I have been noticing that at a certain point in recovery, many people start to want to go to the ‘next level.’ What that means, exactly, is really up to the person experiencing it, but one does know when they have come to a plateau in their personal development and need something to stimulate further growth.
Many people look to AA and the AA community to be that thing that inspires and creates further growth, and it isn’t always going to be able to do that. For me, the answer is not to go to more meetings, because more of the same thing is not my Next Level. I needed something different, something else, something to add to my existing program.
I think it’s dangerous to have this feeling and not seek an outlet for it; I have seen this turn from a spiritual restlessness and desire for growth into a spiritual malady and desire for drink if it’s not addressed.
It almost makes me think that our original desire for a drink stems from a spiritual restlessness. This may not be true for all, but I feel like it’s true for me. I had disconnected from the God of my family, the Southern Baptist, Judgmental God. I wanted nothing to do with him, but that doesn’t mean I wanted nothing to do with something bigger than me, something I could turn to, something that helped me feel safe in the world. It’s like someone who is estranged from his father—being estranged doesn’t fix the problem of feeling lonely, missing the relationship, being resentful at the isolation from the source of comfort and safety. And so, I was like that, estranged from God but missing God. And then… there was alcohol, and the spiritual suffering was numbed to some extent.
Even during all my drinking and using, I was obsessed with books by illuminated souls, such as Joseph Campbell, Howard Thurman, and Pierre Tielhard de Chardin. I would constantly read about other religions and spiritual practices. I wanted something, but since I made alcohol and drugs my Higher Power, all I could do was intellectualize about it. I couldn’t have that experience of being connected to the Source as my own.
I was reminded of the scriptural saying of my early days, which said that God is a jealous God and would have no other before Him. In this situation it was true, but in a different way—no jealousy was involved, but truly when I put alcohol and drugs (or anything, for that matter—love, money, fear, you name it) before God, then I did not have access to the true Source. And so it was—I worshipped alcohol, I worshipped drugs, I worshipped the high, the oblivion. And there was no room for God.
When I got sober, I slowly got to know my Higher Power. It really helped that I was encouraged to find a God of my understanding. One thing I know for sure is that I cannot ever understand my Higher Power. The second I think I do, I realize that it’s no longer my Higher Power, but my idea of a Higher Power, which will always be more than I can conceive of. The God of my understanding is a God I don’t understand. My Higher Power is truly a mystery, has a playful sense of humor, is generous and loving, sends me into situations that cause my heart and soul to expand and grow. I do not have a name for It, or a gender, or an idea of what It looks like, I only know that I am having an amazing relationship with this Grace that holds all things together, and I love it. I love this relationship for providing all the things I always wanted—I am safe, secure, protected and guided. I am encouraged to Know Myself, and to love myself, so that I can more fully love and accept others. And, I am happy. Every single day.
So then there is the Next Level. It got to a point for me where I wanted to really go beyond where I am right now. I want to know who I am and what I am doing, which of my behaviors are programmed and how to de-program myself so I am coming from an authentic and true place.
I have to discover what my Truth really is, so I can know how to come from that place, and I have to discover what is false, so I can reject it in favor of the Truth. I have heard it said that if you kill yourself in the first five years of sobriety, you are killing the wrong person. I am a few months shy of my fifth sober birthday, and I can tell you, that is so true. I am so much more ME than I was when I came in—when I got sober, and for the first few years, I was just a bundle of programming, reactions, raw nerves and issues. I was run by resentments and fears and desires. I did what I did because I didn’t know what else to do—it was automatic, like a robot. Even if it felt spontaneous or original, like I was making my own decisions, the underlying truth was that I really wasn’t.
Once I started to reject my script, and respond, not react, right in the moment and based on the truth of me, I found a liberation that cannot be put into words. I can’t even describe it to you, except that the experience of it is worth living for. It’s inspired and inspiring. I wanted to dive deeper into it, to understand more. I am a seeker, and I know where to look, and as such I have been very involved with my own personal Next Level.
But I have seen people who are not seekers by nature who are hit with the spiritual restlessness and, like I said before, not knowing how to use it to motivate them into a spiritual inquiry allows it to turn into a spiritual malady. It’s easy at that time to start questioning AA, and recovery itself. People in this phase tend to go to fewer and fewer meetings, and grow ‘bored’ of the recovery community. When we don’t work the steps, we lose our footing. The 11th Step is an ongoing step, and it can be a real doozy for some.
If you feel yourself wanting more than AA, don’t turn your back on it, just grab onto something else to supplement what AA is. It’s important to know that AA isn’t everything. It isn’t claiming to be. It encourages you to deepen your relationship with your Higher Power in addition to going to meetings, being of service and letting go of resentments.
If you are church-minded, find a great church. Find a meditation group, or go to yoga. There are a million great books that can inspire a spiritual journey to blossom—I suggest Deepak Chopra’s Spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire’, orMarianne Williamson’s Return To Love’, or the book she refers to throughout it, A Course In Miracles. I have become seriously interested in A Course In Miracles, and also a system of teaching, or a school of thought, called The Fourth Way, whose basic principle is to Know Thyself. Kabbalah is fascinating as well. Any and all of these give the spiritual support system that a really inspiring program of recovery should have as part of its arsenal for success.
I bring it up because I have spoken to yet another friend, (of the many who have hit that spot, that spiritual restlessness, between their third and fifth year) and he opted out, decided to try a little controlled drinking. I am close to him so I watched how easily he went from wanting more light to tossing himself into the dark. We do have the disease of ‘more’, but if we are deliberate and aim in the right direction, that desire for more can serve us well. There is nothing wrong with more light, more love, more service, more connection to a Higher Power, more grace, more harmony, more unity.
The definition of the word ‘sin’ literally means to ‘miss the mark.’ If you aim in the wrong direction, you are bound to do just that. When we use our weaknesses (our desire for more) as our strength (our desire for more used rightly in the name of Grace), we do not miss the mark. We do not ‘sin’. We create a better world for ourselves and others, and that is the opposite of missing the mark; that’s the whole point.
So if you are feeling mad at AA right now, resentful of meetings, wanting more but not knowing what, it’s a slippery time for you. Understand that it’s not AA’s fault; you simply are being called to go deeper. Feed your soul with whatever spiritual practice or words of wisdom or religious community you find works for you to support your sobriety, and don’t delay. Steps 10, 11, and 12 must be done on a regular basis. Constant contact with a Higher Power is an integral part of this thing. If you are feeling restless, you are being called into action, and feeding that spiritual longing with more Spirit is the solution.