31 March 2005

"A New World Came Into View..."

"Either God is everything or else He is nothing. God either is, or He isn't. What was our choice to be?" Page 53, The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous

"But without Faith, it is impossible to please Him: for he cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him." Hebrews 11:6

Have you ever noticed how important we suddenly find the notion of growing closer to God when we're scared, confused, uncertain and basically more clueless than usual? I know I have. When I think of how many "God thoughts" I've had in the past two weeks, how often and urgently my mind has chased after my Higher Power, (even though I've always been the one doing the running away), I can't help but compare it to sidling up next to someone that's always been around, but has kind of gone unnoticed, until it is determined that the formerly overlooked person can do me a huge favor. I think it's one of my less endearing human traits. You know, the kind of person who says, "You are my new best friend!". Mostly because they want something.

I can't make the claim that everyone I know operates like me, because I know many people who keep the connection to God open and, unlike my Road Runner Internet Connection, these folks seem to stay "online" with God, regardless of what's going on in their lives. I want to be more like those people.

I wonder if God looks at me like that? Does He notice how much more attentive I am to His Will, His direction, when things get a little too rough for me to handle? And if He does notice this and, why wouldn't He, He is God, after all, it only stands to reason that God surely must notice how I slink away when the events of my life start going my way and I don't find myself in dire straits or uncomfortably tight spots. If that doesn't escape my attention, I'm quite sure it doesn't fly over God's head. From what I can tell, He has a reputation for being pretty sharp.

These past two weeks have been among the most challenging of my entire life. Challenging must not be confused with horrible or unbearable. There have been moments when I have felt both of those things, but there have been just as many, if not more, moments when I have felt myself stronger than I previously believed myself capable. I am walking through something that is testing me, and if I turn the control of the outcome where it belongs, which is in God's Hands, I will most certainly emerge on the other side intact. The funniest thing is that all of the previous times when I have worked so hard to "control" things, to be so "hands on", it was all such wasted energy because I have never had the power to honestly control anything or anyone, other than my own behavior. God truly knows I have my hands full simply keeping me in check.

These past two weeks have found me working very hard at "letting go" and giving the outcome up to "a power much greater than myself". I have felt pain and there's a reason for that. Pain is such a dependable motivator and it's a very effective way of eliciting my attention. I do feel as if I am growing and growth, by it's very definition, involves change and stretching; stretching sometimes hurts, but it is necessary because this human being/Single Mom/daughter/recovering alcoholic is very obstinate (kinder, gentler way of saying stubborn).

One of the most amazing things to me is that, even in the midst of personal turmoil and chaos, life does go on and when the self-centered part of me thinks that unexpected and unwelcome events in my life should trigger a sudden halt in the rotation of the earth, thankfully, it does not. The world keeps right on spinning and I have to spin right along with it. I must remember that I can't fight gravity or potent centrifugal forces, and I certainly can't stop the passage of time. If I remember my limits, there is a comfort to be found in the fact that I have those limits and constraints and that my power is nil. As I have witnessed both personally and through observation in AA, the admission of powerlessness invites protection.

Children need the protection of limits and boundaries set forth by their parents. As a child of God, I know for a fact that I need the same protection and boundaries. When I give thanks for the gifts God gives me, I need to remember to say extra thanks for not granting many of the requests that I "think" I need. If I had been given everything I asked for or wanted, I would be in terrible shape.

This past Easter Sunday, I had the immense honor of chairing my very first AA meeting which was held at the Wilmington Hilton as part of the week-end long conference of EACYPAA (Eastern Area Conference of Young People in AA). I had made a commitment to chair the final meeting of the conference and the final meeting was to be held at 7:00 AM, Sunday Morning. I woke up at 6:24 AM. YIKES! I tossed on some clothes, ran my hands through my hair, managed to brush my teeth and off we ran, arriving at about 4 minutes past 7:00.

I immediately bumped into the very kind man who had enlisted me to take on this duty, and then I did what I do best - well, that is to say that I tried to do what I used to do best; I told him my friend would be taking over for me because I just didn't think I was ready. This gentleman, for whom I was already nursing a resentment because he had just returned from skiing (and a business trip) to Italy, would have none of my protestations. He just squeezed my hand and said, "Susie, we'll be here for you - we're your support group!". I know that his intention was to make me feel more confident, but I felt hopelessly inept. What I wanted to do was shake some sense into him by telling him that I make a GREAT audience, but I'm a really lousy leader.

Can you feel how overwhelmed and underprepared I was? What was with this guy? He looked intelligent and was pretty wide awake for such an obscene hour of the morning, but he didn't quite get it. So what if I changed my mind about chairing a meeting? No worries, I was offering up a very seasoned pinch hitter. It's not like this was any skin off his nose.

I forgot the one thing I noticed back in January 2004 when I joined this elite organization; AA people are an extremely hard-headed lot. This must be why I immediately felt at home when I walked into my first AA meeting. These were MY people, and I love them, except when they don't take "No, I changed my mind" for an answer. Totally exasperating.

As I was making what I personally thought was a fairly strong case for post-poning my first chairpersonship, I was being lead by the hand to the front table by the nice man who had just returned from Italy under the thinly-veiled guise of "business trip", and basically told to sit down and start the Serenity Prayer already. I realized that, either way, I was screwed. I could stay up there and clumsily lead an Open Discussion meeting, in front of people from several different states, or I could just stand up and walk out which wasn't really a good choice at all because, though I might never see most of the folks in that meeting again, I would still have to face the people I see at practically every meeting I attend and the thing of it is, I really respect and care a lot about them' Then, of course, the whole "you should never decline a request made for the good of AA" thing kept playing in my subconscious and, well, I reluctantly made the only viable choice I could. I invited everyone to join me in saying The Serenity Prayer.

I don't know why I thought I might not be able to handle this because I can practically recite every component of an AA meeting in my sleep by rote. Every meeting begins the same way and ends the same way, the only difference being what happens in between those two points, and what usually occurs in the "body" of any given AA meeting can only be labeled magic. Even when I am distracted and only passively listening, I usually manage to come away feeling much stronger than I felt when I went in. It never fails.

Being the last-minute, fly by the seat of my pants, messy haired blond that I am, I hadn't given the first thought to a topic because I was sure I wouldn't need one, given that I was supposed to back out of fulfilling this obligation in the first place. Now I was front and center and I needed a TOPIC! I hadn't even had a sip of coffee, which meant I was running on fumes. My friend, the one I planned to cajole into taking my turn at chairing, had taken off down the hall to fetch us a cup and he certainly was taking his time to return.

I looked around the room at these young men and one young lady and couldn't believe they were attending a meeting at 7 in the morning, and looked quite happy to be there, completely unaware that they were part of my extremely shaky AA chairing debut, so I figured someone in this rather Zen looking group might have something in mind in terms of a topic. At least I was hoping.

Of course, I got an immediate offering and it was so dead-on perfect, delivered in a sweet Boston accent belonging to a young man I had chatted with briefly before things got started and I was still fighting to get out of chairing. He had heard this was my first "at bat" and he must have felt my pain, so he posed a topic and asked us to share what our Higher Power had done for us in the past year? OK, so my first thought was - My Higher Power sure didn't help me get out of this situation so I won't be sharing about that little miracle that didn't take place, but to be honest, the question hit intimately close to home.

I've been to a few meetings where the clock is the only sound to be heard as we have waited for someone to share something. I hate those long, awkward silences and while it's never been my business to fill them, I dearly hoped we wouldn't spend the next 50 minutes looking at each other and shifting nervously in our seats, minds racing for something to offer that might touch the topic. As it turned out, I had nothing to fear at all.

I wasn't the only one who loved the topic and just like a prairie fire spreading across the beautiful High Plains of West Texas, folks began speaking of their own "experience, strength and hope...". I don't think more than five seconds passed between voices and then I made the most astonishing realization; It wasn't about me at all. It never was. Once again, those well-oiled AA gears started turning and something wonderful and inexplicable was being presented to me. Another offering of unmerited grace.

I listened intently, most of the time with genuine wide-eyed interest and awe, as each person spoke of how the "God of their understanding" had done for him/her what s/he couldn't do for him/herself. I heard so much wisdom, openness and most of all gratitude, as each and every single participant reconfirmed for me what I inherently knew to be true, but so easily forget, about God truly being the only One with anything resembling control. Though each story was different, the same thread was present and so easily discernible. I love thinking of it as "uniquely universal experiences" which may sound like an oxymoron, but it isn't really at all.

Story after story, I quietly realized that each of us had traveled a different path to arrive at a 7:00 AM AA meeting, in downtown Wilmington, on a very rainy, gray Easter Morning drinking really rancid coffee. I'd be willing to say that most of us felt profoundly blessed to have had some defining moment that changed our course and gave us the opportunity to head in a much better direction and last Sunday Morning, for me, that direction lead me to a conference room with a group of young strangers that I had more in common with than many of the friends I have who I have known for years.

Not only did these conference attendees give me the gift of their experiences, but they reminded me of something I desperately needed to understand; Not one person in that room just woke-up one day and decided to become spiritually-centered and live a different, more positive life; We had to walk (sometimes crawl) through some pretty scary situations, literally get brought to our knees and pretty much out of options, in order to focus on the ONE that would offer us a course correction toward a much better destination. Maybe we just needed to find the path to our own personal "Ithaka". Fortunately, Bill W. discovered the map and blazed that trail back in 1935, shared it with Dr. Bob in Akron, who refined it and helped keep it real, and 69 years later, over 2 million of us are all the better for it.

After recovering from the terror of chairing a meeting to being a small part of a wonderful experience among some very special people, I felt a lot of peace and so much optimism. I wondered how many of those kids' parents knew where their offspring were that morning. I hope they did and I hope they were somehow able to let them know how very proud they were of the way these people from all over the East Coast, had turned things around and who they were growing into being. I know I felt quite honored to be in their company.

I even managed to clear up that resentment toward my AA buddy who talked me into chairing that meeting in the first place, but I'm still working on the Italy resentment. Time takes time...

One time I heard my sponsor share at a meeting, that when she sees people, particularly young adults, drinking way too much, she tries to find comfort in thet fact that it took every drink she tossed back to get to the point that she asked for divine assistance (and the phone number for Intergroup). When I worry about my own kids, I try and remember that thought. I hear people share that if they had been introduced to AA and sobriety one week before coming in, they wouldn't have been ready, and if they had waited one more week, they would probably have been dead. It's all about timing. You can't talk anyone into accepting this gift if they aren't at a place where they have made the realization that they not only need it, but are ready to admit the powerlessness I wrote of earlier which, by no coincidence, happens to be the first of the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.