, and I couldn't imagine my life or living in my marriage without drinking.

Fast forward to today, and my 13th day of sobriety for the second time. I read this yesterday, and recognized what happened the morning I made the decision I was done drinking, again: "To use modern language, there's some wisdom that is based on a fundamental desire for wholeness or healing- which has nothing to do with ego-grasping. It has to do with wanting to connect and live from your basic goodness, your basic openness, your basic lack of prejudice, your basic lack of bias, your basic warmth. Wanting to live from that." This may feel out of context, the whole post is here: http://www.shambhala.org/teachers/pema/shenpa3a.php
That morning I remembered some things that I had said to my husband the night before. While I had been drunk, what I said was my truth. It came from that fundamental desire for wholeness, but there was not enough left of me to say the words sober. In a moment of clarity, I saw that there was no spirit left in the woman in the mirror. Her integrity, her openness, her faith and her force was gone. I had more than I had ever dreamed on the outside, but it meant nothing. I was ready to throw it away because the night before I couldn't imagine not drinking. Sure, the husband is passive-aggressive, the kids are brats, but what was I bringing to the table? My innate ability to create chaos as an alcoholic. Covert chaos, to be sure. Who was putting up with PA crap (and right back at'cha, babe, two can play that game)? Who wasn't setting limits with the kids?
Enough. I needed to return to the woman I used to be. For me that means AA, therapy, and seeking my connection with the god of my understanding again.

This time around in AA, when I hear God, I internalize Grace. That quote, about "wisdom that is based on a fundamental desire for wholeness or healing" to me is Grace. Grace is beyond my understanding, neither male or female, not a matter of believing but feeling. Grace is what I lost when I relapsed, and Grace is what I want back more than anything. Grace is a safety net, it's what I know will catch me if I just let go. It's what I experience when I snuggle with my four yo son, or see my daughter treat her brother with kindness (FINALLY), or see Spring being its fabulous self. Grace is being present for all the small things we miss when we're closed down: meeting the right person at the right time, all the lights being green when we're running late, reading something that resonates so much we cry (or tear up in my case).I'm out of practice, so I don't feel it all the time, but when I do I try to revel in it. I feel incredibly blessed that I can experience it again so soon. I didn't think I would. But returning to AA has been coming home for me, I expected to feel like a failure, but I have been welcomed with open arms. It feels safe and right. Despite my green light example, Grace does not make all the lights green for me. Grace it too big to be bothered with that. BUT, if I spend time in Grace, even just seconds, I put positive energy from my basic goodness into the universe that affects my life. Only problem is, that works the other way around too, so I try to pay attention to when the negative creeps.
So call it spirituality or Grace, or Swirled Peas. Just don't let that one thing keep you from AA.


  1. wow. i have struggled with what Grace is. i get it now. almost eight months sober and have been so lost. your definition of Grace opened something in my heart. i can clearly see all those moments of Grace that have been given to me these past months. i will look forward to knowing the moments when they happen now. i actually get it. after reading your post i began to write my first real gratitude list. until this moment i could not do it. i am so excited to share this with my sponsor. thank you so much. you have given me the ray of hope that i so desperately needed. my name is ann. sober date 09-19-09 and i am working on step 6. thank you again.

  2. Wow, amazing! Your definition of Grace fits right in with my understanding of spirituality and my higher power. Thank you for sharing!

  3. I am on step 2, so this is great to hear! I think of my higher power as loving kindness (taken from a Pema Chodron Buddhism book), so I am right there with you! Grace is a great one too! I think it's all part of the universal life force..

  4. Beautiful post. It speaks to a lot of the various feelings and ideas I have about my spirituality and what that means in my sobriety. Thanks so much for sharing this Susan.

  5. what a beautiful post -- so well said.

  6. This couldn't have come at a better time. This post has helped me in more ways then you'll ever know and I just want to say THANK YOU.

  7. This is completely awesome. THANK YOU.

    And congratulations, love. You sound like Grace to me.