In the very first, raw days of being sober, Amy and I clung to each other for support. Since the day we met, at a local lesbian bar, we’d been co-conspirators—very drunk co-conspirators. Now, the same two people who’d spent the past five years egging each other into hitting up happy hour every day were attempting to do sober together. Instead of the bar after work, we loitered in Starbucks trying to kill some of the vacant hours between work and bedtime. We biked to meetings together, learned to do normal things like eating dinner. And we’d turn over these puzzling ideas about powerlessness and God and a spiritual solution to staying sober in long, highly caffeinated conversations on our back porch. We did sober like we did everything else: together.
And then it happened. Someone said to me, nonchalantly, over coffee: “You know, you have to focus on your sobriety, even if Amy doesn’t stay sober. You’ll have to do whatever it takes to protect your recovery.” I felt a lightning bolt of fear tear through me. In that moment, I understood powerlessness. I’d easily admitted I was powerless over my own drinking. I mean, I hadn’t shown up at AA for the weak coffee. But to admit there were other things in life that I could not control, to admit that I had no power over whether or not Amy stayed sober, shook me to the very core. I loved her. But, in the face of addiction, love isn’t enough to save someone else. They have to be about the business of saving themselves.
I wrestled with my powerlessness, in the grip of a constant, cold fear. My overwhelming instinct was to cling to her. But what if my clinging pulled her under? Was the weight of my love and fear too much? I felt like I was suffocating.
Fortunately, Step 1, with all its jive about powerlessness, is followed by other steps that showed me what the hell to do with this newfound understanding of my lack of control. For instance, Step 3 focuses on turning our will and our lives over to the care of God. The problem was that the God I grew up with was a little bit smitey. If you loved someone more than you loved Him, well, He’d probably zap that person, and then you wouldn’t have them at all. The God of my childhood was constantly trying to teach people lessons that involved great suffering. So, I wasn’t really thrilled about handing over my will. I mean, He’d probably just mess everything up.
Here I was, just a month or so into being sober, grappling with two concepts: 1) powerlessness and 2) surrendering my will and life to God. Pretty much, I thought this recovery thing sucked.
At the same time, I remained (resentfully) open to suggestion. People talk about “pitiful, incomprehensible demoralization” driving them into recovery. I was there. My self-loathing took at tremendous amount of energy. I was tired.
So, I gave up.
I relinquished control. I trusted my Higher Power with my recovery, with Amy’s recovery. I handed over all the things I held most dear. Who was I kidding, anyway? I was a shitty manager of my own affairs. Time to bring in a Divine Management Company.
And then, the most amazing thing happened: nothing fell apart. In fact, we both seemed to make great strides in excavating the truths about our drinking from the wreckage of our pasts. Once I let go, we could move forward. Both of us. Independently and together.
The lessons I’ve learned in recovery aren’t a one-time deal; they color every aspect of my life. They guide me through tough times. When things get uncertain, I go back to the two concepts I struggled with most: I am powerless, and I need to turn my will over to God. These ideas still frighten the shit out of me. But recovery has taught me that I don’t have to surrender to fear anymore.
Four years into recovery, when Amy confessed to me that she might be transgender, I said no. That just wasn’t going to work for me. I had the nice life I’d worked hard for. And I was a lesbian. Lesbians aren’t married to men. So, no. She needed figure something else out, because my life was going to go the way I’d planned it, damn it.
She took my directive to heart. We muddled through the next two years, not unhappily—mostly. Sure, there were plenty of times I just couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her. But I still had my family the way I’d envisioned it. I still had control. Except that I could see her slowly spiraling deeper into depression. Which I skillfully ignored, blamed on other things, railed against. I did this, claiming my power and control, until I just couldn’t anymore. When the misery became so great that Amy started to disconnect from her favorite being in the universe, our four year old daughter, I steeled myself and asked her to make an appointment with a therapist.
She came home after therapy and settled into her We-Need-To-Talk spot. She had a cautiously expectant look on her face. Like an adult carefully explaining something to a kid who’s hell bent on getting her own way, she told me—again—that she is transgender.
In that moment, I saw it: I was powerless.
I couldn’t control that her mind, her heart and her spirit were male. She couldn’t, either. I found myself in the exact same position I’d been in 6 years before, when we got sober: I could surrender my will, or I could destroy what I had by forcing my own agenda on a situation that was rapidly crumbling despite my best efforts.
“What’s your name?” I asked. “You have to pick a guy’s name. What’s yours?”
“Simon. I think Simon is my name.”
“I think it’s perfect for you.” And I wasn’t lying. It was perfect. He was perfect, just as he was.
Here’s what I’ve found about God in the past 6 years: He’s sneaky. Once you let Him in, He has a way of quietly shifting your perspective. He rearranges your heart so there’s more room for compassion, for love, for acceptance. I know this firsthand because when Simon spoke his own truth about being transgender, this time I felt it: a flood of acceptance. There was no reason to fight anymore. It was okay. We were okay.
God has a tremendous sense of timing. He seems to know exactly what I need to make things work. He works around my ego, my control issues to bring me to the most beautiful places in my life. Places I never could have gotten if I’d been navigating. Everything that Amy and I faced together in recovery, everything that God guided me through as I worked my way toward healing, all came together in this one pivotal moment—and it saved my family.
Photo Credit: Flickr/garryknight