[From Essay, March 2014]
The other day a friend called me with a question. He said that, at an SA meeting he attended the day before, he discovered that he had the most sobriety in the room. He asked me whether he could learn anything from a meeting where he has the most sobriety. I told him that—no matter how much sobriety I have—God is able to speak to me through other members with less sobriety. Then I shared with him the following stories.
In the past I attended an AA meeting in the center of a rough area of Nashville, not far from a homeless shelter. Many homeless people would come in off the street to attend the meeting. One day a disheveled man came in—probably drunk—and he began to share.
I didn’t give much thought to his share until a few weeks later, when I was driving with my sponsor back from a meeting and he began quoting from the homeless man’s share. I looked at my sponsor with bewilderment. I asked, “How can you remember what that guy said? He was probably drunk and he came to the meeting only once.” My sponsor said, “I never know who God will choose at a meeting to send me the message that I need to hear that day. Since I never know whom He picks, I need to listen to every
word everyone says at the meeting.” Next I told my friend about an event that happened the week before he called me. I had been at an SA meeting, and just like him I noticed that I had the most sobriety in the room. In that meeting was a young
man who had nine days of sobriety. He talked about how wonderful it was to be sober, and he was excited to share his recent realization: he had discovered that the only way for him to stay sober was to surrender to the process.
I was mesmerized. God at that moment spoke to me through a nine-day-sober man. He helped me realize how I have remained sober over the past 30 years. I have often wondered why some members struggle with sobriety while others are able to stay sober. I know it could not be that God loves me more than He loves other people in the program. The God of my understanding gives grace to all. But at that moment—through that newcomer’s share—I realized that the answer for me was that I have surrendered to the process. I was also reminded that I can learn new and important information from members with less sobriety.
So I asked myself, “How have I surrendered to the process during my time in sobriety?” Following are some examples that came to mind:
• I’ve prayed on my knees every morning. Early in sobriety I was told to get on my knees first thing in the morning and last thing at night. I was instructed to give each day to God.
I remember thinking that I could not do that—it was against my religious teachings. Then the gift came to me: I realized I had to surrender because that is what I was told to do. As frequently happens, once I surrendered I realized this was not against
my religious principles—it was only against my mother’s interpretation of the practice.
• I got an SA sponsor. The sponsor I chose had only a high school education and l had many advanced degrees, but I surrendered to the realization that this was the man I needed in my life. As it turned out, this sponsor often said to me “Harvey, someday your intelligence might catch up to your education.” After 30 years of recovery in SA, I’m still not sure that my intelligence has caught up to my formal education, but my intelligence has certainly been helped by my informal Twelve Step education.
• I gave up my secrets in Steps Four and Five. I surrendered to the process when I was told that I cannot have secrets today. To my awareness, there are no secrets in my life. There is at least someone in the program with whom I have shared my
deepest, darkest secrets.
• I’ve been faithfully reading program literature. I surrendered when I was told to read one page each of AA-approved literature and SA-approved literature every day. I’ve continued this process for the past 30 years.
• I’ve surrendered my right to lust and to sexual acting out. I was told that to stay sober, I should make a two-way contract with my Higher Power first
thing in the morning. I have surrendered to the process of making this two-way contract each day. My contract is, ”God I will be sexually sober today; please help me to be sexually sober today.”
• I’ve surrendered to the idea that I need to attend a certain number of meetings each week. In the beginning, I was told to attend 90 meetings in 90 days. In my case—after 30 years—I still need a minimum of four to five Twelve Step meetings a week.
• I’ve surrendered to working the Steps. I surrender to knowing that I will need to use my Steps on a daily basis for as long as I want to remain sober and comfortable.
• I’ve surrendered to the process of doing service work. If I don’t give it away, I will not be able to keep it. So I’m committed to doing service work. My service work includes speaking to groups around the world, being available to
take calls from SA members around the world, and sponsoring many members.
These are but a few of the surrenders I have realized I needed to make. Each of us needs to see what areas we hold on to and be willing to let these things go. As the Big Book says;
Some of us have tried to hold on to our old ideas and the result was nil until we let go absolutely. (AA, 58).
So as I learned from the new member through whom God chose to speak, the term “surrender to the process” is how I have stayed sober over the years with God’s help.
Surrendering to the process is simple idea, but it is not always easy to practice. “Surrender” often sounds negative. This is the true paradox of our program: it is through surrender that we win.
Such is the paradox of A.A. regeneration: strength arising out of complete defeat and weakness, the loss of one’s old self as a condition for finding a new one. (A.A. Comes of Age, 46)
It is through surrender that I have been set free from being a slave to my addiction and character defects. If you are struggling in this program, then be sure you are actually surrendering to the process. Try it; you might even like it!
—Harvey A., Nashville, TN