Something I find intriguing at both the Al-Anon and AA meetings is when people discuss their higher power. It’s helped me to understand why the 12 steps work so well, how thankful I am for my parents not dictating my sense of God, and how I define my own higher power.
The 12 steps don’t require a rigid God; rather, they stress the importance of a higher power as each person understands it to be. In order to tackle the steps, we need to embrace a higher power who we believe is capable of healing us, thus Step 2: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. Implication and truth: we enter the 12 steps already at a loss for sanity.
Growing up, my family went to church for events here and there, less and less. Although my parents were both religious, they never pushed religion. My mom would just remind me to count my blessings and give thanks, and so God was like a nice, distant relative who would send me gifts. I quietly thanked him for friends and family every so often. We never really talked, I’d never think to go to him for help, though somehow I knew that he knew a lot more about me than I knew about him.
When I became part of Al-Anon, I realized I’d have to develop this relationship with the distant relative, and at first it felt like a pain. However, it was soon clear to me that I could not go through this fire on my own. It was swallowing me, and the alcoholic couldn’t help, my family and friends couldn’t help, my counselor couldn’t help. Then I began to use the Serenity Prayer, more and more. That small request directly to God is the most powerful, beautifully crafted weapon ever. We’re talking deadly ninja star level with the ability to cut through weaknesses like anger, obsession, fear. I have experienced it working, and I’ve deconstructed the parts, marveled at them, paraphrased, injected expletives when I was angry. It works.
Maybe six or seven years ago, I spoke with a friend who absolutely is in love with God. This friend would glow when she spoke of her higher power, and I had the feeling that when she prayed to him, he surely listened. I asked her who he was to her, and she told me that he was like a parent: she imagined herself sitting at his feet, absorbing his teaching and basking in his love. I know my God and I weren’t that touchy feely, but I’ve always appreciated the idea of him as an accessible parent, not the “Father” with the capital F. My God is a force who would love me even if I swore him out, who would comfort me in my failures and celebrate the successes.
I knew Step 2 wouldn’t be a big issue for me, but I had wanted to give it the time it deserved, or to give me the time I deserved to process it. I have to believe there is a power greater than myself or I am doomed to my weaknesses. The strength I generate might be helped by past experiences and people, but when my soul is haggard and dry, it is something greater than my empty self that replenishes me. It is the quiet and the honesty of prayer that I believe combats the obsessive thoughts, the anger, and the fear: three of my largest weaknesses.
In closing, I wanted to include a story about an act of kindness I received when I was living abroad. I believe God is in all acts of kindness, and this one has always stuck with me.
I was living abroad and had just seen someone off at the airport. I felt entirely lonely, sad, tired. I didn’t know if I wanted to be there anymore. Made my way to the airport restroom and was crying quietly at the sink, trying to wash my face. This older lady with white hair came to my side, put a hand on my shoulder and said, “It’s going to be okay.” I looked at her in the mirror and she smiled reassuringly and walked away. It was so wonderful for me to hear it in English (I was living in abroad, remember), and I have always been so thankful to her, offering this kindness at a point when I really needed it. My angel lady. Her kindness has never faded.