I had come to believe again in a god other than myself, my husband, bottles, money, and my baby, impossible as it seems in our culture of fear, money, stuff, careers, meds, and baby worship. The next task was to decide to use him. I can believe all day long and not change a thing. I can believe the sky is falling and not look up to verify. I can believe exercise heals and just not do it. I can believe prayer changes things and not pray.
There were many false starts. After a couple of months with Daniel, I was coming to, getting some sleep, and enjoying him. He started smiling and laughing and getting my jokes. We even left the house after the requisite three-month waiting period. (I believed my doctor’s word as if it were gospel.) I gave up breastfeeding, and split bottle and combat duty with my husband. I bought some clothes that fit. I joined a Mommy & Me class. I called everyone I’d ever known to visit. Welcome to the world again.
This was me acting as if I were normal. But I still felt hostile, trying to fix myself from the outside in. Just trying to fix myself period. One day I complained to my mother about the constant demands of motherhood. I expected an offer of help, advice, maybe some tricks of the trade.
“That’s a mother’s job,” she replied curtly, not at all her usual kind self. She said a world in that reply — accept it, get over it, shut up already. She had borne three live births and two stillborns. I knew then why she had always kept a Kleenex stuffed up her sleeve. There were no magic tricks.
In an effort to give up running the show, I hired a friend’s niece to babysit, but not without interviewing her first. (Damn those baby books and their desperately neurotic, fearful to-do lists.) She played with Daniel outside while I stayed inside, ostensibly to work. As they were swinging in the sunshine, I was running from window to window, watching, overseeing my creation. I didn’t hear one cry, but was sure she wasn’t doing it right. The next visit I actually left the house for 30 minutes. When I returned, the TV was on and Daniel was walking around with a cup of milk. By my reaction, you’d have thought she had let him play in the street alone.
Step Three was needed.
I had to try everything humanly possible to manage my life before I gave up living on my own steam. Self-will run riot is a program term that cleverly captures where I stood — behind the curtain pulling the strings. I couldn’t give in to God yet — I tried to run the show myself.
Let’s review: I’m powerless. I believe in something else. Now I have to put up or shut up.
Step Three suggests that I must surrender and accept my fate as a mere human who needs help, who needs to try some new ideas, and to get out of God’s way. It calls me to turn my thoughts and actions over to my own idea of God, whatever god I want. A.A. was created for the agnostic, the atheist, the confused-about-God-and-religion one, even for the faith-without-works one. This Step Three decision is the commitment, the follow-through, the honest, openminded, and willing attempt to give the program and God a try.
When I first got sober and reached this step, I feared what life would look like if I gave up my dearly held opinions, beliefs, thoughts — I’d probably become a Peace Corps volunteer in an impoverished country, sent to the nether regions to completely abolish self. (Of course they wouldn’t even have me when I was drinking.) But it’s not about helping others, yet; it’s about being able to ask for help, from both God and my fellow human. It’s about realizing that my best thinking got me here.
I practiced Step Three on an issue other than alcohol when I said “yes” to pregnancy. It felt scary and surreal. When we chose Daniel, we were willing to give up everything we knew for something different. We were all in. And my worst day as a mother is better than my best day before Daniel.
With motherhood, I’ve had to let go of a million old ideas, habits, and fears (daily or every other minute), like life makes sense, or a full night’s sleep is required, or a clean house matters. I am surrendering to the new world order, the noise, confusion, and mess, the trappings and tantrums, and the constant play and duties. I cannot control so many variables without going out of my mind in frustration. And that’s exactly where I have to go — out of my mind to God’s. I practice giving up daily — today Daniel loves uncooked spaghetti, tomorrow he detests it. Today he loves me, tomorrow he’ll fight.
When I’m ready, I offer myself to God, to do with me as He would. I ask for relief from the bondage of self that I might better do His will. I ask for my difficulties to be taken away, and to bear witness to those I might help with His love, power, and grace. I say Thy will, not mine, be done. Then I take a nap. Giving up makes my head hurt; raising the white flag stabs my pride and deflates my ego, just as it should.
I recently had to let go again in a big way — I had to let Daniel go to kindergarten, a month before he turned five. He’s having the time of his life, without me, and I curb the urge to install a camera in the classroom, to ask 20 questions, to badger the teacher. I’ve been forced to let go, to let God take care of him. He does beautifully without me, even after prying himself from my clinging fingers, from the Mommy Dearest I can become when I’m running my house with a hold that won’t quit. When I hold so tightly I make a fist.
He has become his own person, even as I sit on the sidelines cheering quietly, not making posters, not a poster mommy for not a poster child. He’s just himself, and God’s. A friend used to joke that she wanted a perfectly average kid, none of those busy extracurricular activities to worry about. There is wisdom in this.
There are promises that come with Step Three. We will be less interested in ourselves and more in what we can contribute. We’ll feel His power, peace of mind, and face life successfully. We’ll lose our fear. We’ll take the back seat, released from our own self-importance and driven personality, and try to enjoy the ride. And there is lots of scenery to take in on the slow back-roads of daily life, if I can just relax and let myself be moved by something else.