I hadn't had a drink since January 6 of 1986. I was roughly eight months sober, and it was truly a miracle. At least, it seemed miraculous to me. I started drinking alcoholically at the age of 15 (stealing alcohol, drinking at school, hiding liquor in my room, etc.), and once I moved out of the house I drank daily from the age of 18 -- so by the tender age of 24 I had already experienced many of the symptoms of chronic alcoholism: Shakes, audio hallucinations, swollen liver, and many, many blackouts. Stumbling into my first AA meeting I wasn't sure what they were talking about, but I pretended I understood and I kept going back. From my vantage point today more than 20 years later, a medically supervised detox might have been wise, but other than unbelievable, head shattering migraines, and shakes that were no worse than I'd had before, I came through the physical detox allright. They told me to go to a meeting every day and not to drink between meetings. They were friendly and funny and some of them were a little intimidating, but they told me I was welcome and they seemed to mean it. I'd asked someone to be my sponsor and had even started to go through the Big Book. So eight months along I was beginning to feel some hope. Deep down I suspected that I would screw this up like I screwed up every other thing in my whole life, but until I did I would keep going back.
Then came a knock at the door.
"Are you Mr. SponsorPants?"
"We have a warrant for your arrest. You have the right to remain silent..."
Wow, just like on TV.
About a year and a half before that day I'd been arrested for drunk driving. My blood alcohol level at the time was .31, which, I believe, qualifies as legally dead in some States. I'd had an arraignment, at which I'd shown up freshly shaved and in a Navy Blue blazer, pleading the celebration of a job promotion and poor judgment (the former a lie and the latter a constant). With no priors (amazingly, considering how often I drove drunk) I got off with a fine.
Which I had failed to pay.
Hence, my warrant and subsequent arrest.
How could this be happening to me now? I had stopped drinking! I was being good!
In the back of the squad car, I said the same prayers I'd been saying for years: "Oh, God, Oh God, why is this happening to me? God! Please, please get me out of this and I'll be good! God, please, please get me out of this."
But this time, for the first time, God answered me directly. As clearly as if someone was sitting next to me in the back of the car, I heard a voice.
And the voice said, "No."
Alcoholics Anonymous suggests that you do not have to believe in anyone else's idea of God, nor do you even have to be clear on what your own idea of God might be, to begin to go through AA's 12 Steps to get -- and stay -- sober. You do not even have to believe in "God" at all, you can make AA work for you by acknowledging that AA itself is a "Power Greater than you," in the context of the fact that, if you have a problem with alcohol and drugs, here is a group of people who have a tremendous body of experience in dealing with life without drinking or using -- no matter what. Certainly, if you're a drunk that's a power greater than yourself, and if you do what they did you can garner the same result that they got.
Regardless of whatever shape your faith may take, however, be it mostly lip service to deeply heart felt, it's enough to get you sober.
And as you stay sober, along the "road to happy destiny," matters spiritual, questions about God the universe and the Everything come up, and some AA's will share (at great length, on occasion) their opinion of God and how prayer and spiritual laws work -- which is really no help to anyone.
People's experience of God -- that can be quite helpful, even if your experience differs wildly from theirs, or their experience isn't all lollipops and rainbows.
Personally, my experience of God has been that God does, indeed, answer every prayer.
But sometimes the answer is "No."
I used to hear in some meetings this idea expressed in a kinder way, and when I heard it then I found it very comforting: "God answers every prayer, but sometimes the answer is 'Wait, I have something better for you.'" I like that, and I can even see how that has often been true in my life.
But honestly, today I'm okay with just a plain "No."
I think it is a peculiarly Western philosophy that we can have anything we set our mind's to. The belief that I can achieve anything if I only work hard enough. In my opinion that's not only a part of current, (media-driven) western philosophy, it's also a tenant in America's mythology about herself. All of which is to say that while it is certainly (very) alcoholic to believe I can have anything I want, I think it is fair to add that we swim through a sea of messages that support that belief.
In working the Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, and through prayer, I've come to a truce with this mindset. I believe, passionately, that I can try anything. I can go for anything. No matter how ridiculous, or difficult, or far fetched, I can try. At this late date (I'm 46, after all) I can try to be an astronaut, a rock star, dance on Broadway, open a restaurant or become a brain surgeon. I can try anything. Some of those things are less likely than others to be achievable, but if I really want to, if I have a dream -- a passion -- I can try.
In fact my secondary purpose in life is to try everything I can think of to try, to pack as much living into the stream of life as I can, and to be of some help to everyone I meet along the way (my primary purpose of course is to stay sober and help another alcoholic to achieve sobriety -- but primary is not the same as solitary -- which is to say it is my main purpose in life but not my only purpose in life).
But as I view life through a 12 Step lens, I have surrendered that life -- and my will -- to God as I understand God -- via the 3rd Step, and also via completing all 12 Steps of AA. Thus the result of anything I attempt is not my business.
I can try anything -- and I can ask for God's help with anything (though the more selfish my requests the less spiritual "oomph" they seem to have -- but for me I believe there is no "wrong" prayer). But achieving what I am attempting is not a measure of how much, or even if, God "loves" me -- or if God even exists. After all, a loving parent denies their child's requests (demands) as often as they grant them -- because a parent knows better than a child what is good for the child and what will hurt them. Denying their child something the child thinks it wants may actually be the greater act of love.
God speaks to me on occasion, and answers very clearly my prayers.
It's just that sometimes the answer is No.
And that might actually be the greater proof that there is a loving God directly involved in my life today.
There are more reflections like this one in "Mr. SponsorPants: Adventures in Sobriety and The 12 Steps for AA's and Others." Available as an eBook on Kindle via Amazon. Download a Kindle reader for free on any device or platform.