Regular readers know that I'll take my spiritual inspiration anyplace I can find it. In the earliest days of my sobriety, the sentiment "If you don't understand God, then that's how you understand God" was a great comfort. The fact that it came from an old episode of "Kung Fu" didn't phase me in the least.
(Caine was as quick with a spiritual nugget or a beautiful image as he was with a Crane Kick. I found it enlightening as a kid when the show was first on, and then nostalgic and comforting later, when I was newly sober -- though undoubtedly it would be irritating as hell to be trapped in an elevator with him: "Yes, it is like sunlight upon a stream, the water moves but the light only appears to dance. We, like the light, only appear to move." "Yeah, uh, that's great, Caine, thanks for sharing, but could you pull the Alarm Button now?")
Today was a one-foot-in-front-of-the-other day. One in which outwardly I was calm, okay, business as usual -- but inwardly I was anxious, and consumed with self judgment. Old fears and shames came to visit. Thanks to the 12 Steps I don't see them as often as I used to, and over the years I've learned to unmask them, or try to ignore them, but they still carry a knife, and know just where to stick it in. And turn it.
While my rational mind understands that this is a form of self obsession, and I took steps to get out of myself, (lunch with a sponsee, coffee with a sober friend, dinner with another sponsee and then went to one of my regular AA meetings at which I have a service commitment) being able to identify what is happening -- the self obsession, the self judgment, the anxiety -- does not always free me from the effects of these things right away. Identifying what's happening and taking the right sober actions keep me from being overwhelmed -- but it does not always take the knife away as quickly as I might like.
Does it even matter what set it all in motion today, mentally? Emotionally? A worry about the future, a wish for having made a different choice, the sting of a little rejection ... the news of the world ... I try to regain my perspective, which is of course an attempt to reach for humility. Sometimes that solution comes to hand effortlessly. Sometimes humility is a soft blanket -- but sometimes it's like one of those scratchy tags in the collar of a badly made shirt, and every time I turn my head it bugs me, and I'm mad for even having to have it.
But as I said at the top, I will take my inspiration wherever I can find it. And so, it's ...
St. Theresa of Lisieux to the rescue!
Yeah, I know, but roll with it.
According to a number of sources, when St. Theresa was a child, she was offered a handful of ribbons from which to select one. She responded, "I choose all."
Terry, that is my kind of thinking. My mother told me that when I was little she once scolded me with the old adage "You can't have your cake and eat it too" -- to which I responded "Then bake two cakes." Ah, the budding ism. So cute.
From a very religious family, as a girl Theresa was anxious to go into the nun business, as pretty much all of her sisters and one of her cousins before her -- so anxious, in fact, that she petitioned to get into the Convent early, a petition that was eventually granted.
Theresa came to speak and write of "The Little Way." She realized, sitting around the convent, that heroic acts and "great deeds" were not her path, but that she could still accomplish something worthy by making "... every little sacrifice, every glance and word, and the doing of the least actions for love."
If I'm not a rock star, if I'm not in Juarez, Mexico fighting drug gangs, if I'm not matching tissue samples for sick children ... I can choose to give greater meaning to the simple fabric of my life by "doing the least actions for love." To me, that means trying to have a loving, spiritual intent behind every small connection with others. Theresa's the saint, not me -- that's a high bar to clear. And AA teaches me that it's the action which transforms me -- and my own experience strongly bears that out. Yet if I take a page from Theresa's philosophy, those actions can be coupled with a loving intent which changes me -- heals me -- further. Yes, to be clear, the action alone will change me -- and when I first got sober any change was a good, healthy one -- but eventually the action alone is a sterile thing, and the intent becomes more worthy of consideration.
To build muscle you must add weights and thus increase the effort. Perhaps to build spirit we must do something similar.
Today, as those old pains and shames tried to gain traction I wrestled with some of the questions to which there are no answers (those questions always come down to to the foolish and fruitless "Why?" -- and in my experience God is not in the Because Business. Religion seems to be, but God -- not so much).
Theresa found her answer to those questions in, as she puts it, "the book of nature." She wrote:
"I have come to realize, that the radiance of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not take away the fragrance of the little violet or the delightful simplicity of the daisy ... perfection consists in being what God wants us to be."
I take my inspiration where I can get it.
This stops the questioning and brings me back to what I know to be true: As a sober alcoholic the best of who I am is found in the 12th Step. As it says in the book "Alcoholics Anonymous" (AA's Big Book), when talking about working with other alcoholics, "You can help when no one else can." (BB, pg. 89)
Being sober, on some days, must be enough.
When I remember that as a recovering alcoholic I can be of service to someone with a terminal illness -- the very same illness I have been given a daily reprieve from, in a way that others cannot -- that knowledge frees me from comparing myself to "others." It silences old fears and shames, and excises the pernicious "what if's" and "if only's" chasing each other around in a circle in my head.
It is a way to STOP -- and return to being content with simply who, what and where I am. And that is what God wants us to be.
There are more writings like this in "Mr. SponsorPants: Adventures in Sobriety and The 12 Steps for AA's and Others." Available as an eBook via Amazon.