I used to facilitate an expressive writing class at our county jail. One of our fun activities involved using something called a story starter. A story starter is a way to give the writer a place to begin. I would give each young lady a slip of paper with a sentence written on it and they would create a story from that sentence. Here is an example: “After about a month, a fat letter arrived at the house.”
Every student got a different sentence on their slip of paper and they would base their story on that sentence. They loved this activity because there were no rules. The story was theirs to create. It could be fiction, non-fiction, mystery, romance, comedy or any genre they liked. While it was a fun activity, I learned something very important about writing from that exercise.
I know that we each have a voice. But, I’d never considered how much of a ‘fingerprint’ we each leave on our writing. It never occurred to me how much our history informs every part of our lives. I pointed this out to the girls one day and so we decided to try a little experiment. After the stories were completed, I mixed them up and gave each girl someone else’s story to read aloud. Then at the end, we would try to guess who the author was. We were able to guess correctly, one hundred percent of the time.
I began to see just how much our beliefs, whether conscious or unconscious affect every aspect of our thinking. At my twelve-step meetings, I was being asked to look at myself in order to be aware of why I do what I do and so my ‘a-ha’ moment in this class made me question the way that I had imagined ‘the God of my understanding.’ Had experiences in my life, painted an inaccurate picture of God?
Step Two says: “Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
In the first year of my recovery (from the effects of someone else’s addictions) I thought that I had worked step two already. I did not see a need for further work. I am a believer. I always have been. But, when I began to recognize how hard it was to really trust God with my son, I had to back up and start over. So, I did what a friend suggested…I examined this step, word for word. ‘Came’ to believe. I don’t just believe…as in, ‘it’s done.’ I came to believe which indicates that it is a process. It requires time. More importantly, it requires a genuine relationship.
About this same time, I had been researching the history of Alcoholics Anonymous(AA) and I learned that a kind, but portly Jesuit priest, named Father Ed Dowling had befriended Bill W. one of AA’s co-founders. Eventually, he would serve as Bill’s spiritual adviser. But, he showed up at Bill’s New York City apartment one rainy night to tell him that he and his Jesuit brothers felt that the twelve steps of AA were very similar to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. When I read about the influence that this priest had on the early organization of AA, I was surprised that this information wasn’t more widely known in the Church. Addictions are at epidemic levels. Deaths due to overdose from opiods have surpassed the number of deaths due to automobile accidents each day in this country. Why aren’t we tapping into this valuable resource more?
But, I was also relieved to learn that someone in the Church was endorsing this program of recovery. I did not want to do anything wrong. I’d already done plenty of things that I regretted. So, I did what I often do when I want to learn something new…I bought books…many books. I bought a number of books on Ignatian Spirituality and the Spiritual Exercises. Since the Spiritual Exercises were written by St. Ignatius in the 1500’s, I needed current books that explained them in terms that I could understand. So, I bought “The Ignition Adventure” by Kevin O’Brien, SJ and my life changed. The first and most wonderful thing that this book did was to challenge my idea of God.
I’ve read scripture about God my entire life. I know that ‘God is love’. But, we don’t have any example of unconditional love here on this earth. We can look to the Saints to help us see an imitation of Christ, but there is only one Father and one Son. So, it takes a lot of effort to imagine what unconditional love really looks like. Most of the time, we begin to imagine a god who is disappointed in us as our parents might have been from time to time. We might become so mired down in the things that we’ve done wrong that we forget the part about him loving us. We might not see that His disappointment is in how our sin will negatively affect us rather than being disappointed in us as a person.
Or perhaps someone in our family who claims to be very religious in word but has fallen short in deed has tarnished our perception of God. For many people, childhood experiences related to religion are the very reason that they shy away from church all together. Maybe there has been a trauma that has left a person unable to understand how God can be love if he has allowed this to happen. For all of these reasons and many more, it is important to examine why we believe what we believe in an effort to mine for truth.
Next, I looked at ‘a power greater than ourselves’. While I might quickly say that I trust God, did I? If I am still trying to control a situation instead of handing it over to God, then who do I think yields more power? Because I could not see His actions in the flesh and more importantly, because I did not know God well, did I really believe that He was more powerful than me? I came to realize that I didn’t see God as greater than me. Because of that, I did not trust Him.
And, like the stories created by my students, these little unconscious actions and excuses exposed me, to the fact that I did not really believe. St. Ignatius challenged me to look for God in everything. He asked me to learn to pay attention and taught me to listen. He taught me to use the scriptures in a way that helped me to get to know Him, personally.
The last part of this step is ‘could restore us to sanity’. If I can come to believe that God is greater than me and I can begin to trust him enough to hand over my loved ones to Him, He can restore my sanity. He can restore me to rational thinking.
My friend who says that the short version of step one is ‘I can’t, reminds me that the short version of step two is ‘God can.’ It’s that simple. And, that difficult. This program has taken me many places that I never wanted to go. I’ve gone into rehab centers, recovery houses, county jails, prisons and many different twelve-step groups. I’ve stumbled upon priests and saints that I never would have taken notice of, if my life hadn’t depended on it.
In all of those places in every experience, I have found God. I’ve found the God who is Love. He has touched me in the places outside of the norm. He has met me in the unlikely people. And, today I can say with certainty that I have come to believe in a power most certainly greater than myself and I have been restored to sanity and blessed beyond measure. Each day, I need to work this step anew.
I am a daughter, sister, aunt, mother and probably most notoriously, ‘the Vet’s wife’.