Prayer and Practice

The labyrinth at the Alcyon Center at Seal Cove, Maine

The long hiatus is over. Since January 2018, this recovery blog has remained unpublished.  The reason is simple, I knew my Step Eleven experience was limited at best and so I waited.  Basically I’ve been an Step Eleven dabbler.  The simple truth, my surrender is about “fits and starts”.  Then, this past week, as I attended the first of three intensives, in the Contemplative Spiritual Direction Program, at the Alcyon Center at Seal Cove, Maine something shifted.  This change of heart was emotional, painful, and necessary.  So this morning, when I awoke at 3:00 am, the thought came quickly, I knew the time had arrived to consider the infamous Step Eleven. The Step left on the shelf, the one I’ll get ’round to but never quite do, not in any daily practice sort of way.

In my recovery, I’ve learned the current of life can be swift and treacherous and yet over the past five years, life reveals a new way of being, perhaps getting older has slowed me down enough to finally listen more than speak.  Even within the often fast-moving current of life, I sense my humanity is not something to overcome but more a place to swim, dive, and even float. I understand the learned cultural adversity I had to my human condition, was cast aside even as I pushed God out of my life.  I recall vividly, in the midst of lonely and indescribable heartache over the sudden loss of my mother, how I railed at God, and firmly decided to cease caring about anything or anyone (myself included) from that day forward and it “seemed” to work.

Until….the alcohol. And with slow, deliberation, to silence the growing war within, I drank, I drank a lot. The battle of good and evil within lasted several decades and with no defense, no plan for life, no belief in God, evil had its way. My drinking increased, my emotional growth ceased, my ability to navigate life stalled, and every relationship in my life suffered, still suffers, reverberating even now. And the obsession to drink gave chase. It called to me from morning until night. Occasionally, my substantial willfulness was used to control the obsession, when necessary to impress someone or to satisfy my employment but there “it” simmered on the back burner patiently waiting.

Now, as I enter my twenty eighth year in recovery, something calls again; a turbulence, building up within these past five years after cessation of antidepressants, prescribed in my sixteenth year of recovery, to quell my unhealed trauma, dislocation from my family, and an insidious willfulness to control life. Then, neatly medicated, I moved on buffered from my humanity, from the needs of others, and from God.

For the next six years, with a daily dose of SSRI, followed by a year and a half of an SNRI, peppered throughout with Ambien, a benzodiazepine derivative, I was set adrift, a dummied down human, in a warm fuzziness, carrying out my responsibilities. Then it happened, somehow in this stupor, I began to awaken. My long sleep was over. I began researching how to taper off the medication, although my doctor advised against it and as the medication left my system, a challenging detox that included “brain zaps” and unrelenting anxious depression arrived full force.  And in this tunnel of darkness, a mysterious inner Source sustained me, provided the inner strength I needed.

Last month, February 21st, marked five years medication free, back in the stream of unadulterated life, this place of uncertainty, my humanity beckons to God…and God answers.  I finally get it, life includes suffering.  I know this human suffering to be the very thing I hoped to avoid through alcohol and pharmaceuticals.  

Most days are good, I’d like to say every day however that would be dishonest. Two times daily, I do my best to sit for twenty minutes in centering prayer. A biblical verse fits here: I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate, I do.” (Romans 7:15). Still in this place of growth the horizon grows wider, more welcoming and although a practicing Christian, I understand God as more than any religion.  Finally, it appears God is within everything, even me, always has been, right from the start.  I just never knew.

 Inward Grace maintains a clear distinction between spirituality and religion

The Inward Grace disclaimer:

“The word ‘spiritual’ does not refer to religious matters.  All activity which drives the human being towards some form of development-physical, emotional, mental, intuitional, social–if it is in advance of her/his present state, is essentially spiritual in nature and is indicative of the livingness of an inner divine entity.”

Now to share Richard Rohr’s writing on Step Eleven from his book, “Breathing Under Water, Spirituality and the Twelve Steps”:

Step Eleven

We Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood “God”, praying only for knowledge of “God’s” will for us and the power to carry that out.

I have heard that Step Eleven is the least taught and followed of the Twelve Steps. This is probably why the Twelve Step Program often became a program for sustaining sobriety and never moved many toward the “vital spiritual experience” that Bill Wilson deemed absolutely foundational for full recovery. If we can speak of the traditional Christian stages of the spiritual journey as “one” purgation, “two” illumination and “three” union, too many addicts never to get to the second stage-to any real spiritual illumination of the self-and even fewer get to the rich life of experienced union with God. In that, I am sad to say, they mirror many Christians.

The prayer of quiet and self-surrender (“contemplation”) best allows us to follow Step Eleven, which Bill Wilson must have recognized by using the word meditation at a time when the word was not common in Christian circles. And he was right, because only contemplative prayer or meditation invades, touches, and heals the unconscious! This is where all the garbage lies-but also where God hides and reveals “in that secret place” (see Matthew 6:6). Do you not know, “Jesus says, “the kingdom of God is within you!” (see Luke 17:21). Contemplation opens us to the absolute union and love between God and the soul.

Prayer is not about changing God (to do what we want), but a willingness to let God change us, or, as Step Eleven states, “praying only for knowledge of (God’s) will for us and for the power to carry it out” (that is, actual inner empowerment and new motivation from a deeper Source). People’s willingness to find God in their own struggle with life-and allow that struggle to change them-is their deepest and truest obedience to God’s eternal plan for them.

Remember, always remember, that the heartfelt desire to do the will of God is, in fact, the truest will of God. At that point, God has won, the ego has lost, and your prayer has already been answered.