Early in sobriety, the concept of a “god,” or a “higher power,” can be simultaneously off-putting and comforting. (No good drunk is comfortable using the word God after years of self-absorbed egoism and no really bad drunk near bottoming out wants to admit he’s been begging God for help ever since the first morning he woke with delirium tremens or the first night he felt the pinch of a handcuff being clamped on his wrist.) For most people who are new in sobriety, talk of God is vague and foreign or just plain scary.
But after years of sober living, after years of sitting in meetings expressing gratitude (to whomever or whatever) for all of the good fortune that has been bestowed upon us since we began living sober, after profusely thanking a God (“of our understanding”) for the miracle that is our sobriety, the proposition that God is all or God is nothing takes on a whole new meaning.
The catchy little phrase becomes quite literally an all or nothing proposition that is easy to accept when times are good. But in times of gut-wrenching emotional and mind-bending psychological upheaval—loss of life, loss of marriage, loss of kids, loss of job … the big events—we have to be ready and willing to accept certain realities. If God is nothing, for instance, we have nothing to hang on to—no god, no booze, no drugs—except our own ass, or worse, in moments of quiet desperation, maybe a loaded gun. If God is all, however, the pain is by no means less profound or less debilitating. Now we are forced to accept our circumstances as they are and to believe wholeheartedly that “things” will turn out as they “must” over time. And time truly is of the essence because things may not turn out as they “must” for a long time, maybe quite a long time. In fact, depending on our length of sobriety and our spiritual condition, the need to endure any passage of time may be more than the average self-obsessed alcoholic has the wherewithal to endure on his or her own.
But at least we have hope, hope usually provided by the shared experience of others who’ve leaned on prayer and meditation and, most of all, 12-step work, to survive similar situations; hope provided by the opportunity—no, necessity—to get out of ourselves literally and work with others (step 12), to completely forfeit the importance of our own lives and well being and focus entirely on the well being of those around us. Only that level of self-sacrifice, and a faith that God (as we understand him at any given point in our sobriety) is doing his job while we do ours, will make the pain and time pass quickly and tolerably enough to allow us to pass into a new dimension, just as we did when we passed into the once new and once unknown dimension that is now home to the miracle of our own sobriety.