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There I was in a room filled with strangers.  I had come to this church in a van full of other strangers.  I was beaten, tired, confused, and spiritually, financially and emotionally empty.  I hated my work.  It seemed to only add to my depressed mental state.  I no longer had any close friends.  I was barely on speaking terms with anyone in my family – I hadn’t talked to my older sister and two older brothers in years and bitterly resented my younger brother who until recently had been living with me.   I lied as a matter of routine.  I hadn’t dated in years because I pretty much despised who I was.  I was more full of anger and hate than I care to admit.

I was like Gollum in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings  – unloving, unloved, friendless, isolated, corrupted, and slowly going crazy.  That was what had brought me into this room.  It was my first AA meeting.  Alcohol was my One Ring: seductive, comforting, baffling, and powerful.  It was my “precious”.  But it was also killing me.   It was destroying any semblance of who I once was, not only physically, but mentally and spiritually as well.  It wanted me dead.

Earlier that day I had checked into an in-patient rehab facility where I would spend the next couple months.  That night we were driven to a local Lutheran church where they were holding an AA meeting.  It was a lead meeting where someone told their story.   I don’t remember much of what the speaker talked about.   I was fairly numb with self-pity and self-loathing at what the state of my life had become.  I only really remember the sign on the podium that said “Hope is found here”.   I kept thinking to myself, “please, let that be true”!

That was 4 and ½ years ago.  I did find hope – and much more.  I found a life I never knew was possible.  One of the best comments I have heard recently is from a speaker who described AA as “Hope in Human Form”.  I’ve found that to be true.  Hope is embodied in every person in AA that shares their story of misery and transformation.  It is embodied in every former drunk who then helps another learn how they too can learn to live differently.  And since my faith in God was absent and since I knew I was beaten and had no answers or solutions –I clung to Hope.   I prayed to the God I wasn’t certain I even believed in anymore that what they said could happen for me, would happen.  Hope is about the only thing that kept me hanging on long enough for the miracles to happen.  I remember looking around the room and seeing the men and women there were happy, laughing, seemingly serene people.  Hope in Human Form.  There they were- living soberly without alcohol and they seemed happy.  How was that even possible?  I wanted to be able to live like that too.  The alternative was frightening.  I saw where that road was heading.

You may hear people say they are in recovery.  I prefer the idea that I am in discovery with the principles of AA as my guide.  I have re-discovered a spiritual side I had left unscratched.  I have discovered the strength that comes from humility and self-responsibility.  I have discovered the wellness attained from helping others.  I have discovered to better confront my fears rather than hide from them.  I discovered the very Taoist idea that by surrendering completely I have more strength than I ever had from trying to be strong.  I discovered that by admitting my wrongs, recognizing my selfishness, and attending only to my actions rather than focusing on others wrongs, pointing out their selfishness, and worrying about their actions, I am more at peace and have greater happiness.  I have discovered that happiness really is an inside job, but most people are unhappy because they look for an outside fix.   I have discovered miracles can happen.  I have discovered I can trust and like other people again.

I still fail in these pursuits often.  Life is life and my flaws tend to follow me wherever I go!   But I recognize my failures now, and soon try to mend them.  It’s a liberating way to live.  But it takes effort.  Daily effort.  I have to trust in God, accept and admit when I am wrong and do my part to correct those times when I am.

But if you had to sum it up the last 4 years or so – I changed.  Everything.   I changed my sleep patterns.  I changed friends.  I changed behaviors and attitudes.  I changed the things I did and where I went.  I changed my relationship with God.

And along the way I made an interesting discovery –change guided by principle is good!  Change is essential to life. Without change there is no growth, no learning, and no happiness.  Closed unchanged systems die out.  Closed unchanging people wither like unwatered plants.

I changed and I grew.  But I can’t take much credit really.  It was less my own effort than merely allowing the change to happen.  I followed the advice (12 Steps) and examples of those Human Forms of Hope, I listened,  and let God do for me what I never had been able to do for myself which was stop my drinking and live life soberly and as joyously as possible.

All this isn’t to say that life is a bowl of peaches.  It isn’t.  Life is still life and has a way of throwing a series of curve balls.   And this year has been especially tough already.  My mom died.  I’ve moved from one city to another.  I’m starting my own law practice again and my fears about success and money keep rearing their ugly little heads trying to steal the little serenity I manage to hold.  But I know if I honestly try to do what I can and let go of trying to control the results, I will be okay.

But I owe a great debt and have tremendous gratitude to the many people in AA;  from my sponsors, to the friends I’ve met, to the acquaintances I merely see in meetings, to the counselors in rehab-who selflessly gave, shared, cried, laughed, and taught so that I may live a more joyous life.

They were and remain – Hope in Human Form.