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Expecting the Best From Twelve-Step Recovery

by Robert G. Waldvogel


Those who attend the Adult Children of Alcoholics twelve-step program are aware that inherent in it are twelve so-called “promises,” which bespeak of improvements in emotion, ability, and happiness in life, provided that significant recovery time and effort have been invested in it. The very last one, perhaps the culmination of the others that precede it, states that “Gradually, with our Higher Power’s help, we will learn to expect the best and get it.”

This certainly begs the question: what exactly is “the best?” Is it an absolute, without variation according to time, circumstance, or person? If it is, would everyone automatically strive to achieve it and, even more importantly, would they be able to? It therefore seems fruitful to discuss, examine, consider, and contemplate what this is.

The Good Life

Many years ago, a television show called “The Good Life” profiled those who successfully managed to live it, but its introduction always cautioned that its definition varied according to those who had and could not provide any basis of commonality.

It not only varied according to that person, but could do so over time as he grew and gained new understanding and perspective about life.

In one example, a couple who had earned a six-figure salary on Wall Street, lived in a penthouse, and drove a Rolls Royce no longer considered this “the good life.” Instead, they traded it—and its associated hustle, congestion, and burn-out—for a peaceful existence on a farm where they could achieve a level of down-to-earth serenity. Having experienced its opposite, this was what “the good life” had come to mean to them.

In another example, a couple who wished to travel, but felt tied to the responsibilities of owning a house, traded it in for life on a boat, enabling them to freely sail wherever and whenever they wished, and taking their “home” with them as they did. This was “the good life” to them.

A recent incident, however, served to indicate that many still ascribe to the earthy measures that characterize the idealized life. An invitation to a ten-year college reunion, which promised the traditional dinner, homecoming game, and other events, included a sheet that participants could optionally fill out with information such as name, address, and career and family updates since graduation.

Those that were sent in were collated and mailed back to would-be attendees, giving them the opportunity to learn of others’ post-university life endeavors. Almost all who filled them out, somewhat predictably, listed their doctor and lawyer career achievements, proving that they had “arrived” by realizing what could only be considered the attainment of the highest goals.

Only a single deviating sheet spearheaded the stigma and shed light on greater truth.

“Not everyone graduates college to become a doctor or a lawyer,” it stated. “Some, like me, take hikes, go camping, commune with nature. walk along the lake, and occasionally write poetry. After college, I became what I always wanted to be: happy!”

The respect for such a stigma-shattering, self-confident human being, needless to say, was immeasurable, as he disproved the physical pleasures and replaced them with those that fed the soul.

Asking for the Best

Although God gives everyone many choices when it comes to lives and does not consider one better than the other, those who chronically suffer and are constantly deprived even basic needs would most likely not agree with this truth while they plow through their plights.

Nevertheless, even those who enjoy more pleasant existences are not always content with them and petition God or the Higher Power of their understanding for improvements—all in that quest to achieve that very “best.” And those who do report varying degrees of success in receiving them. Understanding why, of course, ameliorates the situation when their petitions remain seemingly unacknowledged and unanswered, regardless of what they seek.

If, for example, someone asks for the proverbial million dollars, the check is unlikely to be in the mailbox the following morning. Why?

God, who unequivocally hears every prayer, offers several, sometimes-silent answers, which not everyone likes receiving--from “no” to “not now” to “not yet” to “you would not be ready for this” to “I’m giving you what you need first” to “it’s on the way.” Interpreting these responses—or, more precisely—the absence of them, is hardly easy or accurate.

Many who ask for things lose faith when they are not quickly given and walk away, illustrating the fact that the person walks away from God, but that God never walks away from the person. He could, however, be waiting for that person to gain and demonstrate more faith, not less, before He responds. Who, it needs to be asked, needs to prove himself to the other?

Because God does not remove free will and still be able to offer unconditional love, He does not do so. As a result, He does not command or dictate that others do what He asks to deliver something to someone else, which would actually be at their expense and for the singular purpose of pleasing and satisfying the one who asks for it. Instead, He waits until all people and circumstances advantageously combine and align to enable Him to bring the request about. But this may take years. The response here may be, “Not immediately, but it’s on the way.”

His ability or willingness, although most likely questioned, are not lacking. The person’s patience, trust, and faith may be.

Sometimes a person’s request is too grandiose, unrealistic, or inconsistent with his life’s purpose and path. If this is the case, it is unlikely that he will have the ability, strength, and wherewithal to accept it and then live it.

At other times, a person may be too limited in his petition and perspective. When he is ready and all the so-called planets have aligned, God may deliver the far greater plan He always had for the person’s life—and one that the person himself could never have conceived or conceptualized. “Stranger” things have happened.

Since God is above time, He already knows that the person’s “best” hinges upon a limited life interval, and that it may change as he moves through its stages and gains new perspectives, purposes, and values. After he does, that “best” may be something he no longer wants or needs.

Nevertheless, whatever a person asks Him for usually reflects what he most values, and God may differentiate between temporary and eternal happiness in His response. Not able to determine how the person’s piece fits into God’s greater puzzle, he may be unable to determine what “the best” even is within it.

Adult children who endured upbringings exposed to dysfunction, danger, and damage, and therefore negotiate the world in an emotionally, mentally, and spiritually debilitated state, may consider a life without distortion, distrust, and irrational fears “the best,” as collectively echoed by all the promises.

“The promises represent a balance of action, feeling, and being,” advises the Adult Children of Alcoholics textbook (World Service Organization, 2006, p. 442). “This is the spiritual material that self-love is made of.”

The Rest of the Twelfth Promise

Once again, the Adult Children of Alcoholics program’s twelfth promise reads, “Gradually, with our Higher Power’s help, we will learn to expect the best and get it.”

By examining each of its elements, greater clarity and understanding about this statement may shed further light on it.

“Gradually” implies a slow, progressive process. It usually takes a long time to build trust in God, establish a relationship with Him without distorting and intervening authority figure fear, and connect and commune with Him.

“With our Higher Power’s help” indicates that wish, need, and prayer or petition can only be successful with Him, not without him.

“Learn” implies that a doubtful person is unlikely to foresee or believe that his hopes and wishes will be fulfilled. But with consistent attempts and increasing connection, he will be taught that they will be.

“Expect” reflects that shift from the previous doubts or disbeliefs to a new reality that becomes so reliable, that he ends up expecting it, as in “it’s a given” --in more ways than one.

Of course, “and get it” is the deliverance of whatever that “best” is.

Nowhere is it written that God will provide everything that a person asks for nor that He will do so immediately. However, true faith requires more than the sheer belief that, as Creator from whom every molecule came, that He can, but that He will, placing the person within Him in a co-creating symbiosis.

Robert G. Waldvogel has earned the Interdisciplinary Certificate in Behavioral Health for Late Adolescence and the Emerging Adult and a Postgraduate Certificate in the Fundamentals of Cognitive Behavioral Treatment at Adelphi University’s School of Social Work. He has led Twelve-Step support groups on Long Island for the past decade, and created the Adult Child Recovery-through-Writing, and the Strengthening Our Spirituality Programs taught at the Thrive Recovery Community and Outreach Center in Westbury. He is a frequent contributor to Wisdom Magazine.


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