Waiting (or, Thoughts on Step 11: … “patiently remain in the moment”)

 The  simple act of waiting has proven to be one of the most difficult spiritual practices for me thus far in recovery. I have learned through some painful lessons, however, that it is also one of the most important. I know better now, but I still often find myself latching onto someone, some thing, or some dream, and running toward it full steam without consulting my higher power. Before getting sober, I found myself shocked and devastated-time after time- to find that another dream had died, another material possession had failed to bring happiness, or another relationship had crumbled. In my recovery, I’m still sometimes discouraged when my selfishly motivated actions and ideas don’t go according to plan…but I’m never surprised. My higher power knows the path I am meant to walk, and she will continue to pull me from my narrow-minded route in her own time and in her own way. Sometimes the pull is painful, but it is never in vain.

Waiting, for me, is not about stagnancy or complacency. Waiting is about patiently living my values to the best of my ability while I keep my heart open to the spiritual guidance I trust will come. Waiting is about accepting that my timeline and the timeline of the universe don’t always coincide. Waiting is about believing that my higher power knows more about what I need than I do, and that if I just remain in the moment, doing the best I know how, she will speak to me. And when she does, I will listen.

The following is an excerpt from Marya Hornbacher’s most recently published book: Waiting: A Non-Believer’s Higher Power. In it, she discusses her own spirituality in the absence of belief of a higher power outside herself. Whether we believe in a higher power or not, I think there is a beautiful message to take from the text about the simple and vital spiritual practice of waiting patiently in the moment. Please enjoy, and check out Marya’s other work, too: 

“The spirit, it seems to me, grows noisy and goes silent by turns over the course of one’s life. There are ways in which we silence it. Many of us have silenced it through addiction, but there are other ways, and many of us have used those as well. And there are ways in which we can draw the spirit out, listen for it with all the strength we’ve got.”

“But listening for spirit is something of a complicated process when we do not believe in a God, or do not feel a connection to what may be called a Higher Power. Many of us have been trained to think of “spirituality” as the sole provenance of religion; and if we have come to feel that the religious are not the only ones with access to a spiritual life, we may still be casting about for what, precisely, a spiritual life would be without a God, a religion, or a solid set of spiritual beliefs.”

“Throughout this book, I use the words spirit and spiritual often, and that may seem strange when I state my own lack of belief in a Higher Power or God. And some days it seems strange to me as well, that I am so certain of an ineffable force within me and within all of us when I doubt the presence of a metaphysical power without. But really, it isn’t contradictory. I am not speaking of metaphysics. I am speaking of the thing in ourselves that stirs.”

“The origin of the word spirit is Greek. It means “breath.” That which stirs within, slows or quickens, goes deep or dies out. When I speak of spirit, I am not speaking of something related to or given by a force outside ourselves. I am speaking of the force that is ourselves. The experience of living in this world, bound by a body, space, and time, woven into the fabric of human history, human connection, and human life. This is the force that feels and thinks and gives us consciousness at all; it is our awareness of presence in the world. It is the deepest, most elemental, most integral part of who we are; it is who we are.”

“So when I speak of spirit, I’m speaking of something that frustratingly defies articulation, because we have few words for spiritual beyond those that refer back to a God. But not believing in a God is not opposed to a belief in an aspect of the self that can be called spiritual. The latter is experienced, and defined, very personally, and is different for each individual.”

“I am not speaking of some universal or transcendent “Spirit” that exists outside of us; I am speaking of the human spirit that exists in each of us. I’m speaking of something that is urgently important in ourselves, the very thing that’s sent us searching, the thing that feels the longing, the thing that comes knocking on the door of our emotionally and intellectually closed lives and asks to be let in.”

“When we let it in, and only when we do, we begin to be integrated people. We begin to find integrity in who we are. We are not just a body, not just a mind, not just a mass of emotions, not just people dragging around the dusty bag of our pasts. We have depth and wholeness, not shattered bits of self that never seem to hold together properly. And we begin to walk a spiritual path.”

“This path is not toward a known entity of any kind. Rather, it is the path that leads through. And there are many points along the way where we stop, or we fumble, or we get tangled up or turned around.”

‘And those are the places where we wait. We’re not waiting for the voice of God, or for the lightning-bolt spiritual experience. We’re not waiting to be saved or carried. We’re waiting for our own inner voice – for lack of a better word, I’m going to keep calling it spirit – to tell us where to go next.’

‘It will.’

Excerpted from Waiting: A Non-Believer’s Higher Power by Marya Hornbacher

Sunday Gratitude

I don’t remember who, but somebody told me once that our higher power only speaks to us as loud as we need it to.

Case in point: Over the course of the last year of my drinking, my higher power’s attempts at getting me to heed her warning grew exponentially louder. She spoke to me in my father’s worry, my mother’s anger; in the growing knot of fear in my belly with which I woke every morning; in the shame of stumbling through the entire week of my son’s first birthday in a black out; in the despair I felt upon finishing each bottle and the solace I found in the glass of wine on my nightstand; in the paramedics who were called to my workplace; in the disgust on the faces of the nurses who slowly weaned me from a .54; in the dull ache of a bruised sternum after being pulled back to life by a stranger. She whispered, and she sang, and she shouted, and she screamed, and I did my best to drown out her noise.

And then, one day, her voice came to me in police sirens and flashing lights. I don’t know why it was this particular call that caught my attention, and I don’t need to know. What I do know, what I really believe with every fiber of my being, is that if I hadn’t heard her call that day, I wouldn’t be alive today. I had been drinking with a suicidal fervor, praying a perpetual and unconscious prayer to disappear, to fall into a stupor of drunken sleep and stay there.

My higher power still speaks to me in ways that I don’t understand, in ways that I sometimes wish to ignore. But, most of the time, I choose to acknowledge her voice at a lower level. I don’t need to scream up a storm of chaos to find the motivation to listen.

Today is a day when I don’t like what I am hearing. Today is a hard day. But I am still grateful for her voice. I believe she is being as gentle with me as she can, and that whatever path I choose, or mistakes I might make, she will continue to speak. And I pray only for the grace to continue to listen.

Friday Gratitude

I am grateful for my faith today.

Before sobriety, I moved through life at what felt like a break-neck pace, dreaming wild and sparkling dreams of grandeur, downing drink after drink to dull the deep seated fears that shot sharply into my consciousness, and nimbly sprinting between failed and redundant plans to gain some measure of control of my excess and some measure of manageability of my life. I rarely worried; worry took time I didn’t have. I was too busy getting from one drink to the next, attempting to clean up one disaster after another.

My drinking life was chaotic, no doubt, and though I had the persistent feeling that I could just never quite keep up, or catch up, it turns out I wasn’t going much of anywhere. I was constantly doing, constantly surviving…but never moving.

In early sobriety, I began to search for the spirituality I had lost in my active addiction. In my first attempts to open my eyes, ears, and heart to my higher power, I found myself paralyzed by fear. I prayed for guidance, and when I was touched with inspiration, I immediately questioned the source. Was this higher power stuff, or just my instincts run awry? What were my motivations? Was I being graced with a divine plan, or simply rationalizing my own selfish desires? These aren’t inherently bad questions for the pondering. In fact, I think they can be quite helpful. But if they stop me from taking any action, from moving from stagnant complacency to a more vibrant and useful life, they are not being used in the way my higher power intended.

Gradually, I have realized that my life is all about movement. Even in my most quiet and still times, there is an ever-present movement in me– the undulation of my breath, the beat of my heart, the pulsing of blood through my veins. I can feel the shift in my perception of reality, in my thought processes, in my emotion, and in my spiritual plane. At any given moment, I am moving–physically and spiritually–away from one point and toward another. These points are never destinations. In this life, I will never reach the point at which I stop moving.

The very simple idea that life is not about reaching a destination, but about experiencing the journey, has affected my faith profoundly. I had lived my whole life–both in my using days and my first days of sobriety–as if my serenity, sanity, and happiness were contingent upon hitting some certain target. My higher power has granted me the blessing of retrospection; very few of the plans to which I so desperately clung worked out the way I wanted or expected, and I couldn’t be more grateful. It has become clear to me that every mistake, every disappointment, every ounce of pain I felt or caused others, has brought me to this particular point in my journey, and this particular point is exactly where I should be, for this moment, in this space.

The thought that the path my higher power has set for me is not contingent upon my plans eases my mind greatly. I listen for the small, spiritual voice within myself, and though I haven’t received divine direction in the form of burning bush or golden tablet, I do my best to practice spiritual principles that I believe will clear the channel and align the inspiration between my higher power and my own heart.

I move in the direction I believe my higher power would have me go. I don’t let the fear of making a mistake or winding up walking the wrong path freeze my progress in this spiritual journey. I can make mistakes. I can stumble down some un-blazed trails. And still, I will be drawn back onto the path I am meant to walk. I will rest easy in my faith that all will unfold as it should, eventually, and sometimes, in spite of, my best attempts to stall the journey.


I am so pleased you’ve found your way to The Next Steps!

This is a site devoted to enriching our recovery from addiction and expanding our spiritual awareness. You are invited to join me as I walk through a promising new phase of my recovery, explore different conceptions of spirituality, and deepen my understanding of currently used 12 Step programs.

The site will focus mainly on my journey through the 12 After 12. The 12 After 12 is an emerging recovery program that aspires to bring a new spiritual perspective to those currently successful in abstinence. The program, perhaps more importantly, also shows great potential to help those who have had difficulty adhering to sobriety through a traditional 12 Step program. I will document my path through the 12 After 12 on this site, and would love to get feedback from all of you regarding your own experience, strength, and hope. I also invite all commentary on, or suggestions for, the program, and will gladly reply to any inquiries regarding it’s creation, purpose, or implementation.

As evidenced by the long-standing tradition of one addict helping another, we know that the road of recovery is not one to walk alone. I look very forward to sharing the ever-evolving story of my recovery, and even more so, to meeting new friends in this place on the journey.

Namaste,                                                                                                                                   Gael