Dear Mr. SponsorPants,
After [more than 25] years of drinking, I have been attending AA since [last fall] but other than [a couple of weeks over the holidays] I have not been sober consecutively. I am currently [in my first week]. I really struggle with this higher power concept. I know that I can use the group, but really, how do you turn your life and will over to a group of people. I like the meetings and doubt that I could get sober alone, but these steps seem so strange to a logical thinker like myself. Can you share anything that might help me?
Remember, what defines the quality of someone's recovery is not that they drank, or drank more than once, it is that they got sober again. We each have today, and being sober today is your miracle and your triumph. I can tell from your email you're willing and you have a great attitude -- the only two things you have to manage on your own -- so I have absolutely no doubt if you stick close you'll make it.
But your questions are good ones, and not the first (and certainly not the last) I'll hear them either on the blog or in person, so I'm very glad you brought them up.
They're so good in fact, I'm gonna make you a two-parter.
First one first: How do you turn your life and will over to a group of people? Or, to refine that a bit, how do you make an AA group your Higher Power?
To best answer that, I need to show you some things. Take my hand, we're going to travel through Time and Space for a few minutes. Ready?
J: Where are we?
Mr. SP: Ummm, my aim isn't as precise as I like but if I ...
looks up at the night sky, checks the constellations
Mr. SP: Yes, this is roughly the early 1800's, and we're somewhere in Texas. See that old guy over there?
J: By the campfire?
Mr. SP: Yes. He's got something to tell us.
J and Mr. SP wander over.
Old Guy by the Campfire: If you need space by the fire, I can share.
Mr. SP: Thank you kindly.
Old Guy by the Campfire: You two look a might new at this. Remember, if you get up in the middle of the night to take a pee, shake out your bedroll before you get back into it.
J: How come?
Old Guy: Scorpions. They crawl in when you get up, attracted by how warm and toasty you left the blankets.
Mr. SP: Thanks, we've got to get going though.
Old Guy: Suit yourselves.
Mr. SP: Speak up, I can't hear you over the engines!
Mr. SP: We're in a plane over France in... if I got it right, 1942...
J: What the hell...?
Mr. SP: Hang on, we need to listen to this guy...
Points to airman in camo and blackface
Airman: I've done a hundred jumps, and you guys are new, right? Remember, after you jump...
J: We're going to jump?
Airman: Pay attention! After you get your 'chute on, we'll do some recon over the landing site and you can jump when we see the signal. No matter how fast you think you're falling, make sure you do a slow count to 20 before you pull the ripcord... otherwise, your 'chute might tangle in the props, got it?
Mr. SP and J nod.
Mr. SP: Got it. Uh, I mean, Got it, Sir!
J: This is getting... where are we now?
Mr. SP: Florida Keys. Sometime in the '70's I think.
J: How do you know it's the '70's if you're not very good at this?
Mr. SP: All the paisley.
J: What is this place?
Mr. SP: It's a dive school. Shhh, here's the instructor.
Instructor walks up with a class in various scuba gear
Instructor: ... bends, which is basically when nitrogen bubbles, created by pressure at the depths we'll eventually dive to, enter the liquid in your body, and should you rise towards the surface too quickly will be forced out... very painful and possibly fatal. What you need to do is rise at a measured pace, via a schedule which...
Mr. SP: Okay, let's get back.
J: What was the point of all that?
Mr. SP: Okay, if you'd stayed by the campfire that night, back in the 1800's, and you'd gotten up to pee in the night, would you have followed that Old Guy's advice?
J: Well... sure.
Mr. SP: Why?
J: Well, he knows what he's talking about... I mean, I've never camped in a bedroll by a fire and he has so...
Mr. SP: What about the Airman and his slow count instructions? Would you have done that?
J: Sure, although I'm not sure how slowly I can count when I'm jumping out of a plane.
Mr. SP: Me neither, actually. But why do you believe him?
J: Well... he's like, a trained air force guy. He said he'd done like a hundred jumps and so, you know, he's... he knows how to do it. Don't think I can't see where you're going here...
Mr. SP: Indulge me. What about the Dive Instructor, if you were in that class, would you follow the formula he was going to lay out to avoid the bends?
Mr. SP: Why?
J: The bends is painful, I know that without all this rigmarole.
Mr. SP: So you would make those guys your Higher Power? Like you'd worship them and stuff?
J: No, not... not worship them, that sounds weird and creepy.
Mr. SP: So in those situations you're turning your will and your life over to them -- meaning you'll seek their counsel and follow their suggestions -- because they have experience in how to survive where you find yourself.
J: Yeah. Okay, yeah.
Mr. SP: So it's not really the individual people you're turning your will and your life over to -- it's not specific people, it's their knowledge and experience of how to survive something. That's what you're surrendering to. It's their experience which is your "Higher Power."
J: ... well... yeah.
Mr. SP: So that's how you do it then.
J: Do what?
Mr. SP: Turn your will and your life over to an AA group. You find yourself in a position equally fraught with danger and potential for pain and fatality today as you might have been in any of those other scenarios. Only instead of scorpions and tangled 'chutes and the bends you're facing addiction and fear and ego. And the people in the meeting have survived those same things... so what they have to tell you has value because it's based on experience -- even if the way some of them say it is colored by their own ego and such. Just because someone's been sober a while doesn't mean they stop being a work in progress. If the Diving Instructor turned out to be an unmitigated ass, it wouldn't invalidate the truth of what he was telling you about what the bends are, how they can harm you and what you need to do to avoid them, right?
J: Yeah, I guess. Yeah.
Mr. SP: Same in an AA group. It's not the people that you're turning your will and your life over to (they're messy and flawed as individuals, and in one way or another they always will be -- the best we get is progress)... it's their practical experience of how to stay sober, and how to apply this recovery and 12 Step information to your life, day in, day out, one day at a time. That's what you are turning your will and life over to. So you simply live your daily routine the way AA suggests you do, and when you hit a snag or have a question or a problem, share about it in the group and take in the suggestions which are offered. Some people might be easier to listen to than others, but on the whole, you'll get good orderly direction. And God knows, when I was newly sober, that's what I needed. What my mind came up with as how to handle things was usually NOT a good plan to follow. The only experience I had to offer myself was how to live a drinking life in active addiction. I needed to follow the plan laid out by people who had experience NOT doing pretty much the only way I knew how to do anything. Following their plan, and asking them for input when I was stuck, was how I first "turned my will and my life" over to AA.
Part 2 tomorrow...