I woke with a start. The alarm had been snoozed twice, maybe three times, and I had fallen back to sleep. It was one of those times when you wake up and you aren’t sure if you’ve missed your alarm or not. I flipped over quickly.
The room started spinning.
I was instantly transported back to college, to times when I’d had the spins in bed after a heavy night of drinking and kind of giggled myself to sleep. Except this time there was no booze involved. And no giggles.
I got up to go to the bathroom and the spinning got worse. Faster. I stumbled to the bathroom and knew that it was only a matter of time before I’d start to throw up, or heave. And I got the latter.
“Are you okay?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Do I need to call 911?”
“Something’s not right”
I couldn’t open my eyes. Every time I did, the room was spinning like whirling dervish. I heard the ambulance siren as they approached.
I couldn’t walk. They had to take me out of the house on a wheel chair contraption that had rails to go down the stairs.
I was scared, but not panicked. We were going to the right hospital — my wife has strict instructions not to ever let them take any of us to the hospital where my father died.
As they gave me an IV in the ambulance, I practiced breathing, noticing the cool air at my nostrils on the inhale and the warmer air on the exhale. The thought that this could be serious, even life threatening was present in my mind, but I was at peace.
I’ve been meaning to write about a transformative conversation I had with my wife a few weeks back for a while, but life has gotten in the way. One morning, while getting my son ready for school, he’d been uncooperative and I flipped out. My wife suggested that I call a friend in the program and I got angry, telling her not to 12 Step me. I told her that the Steps were bullshit, that I hadn’t gotten sober because God saved me. It didn’t go well. I felt bad about it all day.
She took my son to school that day, if I recall correctly, and I sat on the couch feeling like I felt many times when I’d still been drinking. My sponsor was in Hawaii getting married and it was the middle of the night in his timezone. Reluctantly, I called a friend in the program. My friend talked me through things and suggested that I should get to a meeting. He suggested that we go to a meeting together and we made tentative plans to go to a 7:30 meeting that night.
When my wife got home, she told me that she was busy that night and so I found a meeting at 5:30 to go to, texted my friend that I would’ make the 7:30, and went. The meeting was not exceptional, but it was good to be there. I came home, made amends to my son and took care of him for the rest of the evening.
When my wife returned, I started talking about all the things that I don’t like about 12 Step. All the things that I hate about the God talk. And she said, “I think you need to look at that. I think you need to figure out why you get so angry about the God talk.”
“I get angry because religion is something that early humans created to explain things that are unexplainable. I get angry because all religions espouse that their way is the only way. This leads to wars. Do you know how many wars have been fought in the name of this supposedly merciful, loving, and benevolent God?” I was on the verge of going into a rant on this. She stopped me.
“I don’t think that’s why you don’t like the God talk,” she said.
“No? What do you think it is then?”
Calmly, she looked at me and said, “I think you’re angry at God. I think there were some very traumatic things that happened early in your life. I think that you were taught about God in a way that didn’t match your experience.”
In a few sentences Mrs. TKD had nailed it. I have been angry with God since I was five years old. God took away my father. And even though the church taught me that God loves me, I didn’t see it that way. What I saw was a God who hated me — a God who was cruel — a God who took away my father.
The church tried to tell me that God was a loving God. They tried to tell me that God protected me. They tried to tell me that God was essentially good. And when I asked why He’d taken my father, the best they could come up was hollow and plastic, “sometimes we don’t understand why God does things, but he always does them for the right reasons.”
I called bullshit on that at the age of five and I call bullshit on that today. The God that I know isn’t always benevolent. The God that I know doesn’t always have a rhyme or reason. The God I know is at times, chaotic.
And yet, the God that I know distinguishes between right and wrong and provides balance in times of need. The God I know is infused in this thing called life. This divinity is within all things, the ocean, the mountain, the fox, the eagle, the earth and everything that lives on the earth, and the universe. This divinity is not a deity, but is formless. It is a divine presence.
The God that I know — have always known — is not the God of my childhood.
I quickly realized that all of my resistance has been rooted in resistance to the God of my childhood. I’ve resisted a God not of my understanding but of someone else understanding. And I’ve resisted because I am angry with that God.
Now, I was throughly indoctrinated in my schooling that the God of my childhood is the one true God. That there will be no other gods before Him. That all other understandings of God are false gods. This set up a prison that has been hard to escape.
Once I understood that I was angry with this God, that I don’t ever need to make peace with this God, and that the Church insisting that their understanding of God is the one true way doesn’t make it so, I felt a new sense of freedom.
There is no evidence outside any system of belief proving the assumptions on which that belief system is based.1
I felt a sense that I could cast away the God of my childhood, without wholesale abandoning God. I felt that I could, in fact, choose a God of my understanding, and that this would not doom me to suffer the hellfire of eternal damnation.
I had finally, fully, taken Step 2 after nearly two and a half years of being sober and thinking that I’d already taken this step because I had my understanding of God. And I had, partially, but I was still clinging to feelings of guilt that I my understanding of God did not match the doctrine that I’d been taught as a child.
Coincidentally, my sponsor had come across the book which I’ve quoted above and without knowing that these events had transpired he’d decided to suggest that this book might be valuable to me. And, it sure has been.
God is what you imagine God is; God is what you need God to be so that you can recover from the disease that is ruining your life and the lives of those you love. 2
Friday was a terrible day. I was sick from 7 in the morning until 7 at night. Every time I opened my eyes, I either heaved or vomited. The nursing staff and doctors did everything that they could for me, but I was slow to respond. Over the course of the day I was given at least six different medications maybe closer to nine. I was given exceptional care in the ER and was kept one night for observation and was released the following afternoon. The most likely cause was a viral infection in my inner ear, and I’ll be following up with an ear, nose, and throat specialist.
Back to that thought in the ambulance. It was not just a thought that this vertigo was serious, it was truly that I might actually die and that it might actually happen before I got to the hospital. In retrospect, it sounds kind of silly, but that was the thought at the time. And I was at peace. The immediate thought after “you might die here” was “that will be okay.”
Certainly, I did not want to die. I have far too much to do in life to die at the young age of 45. I didn’t get sober at 43 so that I could die sober at 45. I got sober so that I’d have a shot at 20, 30, maybe 40 more years on this earth. But I was at peace with the idea that I could die — for the first time in my life the thought was not absolutely terrifying.
And I believe that is largely because I’ve made peace, not with the God of my childhood, but with the anger I have with the God of my childhood. I may, someday, make peace with that God, and I may not. But for now, I have made peace with myself — peace with how I feel about myself because I’m angry with the God that I was taught was the only true God as a child.
And that is growth.
- Shapiro, Rabbi Rami. Recovery—The Sacred Art: The Twelve Steps as Spiritual Practice (The Art of Spiritual Living) (Kindle Locations 726-727). Turner Publishing Company. Kindle Edition. ↩︎
- Shapiro, Rabbi Rami. Recovery—The Sacred Art: The Twelve Steps as Spiritual Practice (The Art of Spiritual Living) (Kindle Locations 925-927). Turner Publishing Company. Kindle Edition. ↩︎