Fear is in the air.
As an alcoholic in recovery I am good friends with Fear. We go back a long way. Certainly Fear is part of the Human Condition, but beyond that it is both ingredient and accelerant for the disease of alcoholism. As I've said before in this blog, Fear is to alcoholism like gasoline is to fire -- a dangerous, combustible and potentially lethal combination.
Often Fear bullies my Ego into stepping up to the microphone and making a little speech, but really, it's always Fear in the background, pulling the strings, setting my thoughts spinning, chilling my heart, filling my stomach with acid and my spirit with shadows and doubts.
AA has taught me that there are two kinds of Fear: Survival Fear and Ego Fear. (I am not saying that AA invented this concept, I'm saying that AA put it in a way that I can understand.)
I smash through my Ego Fear when I share with a sponsor or with a group ("Oh no! What will they think of me?"). I smash through my Ego Fear when I am honest and vulnerable in conflict, when I say out loud the things about myself that are difficult to face, when I say "I'm afraid" or "I screwed up" or "I wish I were a different/better/stronger man but today I am not." That ego-smashing muscle is easy to let atrophy unless you are diligent about practicing it, but when ego-smashing becomes a way of life the freedom it brings -- and the power born of integrity and humility (yes, there is power in humility) is a deep well of strength.
But Survival Fear -- that's what's in the air right now. And Survival Fear is catching. It's like an airborne virus, it's like an electric current, it's the way animals' heads whip up in instant alarm when they hear a predator or smell smoke -- the animal part of me responds to the alarm of the animals around me, and they to mine, and we panic (and that's where mobs come from, boys and girls). Things are bad. They may get worse. People fear for the survival of not only of a particular way of life but for their personal security, both immediately and in the future.
What can AA offer me now, today, in a climate such as this?
Good question -- to answer it I must first ask another: What, in fact, does AA offer?
I think if you boil it all down, distill it to the absolute essence, AA offers a way to connect with a Power greater than yourself. AA does not try to define this Power, although some helpful hints get made along the way, but it does suggest that to address first my alcoholism, and then pretty much every other problem I have, a connection with and a reliance upon some Power greater than myself is the heart of the solution. How I go about doing that is the "plan of action" outlined in the 12 Steps, but that's what I'm doing when I follow them through.
Thus, what AA offers me now, in a climate of mounting panic, is a bigger perspective than any immediate crisis because I have some sort of HP connection, that is, some sort of faith. NOT a false optimism, not a denial of troubles and challenges, not some bullshit dodge where I pretend a problem is not a problem because I am afraid to look at it as such -- but a faith springing from that connection to a Power greater than myself, and through that faith an ability to meet "calamity with serenity."
There can be an unconscious feeling after being in AA for a little while that if you do everything in AA "right" you will get to avoid calamity and thus live in serenity. And buried underneath that of course is the nailbomb that if I am doing everything "right" and I still encounter calamity then either AA is a lie or God is a lie, but either way somebody's been lying to me, so fuck AA. Sure, when you say it out loud the falseness of the logic is clear -- but out loud and clear is not where those kinds of thoughts live. They lurk under the surface, waiting for the right calamity so they can burst forth in a spray of angry jagged panic shrapnel and "I told you so's."
Unfortunately it seems that avoiding calamity is not the deal in life. Shit happens. Is it a lesson? A test? That's between you and your understanding of a Higher Power -- but my reliance on Something greater than myself is my anti-panic lifeline through scary things -- through these very real calamities.
This faith is not rainbows and unicorns. This, like all of what AA suggests, has been worked out through practical experience. Consider this, from the book "Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions," in the discussion of Step 3 on pg. 38:
When World War II broke out, this spiritual principle had its first major test. AA's entered the services and were scattered all over the world. Would they be able to take discipline, stand up under fire, endure the monotony and misery of war? Would the kind of dependence they had learned in AA [meaning a dependence on a Higher Power] carry them through? Well, it did. They had even fewer alcoholic lapses or emotional binges than AA's safe at home did. They were just as capable of endurance and valor as any other soldiers. Whether in Alaska or on the Salerno beachhead, their dependence on a Higher Power worked. And far from being a weakness, this dependence was their chief source of strength."
World War II seems almost quaint now, something in a (boring) documentary on the History Channel you flip past on your way to something more relevant and titillating. But when it was real, when it was a War practically the whole world was engaged in, there was no guarantee that the good guys were going to win. In fact, for a while there it looked like they wouldn't -- and their fear was as real and terrible and immediate as what we feel when facing any of the monsters in the world today. The connection they had with a Higher Power, and their reliance upon it, actually worked for those soldiers then and it can be as potent an antidote to panic for us today as it was for them, then.
Consider the 3rd Step Prayer.
I offer myself to God, and I commit to (try to) be ok with whatever comes my way because it comes from God (God either is, or is not) -- and I'll spin every bit of lead into gold, fear into faith, turn every scary, sucky thing into an opportunity to (try to) trust God and demonstrate how harmonious that way of approaching life can be.
When your Survival Fear is starting, when you're thinking it's all fucked anyway so why bother to live by spiritual principles, hell, why bother to stay sober, why bother to live at all ... before those dominoes in your head start falling, consider the 3rd Step Prayer. Don't just say it, consider it. Really listen to what it says -- breathe in the idea it expresses: That I am not running the show, that I am ok, and whatever difficulty comes my way will be removed (although maybe not in the manner I at first think it should).
And that voice in your head, that says this all sounds nice but isn't very practical, the world doesn't really work that way and this is all just quasi-religious bullshit?
That's just the Fear talking.