My family had moved again, this time to Great Falls, Montana. When I learned we were moving, I felt both fear and relief. The previous year had been traumatizing and I was happy that we were moving. But Montana? I had never even seen a mountain.
After I had spent eight years in a Catholic school in Topeka, my family moved to Kansas City to be closer to the airport. Dad had been placed on the fast-track to get his own division for a consumer finance company and was required to serve as a branch office auditor for at least 12 months. The new job had him flying all over the country where he would show up, unannounced, and audit one of the company’s hundreds of offices.
I rarely saw him anymore. He flew out on Sunday nights and returned Friday nights. At 14 years old, I had become the man of the family and I think he resented me for it. Or maybe he was just too tired to notice me anymore. Whatever connection we’d had was lost.
When dad was home, he was busy compiling auditor reports, was drunk or getting drunk, and had wildly unpredictable and violent mood swings. In the meantime, mom was in the habit of popping valium while drinking a half a gallon of vodka every day.
Due to the heavy pressure from dad’s family, five of my siblings and I were enrolled in Kansas City Catholic schools. My older sister and I attended Lillis High School where we found ourselves in the racial minority. I was constantly bullied.
When dad was promoted to supervisor of the Montana division a year later, we moved 1200 miles away to Great Falls. I completed my high school years at the public Great Falls High School. Because we lived too far to be under the watchful eye of dad’s family, I no longer had to attend church or go to Catholic School. I decided that I was done with church, with religion, and with God.
My decision was without consequence until nine years later when Sarah, my first child was born. My wife, Lori wanted her to be baptized and I objected fiercely. Lori had been raised in a Christian family and believed in the bible and in baptism. I saw religion as hypocrisy and manipulation and wanted nothing to do with it. Eventually I compromised. Both our daughter and son were baptized.
Although Lori wanted to attend a Christian church, I refused. I dug my heels in and refused to subject myself to what I judged as meaningless and mindless rituals and magical thinking.
By the time I was 27 years old, our marriage was in real trouble. I had always felt insecure, sure that one day Lori would realize the mistake she made by marrying me. She began to pull away and started attending Alanon meetings; a 12-step program for loved ones and family members of alcoholics.
After being invited to an AA meeting by the manager of the pizza parlor where Lori worked, I got sober. While I found great comfort in the community of AA’s membership, the 12 steps presented what felt like an insurmountable challenge. AA asserts recovery from alcoholism is dependent upon a willingness to turn your life over to God.
As my accrued daily sobriety count increased, my commitment to grow my consecutive days of sobriety grew. At practically every meeting I attended, I heard about the importance of finding a Higher Power and trusting my sobriety and my life to that power.
There was absolutely no way that I would turn my life over to the phantom God of my childhood. But AA’s Higher Power loophole and the support of other members who had found relief in belief helped me continue to put some effort into finding and trusting some power greater than me that could help.
I am still sober over 38 years later. But it took me 20 years to come to terms with an understanding of God that works for me. After my first two decades in AA, I was finally able to separate God from religion and church. There had to be some way to explain the many blessings of my life.
My ability to let my guard down and accept that there is a Source that most folks refer to as God was a huge relief. By then, my first wife had died of a brain tumor. Over the next 10 years I remarried and, after hitting an emotional bottom, I divorced my second wife. In desperation I became willing to consider the remote possibility of a loving God.
I had been abstinent but hadn’t yet found emotional recovery. I understood that while abstinence was a great start, it only put me in the waiting room for actual recovery.
I found the beginnings of emotional recovery when I discovered The Work of Byron Katie. I also read several books, attended workshops and seminars, participated in Landmark Education, got a therapist to help with my childhood trauma work, and hired a coach.
13 years after my divorce, I met my current wife and realized that I had recovered enough to attract an emotionally and mentally healthy partner. My recovery had created the internal space to relate to her transparently and authentically.
A few years ago, I started attending meetings for Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families. I appreciate the support of ACA but there is still a spiritual dilemma for me. ACA is a 12-step program. That means that at the core of the program of recovery is a reliance upon a Higher Power.
The dilemma is this. Reliance upon a Higher Power didn’t get me sober and it didn’t help me to recover. Yet I stayed sober and recovered. Often, when I talk in an ACA meeting, people are attracted to the idea of having the kind of life I have. But I didn’t get my recovery in ACA and my path to recovery doesn’t match the ACA path.
I don’t pray and I don’t meditate. But I have found access to a power greater than myself. That access is available any time I view my life through the clear lens of True Self.
When my perspective is clouded by those parts of me that are unhealed, I lose access to the higher resources of wisdom, intuition, clarity, compassion, love, and joy.
My only access point to my higher power and the resources available from that source is through my True Self.
I’ve noticed that the better and more empowered I feel, the more I show up as the very highest version of myself.
Equally true is that the worse and more disempowered I feel, the less capable I am of responding gracefully to the circumstances of my life.
So how do I solve my dilemma? The truth is that in my own way I have surrendered to my higher power. While this may sound like the words of a beaten man, the exact opposite is true.
When the unhealed parts of me are running my life, there is tremendous efforting. I endure, tolerate, and survive life.
When I am living as my authentic, True Self, I feel energized and life flows.
To live as my True Self, I have committed to taking whatever actions necessary to heal myself. As I do, the healed parts of me come into harmonious balance and integrate with True Self.
For me, trusting a Higher Power means surrendering to being who I really am. Healing what is wounded inside me creates a safe space to enjoy a connection with the power and source of the higher qualities of being.
For more information about Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families, go to www.AdultChildren.org