The Daily Reflection for August 1 is a quote from the Big Book: “The spiritual life is not a theory. We have to live it.” When I first read that I knew what it meant, or so I thought. After all, I had spent seven years in a seminary and I ought to know all about, or a good bit about the spiritual life. Sad to say, I knew very little in terms of the practice of the spiritual life. I knew that I said my prayers, did my morning reflection (not meditation), and daily celebrated the Eucharist (Mass). What else was there to do?             

Fortunately, for me, someone gave me a copy of “As Bill Sees It”, which helped me to read the Big Book better. I could read the different topics and identify with them much easier than speed reading through the Big Book.                                                                                                 

Beginning on page 5, I got hit with my first reality of living a spiritual life: “If we were to live, we had to be free of anger. The grouch and the sudden rage were not for us. Anger is the dubious luxury of normal men, but for us alcoholics it is poison.” I wasn’t angry. People made me angry. That mindset had to change.  

On Page 8, “Is sobriety all that we are to expect of a spiritual awakening? No, sobriety is only a bare beginning……a new life of endless possibilities can be lived if we are willing to continue our awakening, through the practice of AA’s Twelve Steps.” That was an issue.   

My first few years in the Fellowship was that of a dry drunk. For a few reasons, I choose not to drink or used mood altering chemicals. That and going to meetings, reading the Big Book so I quote it and show how smart I am. I did the 12 steps in order to show my after care counselor I was working the program. I wasn’t. I wasn’t even treading water. I was struggling for my life and didn’t know it.                                  

“We are not cured of alcoholism. What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition” P.27. I may have stopped drinking and using drugs, but I was anything but sober. I had resentments, anger issues, jealousy, self-doubt, fear, etc.etc.etc. As I had done in my drinking career, I kept what I thought was a good front, but I could hardly breathe for fear that someone would really discover how shallow I really was.                                                              

“If we cannot or will not achieve sobriety, then we become truly lost, right here and now. We are of no value to anyone, including ourselves, until we find salvation from alcohol. Therefore, our own recovery and spiritual growth have to come first – a right and necessary kind of self-concern.” I didn’t think I was lost. I was like Pooh Bear who said, “I’m not lost. I’m right here.” I had no idea of where I was spiritually, and I splashed around thinking I was making progress. “Following a gossip binge, we can ask ourselves these questions: “Why did we say what we said? …. were we not trying to feel superior by confessing the other fellow’s sins? Or, because of fear and dislike, were we not really aiming to damage him?” P 80. I did not consider myself to be involved in gossip. Afterall, I only told the truth about my boss or whoever it was whose character was being assassinated. An old timer once said to me “Seamus, if you’re not living the program, you’re not working the steps.” I had no idea what he was talking about, and I took a dislike to him and his superiority (as I saw it) and I did not ask him.              

When I got my spiritual awakening, an experience that changed how I looked at the Fellowship and the program, I began with step one and came to grips with my powerlessness and unmanageability and by step five I had a clear understanding that I had not lost anything materially. Instead, I had lost all the values I once held so proudly. I had been living in a hole and satisfied with shadows instead of reality.      

When I finally got around to actually working the 12 steps, I began to realize what Bill meant when he wrote: “To the newcomer: Abandon yourself to God as you understand God. Admit your faults to Him and to your fellows. Clear away the wreckage of your past. Give freely of what you find and join us. We shall be with you in the fellowship of the spirit, and you will surely meet some of us as you trudge the road of happy destiny. May God bless you and keep you -until then.” P.164                                      

Séamus P Doyle

Séamus is a retired Episcopal priest in the greater New Orleans area.