Thursday, 28 October 2010

Where is your mission?

"A much more important demonstration of our principles lies before us in our respective homes, occupations, and affairs. All of us spend much of our spare time in the sort of effort which we are going to describe. A few are fortunate enough to be so situated that they can give nearly all their time to the work." (19:1, 'Alcoholics Anonymous')


 
I have been on both sides of this fence.

 
I have spent years, since I first came to AA, engaged primarily in my home life, occupation, and affairs, with AA as the place I would drop by to recharge my batteries. I would help people whenever they asked, but I did not get asked very often.

 
Three or four years ago, with double-digit sobriety, I found myself with a full and rich life. I had a career, with my own business, and I taught that career at postgraduate level at a local university. Partner. Home life. Friends. Hobbies galore. Active involvement in a religious community. I was pretty happy.

 
Then I took Step Three again.

 
What is remarkable about Step Three is its ability to unleash a chain of events one could not possibly predict that transform one's life from the inside, not the outside.

 
And my life has, indeed, been transformed. Many of the externals look exactly the same. But I spend vastly more time involved in AA than I did even two years ago. I do not attend a huge number of official AA meetings, typically three a week. But I have the privilege of spending a lot of my time working with other alcoholics.

 
This passage from the Big Book is fascinating, because it contains a paradox and a tension. Firstly, more important than the working of the Steps is how they (together with the Traditions and the Concepts) are applied in every area of our lives. Absolutely. And I do have an external life which functions very well and affords me a lot of happiness, thank you, due to application of the Steps. But this passage also presents those who can give nearly all their time to the work as being (by implication, particularly) fortunate.

 
Elsewhere in the Book (89:2), there is a description of frequent contact with each other and with newcomers being the bright spot of our lives. I have a number of bright spots, both in and out of AA. But the bright spot of contact with other AAs using all three sides of the triangle as the design for living that works in rough going (15:1) and with newcomers is something very special and irreplaceable to me.

 
Sometimes, AA is presented as a necessary evil, something to get through and get out of as quickly as possible, the real mark of success being arriving at a point where you drop in to help out whilst 'real life' goes on somewhere 'out there'—AA is the 'bridge to normal living', we are told.

 
Sometimes, people talk about their AA friends as though they are second-class friends, as though having friends in AA is making do with second-best, somehow, and as though people not in AA are the 'real' friends. There can be subtle condemnation of those who, after years of sobriety, still devote large chunks of their life to AA, as though they (we) are doing this because (they) we cannot make our way in or are avoiding the outside world.

 
My perspective is different.

 
I came to AA at twenty-one as a seriously screwed drunk with zero life skills and an emotional profile, character traits, and behaviour patterns that qualified me for a number of psychiatric diagnoses. God through AA kept me sober and taught me how to live. There are times that I give to AA because I am in serious spiritual trouble and AA work reconnects me to God faster than anything. I would always, I hope, give to AA in order to repay the debt I owe to those who helped me. There are, however, three other reasons.

 
Firstly, "We are sure God wants us to be happy, joyous, and free." (133:0) AA work gives me happiness and joy. And I am entirely free. There is no sense of onerous, external compulsion.

 
Secondly, there is work to be done. Someone who was criticised for sponsoring a lot of people responded, "if you would sponsor a few more people, I would not have to sponsor so many." If we who have the solution do not pass it on freely, who will?

 
Thirdly, there is the matter of Divine guidance. "Follow the dictates of a Higher Power and you will presently live in a new and wonderful world no matter what your present circumstances." Interesting word, 'dictates'. I have sought out paths of usefulness in different directions, primarily work and through a religious community. I have prayed and meditated a lot on where my path lies. And what has come to me in prayer and meditation again and again, expressed through the conscience I am supposed to consult and the inspiration and the intuitive thought I am supposed to rely on, the God-consciousness we are told will come to us in Step Ten, is that I must serve God where I am most useful. And I am led back again and again to the Twelfth Step within AA. The obligation is not externally imposed, it is compliance with the guidance of my spirit, which I would disregard at my peril.

 
I do not choose how and where I get offered opportunities for service. I am over-subscribed: I would need several lifetimes simultaneously to fulfil all of the demands and meet all of the requests that come my way in different parts of my life. This is not a testament to any special skill or aptitude on my part. Quite the reverse. AA's promise of increasing usefulness has come abundantly true for me, and I can take no credit for it. And the usefulness, in AA, lies more in how dark a place I have been rescued from than in any achievement of mine.

 
What I cannot do is see the work that must take place in AA as second-rate or second-class, somehow separate from 'real life', as it can sometimes be regarded.

 
"We would like it understood that our alcoholic work is an avocation." (xiii:2)

 
"An avocation is an activity that a person does as a hobby outside their main occupation. There are many examples of people whose profession was the way they made a living, but whose activities outside their workplace were their true passion in life." (Wikipedia)

 
I have friends who do great service in AA but whose avocation—their true passion in life—lies outside AA. This is good, true, and right.

 
I, however, count myself as someone fortunate enough to be able to spend a lot of time in Twelfth Step work within AA. For now, this is a true passion. And no less valid because it lies within, not outside AA. AA is not separate from the world—every life saved, every life enabled by our collective Twelfth-Step work within AA is a massive contribution to the outside world. If we—the fellowship of AA as part of the human race—are an organic whole, all children of a living Creator, the job is not each to occupy the same role, with the same balance between the various aspects of Step Twelve replicated in each individual, but to discover our particular mission at any given point in time.

 
Clint H. would describe our mission as lying at the intersection between what I have to offer and what the world needs. If my phone stops ringing and calls from AA stop coming in, I will look elsewhere for ways to fulfil my mission, for ways to serve God. Until then, I am growing where I am planted, and perfectly happy and proud to be one of the fortunates described in the opening paragraph.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you!
/a friend in Gothenburg