Sunday, December 9, 2012
Atonement, Forgiveness, and Me
About 3 years into my recovery, I ran across a great little book by Earnie Larsen entitled Stage II Recovery – Life Beyond Addiction (Harper & Row, 1985). In it he had this wonderful quote (page 30) that I thought was right on the money. I have never forgotten it. “What you live with you learn. What you learn you practice. What you practice you become. What you become has consequences.” Later, he also wrote a companion book called Stage II Relationships that was also very helpful to me.
But his quote is such a simple and profound truism for me. It explained so much about my life and all my failed relationships. I remember when I did my 5th Step with my sponsor, a major portion of which was trying to dissect all these unsatisfactory relationships. Ken asked me what I thought the common denominator was to all these relationships. I thought for a while and began reciting common physical similarities in the women with whom I was smitten: Kissable lips, pouty mouths, short and stacked, pretty and sensual. He kept shaking his head. Then I went to the emotional similarities: Rather needy, modestly insecure, wanting to be dominated in bed, thrilled at my spontaneity (which I had planned), and so on.
“No!” My sponsor told me. “The common denominator throughout all your relationships has been you.”
I cannot really remember, but I believe I replied with something absolutely profound. I think what I said was “Duuhh. Oooohhh. Yeah.”
What I had become had had consequences resulting in my failed relationships. What I had become had had consequences in all the glorious trips to my Pity Pot that led to a series of very demeaning (especially to my children) decisions, That led, eventually, to an increase in my drinking, that allowed my drinking to get out of control, that finally ended with my abject fear of the agony of alcohol withdrawal – whose only “fix” was more alcohol. It was the vicious cycle of addiction.
How did I begin turning my life around 25 years ago? Well, I didn’t actually. Working AA’s suggested program of recovery took care of that. Doing what I was told, I didn’t drink, I went to meetings, I got a sponsor, I shared, I prayed, I worked the Steps, I did service work. In short, I began practicing all sorts of new behaviors. So, with the considerable help and guidance of AA, I had begun reversing Larsen’s quote: What I lived with I learned. What I was learning in the Program I was beginning to try to practice on a daily basis. What I was now practicing was changing who I was becoming. What I was now becoming was beginning to have new (and better) consequences.
That process is still underway and will stay underway until my body stops breathing.
This is not rocket science. However, the most difficult issue for me was a 4 or 5-year period after several years of sobriety when my new practices were becoming more “natural.” I found I was no longer who I was, but I had not yet become who I was going to be. I was in a “no man’s land.” In between – for me it was a horrible place of confusion, frustration, anxiety and disappointment.
Throughout this same 4-5 years, a second, complicating issue for me was my confounding expectations. I just couldn’t help it. My steel-trap of a mind would begin anticipating that my getting better would result in X. When X didn’t materialize I would be frustrated, angry, and bitter – so much so that the benefits that were happening to me as a result of my “becoming” someone better went unrecognized.
I remember thinking about one of the promises made in Chapter Six of the Big Book while discussing the 9th Step: “We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.” When was this intuition going to happen to me? I had imagined (code name: Expectations) that I would suddenly be able to spout great wisdom in my company’s conference rooms while discussing sticky complications with clients, or I would be able to handle delicate issues within my relationships with women or with my immediate family. When I mentioned this frustration to my sponsor, he reminded me that quite often I had shared in meetings that, in doing nothing, most of my “baffling situations” seemed to dissolve all by themselves. “Well, that’s right,” I replied. He asked: “Wasn’t that ‘…intuitively knowing how to handle situations?’” Again, my profound response: “Duuhh. Oooohhh. Yeah.”
This 20 year-old continuing process of reversing Larsen’s adage has been taken to a whole new level with my involvement in A Course in Miracles (ACIM). It is a very similar message to AA’s, but on a very spiritual level. While AA has taught me (and supported, accepted and nurtured me) to grow as a responsible human being in society, ACIM has taught me that my true nature is a spirit. Although I am currently a human in a body (and AA is still helping me be a more responsible one), I am really an already-loved spirit, currently having a dreamlike human experience, and I am destined to play a significant role in the Atonement by continually forgiving myself and others. By constantly forgiving I am allowing my light to shine. The Holy Spirit does the rest.
This profound reality of ACIM has led me to offer these weekly posts I share with you. These posts keep the reality of my on-going transformation very vivid for me, which also keeps the Now of the Christmas Gospel in my focus.
Although these messages are mostly for me, thanks for listening. As always – feel free to forward this message to your friends, family, and those accompanying you on your spiritual journey.
#2 December, 2012