An Open Heart and an Open Mind – Grapevine Article

FOR OVER twenty months, I have been graced with the fellowship of AA meetings, gradual growth and maturation, and the ability to stay away from alcohol and other mind-changing drugs one day at a time. My participation in the AA program of recovery has made me aware of how little I know and how limited my powers of understanding are. For years, I arrogantly assumed a posture of intellectual and emotional superiority. With degrees in communications and English, a successful career in the media, and verbal skill, I was and still am at times totally unable to communicate my most basic human needs to another individual.

My desperate cries for help to doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, clergymen, family, and friends were lost in the glib gibberish of compulsive conversation. Until I could reach out from behind my wall of artificial defenses, which had been under construction since my earliest years, and say very simply, “Please help me,” I was doomed to loneliness, alienation, and pain that even alcohol and drugs could no longer alleviate.

Among the more important stages in my recovery has been my need to listen attentively with an open heart and mind and to know how little I know. And so, when the AA meeting topic centers on the “simple” terms–sobriety, serenity, and humility–I sometimes still struggle to enclose these undefinable will-o’-the-wisps in a neat semantic box so I can selfishly claim them for my own. The best I can manage is a brief understanding of what they mean to me today, at this stage of my recovery.

True sobriety is a hard-won virtue I must practice on a day-by-day, sometimes minute-by-minute basis. Emotional highs and lows–euphoric fantasies and negative projection–rob me of sobriety and turn me toward an eventual chemical drunk as surely as will nurtured resentment or unresolved guilt.

Serenity is like a butterfly: When furiously pursued, it is elusive; but in quiet, peaceful moments, it will light on my shoulder and grace me with its presence for an unpredictable time. Any attempt to enclose it or hold it selfishly will result in its immediate escape or destruction.

Humility has been even more elusive. In my very claim to possessing it, I prove I have lost it. The words that came closest to expressing my feelings about humility were heard at a church service when the clergyman, paraphrasing a Beatitude, said, “Blessed are those who know they need God.” A warm glow of understanding began to spread within me as I saw that the vital element of faith in a Higher Power was indeed at work. It was changing me from an anxiety-prone, hysterical, neurotic egotist who claimed to be totally independent (forgetting my total alcohol and drug dependence) into a reasonably happy, peaceful, recovering alcoholic, daily cherishing total dependence on a Higher Power who makes Himself known through the AA Fellowship.

Because I consciously choose each day to place my life and will in the care of God, I am then free to choose to accept my dependence on the AA program and the suggested Twelve Steps of recovery, on my sponsors, on my AA-oriented therapy leaders, and on all those on whom I must be dependent at a very complicated stage in my life. Rather than struggle with this dependence and resent the forces that have placed me in this situation, I try to accept gracefully and gratefully whatever comes my way, knowing the eventual result will be for the greater good.

With each passing day, I have come to realize that I don’t have to define the undefinable–I merely have to be open and aware in mind and heart and spirit. Then, I’ll recognize the undefinable when it comes along.

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