Like many others, I grew up in an alcoholic family rift with the dysfunctional behavior that is characteristic of generational alcoholism. Rift with neglect, abuse and violence, it was a depressing existence where alcoholism seemed to rule the day and determine the future. It felt like a sub-standard way of life and although we may not have said it out loud, it inspired a sub-standard way of seeing ourselves. It created a lower expectation of what we might be and what we might become in the world and in some way, I know that it affected what we thought in terms of our perception of how God saw us. It was subtle, but it was there. The world didn’t think much of us and we didn’t really think much of ourselves, so why would God be any different? But God does see us differently – all of us.
I spent twenty-five years of my adult life burning myself up in alcohol and drug addiction, pointing the finger at those who were such horrible examples and who I blamed for all my problems. My absent father, my promiscuous mother, my violent step-father, all of whom were those horrible alcoholics, and list was lengthy. Playing the victim garnered me a lot of sympathetic shoulders from those who bought it. Boy, I could really tell the story – really make it spin. It worked. Until it didn’t. I eventually ran out of people who bought it, most all understood many years before I did that the problem wasn’t with anyone other than myself. But I just couldn’t hear it – not from the family, friends, judges, psychs, law enforcement – I just couldn’t hear the truth about the nature of my life and my disease until I sat in front of another alcoholic who was telling my story.
There is something that sits in the center of the Twelve Steps that changed me at my core. It’s much like the altar in the center the church, much like the epiclesis – that moment where the Presence of Jesus becomes real in the blessing of the elements – that sits in the very center of The Holy Eucharist. It sits in the center of the personal inventory work at the core of the Twelve-Steps, and it is these words taken from page 66 of the Big Book:
This was our course: we realized that the people who wronged us were perhaps spiritually sick. Though we did not like their symptoms and the way these disturbed us, they like ourselves, were sick too.
Those few words were then, and are still to this day, a huge game-changer for me. They level the playing field. The words presented an instant paradox. On one hand, I couldn’t imagine feeling that way about people like my step-father who would regularly beat both my mother and myself in a drunken rage. On the other hand, I knew deep down that there was profound truth in these words – truth that could lead me to freedom. That is exactly what has happened. The deep resentment I once held for others has been taken away, making room for compassion.
I have done much work over the past twenty-plus years in recovery. I have healed. Relationships have healed. My footing is firm in recovery because I continually work the program. I still have the same sponsor that I met my second day in recovery. We still work the steps together, and every once in a while we are reminded of those words on page 66 and they guide us to freedom. It truly is a miracle in my life. It is a miracle in recovery.