by the Rev. Seamus Doyle
“A man who persists in prayer finds himself in possession of great gifts. When he has to deal with hard circumstances, he finds he can face them. He can accept himself and the world around him.” As Bill Sees It 293.
Not too long ago I was asked: “Where are the A.A. principles? I never saw them in the Big Book?” I remember in my early days in the program hearing folks say, “We place principles before personalities.” I had no idea what these principles were or where to find them. My self-esteem was such that I could not bring myself to ask for fear of being laughed at. I had always grown up with prayers being said in our home and, periodically, I would say prayers on my own. Prayers were the answer, but to what? Prayers were what we said in church and before bedtime and in a crisis situation.
The Roman Catholic catechism taught that “Prayer is the lifting of the mind and heart to god.” In my formative years, there was no one doing Yoga or meditation. There were no gurus. In seminary, meditation was a time to shut down the brain and be quiet and it was done in church.
As my addiction to alcohol increased my spiritual life and spiritual practices decreased. I talked about a loving God but the God in my head was going to send me to hell. My conscious awareness of God was that of a ringmaster with a whip and I was running round in circles like a clown with a smile and tears no one could see.
Working the steps and learning to live the program opened my heart and mind to the eleventh step; Seeking through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for God’s will for us and the power to carry it out.”
Somewhere on my journey I came across the Principles of A.A. and realized they were a one-word summary for each of the steps: Honesty, Hope, Surrender, Courage, Integrity, Willingness, Humility, Love, Responsibility, Discipline, Awareness, and Service. Prayer, lifting the mind and heart to God, meditating, and asking only what is God’s will for me and the power to carry that out was a new way to look at the world around me. Doors opened. I felt free of the guilt and shame that had been eating me alive. The principles and prayer began to knit together.
Bill Wilson found an answer for difficult times – prayer. My solution had been alcohol. Now, thanks to the Fellowship and the program I could face the worst day and still remain at peace with myself. I was “in possession of great gifts”, the AA principles which had restored me to life. I had learned to “accept myself and the world around me.”
Prayer is my conscious contact with God who is within and all around me. Thanks to my new life in the Fellowship, I learned to be honest with self and others. And, thanks to ACOA, I learned how my family of origin survival methods impacted my life. Working both of these programs increased my honesty with myself and gave me Hope for a better future. It took a few years to Surrender and, when I did, I felt the new peace and the new happiness of the promises.
False courage changed into an inner strength I did not know I had and with it I became whole, at one with self, others and God. My willingness to do anything but the steps changed into a Willingness to work all the steps and learn to put principles before personalities.
My extremes of either being the best or being the worst found a balance in the true meaning of Humility. My God-given gifts and talents were given to me, as St. Paul says, for the good of the community.”
Selfishness gave way to love of others, respect for others. I learned that helping others was and is a Responsibility. The discipline of taking a daily personal inventory curtailed many of my character defects.
As my conscious awareness of God’s presence increased, my mind and heart were opened in ways I would never have considered. I joined a different denomination, continued with my priesthood, and respected the teachings of other faith communities.
I learned about service by watching and listening to my parents. However, in my active addiction, service became something of “look at me.” Recovery through Alcoholics and ACOA, the steps and the principles have given me back the true meaning of service and the understanding of doing God’s will not mine.
Séamus P Doyle.
Séamus is a retired Episcopal priest in the greater New Orleans area.