This Old House
My friend Mike bought a house at 13 Maple St. in a nice, quiet neighborhood. The house had been vacant for years and it was obvious no one had paid any attention to it in that time. The yards were overgrown with weeds, the flowers in the gardens were dead. The fence was broken in several spots and what was standing was in desperate need of some repair and paint.
The steps to the front porch were broken as was the railing around the porch. The screen door was hanging by one hinge, the rain gutters were filled with leaves and broken in spots. This was the beginning of a list of the repairs that were needed and the work that had to be done. It was obvious this project would take Mike a long while to complete. Mike began making repairs and spent every weekend working on the house.
He rented equipment and tilled the yards. He laid new soil and planted the lawn. There were several gardens. He spent one entire weekend just cleaning out the dead plants. When the gardens were all cleaned out, he replenished the dirt with new soil and nutrients and replanted a variety of colorful plants in all the gardens around the house. He removed the entire fence and replaced it with a picket fence and painted it white. Every weekend Mike would be at the house either completing or beginning another project. He worked for months.
He needed help with the porch. His friend Sam had power tools and Sam and Henry helped him tear out the porch and build an entire, new porch – including the steps and railing. He painted the porch when it was completed. He clean the gutters and replace the broken sections.
Almost a year from the date he bought the house, working every weekend and at times asking his friends to help him, the work was completed. Mike sat on his porch and looked down the street realizing he had one of the most beautiful properties on the block. As he was sitting there, two older women walked by and interrupted his thoughts. He overheard one say to the other, “Mildred, look at this old house. The flowers are such brilliant colors, the lawns are manicured so well and the fence and the porch are perfect. Remember when it was an overgrown falling down mess? God has done such a great job here.” Hearing the women and meaning no disrespect, he stood up on the porch and said, “Yes, God has done good work but you saw what this place looked like when God had it all to himself”.
I am reminded of Mike’s story when confronted in 12 step recovery by the people who claim “the God stuff is too much for me” or brand Alcoholics Anonymous as “a Christian movement”.
A does ask its members to have a reliance on a power greater than themselves and many of us do refer to that power as God. But the power, by whatever name you call it, has very little impact on the course of your life without your cooperation. That is, a person who comes to AA postulating God has the exact same chance for success as the atheist claiming there is no God.
How can that be?
For Mike, buying the house only made the projects ahead of him possible.
Alcoholics Anonymous, God, a higher power all the words the person resistant to recovery can point to are no more than that, they are simply words. The property at 13 Maple St. was not going to magically become the most beautiful house on the block simply because Mike bought it.
The first thing Mike did was prioritize the projects. It made little sense to sod the lawn before the fence work and the porch were complete. The gardens could wait until the rain gutters were cleaned and repaired. Alcoholics Anonymous has steps designed as a priority of projects, if you will, for delivering a reprieve from the chronic and progressive disease of alcoholism.
The claim that the new member needs to have a substantial belief in a power greater than themselves falls away when I think of Mike. Mike is a computer programmer. He knows very little about projects outside his area of expertise. Before he bought the property on Maple Street, I am not sure he ever mowed a lawn. Mike spent hours during the week researching, mostly on YouTube, the skills he would need for the upcoming weekend project. He learned about soil and the nutrients necessary. He learned which flowers would flourish in bright sunshine and which required shade. He learned step-by-step how to build a fence, clean and repair rain gutters, and even paint.
When Mike got to the project of the porch, he knew he was stuck. He didn’t own the necessary tools and the cost to buy them was high. Even if he had the tools, he knew this was a project he couldn’t successfully tackle alone. He called his friends Sam and Henry.
In Alcoholics Anonymous the details are fairly similar. I begin attending a meeting. I listen to the stories the other members are telling. I go home and prepare for the next meeting. Perhaps I have questions from the first meeting. I write them down. I attend another meeting. I find someone who seems friendly and ask my questions. I sit in another meeting and listen to the stories. After the meeting I help clean up. I get to a meeting a little early and talk to people as they arrive. I sit in the meeting, I help clean up and then a member asks me to go to dinner and a group of us go out after the meeting. It seems I bought the house.
I suppose I could simply continue to attend meetings, listen to stories, talk to people and eat meals with them after the meetings, but eventually, those simple actions will become redundant. There will be no real point in going to one meeting and then another and another until eventually, I’m sitting on my porch with more weeds in the garden then had been there when I bought the property. I may even sigh, “What’s the use?” And put a “For Sale” sign in the front yard.
The steps of Alcoholics Anonymous become essential and all require action on my part and, at times, I need to call on someone to help me along. Believing in God or a higher power of some sort is like a long hot shower after a hard day working in the sun. It’s not necessary but certainly nice. What’s necessary is the actions required in the 12 step process. Once completed, every alcoholic sits on the porch and marveles, no longer in denial of a power greater than themselves, at a miracle.
Email your questions or topic suggestions to: email@example.com and let’s experience this journey together. You will remain anonymous.