Yesterday I mentioned I’d be moving into the second of the twelve steps on my path to uncovering and rediscovering my creative self. I was hoping that the decision to weave in my work with the twelve steps and create some healthy structure for this blog would result in renewed excitement and enthusiasm, almost in the way that someone who has been muddling through darkness might feel when a light is switched on, and they can finally see where they’re going. But that is not the case tonight. Instead of excitement and enthusiasm, I’m feeling lethargic right now, not much like moving at all. I don’t want to write, I don’t want to think, and I certainly don’t want to delve into my addictive emotional tendencies and attempt to summon the energy necessary to shed some light on how those tendencies continue to block me from realizing my greatest potential as a creative being. I can see what this lethargy is. It’s resistance, and I’m very familiar with it. As soon as I choose a path, I have many inner voices telling me I shouldn’t do it, that it won’t work, that it doesn’t matter, that it wasn’t a good idea to begin with. Luckily I’m familiar enough with this resistance to just take a deep breath and keep typing.
I feel like throwing out here–I guess kind of offhandedly–that my husband and I decided to stop drinking this past August, just like that. We didn’t call ourselves alcoholics, and our lives were certainly manageable at that point; there was no big aha moment that led us to cut ties with the drink. We just decided together that drinking wasn’t so great. It’s expensive, it’s not good for our health, and we just feel better without it.
Since I stopped drinking I’ve given a great deal of thought to our culture’s relationship with alcohol and how normal is its use and abuse; I’ve watched myself becoming secretly judgmental of others’ drinking habits, and have felt a need to protect my choice to be completely sober. My not drinking has made me a bit of an odd dog in my family; Thanksgiving, Christmas, just about any dinner would be strange without the accompaniment of several bottles of wine. There were a few looks of surprise and some silence slightly tinged with awkwardness the moment I explained that my husband and I just one day decided to stop.
Observing the members of my family drinking together at every gathering, I’ve caught myself going to this curious place in my mind and asking, Why do they have to drink every time we are together? What need does this drinking fill for them? What would it be like to connect with them without the effects of alcohol influencing their speech and behavior?
Questions like these spoken aloud might cause conflict. We have, after all, joined together as a society that enables its members to continue on with destructive habits by calling them normal. Take drinking, for example. When people drink, they are having fun, letting loose, celebrating, taking the edge off…By confronting the thing that is normal and questioning its place in our lives, I might become a threat, something to be taken down, something to be trivialized.
I also have discovered in my life that people don’t take too well to my requests for them to change their behavior. It just never works. It might be my delivery, or it might be the fact that people just want to be loved for who they are right now, but my asking someone to entertain the idea of reducing or even eliminating the use of something that they are attached to just doesn’t go over very well. Go figure.
Little by little I’ve learned to stop looking at everyone around me, asking them to change, and instead turning the focus on myself, and asking how I can change. I think it’s called becoming an adult, or something like that.
All of this thinking about other people’s substance use and the distance I’ve taken from substances has led me to believe that we’re all addicted to something. If I’ve completely eliminated the use of intoxicants from my life, where else will my own addictive tendencies play out? If anything, sobriety has given me the clarity to see the depth of the problem, and how much work I need to do to find out who I am underneath all of the behaviors I’ve inherited and learned and absorbed growing up in a society where alcohol and drug use is a rite of passage into adulthood, something to be praised and celebrated and encouraged.
What else am I addicted to? In the absence of mind-altering substances, I see that my fear and anger run deep, and that there is no end to the currents of self-denigration that course through my mind every waking moment. It’s enough to drive one to drink. But it’s also thoroughly entertaining, this human drama–this poignant, real as day, continuous unfolding of the many layers of my self. There’s something so seductive about letting myself explode with anger, stomping and screaming and lashing out. It is so familiar to listen to the voice that says I don’t do anything well, that I will always be a failure. With no substances to mask these feelings, I see that I’m addicted to my anger and my self-hate. And this is a big problem, too big for me to handle on my own.
So here I am, seeking change, seeking understanding, knowing that there is something better beyond my ingrained patterns of thought and behavior. Here I am, asking for something else, something bigger and more powerful than I to step in and show me a different way.
Here is the second of the twelve steps:
Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Sanity. It has a nice ring to it, but I need to figure out what the greater power is for me. The enormity, perhaps even the impossibility, of defining “greater power” makes the second step seem out of reach. It’s a relief to come across passages like this one:
When, therefore, we speak to you of God, we mean your own conception of God. This applies, too, to other spiritual expressions which you find in this book. Do not let any prejudice you may have against spiritual terms deter you from honestly asking yourself what they mean to you. At the start, this was all we needed to commence spiritual growth, to effect our first conscious relation with God as we understood Him. Afterward, we found ourselves accepting many things which then seemed entirely out of reach. That was growth, but if we wished to grow we had to begin somewhere. So we used our own conception, however limited it was. We needed to ask ourselves but one short question. – “Do I now believe, or am I even willing to believe, that there is a Power greater than myself?” As soon as a man can say that he does believe, or is willing to believe, we emphatically assure him that he is on his way. It has been repeatedly proven among us that upon this simple cornerstone a wonderfully effective spiritual structure can be built.
-A.A. Big Book p.47
I liked this one too:
The process of coming to believe is something that we seem to experience in similar ways. One thing most of us lacked was a working relationship with a Higher Power. We begin to develop this relationship by simply admitting to the possibility of a Power greater than ourselves. Most of us have no trouble admitting that addiction had become a destructive force in our lives. Our best efforts resulted in ever greater destruction and despair. At some point we realized we needed the help of some Power greater than our addiction. Our understanding of a Higher Power is up to us. No one is going to decide for us. We can call it the group, the program, or we can call it God. The only suggested guidelines are that this Power be loving, caring and greater than ourselves. We don’t have to be religious to accept this idea. The point is that we open our minds to believe. We may have difficulty with this, but by keeping an open mind, sooner or later, we find the help we need.
– Narcotics Anonymous Basic Text, Chapter 4/Step 2
The path is wide open, and the only thing that can hold me back is myself. Parts of me might be afraid, suspicious, and doubtful of this work, and rapid progress seems unlikely. So okay, baby steps. I might have dragged my feet on this one, but I still took a baby step. And it doesn’t matter how big the steps are, after all. Each one brings me a little closer back home to myself. Maybe someday I’ll get to this place where I can love and celebrate each small step along the path. Maybe that could happen tonight, right now.
Tonight I celebrate this little step I’m taking. I’m glad I’m here.