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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Gratitude . . . A Selfless Attitude of Grace.

I was brought up in my early sobriety with the Four Absolutes - Honesty, Purity, Unselfishness and Love - concepts that my first sponsor, his sponsor, and their friends were exposed to in visiting meetings in the Cleveland area.  My first sponsor had been a "serial offender" when it came to relapses. On one of his last drnks, he had gone out just for "a couple of beers" and ended up shooting speed with a dirty needle. He died of AIDS, uncomplainingly, with seven-and-a-half years of continuous and contented sobriety.

Paul took me on a number of 12 Step calls in early sobriety, and I was always very "busy" helping others, active in the Fellowship, working full-time, raising a family and attending university part-time. He and his wife had planned his funeral in minute detail, as there was no magic "cocktail" of drugs at that time to treat AIDS. The Four Absolutes were displayed in a large floral wreath above his coffin. He had asked his wife to give me the silk ribbon from the wreath that said "Unselfishness," while "Honesty, Purity and Love" were assigned to others of his family and circle of friends.

I've heard it said time and time again that "Gratitude is an action word." While this statement is true in one respect - "Faith without works is (indeed) dead" - it misses the mark in another. Since alcoholism and addiction "centers in the mind," there is an all-important mental aspect to gratitude, which if unrealized negates all the benefits that mere action alone brings.

My first sponsor once cautioned me that I was "a human doing, rather than a human being," but the meaning of that escaped me. Wasn't I doing all these things for others without thought of reward? Was that not "gratitude" for my sobriety? Was I not living up to the ideal of Absolute Unselfishness? Well, no . . . as it turns out.

Gratitude is really an "attitude of Grace," an "attitude" being our "habitual or usual mode or way of thinking." Therefore, while I was acting "unselfishly" in the ordinary, external sense of the word,  mentally I was still as consumed and driven by "self" - the individual ego that Bill W. described as a "punishing inner dialogue" - as ever.

Propelled by self-will, a chemically, but not spiritually, sober alcoholic can hit great heights, which I did. But the fall from those heights, when it almost invariably comes, brings great suffering to all affected and too-often proves fatal to the unrecovered, dry alcoholic addict. It was nearly so in my case.

I had no initial or lingering reservations that I was powerless over drugs and booze, but I had never admitted that life does not need my constant mental management and attention. Further, on my first day with my new sponsor, (who I had worked alongside while I was still "performing) he told me that I needed to look at the Second Step - that a power greater than my "self" could restore me to sanity.

I had thought that my boozing and drugging was the "insanity," and instead of asking him what "self" meant, I asked him what "God" meant. Of course, this is largely an unanswerable question, so he told me "good orderly direction," no doubt becasue he could sense the prejudice and contempt I had for "conventional" notions of a "Higher Power."

". . . relieve me of the bondage of self. . . "
For the next 15 years I spent virtually all my time confined in "the bondage of self," mentally managing life while reassuring myself - and, so I thought,  demonstrating to everyone else - that I had "good orderly direction" in my thinking. Two university degrees (and a change of occupation from factory worker to high-flying corporate lawyer) later, "self" reliance finally failed me and I spiralled down, ending my fall as a very close to fatal suicide. Then, and only then, was I ready to be shown what Grace truly is, and how to effect a "conscious" contact with "a Power greater than my "self."

I had experienced Grace - a brief "moment of clarity" or "Providence" - the night that my career of drinking and drugging ended. Yet it was only after complete defeat in trying to manage life the way I had been shown by parents, schools and culture, and after I had been shown how and where to establish contact with a power greater than my "self," that I was once again able to experience that freedom from my "punishing inner dialogue," and so effect a conscious contact with God.

Step 11 . . . through prayer and meditation
The all-important page 55 of the Big Book says that the early AA's "found that Great Reality deep down within" their being, and that "(i)n the last analysis, it is only there it can be found." For more than 15 years I had looked everywhere else, all to no avail. I had explored all the avenues I could think of to effect a happy and contented life for myself and my family, without any lasting success. Yet when, I was shown where this Higher Power was to be found by one old-timer, and how to effect a conscious contact with that Power in meditation by another old-timer, did I find the true purpose of sobriety, and the true purpose of life itself.

Written for the second edition of the Big Book, when there were about 150,000 recovered AA's, the Spiritual Experience appendix says that, "(w)ith few exceptions our members find that they have tapped an unsuspected inner resource which they presently come to identify with their own conception of a Power greater than themselves." It was exactly so for me, albeit it took me over 15 years and a face-to-face confrontation with death, to find that "unsuspected inner resource."

Now I know that it is only when I am acting from and with this state of higher consciousness, free from the inner voice of the ego and for the benefit of others, that I am truly demonstrating "gratitude," or an "attitude of Grace." The rest of the time, supposedly unselfish actions on my part, are merely instances of the alcoholic mind's self-trickery and "ego-feeding propositions."

Gratitude is not just "an action word," but works done with an "attitude of Grace." It is only when I take action with a truly open mind, free from "old ideas" and from egoic thinking that I demonstrate "gratitude" and the "Absolute Unselfishness" that is envisioned in the Four Absolutes - the principles that my first sponsor amply demonstrated with the state of his being in the last years of his life, but to which I was blinded by my continual self-centered, ego-centricity. The rest of the time, my actions "miss the mark" and fall short of that degree of perfection that is possible, but that I fall short of.

1 comment:

  1. ..great post...i saw something while reading this that i dont think i've ever noticed before when you said "that a power greater than my "self" could restore me to sanity."..when you separate the word myself into my 'self''s interesting to see the difference in clarity and enjoying your blogs...THANK YOU