This is the second in a series of memories I have regarding conversations with my sponsor that deeply involve the spiritual principles suggested in the book Alcoholics Anonymous.
Over the years, I have applied the lessons I learned in these conversations to many situations other than what led to the initial dialogue.
I share my reflections in hopes that they might be of some help to others.
(I do ask for a bit of license: Since these conversations took place a number of years ago, I cannot repeat word for word every statement that was made. I will promise to relay the sentiment as accurately as I possibly can.)
My Existential Crisis —The Backstory
I grew up in a strict household, where church attendance was not optional—3 times a week.
I went to a church college, where the curriculum included religious classes every year for 4 years.
Yet, in spite of all that knowledge of the Bible and an upbringing in the Protestant lifestyle, I became an alcoholic, with things rapidly worsening in my mid-twenties, and reaching fever pitch in my early thirties.
Then they got worse.
As I descended, I went back to Church, yet I kept drinking.
I prayed more, yet I kept drinking. More, not less.
I took those failures as evidence that either God didn’t exist, or He didn’t care, so I turned to other methods:
- Behavior modification
- Support groups
None of these things worked either.
My experience closely tallies with Dr. Bob Smith, who founded Alcoholics Anonymous in partnership with Bill Wilson. We both knew there was some sort of spiritual malady or disease of the soul at the source of our alcoholism that must be addressed, but we were at a loss for how to successfully apply a spiritual solution.
(Click to read Alcoholics Anonymous, Dr. Bob’s Nightmare.)
Fast Forward to 2014
My alcoholism had landed me on the rocks.
I had lost everything despite searching for a way to moderate or quit altogether for over 8 years.
Checking in to Solutions of North Texas was my last stop before I landed on the streets. I had no family in a position to take me in, and I wouldn’t blame them for not offering if they had been in such financial position.
It was all such a mess….
Sitting down with my sponsor, Bill, for the first time, we were quickly able to qualify me as the real deal, an alcoholic of the hopeless variety. I clearly exhibited both physical addiction and mental obsession that led most people to write me off as doomed.
“You have the mind of a chronic alcoholic. I have never seen one single case recover, where that state of mind existed to the extent that it does in you.” Our friend felt as though the gates of hell had closed on him with a clang. (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 27)
The Most Sense Ever Made About Spiritual Matters
That moved me right on to Step 2:
Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Bill asked simply, “Do you believe in God?”
I said something to the effect of, “I don’t even know anymore. I’d like to.”
“Well, do you think there’s something out there that makes the sun go up and down, the tide go in and out? You know, made the night sky?”
“Yeah… I mean, I feel like there has to be something, but whatever it is, it doesn’t seem to be helping me,” I said.
When we became alcoholics, crushed by a self-imposed crisis we could not postpone or evade, we had to fearlessly face the proposition that either God is everything or else He is nothing. God either is, or He isn’t. What was our choice to be? (Alcoholics Anonymous p. 53)
“But, can you believe that it helped ME? And a lot of these other people who live here? And people who work here?”
“Yes… Maybe… It’s all just so confusing.”
“I don’t understand how the whole God thing works,” I said. Genuine frustration caused my voice to quiver and my shoulders to slump.
“Of course you don’t. If you did, you wouldn’t be here.”
When we saw other solve their problems by a simple reliance upon the Spirit of the Universe, we had to stop doubting the power of God. Our ideas did not work. But the God idea did. (Alcoholics Anonymous p. 52)
I exhausted Bill with my upbringing in religion and expertise regarding all things Protestant.
He smiled and asked, “How’s that working out for you?”
“I think we’ve already acknowledged that I’m here, so it isn’t. At all.”
We can only clear the ground a bit. If our testimony helps sweep away prejudice, enables you to think honestly, encourages you to search diligently within yourself, then, if you wish, you can join us on the Broad Highway. With this attitude you cannot fail. The consciousness of your belief is sure to come to you. (Alcoholics Anonymous p. 55)
“What if I told you that, for the time being, none of that stuff you think you know mattered?” Bill asked.
“I don’t understand.”
“What if you figured out—for yourself—who and what God means to you? What if you just cleaned the slate and started over, letting your experience define God for you, instead of other people?”
“Wait, so you’re telling me that I can make up my own God? Because you go straight to Hell for doing that where I grow up,” I exclaimed.
Bill just laughed.
Much to our relief, we discovered we did not need to consider another’s conception of God. Our own conception, however inadequate, was sufficient to make the approach and to effect a contact with him. (Alcoholics Anonymous p. 46)
He suggested that, instead of making something up, that I simply admit what I did and didn’t know to be fact, verified by my own experience. He said I could start there.
“What you have is a bunch of prejudice; old ideas that don’t work. What if you just… Started completely over?”
I was dumbfounded… I had no idea what to say, and I seem to remember sitting quietly for a few minutes.
Bill patiently waited.
“So, you’re saying I don’t have to worry about all the details, scripture, church, and thou-shalt-not’s?”
“Not right now… What good is it doing you?”
“Now you’re catching on.”
We found that God does not make too hard terms with those who seek him. To us, the Realm of Spirit is broad, roomy, all inclusive; never exclusive or forbidding to those who earnestly seek. It is open, we believe, to all men. (Alcoholics Anonymous p. 46)
“So, how about taking the journey?”
“Just me and God?” There was a hint of hope in my voice.
“Just you and God. That relationship is all that matters. It’s your life, your sobriety, and you’re the one who’ll live or die. That should be your primary concern, shouldn’t it? The rest you can figure out as you go.”
Nothing had ever made more sense to me.
The Results Are Indisputable
From that day forward, my relationship with God, whatever way I could wrap my head around that, would be based on my experience with Him. On that basis, it would be wholly mine, and unassailable by outside forces.
God and I together would own that partnership, with all of its accompanying successes and failures.
This conversation with my sponsor gave me permission to do what I had known down deep inside for many years that I needed to do—I would take the journey to find God, and let the record speak for itself.
I have not had a drink for 1,929 days.
If You Want What We Have…
The truly amazing thing is that my story, including its outcome, isn’t at all unique.
Then they outlined the spiritual answer and program of action which a hundred of them had followed successfully. Though I had been only a nominal churchman, their proposals were not, intellectually, hard to swallow. But the program of action, though entirely sensible, was pretty drastic. It meant I would have to throw several lifelong conceptions out of the window. That was not easy. But the moment I made up my mind to go through with the process, I had the curious feeling that my alcoholic condition was relieved, as in fact it proved to be. (Alcoholics Anonymous p. 42)
It is working for uncountable alcoholics and addicts across the globe.
Just as our disease does not discriminate against sex, social class, income, age, or race, neither does the spiritual solution.
That solution has worked for us.
No matter how bad your situation has become, where there is desperation, there is hope.
We walk as whole and free men and women today.
Most importantly, we can help—contact Solutions of North Texas.
David S. is an alumnus of the SONTX Residential Program and served as a house manager. He is celebrating sobriety as a up-and-coming writer in Dallas.