Is it odd, or is it God?
You are sitting at your desk trying to balance your checkbook and discover there is $2,000 missing.
You panic and call the bank in a rage which becomes elevated when the automated system ignores your loud entreaties.
You retaliate by tricking the system into thinking you want to open a new account and once you have a live operator you demand an immediate audience with a real person at the bank and jump in the car.
Twenty minutes later you are striding through the lobby in search of a designated bank officer when you are hailed by an old friend you haven’t seen in years.
He is aware that you are a recovering alcoholic and tells you that he is having a very hard time of it. He is trying to cope with the fact that his wife is an active alcoholic and his daughter has become addicted to “meth.”
Bang! It hits you. Is this encounter with an old friend the reason you are in the lobby on this day at this time? Or is it because you have a beef with the bank? Is it coincidence or are you on some kind of spiritual path?
Fred Holmquist director of the “Lodge” at Hazelden, an internationally known and highly respected alcohol and drug rehabilitation facility based in Minnesota, put the question this way during a recent visit to Little Rock, “is it odd, or is it God?”
In brief, his answer was that “nothing happens in God’s world by mistake.”
But there was much more to his answer than that.
Speaking at a workshop in late September at the Wolfe Street Center, which provides rooms for 12-Step meetings, Holmquist said a more complete answer can be found in the “Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous.
An Unshakable Foundation
The Big Book, Holmquist said, “is a textbook to be studied from the beginning, and the program of action steps it presents in the first 103 pages bring us an unshakable foundation for life.”
Most AA, NA, AlAnon and other meetings have the steps posted on the wall, but the problem with that, Holmquist said, is that nobody “put the instructions for working the 12 steps up there with them.”
These “wall steps,” he said, “bring us much benefit and relief” but that ‘unshakable foundation’ for life comes from immersion in the Big Book, itself.
The three goals of 12-Step recovery, Holmquist said, are, first, to identify the problem, second, to define the solution and, third, to decide and take action to bring about and sustain the solution.
The problem, which is our powerlessness, Holmquist said, “defines the solution” which is power.
This is vital information, but it doesn’t get us well.
Goal one (Step one), Holmquist says, “gives meaning to our struggle but doesn’t get us well. Goal two is Step two and gives us hope but doesn’t get us well. Goal three is steps three through twelve which get us to the solution and help us live in the solution.
In steps four through nine, Holmquist said, “we take the action to follow up the decision we made in Step three to live in the solution described in Step two which solves our problem identified in Step one.”
Addiction has three dimensions
The disease of addiction has three dimensions, Holmquist said. There is the illness of the body–we can’t use alcohol (or some other substance). There is the illness of the mind–we can’t not use or can’t quit. And, thirdly, there is our unfit spiritual condition–on our own, we can’t change.
These three dimensions form the hopeless condition described in Step one, Holmquist says. He adds, “the solution for addiction is spiritual, because the deepest essence of our disease is spiritual.”
And what is our spiritual malady? It is, Holmquist says, “over-reliance on ourselves” which is frequently initiated at a very early age.
“Many people who eventually qualify for membership in some twelve step organization,” Holmquist said, “before the age of ten, because of a problem in their relationship with one or both parents or another figure of authority, make a conscious decision that they are going to have to go life alone. And this is the beginning of a variety of maladaptive relationships with people, places and things.”
Holmquist went on to say that it is not uncommon for alcoholics and other addicts to share three traits.
“First,” he said, “they didn’t have a healthy relationship with the same-sex parent. Second, they were ‘stimulus augmenters’–overly sensitive and often intelligent. Thirdly, they had early access to alcohol and drugs.”
Once we get well, the challenge becomes one of staying well, and Holmquist had the answer. It is to be accountable for our actions and pray as described in Steps 10 and 11.
“The only time we need to work Steps 10 and 11, once we’ve been transformed in Steps four through nine, is when we wake up in the morning, throughout the day and when we retire at night. The rest of the time, we can do anything we want.”
“As a type 1 diabetic,” Holmquist said, “I only get a daily reprieve from the verdict of inevitable consequences declared by my diabetes 46 years ago by managing a daily insulin program of action based on how fit, or unfit, my blood-sugar condition is. A small device called a glucometer makes it easy for me to have that critical information quickly and as often as I need it throughout each day.
Unfortunately, there’s no such small device to measure my spiritual fitness. However, one of the best and most readily available means of sensing how fit, or unfit my spiritual condition is turns out to be reflected in the quality of my personal relations with other human beings.
Early on, as a result of following the directions others suggested, I experienced spiritual progress through improvements in my relationships with people places and things. I felt fewer resentments, greater appreciation of nature (rain or shine) and more patience with things that weren’t working the way I expected them to.
“Since defective relations with other human beings have nearly always been the immediate cause of our woes,” Bill W. writes in the essay on Step eight, “no field of investigation (of our harm to others) could yield more satisfying and valuable rewards than this one.”
And so as Emmet Fox points out in the Sermon on the Mount, “but it is a poor law that doesn’t work both ways. We also know from our stories that wholesome relations with other human beings have nearly always been the immediate cause of our joy.”