“Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.”
If you ask any AA member which of the 12 steps is most important to recovery, the party line is that they’re all are equally important. They are in order for a reason and they all contribute to one’s recovery. I know I’ve said these same words myself in many meetings throughout my sobriety.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret, though: I’m lying by omission, because I do have a favorite step, one that means more to my recovery than any of the others. In saying that I’m not at all minimizing the other 11 steps.
Back to my secret: My favorite step is the one I go to most often in sobriety and the one that has made the biggest impact in my overall life, not just my ability to refrain from picking up a drink or a drug. It is step 3.
Like many recovering alcoholics/addicts, I have a sobriety date (January 27, 2012) and I also have a pocketful of recovery attempts. In fact, the entire nine months prior to my sobriety date was an exercise in my trying and failing to stay sober. Every time I tried to “do the steps” — with the help of at least three different sponsors — my hold-up was always step 3. That was where I hit an intellectual wall every time. I got the powerlessness (step 1). I believed a higher power could help me (step 2). But I did not get the practical application of turning my will over to that higher power.
“How do I do that?” I would ask my sponsor. But no answer I received made sense to me, so I continued to get on my knees every morning and pray for a day of sobriety. Then I’d get up from those morning prayers and make whatever plans I needed to make to alter myself chemically.
Finally, about two months before I hit my bottom, I asked my usual “But how?” question about step 3 and I got an answer that turned on a low-watt light bulb in my head. The woman I asked it of, a rehab counselor, said this to me: “Imagine your life as a bus ride. You are driving the bus, God is your co-pilot. Before you make any turns, check in with your co-pilot to make sure you are going the right way. The more often you check in, the smoother and more direct your navigation will be and the more secure you’re going to feel with your driving.”
I can’t say that I had what Oprah would call an “aha!” moment — I continued in active addiction for two more months — but that visual image was the first thing to make sense to me when it came to finding a way to actually turn my will and my life over to a higher power. And it stuck with me.
Welcome to “Fear-Based Sobriety”
Then I hit my bottom, and with that came fear and chaos as I had never known. That led to about six weeks of fear-based sobriety. What I mean by that is that I was free from drugs and alcohol, I was attending AA meetings, I was availing myself of a sponsor, but I could not say that I was committed to sobriety for any reason other than my fear of consequences. Still, it was enough to start me on my road to recovery.
Here is a before-and-after snapshot of my life and what I mean by chaos: Before hitting my bottom, I was an Irish Catholic stay-at-home mom of two beautiful, healthy children, married to a man who adores me; my life was as charmed as it gets. I had a magnificent home in idyllic suburbia, loads of close friends and family and an advanced degree waiting to be used again once my children were older, along with two cars in the garage, one or two annual vacations and plenty of social activities both with and without children. I regularly volunteered at my children’s schools and still had time to spare for whatever personal activity interested me.
On the morning of my personal bottom, I was awoken by my husband. He issued the following edict: Either get up and get packed so he can drive me to my mom’s house or he’s telling the kids everything. He stood over the bed until I made the decision to go. I was driven to my mom’s, where no one had any idea what was going on or why we were there.
In the days following, I lived at my mom’s with no money, no means of transportation and not a single person speaking to me. I saw my children for a limited time each day, but only with supervision. I was certain that divorce was imminent. There was radio silence from friends and my family and angry emails from relatives on my husband’s side; I had nowhere to turn. For the first time in my life, I knew what it meant to be without hope.
Settling In to the Chaos
At six weeks sober, my personal life was still a maelstrom and my future was far from certain. However, prolonged exposure to anything desensitizes you and I was more or less settling in to the chaos. My new normal consisted of starting each day with a neighborhood AA meeting.
On one particular Tuesday I decided to shake things up with a different meeting, which took me in an entirely different direction than I was used to going. As I drove to the new meeting, I felt a niggling familiarity with the surroundings. Then it dawned on me: I was heading into an area where I once procured prescription drugs from a doctor. Once I realized this, the thoughts came fast and furious: That doctor is probably two minutes further down the road from this meeting. That doctor would definitely agree to see me if I walked in and requested an appointment. No one, I mean no one, would ever have to know.
As the thoughts crystallized, I came to a stop at a red light, and I realized where I was in relation to both the meeting and to the doctor’s office. The road ahead split into a “Y.” To the left was the meeting; to the right was the doctor’s office. A literal and metaphorical fork in the road, I mused. With that thought came the analogy the rehab counselor told me all those months ago. Since I was actually in the driver’s seat (albeit a car, not a bus), I looked over to the seemingly empty passenger seat and immediately a new set of thoughts replaced all those other plans and manipulations: But then you will give up all your sober days. But then you will be starting over at Day One. But you will know.
The light turned green, I put the left turn signal on and I never looked back.