A TOPIC frequently discussed at AA meetings is “surrender.” This word, when I first got sober, had a sense of “Grit your teeth and bear it.” Now, ten years later–in the light of the Third Step–it means something entirely different. The question as I see it now is: “Surrender to what?”
Some years ago, my whole outlook on AA changed as the result of something I heard at a meeting. A man said that when he came into AA, he read the First Step and just could not accept it. Then he heard the Step said aloud, misunderstood one word, and was able to accept that. The mistaken version was: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unbearable.” This was the story of my life, too. It had become unbearable.
The Twelfth Step speaks of “a spiritual awakening.” This awakening is defined in Appendix II of the Big Book as “the personality change” necessary to change our lives from unbearable to comfortable, from desperately miserable to at least reasonably happy.
Now, it occurs to me that my big toe had no personality to be changed; my shoulder had no personality. My entire personality is in my head, and the only things there are ideas, value systems, and attitudes. What does Chapter Five of the Big Book tell us? “Some of us have tried to hold on to our old ideas and the result was nil until we let go absolutely.”
Step Two talks of being restored to sanity. My big toe wasn’t insane. My shoulder wasn’t insane. My insanity was all in my head. “Some of us have tried to hold on to our old ideas and the result was nil until we let go absolutely.”
Steps Four, Five, Six, and Seven deal with character defects. Once again, my character wasn’t in my big toe or in my shoulder. It was all in my head. “Some of us have tried to hold on to our old ideas and the result was nil until we let go absolutely.”
I have concluded that my life had become unbearable because of a lifelong habit of turning my life and my will over to the care of old ideas that didn’t work–making gods of them and, in true Archie Bunker fashion, refusing even to consider any other way of looking at life.
The decision called for in Step Three is simply whether to continue to turn my life and my will over to the care of these old ideas that don’t work–or to surrender to Ideas that do work. The Higher Power may be many other things to other people–I won’t argue with anyone about that–but God as I now understand Him seems to express Himself to me as ideas that work to make my life more comfortable and happy.
The best source of ideas that work, I have found, is AA meetings. So far, God has not spoken to me from a burning bush or a dark cloud, but every time I go to an AA meeting, He talks to me, using the voice of Ed or Fred, Harry or Mary, Sue or Lou. To hear God, all I have to do is bring my body to a meeting. To understand what I hear, my brain must not be fogged by alcohol or any other mood-changing chemical.
Any time I find myself hurting, it is because I have gone on automatic pilot, turning my will over to old ideas that automatically take me back where I’ve been all my life. Working the program, to me, is simply a matter of choosing which ideas I surrender to.