How 10 aching toes became a powerful lesson about the dangers of being right
My first interaction with a Higher Power was terse. I had reached the end of my rope, having attempted sobriety for a period of about 19 months. I had relapsed and suffered through 10 months of incomprehensible demoralization. I was genuinely suicidal. So I told my Higher Power that he must give me a way to live on his planet. I could not be expected to figure this out on my own.
With a degree of earnestness that I had never before felt, I told my Higher Power, “If you are the creator, then you know me, and you know what it takes to guide me. Now you must do it or I’m prepared to end this life.” I was done with living in fear.
As soon as I made this demand of my Higher Power, I felt immediately at peace and, within no time, I found myself at an AA meeting with a man saying, “These Steps are not going to make you stop drinking, but they are a way to live so that drinking doesn’t make sense.” So I got a sponsor and began taking the Steps, endorsing the principle each represented with my heart and soul.
As a newcomer, I started helping out, setting up meetings and cleaning up at our local clubhouse by taking a shift. One day when I had about 100 days sober, I came home with aching feet. I told my girlfriend that they were killing me. She looked at them and said, “Your toes look really red, like your shoes might be too small.”
I felt immediately insulted. “That’s stupid,” I replied. “I’ve been wearing size eight and a half for 20 years, ever since my company commander bought me a custom pair of jump boots for winning ‘Soldier of the Month.’” My girlfriend looked at my feet again and said, “Well, they look to me to be too tight.”
“OK,” I said, irritated. “Then why don’t you go down to the store and get me a pair of nines?” She just laughed and said, “That’ll be the day. Keep wearing those for all I care.”
The next morning while driving to work, my toes screamed when I pushed the clutch. I stopped off at a shoe store on the way and asked the salesman if he had one of those devices to measure my feet. He gave me an odd look, as if to say, What 40ish man doesn’t know his own shoe size? But he measured my foot and said, “I believe I can get you in a 10.”
My mouth fell open. “OK,” I said, “get me a pair.” I bought the shoes and continued on to work and found it hard to conceal my amazement at how wonderful my new shoes felt. It was as if each toe sang out loud with each step.
I called my sponsor. “Jay, I think I’ve figured out why I drank like I did,” I said, telling him my shoe story. He laughed and said, “Don, you have to share that at the meeting tonight.” I said, “Oh, no, Jay, this is a mens’ meeting tonight and they will…” But he wouldn’t hear any of that. “I want you to share it,” he commanded.
So at the podium that night, I shared to a room of about 40 men how I had discovered I’d been wearing shoes that were a size and half too small for years and how good my new shoes felt. The room erupted in laughter and some guy even shouted, “A man ought to know what size shoe he wears!”
I felt embarrassed as the heat rose in my face, but the heat cooled as I realized that I had been certain I knew my shoe size. I was also certain how women should act, and how kids should behave, and how folks should drive. I was certain about a lot of things, and now I had to face the fact that I was most probably wrong about most things I had always been certain about.
Later that night as my head hit the pillow, I felt reverence for this power I had turned my life over to, that he did know me intimately and had delivered an insight to me that is critical to living my life.
I have learned that there’s no growth without open-mindedness, and my Higher Power had opened my mind for me. I’ve been sober for 30 years now, and ever since that day, whenever I feel absolutely certain about anything, I pause and remember that night and the relief I felt in my toes.