Where do you go for comfort, reassurance, consolation? In our past lives many of us found our fix sitting on a honky-tonk barstool listening to jukebox favorites as we watered down our drinks with tears while sharing sad stories with the unwitting stranger sitting next to us. We always had misery and heartbreak riding on our shoulders and, unfailingly, it was never our fault, was it?
This will not be a war story, there are millions just like mine; rather, it’s a testimony of personal victory gained through the power of Alcoholics Anonymous, the dedicated people sitting around the tables of a recovery meeting, and the grace of a God as I understood God. Trust me, in those early days, understanding God was a challenging proposal because in 1981 at my first AA meeting, a more strident atheist than I could not be found. “Don’t talk to me about God, don’t expect me to pray, don’t give me any God literature. All I want out of this group is to learn how not to drink or, even better, to learn how to drink socially like my buddies.”
The first 90 days were a long and tedious journey through numerous nail-biting nights of sheer terror fearing the old demons would reclaim me. But also, bringing me back to the tables day after day and night after night (yes, I was one of those freaks who did at least 2 meetings daily) was the promise from others in the rooms and from the Big Book that I too could get better, that even for me there was hope.
One of those AA guys with a no-nonsense demeanor which I admired took me aside one night and suggested that I use g.o.d. as my higher power until I became ready and willing to consider a sober-minded understanding of God. Good Orderly Direction served me well for the time necessary to clear the alcoholic fog from my brain and explore the joys and promises of a developing spirituality.
The time from then to now is my story, a fantasy trip surpassing any drunk or any high I ever experienced prior to sobriety. It has been filled with absolute joy and unbearable sorrow, heights of fulfillment and lows of abject despair, moments of awe and days of drudgery. Guess what? That’s life. It is the same as it always was – suffering sprinkled with joy and peace. But, today I don’t have to sit on a barstool crying in my beer. I am changed. Me, a few good friends, and g.o.d. can handle anything that comes along.
Not surprisingly, comfort and strength can be found visiting with an old friend. I find sustaining reassurance through many of the foundational hymns and verses learned as a young boy, but rejected later in life as lies and deceit. Today, I am an integral part of the stories and songs I remember. I am the prodigal son, I am the doubting Thomas, I am the denying Peter, I suffer with Jesus on his cross. These are my friends from years ago who have taken new meaning in a spiritual awakening.
Sobriety does not force us to find religion, to profess creeds, to do weekly confessional. Sobriety does, however, expect that we will surrender to a Higher Power and pursue changed perspectives. An aspect of those changed perspectives is our approach to worldly things. Especially in today’s tumultuous social and political atmosphere, the words of Helen Lemmel, a writer and hymnist who lived 1863 to 1961, urges us to turn our eyes upon Jesus (an old friend), look full in his wonderful face and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.
Don’t need to worship, don’t need to adhere to any particular faith walk, don’t need to bow to any deity – just know the story of Jesus of Nazareth, his life and work, his compassion. Then look upon that as a path to living life soberly in spiritual comfort and reassurance. Perspectives will change when the things of earth grow strangely dim.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in his wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace
Through death into life everlasting
He passed, and we follow him there
Helen Howarth Lemmel