I have been going a few times each week to Al-Anon meetings. Part of “working the program” includes understanding, accepting, and living the twelve steps, which is not a quick or easy practice. I am an academic by nature; it is going to help me to read everything I can get my hands on about this, think about it, listen to others, and then write my response. I’m going to write my responses here, until such point that I decide not to. In any event, this daylog is going to be about Step Two.
Step Two:Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
(I’m going to work backwards on this one.)*
sanity. Well, I don’t think I’m insane. I do think I have had moments of irrational behavior and over-reaction, fighting with or yelling at or trying to control someone who’s too drunk to speak. I have spent too much time worrying about that which I cannot control, and have gone so far as to drug myself (with over-the-counter sleep aids) so that I wouldn’t stay up fretting and obsessing over the alcoholic, who was out until all hours, drinking with friends. So yeah, I need balance. I need perspective. I need a way of remaining (more consistently) rational, not getting sucked into pointless and fruitless arguments, not spending my time sick with worry over something I have no power over—another person’s actions.
restore us to sanity --implying that I’m off-kilter from a previously balanced or rational perspective—that I just need help unlearning bad habits and ineffectual coping mechanisms that I have learned over the years. Not that I need to be brought to sanity (as if for the first time), but re-introduced to healthy ways of thinking and relating.
a Power greater than ourselves Al-Anon literature states fairly constantly and consistently that it is a spiritual program, not a religious one. That an individual’s Higher Power can be whatever s/he wants, or imagines, it to be
-- a belief in a Life Force, in God, in Goodness or Love, or simply in the love and support of other Al-Anon members; “a loving, caring, nurturing Power that provides us with guidance.”1
"In the beginning, emphasis is on acting as if--praying even if we have no idea who is listening to our prayers, acting as if we believed that we are loved and supported."2
Some people who come to Al-Anon are comfortable with the idea of a Higher Power; others are not. Years ago, I decided I believed in God the Creator, a life force, a “clockmaker” who set the universe in motion and bestowed humans with free will, and has since then been letting things unfold on their own. This kept me from having to deal with the conflict between an all-knowing, all-powerful, perfectly good God, and the fact that there are starving children in Africa, and good people dying every day—the whole “ Dear God: how about that whole holocaust” thing. Yes, I believe in god, no, I don’t expect him to talk to me or intervene with my life.
I was okay with the idea that I didn’t know the whole picture, that I was only seeing a small part of the back side of the tapestry-—that the universe and the events therein looked pretty different to God than they did to me. But I didn’t pray for help or guidance—my view of God was that he was a pretty hands-off kind of dude.
Recently, however, I came to the point where I simply couldn’t figure things out for myself. I couldn’t fix everything. I got desperate enough, and I asked for help. I didn't stop what I was doing; I didn't have some lightening-bolt type of epiphany, but I prayed HELP and I got it. Within 3 days, I was overwhelmed by the relief and hope I was feeling, which had resulted from me finding and attending Al-Anon; meetings full of sympathetic, supportive people, edifying books and encouraging affirmations. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of going there before, but I hadn’t. I don’t care how anyone else chooses to view this chain of events, and I’m certainly not trying to witness or convince anyone, I’m just describing what happened in my own life. I asked for help, and help appeared.
I have a tendency to think that, in the grand scheme of things, my problems are not so bad. Why should I bother God with them? I don’t believe in a God that would swoop down and change the situation, anyway. What I hadn’t considered, though, is that even if prayers are not being answered by some outside force, maybe the act of voicing that plea helps you get some distance from it, changes your perspective. If God is there, and (s)he’s infinite, it’s certainly not going to overwhelm him(her) to have me add my concerns to the list, and if by doing so, I can stop feeling that I have to fix everything, stop worrying for a few hours, calm down long enough to move on with my day, then where’s the harm? I don’t have all the information. I’m smart, but I’m not that smart—or resourceful, or imaginative. I’ll leave the problem alone for a bit, ask for guidance, and maybe I’ll read something, or hear from a friend, or learn something that gives me a different perspective. I can pray—talk to God aloud or inside my head—or meditate, sitting calmly and breathing deeply, and not feel that everything is on my shoulders, and needs to be straightened out right away.
Came to believe I decided to give this a try. I decided to act as if I believed, as though I was coming to believe, that a power greater than myself could help. And I felt better.
I’ve rejected a lot of other people’s views of God, or a Higher Power, or whatever, because they didn’t make sense to me. In the past, I had tried to come up with a logical viewpoint that explained everything, made it knowable and understandable. I'm sorry if this sounds like a cop-out, but perhaps everything is just not understandable, logical, knowable. That's rather a freeing viewpoint, in my humble opinion.
If you understand, things are just as they are; if you do not understand, things are just as they are. ~ Zen Proverb3
There’s a part in the M. Night Shyamalan movie, Signs, where Mel Gibson’s character, a former priest, tells his brother that he has to decide whether he’s the type of person who believes in signs, who believes that nothing is coincidence. When I was watching the movie, I answered for myself—no, I don’t believe in signs. Yes, I believe in coincidence.
Then there’s the part in Richard Bach’s Illusions that says:
You are led
through your lifetime
by the inner learning creature,
the playful spiritual being
that is your real self.
Don’t turn away
from possible futures
before you’re certain you don’t have
anything to learn from them.
is your exercise-book, the pages
on which you do your sums.
It is not reality,
although you can express reality
there if you wish.
You are also
free to write nonsense,
or lies, or to tear
Here’s my point. I’m not writing a doctoral thesis on religion; I’m making up a vision of a higher power that is beneficial to me. There’s no way to prove that I’m right or wrong, so why not have some fun with it? What’s the harm in seeing signs? Who does it hurt? Which is more appealing, believing in coincidence or in a playful, loving higher power?
If it makes my life easier or better or more fun, does it have to be objectively, empirically provable? Or can my perspective make all the difference? I like the idea of magic in the world—why not choose to see it, and believe in it?
"Change your thoughts and you change your world." ~ Norman Vincent Peale5
"It is my confidence in a Higher Power, working in me, which releases and activates my ability to make my life a more joyous, satisfying experience. I cannot bring this about by relying on myself and my own limited ideas."6
*Please keep in mind that many of the ideas expressed here are gleaned directly from Al-Anon literature, including (but not limited to):
1Paths to Recovery: Al-Anon's Steps, Traditions, and Concepts, © Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc. 1997, page 18.
3Courage to Change,© Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc. 1992, page 61.
4 Richard Bach, Illusions: Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah, Dell Publishing Inc., 1977, pages 63 and 127. (NOT Al-Anon related...)
5Courage to Change, © Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc. 1992, page 243.
6One Day At A Time in Al-Anon,© Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc. 1968, 1972, 2000, page 80.
The Twelve Steps | Step One | Step Three | Step Four