“I was diagnosed with terminal kidney cancer two years ago,” Bob L. of Brooklyn, New York writes in the August issue of Guideposts magazine.
“I felt all the emotions you’d expect. Shock. Dread. Grief. Self pity.
“One emotion surprised me. Even more surprising, it turned out to be the emotion that outlasted all the others, growing stronger as the reality of the diagnosis took hold.
“That emotion is gratitude.
“I’m not grateful that the cancer might take my life before I even reach my sixty-fifth birthday. The gratitude I’m talking about is my astonished thanks for the happy, stable and emotionally abundant life I will leave behind. It was a life I certainly did not deserve and never could have expected during the decade I squandered as an active alcoholic.
“Back then I burned through two marriages, and came close to wrecking a promising law career. I manipulated people, abandoned friendships, treated women like emotional props and scorned help. It was another form of terminal illness.
“Today I am married to a woman, Alice, who is more sensible, generous and spiritually mature than I could ever hope to be. We celebrated our twenty seventh wedding anniversary this year. We have three children. I recently retired as partner of a New York City law firm.
“None of this was foreordained. Especially not my marriage to Alice, which I consider foundational–after my relationship with God—to so much of my unexpected good fortune.
“I am grateful for Alice. And I am grateful for what l learned in Alcoholics Anonymous that enable me to have my relationship with Alice. AA taught me how to find and rely on God, believe with integrity and think of others before my self. It taught me how to love unselfishly.
“Those gifts helped keep me sober. They also made me a better husband and father. Now that I am dying, I can approach the end of my life in peace because of who I have become in sobriety.”
Working the Steps
“As I began to work the 12 Steps of AA, I was surprised to discover how many of them directed me toward relationships with a higher power and with other people.
“Steps two and three required me to surrender to a relationship with God. Steps four and five required a searching moral inventory and then admitting my character defects to God and to another person.
“The following steps went deeper. I had to make amends to people I had hurt, ask God to remove my shortcomings, pray often and share with other alcoholics what I had learned in recovery.
“On top of that, I had to attend meetings and be with the people I met there. It felt so daunting after years of avoiding exactly this kind of connection and transparency.
“I had no idea whether I could do it, much less progress from sobriety to forging authentic relationships with friends and co-workers-or maybe-one day a spouse.
“Here’s what happened. AA doesn’t just teach people how to forge relationships. In AA you become a person who connects with others by doing it. The steps aren’t just suggestions. Following them forces you to act. The meetings throw you together with people from all walks of life with one thing in common-addiction. Whats left to hide?
“Day by day, step by step, I opened myself to other people, admitted my most shameful acts and offered support to other alcoholics. After all those years of posturing and deflecting, I discovered a world I hadn’t known existed. A world in which people didn’t reject me when they learned the truth about me. A world in which love meant more than my need for affirmation.
“I met Alice two years after my first AA meeting. We were both on vacation in the Caribbean. Alice was pretty, like other women I had been attracted to. But Alice was also strong, independent, smart and practical—and a woman of deep Christian faith. Even as we began dating back in New York, where she also lived, I found myself assuming she’d quickly see though me and drop me.
“That’s where my AA experience kicked in. In my drinking days, I would have avoided someone like Alice or tried to manipulate her into falling for me. Now I simply acted like myself and hoped for the best.
“I was driving Alice home one evening. Her face was unhappy, and the chorus of old insecurities started up: Here we go. Shes made up her mind. She’s about to dump me.
“Then I caught myself. Through experience in AA, I’d learned it wasn’t healthy to try to read other people’s minds.
“Everything okay?” I said, “What are you thinking?”
“Oh” Alice said, “I was thinking about my younger brother. He’s not happy in his job.” “Surprise. She wasn’t thinking negatively about me. She wasn’t thinking about me at all!
She gave me a sweet good-night kiss when I dropped her off, and we made plans for another date.
Happy in Recovery
“My foundation in recovery kept supporting me as things with Alice got more serious. In AA I already had friends and an outlet for my hang ups. I loved Alice, but I didn’t need her like I’d needed women before.
“After we got engaged, she moved temporarily to Hong Kong to work as a foreign correspondent. Before recovery, I would have been devastated. This time, I prayed things would work out, relied on my AA friends for companionship and support, and made plans to visit. Alice came home, we married and my initial decision to trust her turned into a habit that has sustained our marriage.
“Early in recovery a speaker told me that if I truly wanted a happy marriage, I should focus not on finding the perfect mate but on becoming the sort of person who would be attractive to a good partner.
“I’ve since learned the underlying lesson: make room for God to act.
Connecting with Guideposts
Guideposts has a monthly publication which features an “overcoming addiction” article in every issue. It also has an excellent website—Guideposts.org—for those seeking recovery information plus a variety of other spiritually focused articles.