Speaking about Step Three.
Last week I was asked to be the speaker at my Sunday morning meeting. I really enjoy that meeting. It’s a co-ed group, closed (which means that only people with a desire to stop drinking may attend), and friendly and inviting. Normally it’s a meeting where we get outside speakers. But I hadn’t spoken there in about three years, since I was an outside speaker, and so a lot of the group members who have been regulars for that time had never heard my story except in the tiny bits an pieces we all get when we share.
For those unfamiliar, AA doesn’t have any standard meeting type, or rules for how a meeting is run. And I’ve found that different places around the USA, and around the world, have different traditions and habits when it comes to meeting types. But some variations on a few basic themes have sprung up. My Sunday meeting is what’s called a “speaker/step” meeting, which means that there’s generally a single person who speaks for about 20 minutes at the beginning of the meeting on one of the twelve steps, and then for the rest of the meeting members of the group will share for 2-3 minutes each until the hour is up.
Sunday, we were on the third step. Step three states: “We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of god as we understood him.” (The italics may not be in the original from the book, but the step is generally presented with them in material). Many people struggle with the spirituality in the program of AA. Hell, people who’ve been deeply wounded by religion or by alcoholics will sometimes look at it as a cult*. But the spiritual aspect has never really bothered me.
In the beginning, it didn’t bother me because I had no trouble with the concept of god. I used to be pretty religious. And though I wasn’t religious when I came to AA, I retained my spirituality. In the past four and a half years, even my spirituality has waned. I’ve come to a point where I simply say: I’m hopeful about god. And this is what I said in my Sunday meeting, after telling my story. I’m hopeful about god. I would love for there to be a god. But I can’t sit here and honestly tell you that I am certain I believe in one. And I’m not sure I care. I’m comfortable not knowing.
So what does step three mean to me today, if I don’t know about god? There is a huge system of people, in these rooms. People that I rely on. People that rely on me. People who are stronger as a group than they are as individuals. This social network has enormous power. This is the power greater than myself. Some people call it “the wisdom of the group”, which is fine. Some people simply refer to god as “good, orderly direction”, which I find kind of silly, but surely no more silly than some would find my lattice of social connections.
As I looked around that room, of people whom I knew, and people whom I didn’t; people I’ve watched struggle and triumph, struggle and fail; people who’ve watched me weep and rage; people with whom I’ve laughed about the most horrifying excrescences of the human heart, I said: the third step, to me, means dedicating myself to this.
I think we are all imperfect. Imperfect not as measured against some phantasm’s impossible standard, but imperfect in our own minds, our own lives. In the way we would be if we were always our best selves. The way I would be if I were to do the things the image of me in my head does when I imagine being perfect. And I’m not saying that perfection is even the goal. Progress only, toward a better self, is my goal.
I know that I cannot make that progress unless I have help from something outside of me. Something bigger than me. Something stronger. For some people, that thing is god. And that’s fine. I’m very comfortable with people who are comfortable with god (though, I am often saddened by the conclusions it leads them to). In AA, I have found a place that is truly accepting and open. No matter what a person’s god-concept is, they are welcome in AA, even if that concept is none at all. There are many atheists here. And in AA, there is no proselytizing. I’ve never heard an argument about whose god is the “real god”.
When I dedicate myself to something bigger than me, and recognize myself as a small piece of a big machine, I am better able to understand how I contribute to the advancement of both my goals, and the goals of the thing that I’m a part of. I am a researcher in health care, making a contribution that will hopefully help improve delivery. I am an alcoholic, sharing in a series of rooms, drinking bad coffee and being one of the fibres holding together this lattice of ex-drunks, which has no center, and no edges.
We are the net. We are the soft place to fall.
*If AA is a cult, it’s a lousy one. No one is in charge, no one gets rich, and anyone is free to leave at any time. We keep no personal information, have no mandatory dogma, and do not require that anyone do anything. We have a program that has helped a lot of us stop drinking and lead better lives. It’s free to all, and also freely refused.