Take Your Hands Off The Controls And Slowly Step Away

4654586-300x225Recently I was listening to an NPR broadcast and during the program they told a story that really captured my attention. It was about a plane that was on a long international flight headed out across the vast ocean. Once their altitude was reached, the course set, and all the instruments were reading the accurate information, the captain set the plane on autopilot. As is normal during the course of a long flight the pilots took turns sleeping while the other remained in the cockpit to monitor the plane. Halfway across the ocean, while the co-pilot was taking his turn in the cockpit, it seemed to him that the plane was approaching some rather severe weather. The co-pilot became convinced that some sort of evasive action on his part was needed. The co-pilot was of course completely qualified to handle the situation, he was well trained, and he had read all the manuals. The problem was—he took matters into his own hands and did not rely on his training. Instead of trusting the autopilot, the instruments, gages and above all what he had been taught, the co-pilot switch off the autopilot and took over the controls. He determined that the best route would be to avoid the looming clouds.

For some unknown reason according to the reporter, the co-pilot proceeded to put the plane in such a steep climb to rise about the storm clouds that he caused the plane to stall. The plane paused for a moment and then began to drop in a free fall towards the ocean. The captain rushed into the cockpit, but unfortunately nothing he or the co-pilot did to restart the plane worked. Hurling toward the ocean within minutes the plane hit the water like a pancake, killing everyone on board. The expert investigators determined if the co-pilot would have left the plane on autopilot the crash would never have occurred—if he would have trusted the autopilot and his training, the plane would have been absolutely fine continuing on the predetermined route. Instead the co-pilot caused the very thing he was afraid of in the first place.

The story mulled around in my head for a few days as I thought about why the co-pilot did what he did. Why didn’t he just trust? Why didn’t he just let the autopilot do its job?

Then I had to ask myself—why do I always grab for the “controls” in life? Seriously, I do it all the time and it has become abundantly clear that this is a big problem for me. An obnoxious and insufferable character defect of which I was completely unaware I had until I started working the 12 Steps.

It seems to appear most often in the area around relationships—all relationships. Mostly it occurs when someone is not being who I think they should be, or it could be a perceived threat that I think will change the relationship, or perhaps something occurs as small as feeling lonely or not loved. Whatever the present situation may appear to be, in reality the root of it all is self-centered fear. I’m afraid that I will not get something I want or that I will lose something I have; so my immediate reaction in life is to grab for the controls. What ends up happening? Just like that airplane, I crash every time. Just like the co-pilot, I end up actually creating the very thing I was afraid of in the first place.

The 12 Steps didn’t just allow me to discover this about myself; the Steps also provide clear and precise directions of what to do about this tendency of mine to grab the controls and it also shows me how not to crash and burn. I have been given the manual, I have the instructions, I have many amazing captains who have years of experience they are willing to share on a daily basis and I have a spectacular “Autopilot” in my life to do all the flying. Now it is up to me to simply use what I have been given, to trust the process and above all—keep my hands OFF the controls!

I’m Living “Whelmed”

images1GR9QO0RClimbing carefully onto the sailboard, as it dipped up and down with the small waves, I slowly pulled on the rope connected to the sail and started hauling it up and out of the water. As soon as the edge cleared the water the wind caught it and my board began turning downwind. Hauling on the rope faster now as my balance became more difficult I raised the sail all the way up, positioned my feet toward the rear of the board, grabbed the boom and instinctively adjusted the sail until it filled with wind. My board surged forward, propelled by the wind. Around my hips is a harness that has a hook protruding in the front and as the wind threatens to rip the sail from my grasp I quickly snag the boom rope with the hook and settle back, guiding the sail with my hands, but using my hips and lower body strength to counter balance the wind.  The right combination of board, sail, skill and wind makes for an exhilarating ride. Getting in the grove, I lean way back, the board rides on its side rail—and as us windsurfers call it—I start “nuking” across the water.

However, the problem is getting just the right combination of wind and sail. The goal is to neither be underwhelmed nor overwhelmed. Too little wind or too small of a sail just leads to frustration; with too little wind, you can’t hook in because the opposite force of the wind against you won’t hold you up, the board will lay flat on the surface of the water instead of up on one side or on the “rail” and it is far more difficult to go where you want to go. Too much wind or too big of a sail will cause you to be overpowered and completely out of control. Plus if the wind grabs the sail just right, causing it to slam down in the water, you will be flung projectile style like a sling shot out and over the water as the hook releases you right at the apex of the arc.  So I suppose the goal in windsailing is to be “whelmed.”

In sobriety I need the correct combination to live “whelmed”—which means to “flow or heap up abundantly.” Often in sobriety for me life feels overwhelming and way more than I can take. I feel as if I am careening through my days, out of control and on the verge of being catapulted into some sort of disaster. Other times my life seems sooooo underwhelming, even boring.  At times I find it difficult to live one day, one step, at a time as I learn how to take care of all the mundane, ordinary tasks that normal people seem to do easily.

So it got me thinking what is the “right” combination to live “whelmed” in sobriety—how do I live right in the flow, with life heaped up abundantly?  My sponsor taught me that the three parts of our program are recovery, unity and service. Those three are the solutions to the three-part disease of alcoholism—physical, mental and spiritual. It seems that when I follow the specific directions outlined in the Big Book, with practice I get the combination right. More and more I am able to pack amazing things into the stream of my life.  More often than not I am able to live happy, joyous and free in a life that is only getting better and better. Yes there are still days when I am extremely overwhelmed and even more days when I am completely underwhelmed, but those are getting fewer and farther all the time.  These days, more and more, I am hooked in, leaned back and “nuking” across my 24 hours.