The Higher Power as the “Spirit” of Transformation
Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity
That power for me is the power of transformation arrived at through service, self-reflection (4th and 10th steps), shared recovery stories in the rooms, silence, human connections, trust, surrender, forgiveness, compassion, empathy, community, listening, surrender, and humility.
Silence can take the form of meditation, or for traditional believers, it can be whatever kind of prayer works. My form of prayer is the Tibetan Buddhist practice of “tonglen,” which is a breathing exercise of breathing in somebody else’s pain or suffering (even my own) and breathing out relief and kindness. It is an altruistic, humanitarian, compassionate extension of love.
When I’m at a meeting where the Christian “Our Father” is recited, I stand silently to absorb the mantra-like connection I internalize from the group in that prayer. I find it very nurturing.
And I say the “Serenity Prayer” to remind me to balance my behavior between doing the right thing and acceptance when I can’t change the inevitable, an outcome, or somebody’s behavior ( I”m right now in the middle of trying to accept somebody’s need to proselytize and control in a group I’m in)
That acceptance is also a form of surrender. But I have to know that surrendering to dysfunctionalism, tragedy, or the inevitable doesn’t mean I get off the hook. I have to also surrender to the pain that comes from that surrender.
Surrender can also mean I can’t always control some of my faults and inadequacies. Sometimes I need guidance from others and/or a counselor. And I also need patience in accepting the process of an active Step Program and sponsorship to do their “Refiner’s-Fire” work on those faults.
That power greater than myself I often refer to as the “Spirit” of transformation. In my experience it is expansive, loving, engaging, and inclusive.
We had two contrasting topics at an AA meeting this morning—Happiness and Grief, emotions I have struggled with so much of my life.
Today, because of my sobriety, they are emotions I have learned to be comfortable with.
My sobriety has been guided by the 12 steps, sponsors, service, meetings, the stories people share, and the Higher-Power Spirit of my understanding. That Spirit, for me, is the power of transformation I continue to experience in AA.
And that sobriety has given me the kind of happiness I never experienced in my alcoholic drinking days.
It is the kind of happiness I call “chronic happiness.” The kind that makes me smile warmly at a friend’s success, laugh at a corny joke, sit contentedly watching a nostalgic film without getting cynical.
At the same meeting, someone shared their grief, grief jump-started by gut-wrenching trust issues.
I am always amazed how the program is able to absorb those two emotional extremes without telling us that we “must” be at a certain level of happiness protecting us from too much grief.
Or even that grief has a more intense emotional content than happiness, which I believed during my heavy drinking days and much of my early adult life.
Over the many years in the program I have discovered that happiness and grief are two sides of the same emotional coin.
I don’t remember, exactly, how those two emotions completely dovetailed when I got sober. But I do remember one incident, in early recovery, when I totally internalized a deep grief in having hurt my wife by my drinking and recklessness (I vividly remember the feeling of overwhelming grief in that Episcopal Church basement). I realized, then, that I could truly “feel” something for someone.
Once I internalized that deep sadness for another person, happiness began to arrive in small doses. I am convinced that that first experience with grief in the rooms of AA made it possible for me to experience other emotions, especially happiness.
I find it interesting, even ironic, that happiness often arrives with a tinge of sadness for me, almost as if the fullness of that happiness is too much to bear. Or that feeling of being overwhelmed by an experience. I think that’s what happens when people experience “tears of joy.”
I also found that if I can truly experience happiness, which is a deep form of connectedness to the world, then I know, conversely, I am capable of grief, another form of connectedness to the world.
One is about fullness, the other about absence. And my experience has been that they play off of each other.
And more importantly for me, to experience grief over a broken trust makes it more probable that I will experience happiness, for the kind of hard-hitting grief we’re talking about here often seems to give a deeper texture to happiness.
Finally, happiness and grief seem to juggle my psyche in ways that deceive me into believing that they are totally unrelated, when, in my experience, they are not.
(I dedicate this article to all those who live in the dark world of chronic sadness and depression. Although I don’t address the issues of clinical depression, I believe that many of us have what I call a “depressive personality.”
My comments in this essay address that kind of personality. They are not meant to support the world views that many with that personality trait share. They are merely an attempt to understand the ebb and flow of those attitudes and world views that depressive personalities share.
And I would like to make it very clear that many of us with that depressive personality type are not consistent with our dark world views. There are days when those views dominate. And there are days when the world gives us every reason to want to go on living.
With the help of a twelve-step program and twenty-nine years of sobriety, I have gradually, but sometimes reluctantly, moved over into the world of chronic happiness. But, as the saying goes, “old habits die hard.” Namasté) Continue reading
I was listening to an NPR program, “On Point,” the other day and a writer was being interviewed about his book in which he claims that alcoholism is not a disease but an ism of choice.
I don’t believe there are too many recovering addicts or alcoholics who would give themselves over to the generalized assertion that all you have to do is “will” yourself into sobriety. Those of us who have been in the rooms for a while would not deceive ourselves into the naïve belief that one’s individual will can unilaterally “conquer” or defeat the enemy of addiction.