Even though I wasn’t a beginner, my headway into the spiritual life had a distinct wobble to it. If I had developed a shred of open-mindedness and learned from the head-scratchers earlier in my life, I could have spared myself a ton of misery. Nevertheless, I had to ease into it—it was hard to admit this guy needed this kind of help. Was I really so bad that I had to cast myself into the ether?
Freedom from the grips of alcohol required the maintenance and growth of a spiritual awakening, measures I wasn’t ready to embrace. It wasn’t good news, but the alternatives were grim; in order to survive, it had to be tackled. Old misconceptions were useless and had to be flushed away so a Power greater than both alcohol and myself could be accessed. It would be the vital source of strength that could guide me through the turbulence of daily life and shepherd me through the steps of recovery.
Deep down, however, I hoped there was a Door Number Two. My old ideas were fixed and had to be pried away. Nevertheless, if another door existed, a drink was likely behind it. It magnified my dilemma.
My most debilitating handicap was that I only believed what I wanted to believe. It was an impediment that led to numerous blunders and a stubbornness borne of unsound wisdom, selective ignorance and an enlarged ego. But I was convinced I was right. As I saw it, the order of things was skewed, so I stayed the course and paid the price. Sometimes I still do.
Miracle Enough for Me
My thinking was the self-inflicted glitch that highlighted many troublesome areas in sobriety; it was the hefty albatross I had to hurdle in many situations, especially when the ‘God thing’ came up. Growth ahead of that point was microscopic.
I presumed the people at those meetings were also out to finagle me into rejoining my old religion, and I was very narrow-minded about that. My opposition wasn’t unique. However, my intent to stay liberated from any old God ideas deflected many beneficial new ones—precisely why a God of our understanding can transcend the God of my limited understanding. God as I understood him wasn’t going to get me anywhere. But that was on me. My relationship with God when I was thirty-three years old was the same one I had in third grade. And it didn’t improve.
An unsuspected element of my saving grace was that the fear of the next drunk allowed me to tolerate increasing levels of distress and discontent without taking a drink. After several of my failed self-will experiments, I knew if there wasn’t some kind of God, I was screwed—I would have to drink. When my dilemma was realized, a channel from my own powerlessness to my spirituality was instantly cleared and tapped into. Open-mindedness and relief was the result.
I found out it wasn’t mandatory to know God’s first name– He had many of them across many continents over the centuries. The Aztecs didn’t have to canoe across the Atlantic Ocean to tell the ancient Egyptians that there was such a thing as God. They already knew. It was innate to their existence. I commenced to search like the spiritual child I was, and miracles of the coincidence variety occurred. And there were bigger ones on the way. The most notable was I stayed sober, and I couldn’t say how—miracle enough for me. There was something out there that wanted to help me.
Shopping for a Higher Power
Because I was practicing a freelance, hodgepodge program of recovery, I lumbered around on the thin ice of early sobriety. I had to watch my step—I could still get an emotional soaker without picking up my next first drink. But I kept praying and going to meetings, becoming part of something much bigger than myself. I was in good hands without realizing it. When they finally connected with my new mindset, they helped me scratch through the surface to rekindle my spirituality by reliving their own surrenders and ordeals where self-reliance had failed, but where something else they couldn’t define was working. In that environment, faith shared was faith multiplied. It was a space I needed to revisit often—fertile soil where the mustard seed could flourish.
Nevertheless, there were uncomfortable lessons, cluttered with impatience and second-guessing, too. I always fell in love with my plans and ideas, and I had some doozies, especially after I was afforded the freedom to have any conception of God I wanted. Whoever dreamt up that spiritual angle was a genius at reeling them in.
Even so, there’s a drawback to that panoramic approach—I tended to go overboard with my creativity. I’d already stopped listening before they added, ‘provided it makes sense to you’. I was a trailblazer on an unlikely adventure, ready to locate new avenues that pointed to the big picture. I found out later if you’re shopping for a Higher Power, you’d better be sure his ideas are better than yours, or you’ll never trust him.
Spiritual Guppy Phase
In my first year of discovery, I started my mornings reading a meditation book with a cup of coffee and a donut. Before long, I added The Far Side comic in the daily newspaper for the early chuckle I needed. The grins would counterbalance all the miserable hangovers I used to have when I was drinking. It was a positive addition to my program—I was cursed with an over-active brain, and thought it might dilute some of the sour thinking I was swamped with while I floundered through early sobriety and the emotional fallout of my divorce.
It wasn’t long before I noticed horoscopes were slotted on the same page, so now I had to see how Libras were going to fare for the next twenty-four hours. It’s a good thing I asked for help first every morning—it wasn’t always optimal being a Libra.
There was an additional stroke of new-age genius in the works too– fortune cookies. Maybe they were a Zen thing? I took them very seriously. I loved the positive reinforcement, and never cracked open a bad one. It was highly unlikely one would read, ‘Maybe YOU are the problem’. Or ‘You will soon meet your soul mate in Detox’. And definitely not– “Keep that up and you’ll be drunk in no time.”
When my fortune cookie’s message wasn’t superb, I went back to the Magical Wok the next day for a do-over. I think they kept the five-star fortunes in a secret bowl, and the waitresses used them as bait. They knew how to get me to keep coming back—just give me a clunker once in a while. They were rooting for me; more evidence of the unexpected kindnesses I ran into every day from people I barely knew.
When I was in the spiritual guppy phase of my development, I asked God to help me, but he apparently hadn’t done his homework on how to repair my hard times. The results were mediocre. Finally, a brainstorm boiled over, and I developed a new strategy where I’d help God give me what I wanted so I could testify to everyone how great He is, and I could be infinitely grateful. I’d be God’s assistant and a great advertisement, too. I knew he was busy being the glue of the universe, so I’d give him a break. It was win-win. Suddenly, it was me and God.
Gift of Delayed Gratification
I thought I’d sneak in a little reverse-psychology, thinking it’d be hard to recognize, and maybe He’d mistake it for humility. That was the plan. With some cutting-edge tactics, my pseudo-metaphysics could and would succeed.
“Oh God,” I began, “I’m probably not ready for that great job, relationship and riches you have in store for me, but whenever you think I’m ready, please let it happen. I’m sure that you know what’s best for me.” Even though I was an amateur schmoozer, pushing any buttons I could think of, I still thought it would work. I hoped it would speed up the process.
That didn’t work, so I thought I’d better try a new gimmick—reverse-reverse psychology. But then I remembered who I was dealing with, and it made my head hurt trying to devise it. Later, when I surrendered and prayed for acceptance, I realized God was giving me the gift of delayed gratification, along with the notion I should give up low-grade, counterintuitive bargaining techniques. But we were building something. In God’s time.
Pretty smart God, if you ask me.
Naturally, my initial attempts at meditation were feeble, too, but I had this dart board… I wish I made this up.
When I received it for Christmas several years before, I stuffed it in a box in the cellar and forgot about it, which made my ex’s gratitude list. I never was good at throwing darts, and it’s hazardous when you occasionally see double and get the creative walking going while armed with pointy, flying weapons. But down the road, the Holy Dart Board would become a spiritual stepping stone.
Straight from the Heart
I was bored the day I unearthed it from the clutter of boxes in the basement. After the dust and cobwebs were sponged away, I hung it in the garage, and had a brainstorm. It was an entry-level spiritual breakthrough. While cooking on my gas grill, I could hurl darts while asking God pertinent questions that He would answer by the results on the dart board.
If the dart hit the outskirts of the board, it meant In God’s Time. That didn’t thrill me—I hadn’t grown enough to know that was the best result yet. If it stuck around the perimeter of the center, the answer was “Soon, my child.” That one was considerably better. When the dart hit dead-center, a miracle was right around the corner, and there were Hallelujah’s all the way to the meeting. I was easily amused.
I was getting into it. I’d ask a meaningful question, like “When will it get better for me?” and throw a dart. Often it missed the board entirely and stuck in the wall, and those were ones I didn’t think God would want to count. It was the ‘You gotta be kidding me’ zone. Blah, blah, blah. So I’d ask another question and fire another one or three.
After missing the mark time after time, making the trek back and forth to retrieve them, I’d get a little more despondent. Finally, I would ask if it was ever, ever, ever going to get better for me, straight from the heart, and sent one flying.
That bad boy hit dead center, and I knew it was God sending me a personal message. Talk about mood swings. Life was getting better and it was just around the corner. Lifted and enlightened, from that day forward I called it ‘The Holy Dart Board’.
It was a catchy name. And besides, there were a lot of holes in it, so it was really holey.
You Gotta Start Somewhere
Barbecuing doubled as an new opportunity for meditation, but I had to stay focused on the real world, too. In hindsight, I should have burned some cone incense for ambiance instead of the pork chops.
After months of this new form of meditation, the wall in the garage looked like a hyper woodpecker with a twitch was trapped inside, bored out of its mind, doing some damage. But God was helping me grow.
I still have that chewed up, iconic thing in an extra room, with a red and a green dart planted in it; one in the bullseye, of course. Gotta hold onto those miracles, large and small, for those days when you start to wonder. When I observe its craters, pocked by all of those question darts, and the remains of the twisted remnants of metal that once encircled it, I know I needed lots of answers. I like to think I had been working on my child-like faith, and not that I was miserable at darts.
It also proves there are no limits to your growth, or undergrowth, when you don’t have a spiritual advisor. You can get pretty spiritually wacky. But you gotta start somewhere, and it’s worth it.