The pastoral theme for this month is freedom. The "Step by Step" title of today's service refers to the 12 step programs which are about the potential for freedom from addiction and compulsion. The original 12 step group was Alcoholics Anonymous which started in the 1930s. Two chronic drinkers, two hopeless drunks, as they would have called themselves, had been through unsuccessful treatment clinics to "dry out" and had experienced repeated personal humiliation over their addiction. But they discovered that they didn't drink and didn't want to drink, if they spent time every day talking to other drinkers who were desperate to change their lives. There are now 12 step groups not only for those with chemical addictions, but also for those with problem relationships with food, with gambling, sex and mental illness. There are separate support groups for the families, the teenage children and even adult children facing residual issues later in life. During this day, Sunday April 10th, there will be 100,000 meetings all over the world, where people will go to be in a safe place, free from the demands of their compulsions for maybe an hour. Many people will be going to two meetings today, or maybe more, for that freedom and the fellowship of those who are struggling in the same way they are. It is a recurring miracle that people get help, step by step; but it is a miracle created by hard work, perseverance and spiritual growth. The 12 steps are an explicitly spiritual as well as a practical program. They call you to seek a connection to a power greater than yourself and to value your spiritual self. The "higher power" is usually referred by the word "god", but it is also explicitly stated that this is to be a quote god unquote as you personally understand her to be.
The first step reads:"We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable" My life didn't seem to be unmanageable: I wasn't in jail, I had a job and a car and a home. But really, it was alcohol that was managing my life, not me. For example, it told me when I could go to sleep--only when I'd drunk enough to crash. And therefore it dictated when I could get up, and that wouldn't be early enough to, oh, maybe get a different job where I might make more money and do something new. It didn't let me talk to people after a certain point in the evening, because I knew they'd be able to hear me slur my words. If I didn't drink I was tired and anxious in the evenings; if I drank to relax and feel a little more lively, I really knew I was just starting up the cycle to wind back down to anxious and tired. But I didn't know how to stop doing it all over and over. Today, I'm free from that cycle, to make a long story short. When I go to the women's AA meeting I want to be at every week, I seldom speak, preferring to listen to others. But when I do speak, I introduce myself by saying "I'm Christina, I'm an alcoholic in recovery" And the when the room answers: "Hi, Christina" it can be a bit too much. but the warm intention is obvious and the welcome works. No one has to speak at a meeting, you don't have to use the "A" word, you don't even have to be sober. You just `have to be there and listen and want to be free.
Freedom is the perfect word to describe my experience with addiction and recovery. It’s hard to disclose this about myself because there are many of you for whom it will be incomprehensible. I’ve been in Overeaters Anonymous for a long time and have maintained a 60-pound weight loss for years, but I am not an expert on OA.
I was chubby growing up. Adults wanted to help and kids made fun of me. I craved anything with sugar in it. My pulse raced and adrenaline rushed through me whenever I had free access to the kitchen and food. As a teenager, I was self-conscious about my body, compared myself to other kids, and constantly fantasized about being slender. I didn’t wear shorts for years because I hated the way I looked. I sneaked food and stole food. A kid I babysat for saw me across the street and yelled, “There goes the food thief!” In college, I ate my roommates’ food and replaced it, hoping they wouldn’t notice.
Excess food and sugar are for me, what alcohol is for an alcoholic. Once the only thing close to sugar I could find was a bottle of Kahlua. I emptied it into a pot, put it on the stove and boiled it down to get rid of the alcohol so it would be pure sugar.
I didn’t want anyone to think I had a problem, so I didn’t talk about it and didn’t ask for help. This is called a disease of more—I wanted more—more food, love, attention. If I was able to diet and lose weight, I’d gain it all back, plus more. My nightly binges were fueled by the thought “I’m starting a diet tomorrow, I’d better eat it all tonight”. I told myself this every night, night after night, for years.
My best efforts led me to a state of pitiful demoralization.
Underneath all of that was a faint, wishful voice asking, “Is there help for me?”
Then I walked in the doors of Overeaters Anonymous.
I learned that compulsive overeating is not a moral issue. It is an illness; an illness that will stay in remission as long as I do a few simple things. I became willing to ask for help. I learned that to keep my recovery, I must pass it on by working with other compulsive eaters.
I continue to go to meetings. A recovering alcoholic can put the plug in the jug. An overeater has to take the tiger out of the cage 3 times a day.
The benefits of OA include:
- freedom from food obsession,
- a normal-sized body,
- freedom from secrets and hiding,
- and the knowledge that I never have to be alone.
Now I enjoy eating, more than I ever did when I was bingeing, and
I’ve learned that every experience I’ve ever had and everything I’ve ever done has been an important and necessary part of my path to freedom.
Hi. My name is Natalie, and I'm a grateful member of Al-Anon.
Those words warm my heart every time I say them in an Al-Anon meeting. I know, when I'm at a meeting, I'm home, I'm with my family. The family my parents were never able to give me because they were sick – affected by the disease of alcoholism.
Al-Anon is a 12-step program for those of us who have been affected by the problem drinking of others – either growing up or currently, or both. Although I am not an alcoholic or an addict, I too have a disease.
My gratitude as an Al-Anon member comes from the gifts of my own recovery.
I began attending Al-Anon 7-1/2 years ago, at a particularly difficult time in my life. A time when I couldn't make things better, but I sure could make them worse! I knew within the first few minutes of the first meeting I walked into, that Al-Anon was where I belonged. The first place I truly felt at home and deeply understood. "These people are telling my story," I thought. I had never felt such comfort or relief before.
What I began learning right away in Al-Anon, and have continued to learn at ever-deepening levels, is that the patterns of relating that I learned in my alcoholic family – relating to myself and others – never served me as an adult. In fact, they always got in the way of the happy and satisfying life that I want – and that we all deserve.
In my family of origin, I learned to be fearful; controlling; ashamed; confused; to blame others; hide my true feelings; close my eyes to real problems; play the victim; and deny my own needs. Maybe this will sound familiar to some of you.
In my Al-Anon recovery, I continue to learn about faith; taking responsibility for my own happiness; honoring my feelings and sharing them as the situation calls for; clear thinking; embracing life as it truly is; and honoring my authentic self; I am re-covering and un-covering the self I was born with. The happy, joyous and FREE self.
I'm not standing here to promote myself. I'm a work in progress. As we say in 12-step work, "Progress not perfection." I'm here this morning because I want to share what Al-Anon has given me, and to say to anyone who might be suffering as I was, there really is hope. There's a place for you to get help. You're not alone.
No other spiritual program has given me what Al-Anon has. Perhaps above all else, I have a relationship with a higher power that I rely on in my life. I don't know exactly what that higher power is, but I know for sure that there is a loving force in this world that sustains me. This is shown to me on a daily basis.
My life will never be perfect. But I have more serenity, more choices, more happiness and more FREEDOM in my life than I ever imagined possible. Thanks to Al-Anon.
Copyright © 2011 Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley. All Rights Reserved.
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May Worship Services
May’s Theological Theme: Love
Worship Services at 9:00 and 11:00 a.m., through May 12
Worship Services at 10:00 a.m., May 19 through Sept. 1
May 5 - My Heart is Singing Like a Bird
Bryan Baker and Luminescence Choir, Michele Voilleque and the Youth and Children’s Choir with Family Minister Amy Moses-Lagos and Intern Minister Marcus Liefert
May 12 - The Mish-Mash Heart
Intern Minister Marcus Liefert and Family Minister Amy Moses-Lagos. Marcus shares his last sermon of his two year intern ministry.
May 19 - Love is the Spirit (Summer schedule begins today - one worship service at 10:00 a.m.)
New Member Welcome
Revs. Bill and Barbara Hamilton-Holway
Congregational Meeting at 11:15 a.m.
May 26 - Love Like An Ocean
Revs. Bill and Barbara Hamilton-Holway
Dedication of the River of Life mosaic with appreciation for Joan Swift.