Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Conversing Sisters: Sept 2, Restoring Us to Sanity

Me & Lisa, circa 2009

This post is part of a series of writings I did with my sister Lisa, in 2012. Our thoughts and perspectives reflect a moment in time. They may or may not have changed in the passing years.

Step 2: “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

Lisa's Thoughts  

It is often shared in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) that we come to and then we come to believe. This was true for me, too. When I stumbled into AA, I had been consumed in so many substances for so long that I had no idea how to live sober. I had come to a point in my life that I didn’t know how to do anything without alcohol; it was my Master and I its puppet. So, without it, I literally felt paralyzed. Sanity wasn’t a word that I was really familiar with and it was a word that no one in my life would have ever described me as. The earliest recollections I have...I was insane, and was often hospitalized, or sent away because of my behavior. I had been diagnosed with pretty much every type of depression and many social conditions by the age of 16. Because this had been my experience, up until the day I got sober and even some time after that, the word restoration terrified me. I worked these steps with my Sponsor on a weekly basis. So exactly one week after working Step 1, I found myself walking back into that Brokedown Palace to begin Step 2. There she was full of love and light, patiently awaiting my presence, so she could teach me what someone taught her about this Power greater than herself restoring her to sanity. She was so excited and I remember thinking, what the hell is she so excited about? I wasn’t excited at all! I didn’t have anything to be restored to. I had been insane my entire life. I was so scared that she was going to tell me that I would be restored to myself before I started drinking. This confused me because who I was before I crossed the line into alcoholism is why I started to drink heavily in the first place. If that is all I could be restored to than, obviously, suicide would have been the better option.

So, as you can see, there was nothing to be excited about. Her excitement actually felt offensive as if I was the brunt of some cruel joke. Of course I can laugh about this now, looking back on it, but just like with Step 1, I didn’t find anything humorous about it at the time. We sat down. She read a few pages out of Step 2 in the Twelve & Twelve and mentioned a few things out of my assigned reading in the Big Book that had talked about being mentally and physically different from our fellows. We discussed the allergy of the body and the obsession of the mind. How when an alcoholic is determined to drink, they seem to forget about any consequences of previous episodes and seem convinced that things will be different this time.

Many people in AA refer to the obsession as a voice inside their head, similar to that of a genie or a beast. I would have to agree with that. I can’t tell you how many times I would be in situations and it was as if I wasn’t the one who had made the decision to be where I was, with the people that were there, doing things I had no idea I was capable of, all for a drink or a substance that could alter the way I felt, and assist me in functioning in a confident way.
My sponsor asked me to describe my insanity to her. I was extremely embarrassed but for some reason things just started falling out of my mouth- like sleeping with a bottle of Yaegermeister under my pillow every night, running the streets with some Tongan gang members, as if I didn’t know any better. At the time I was somewhat educated, had a pretty good career with a decent salary, two small beautiful children and an unhealthy marriage, but there I was acting as if I was a teenager with nothing better to do. I look back and that person seems like a stranger to me now. When I came into the rooms of AA I couldn’t even make macaroni & cheese. I remember a day when my kids were crying because they were hungry. I put a pot of water on the stove and by the time I came back inside from my cigarette break, which apparently was extremely long, all the water was gone and the pot looked burnt. I had a full on meltdown. I was crying hysterically. I picked up the phone and called another woman in the program and told her what was going on. She simply said, “Lisa, breathe, honey, and just read the box.” In that moment it was like the heavens opened up and I finally had all the answers! Just read the box! These things were so simple yet my brain was so saturated in alcohol that it never was that easy when I first got sober. The vehicle I was driving at the time was beautiful. I loved her so much. She seemed to get me through all the hard times when I was out drinking and somehow she was riddled with bullet holes by the time I arrived in the parking lot of that Brokedown Palace. My family had given up on me and I had no other real relationships to speak of. My drinking drove me to such insanity that I lost everything I had and even things I didn’t know I had until they were gone. The list went on and on and nothing seemed to even surprise my sponsor. She would just nod her head and giggle at times. I didn’t know what to think about this whole step thing or if I would ever be okay.

This obsession of the mind is not limited to just alcohol. For me it comes in the form of men, food, shopping, and pretty much anything else that can distract me from my current reality. It is this obsession that leads most of us alcoholics into permanent insanity and often time’s death. Came to believe that a Power greater than myself would restore me to sanity. This sentence has a great deal to do with faith and God. Although we don’t tend to use the word God because there are so many people who come into the rooms of AA who are terrified of or have a huge resentment against God. I choose to call my Higher Power, God. When my sponsor told me that it was extremely important to believe in a Higher Power before I could continue the steps I was a little frustrated. I had believed in God my entire life and the way I understood him was a very old man with a long white beard and a black book with lots of red check marks by my name. So this being, the only vision I really had of God, meant that I was very afraid to acknowledge him or to confront those red check marks by my name.

I originally blamed this fear of God on the religion I grew up with and had resentment against the LDS church for brainwashing people to be afraid of God. I since have resolved that and have learned that my interpretation of that religion is what caused the fear not the actual teachings. After sharing these details with my sponsor she pulled out a piece of paper and at the top she wrote “Lisa’s God.” She then asked me to write a list of all the things I would have my God be and pray to that list for the next week until we met again. She also asked me to simply put my old idea of God on the shelf and I could retrieve it at any time if the “list God” was too uncomfortable. I thought much of this was crazy, and wondered if she had actually worked Step 2 herself, because she still seemed a little odd and a little insane to me.
However, I didn’t ever want to drink again, so I did as she told me to do.

In regards to the restoration of sanity...As I mentioned previously, I wasn’t interested in being restored to any previous time in my life. As I worked this step and prayed several times each day, I learned the restoration to sanity actually meant the restoration of my desires, my heart and my soul, and truly this step had little to do with my mind. It also helped me see just how temporary my mind is. I now refer to my mind as my ego, for the most part. I still think like an alcoholic on most days. However, the desires of my heart and my soul have changed. I no longer desire to die, or numb-out, or seek revenge for the wrong doing of others. I still have a long way to go in the restoration process. However, the things I desire today are things like being a good mother, sister, and daughter. Being of service to others, and helping others who are still suffering to find sobriety. To create deep meaningful relationships with the people about me. To live the prayer of St. Francis which talks about seeking to love than to be loved, looking to understand rather than to be understood, forgiving so that we can be forgiven, dying so we can wake to eternal life. In AA people often say, "live one day at a time.” In the few moments I am able to truly live, there is no insanity, there is simply peace and serenity. I still wonder why I was one of the chosen few who found my way to Alcoholics Anonymous. However, I try not to question it too much and just do the next right thing in hopes I never have to leave AA again.

Liz’s Response 


I love this essay. I’ve read it probably four or five times. The honesty & vulnerability you show in standing in your truth & telling your story is empowering.

I like to think of it as being restored to your spirit – the person who lived before. The person who agreed, as you believed, to take upon these trials in order to live to the fullest measure of your creation.

Amazing how different we saw God from the very beginning of our lives. This is one of the things that I love about this project.

Moment with sponsor - So important. Coming to a place where you were not alone. Where people not only get it, but have literally been there, done that. Common humanity is such a necessary part of healing.

Liz's Thoughts  

I was born a believer.  I’ve always known there to be a God. More specifically, I always knew there was a loving Father in Heaven that knew who I was and loved me.

I recall being a child of four or five watching Jesus of Nazareth and gaining a testimony that Jesus was the Christ. This belief profoundly influenced my identity and my relationship with the people in my life and the world. My life’s pain and trauma brought darkness into my life but believing that there was “a power greater than myself” prevented me from going into and doing dark things.

I am also religious: an observant, active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. For most of my life, I was the only one of my siblings who was an active member of the church. In adulthood there was a period of time in which I was the sole active member in my family. This was at times an isolating and painful experience. However, I never felt completely alone because I always had my faith in God and Christ. With that said, I certainly have had my own periods of inactivity and have struggled with my faith.

A few years ago, I was feeling particularly disconnected from the Spirit. Church attendance was feeling more like an act of habitual obedience than a desire to learn, grow, and serve.

One Sunday, I was teaching a Sunday School lesson on the gifts of the spirit. The Doctrine and Covenants teaches that there are specific gifts that God has given each of our spirits for our “profit and learning” (D&C 46:1) “that all may be profited thereby” (D&C 46:12).

I was writing the gifts on the board and discussing them with the class. I had already written and discussed the gift of knowing that Jesus is the Christ. I turned and looked at the board to write down the current gift we were discussing and saw boldly in my own handwriting “Knowing that Jesus is the Christ.”

I froze and stared, forgetting about the class, and only seeing that statement. I was instantly brought back to that moment as a small child being filled with the love and knowledge of the truthfulness of Christ’s ministry.

This I believed. This I could hold on to. From here I could rebuild my faith. With humility, I could open myself once again to the God and his love. Humility is the greatest of all teachers.

This section of the Doctrine and Covenants also teaches that we are “commanded in all things to ask of God, who giveth liberally” (D&C 46:7). God gives to us liberally! I often forget that this is one of His attributes, that it is His divine nature to be liberally charitable to His children.

Meister Eckheart, a fourteenth century Christian mystic, believed that “God’s endeavor is to give himself to us entirely.” I interpret this to mean a few things.  First, that God is always as close to me as I will allow him to be. If I am no longer feeling close to God, then it is because of something that I have done. I remove myself from God; he doesn’t remove himself from me.

The rhetoric used in my faith speaks of the Spirit leaving us when we are no longer behaving in a manner that is in concert with the commandments. This rhetoric can give the perception that the Spirit of God is fickle and puts me in a mindset that I should be pleasing him in order for me to have the benefit of his companionship.

I find greater satisfaction in my relationship with the Spirit when I view the same idea (that we must be in concert with commandments in order to have the Spirit with us) from the perspective that God is always there endeavoring to give of Himself to me fully. It is up to me to open myself up and allow Him in. This gives me more autonomy in my spiritual development and places a higher value on my agency. It also puts accountability solely in my hands.

Spiritual teacher, Marianne Williamson teaches in her book The Gift of Change that “we’re punished not for our sins but by our sins” (emphasis added). This reiterates the loving nature of God. He does not bring about punishment. The punishment we may or may not receive from our behavior is a natural byproduct of our actions. It is automatically set in motion. God, on the other hand, is always offering love, forgiveness and peace. It is our choice as to how much of Him we will allow in our lives. We must be completely open in order to create necessary amount of space to accept the entirety of God’s gift.

I understand this principle and believe it to be a capital “T” Truth.  However, I find it difficult to implement into my life. I am a prideful, often willful, daughter of God. My ego and humility are constantly in a street fight. I root for humility to win and yet I often betray her by allowing myself to be seduced by my ego. Giving into the ego brings momentary highs and insanity into my life.

My life experiences have taught me that the only way to “restore me to sanity” is to become humble, so I can open myself back up to my Higher Power and allow Him to fill me entirely with love, light, learning, and growth for my benefit and for the benefit of others.

Lisa's Response


I am so glad I re-read this tonight. I had a “spiritual awakening,” if you will, as I read this essay. I loved this essay, by the way. It helped me see Step 2 in a whole new light and a new understanding. What a gift, thank you.

I realized when you were talking about your moment when the class fell away and you saw the statement in your own handwriting that “restoration to sanity” is so much more than just the desires of my heart as I have come to understand in working this Step time and time again…it is actually the re-connection to my higher Power. The restoration of an eroded connection, if that makes sense to you at all.

I have this total surrender and Aha! right now!

In addition to seeing this Step differently, I also see the teaching of the LDS church in a new light. Thank you so much for writing this. I needed it more today than ever! The connection...that is what is being restored! I love it! I can’t say enough about it!

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