Pain is the Touchstone – AA Grapevine by Anonymous August 1991

Lori and I didn’t talk much. Instead, we specialized in our own nonverbal brands of communication. That’s why it came as such a shock to me when she finally did verbalize “separation.”

After five years of marriage I had settled into a monotonous routine. I knew that the marriage wasn’t exciting or even rewarding but I thought we were doing pretty well in contrast to other marriages.

Nothing happened for a while but I was determined to make it all okay again. My brother Stan had joined Alcoholics Anonymous ten months earlier and had taken me to my first AA meeting. So I joined AA to save the marriage.

After two weeks I was surprised to find myself still sober. I hadn’t had a sober day in nine years. Lori didn’t seem to be surprised or impressed but we stayed together and she began to attend Al-Anon meetings.

Our lives began to change. After three months in AA I decided I was an alcoholic and started taking the program seriously. I got a sponsor and began to challenge my old ideas, priorities, and beliefs. After six months Lori and I did separate and I ended up in treatment. Afterwards, I moved back in and we started seeing a marriage counselor. We had to learn how to communicate with each other.

The Second Step suggested that I come to believe in a Power greater than myself. The Third Step urged total reliance upon that Power. I could see that it would be necessary to establish an understanding and trust in God if I were to stay sober. I abandoned the belief in the punishing God of my childhood and acted as if I believed in a loving God.

After a couple years of sobriety I “came to” in the middle of a rage which found me beating my four-year-old son and tossing him into his room like a rag doll. I hated myself most of the time and still blamed my misery on others.

I needed a change so I took a transfer and moved my family five hundred miles to get a fresh start. Lori and I continued to struggle in our relationship. The new AA group wasn’t the same as the one I’d sobered up in. Lori had always been faithful yet I lived in constant fear that she would abandon me. My suspicion and distrust made me physically ill. I knew that my fear was unfounded yet I continued to push her away with my allegations.

Once again we separated. After six weeks we were together again, each of us with a firm resolve to face and be rid of those things which blocked us from a healthy relationship.

I was concerned and frustrated with Lori’s apparent disinterest in spiritual matters and encouraged her to get spiritual–like me! One night I asked her to explain her relationship with God. She thought well before responding and then said, “All I know is that my life has been hard but that I’ve survived. There have been many times in my life when I didn’t think I had what it took to get through. When I’ve given it everything I’ve had to give, I’ve been able to reach way down inside and come up with what I’ve needed to succeed and survive.”

So, just when I had been ready to surrender to the fact that she’d never been spiritual, the doors of understanding flew open wide. She found God inside of herself and that was working for her. She believed, had faith, and trusted that inner strength. She exercised her faith and it grew stronger each day.

If God was inside her then he must also be inside me. I began to go inside to pray, and when disturbed or upset I looked inside and found the answers. I began to change–really change! For the first time in my sobriety I truly believed that God was in control.

My sponsor strongly suggested that I join him, on our knees, to pray the Third Step prayer. Despite the fact that every fiber of my being rebelled, I conceded. In the presence of my sponsor I formally turned my will and life over to God’s care and direction. It seemed as though I had failed in all areas of my life which previously had been important to me. But a new set of priorities quietly and subtly began falling into place.

I started feeling loved by Lori, my daughter Sarah, my son Billy, and members of AA. My feelings of distrust and jealousy with Lori were removed, never to return.

Once again I took a hard look at myself, this time with a searching and fearless moral inventory. I dug into AA’s Big Book and extracted an outline on how to go about taking the inventory.

By following these directions I went back through my life. I listed my resentments, saw how they had the power to kill, and I saw my part in bringing them into being. I saw my fear for what it was.

My relationship with Lori, although still difficult, had improved by leaps and bounds. The relationship with God improved as I became more acutely aware of his presence. My relationship with Billy and Sarah grew and matured as well. I regretted that I wasn’t much of a father to them in their early years. Lori pointed out that I treated fellow recovering alcoholics with more love and respect than I did my own children. I knew that she was right and from that day forward I tried to treat my kids like a couple of alcoholics.

Financial matters began to improve when Lori and I each found jobs which provided opportunities for advancement and good benefit packages.

After I had been sober for five years, we learned that Lori had a brain tumor. She went into surgery to have the tumor removed and had radiation therapy for a couple of months afterwards. For the next few months her condition improved and worsened and our emotions followed the same course. My faith suffered as I struggled to understand God’s part of this undue and untimely hardship. I prayed, trying to believe that all things work to the greater good as Lori had repeatedly told me.

As we entered the summer months, Lori was headache free and feeling stronger. We took advantage of her health and did as much as we could together that summer.

Lori was feeling so good that she was growing restless and by the end of the summer she went back to work and started night classes at the community college. Her inner strength manifested itself increasingly as the days passed and I beheld in awe the wife that God had provided.

In October, Lori’s headaches returned. We went back to the doctors for more tests. The results revealed that the tumor had grown, doubling in size and crossing the midline, reaching deep into the recesses of her brain. I felt total despair, frustration, and powerlessness. I stopped praying for acceptance and started praying for the willingness to pray at all.

As the tumor grew, Lori gradually lost the ability to communicate in words. She lost the use of the entire right side of her body and eventually could no longer control her bladder and bowel functions. But the light and the life of her inner strength stayed with her throughout her illness and I had a sense that she was keenly aware of her condition and of her surroundings at all times. As I watched her dying I was awed by her calm acceptance and her concern for the comfort of others.

One day after her thirtieth birthday, Lori died. My faith and trust in God all but died with her.

The next few months found me in various stages of shock and grief. I struggled to define myself without her and felt disconnected and disoriented most of the time. I tried to pray but prayer seemed hollow and meaningless. Anger and rage welled up from my inner core and I aimed it at God. The pain of the grief seemed to intensify as time passed and I began to wonder if I would survive it.

A grief counselor gave me hope one day when I was expressing my anger at God. I told her that when I had needed him most, I felt he had abandoned me. A turning point came for me in the hope and promise of her words. She said, “Although you feel that your faith is at its lowest point, isn’t it true that you’ve been at this point before? As you’ve developed a concept of God and practiced increasing reliance upon that God, haven’t you experienced setbacks and disappointments? And isn’t it true that out of these experiences your faith has eventually grown beyond its previous level?”

Eventually I reaffirmed my decision to place my life in God’s hands. As I did this, I realized that God had not given Lori cancer. He had not taken my wife from me or my children’s mother from them. I began to entertain the idea that he was grieving with me as a loving father would and that my anger had been blocking me from his love and comfort.

Seven months after Lori’s death, I was still struggling with bouts of depression lasting three to five days, which felt like an eternity.

One night, a month before my seventh AA anniversary, I decided to do a written Third Step. I wrote a letter to God listing all my concerns and asking him to handle them for me. I finished writing and was preparing to fall asleep when I decided to do some meditation.

All previous attempts at improved conscious contact with God through meditation had proven futile and I had settled for getting my answers through the words and actions of his children. This night I asked him for help and immediately experienced a sense of total peace. My mind was completely quiet and still for the first time in my life. The stillness lasted for a short time before thoughts and ideas began flowing in. I picked up my pen and began writing.

Dear William,

You are my child and I do love you. Surely you know that your life is a testimony of my love. Your pain has been the kiln which has fired your character. I am pleased.

Your dear Lori is also my child and you perceive correctly that she is very alive and with me now. You both taught each other a lot while you were together. The learning continues. She is helping you still as you are helping her.

Do whatever you do with joy in your heart. And don’t be afraid to love. There is still much to do and it can’t be done with a blocked heart.

Put no conditions on the love that you give and it will know no boundaries.

My kingdom is yours for the taking and you can have it now. Just believe in me.

Keep an open mind as there is still much to learn. Your teachers will be disguised. Do not be fooled by your own prejudices.

Stay on the narrow path and keep your focus on me to maintain your balance.

I am your father and I love you.

My skeptical, alcoholic mind would like to discount the validity and origins of those words. But I’ve trudged too far along the rugged road to deny what my heart knows to be true.

The most significant truth that I know today is that I am loved and blessed by an inner strength.

I am grateful to Alcoholics Anonymous and to Lori for my relationship with that inner strength and to the power by which I am sober today.

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