One of the first things I learned about in A.A. was the concept of a "God Box". I would hear people say "I just couldn't handle it so I put it in my God Box." I asked around and was told that a God Box can be anything. Whether it’s a beautiful hand carved wooden box, an old shoe box, a coffee tin, even an old plastic bag from CVS, the concept is this:
The God Box, although effective at solving any problem you may have, may seem silly or at best too simple. But for those of us who have tried it, we are unanimous: It works! A God Box is any container with a slot or opening on top. You write your current problem, worry, desire, or hard-to-make decision on a small piece of paper. Then fold it up and put it in your God Box. In essence, you are turning it over to God. The God Box can also be a “God Can”, which infers "I can't, but God Can." The physical, emotional and spiritual act of placing the request into the God Box and releasing it has brought many people personal relief.
I'm not sure why I thought I would somehow be exempt from painful life events in sobriety, but guess what? I am not. Learning how to deal with feelings without numbing them out with drugs and alcohol is pretty much what my entire sober journey has been about so far. Life can feel brutal at times, but because I am committed to staying sober there is no way for me to just drink away the feelings associated with life’s occasional brutality. I have to write out the most painful events and place them in my God Box. The evil step-monster who was awful to my father in the last years of his life. The agent that stole almost a year’s worth of income from me and tried to hide the funds off-shore. The 4 miscarriages I had at too many weeks along. They all went in there. The pain, rage and frustration of these events felt completely insurmountable at the time. As if my emotional pain was quicksand and I was drowning in it. The concept of not being the one in control infuriates me.
Let's start with the miscarriages, as those are pretty clear cut. I desperately wanted something that was not meant to be. If I go to my God Box now and look through all the scraps, I can find those pieces of paper. Those tearstained bits of paper that give the date of the miscarriage, the weeks the baby had survived and my scrawled plea "I cannot handle this pain". And at the time I could not. I felt that the pain - which I experienced 4 different times over 4 different years, might actually swallow me whole. I can go back now and grab any one of those bits of paper. April 14, 2002, lost fetus at 13 weeks. October 23, 2003, lost fetus at 12.5 weeks, and so on. But today these scraps look like artifacts. Artifacts of the feelings I felt at the time. And I can see that the paralyzing, vise-like misery that I felt during that time is now gone. It's a memory. I was in immense pain...past tense. And looking at these notes in the God Box I see more than ever that feelings are not facts. Feelings are just like clouds passing in the sky. There are storm clouds, heavy, black and threatening. There are wispy little cirrus clouds and fluffy cottony cumulus clouds. This human experience gives me pain and joy and everything in between and my feelings, even the most intense ones, just come and go. So after each miscarriage I noted the date and placed it in the God Box. I handed it over. I shared the pain.
And it worked. The weight lifted. I shared my burden with God, with my friends and in the rooms of A.A. and sharing that burden lessened it. It gave me faith and hope that in fact I could handle the pain. I was going to be okay. And the happy ending is that I was eventually able to have children. I just kept trying. 7 pregnancies and 3 healthy children. Not the greatest odds, but I kept going, and I think part of that was because of the God Box. Something about writing out my pain and putting my problem in the God Box gave me the strength to keep going. I gave myself a little pain buffer. A pain buffer that does not come with a hangover or an arrest warrant attached. I came to realize that all feelings pass, even the most painful ones, even the ones we think we will never get over. News flash....we can and we do. And here is the gift. Having gone through this experience and taken the time and space to heal, I am now available to help other women who have gone through miscarriages. I can sit with them and fully empathize with them. I can share their pain as I know exactly what it feels like. I was there once too.
I have other little bits and pieces of paper in my God Box. Minor grievances that at the time seemed like they would take me down. An embarrassingly low credit score, a painful argument with a friend, a terrible case of poison ivy which caused itchy sleepless nights, a sick pet. They are all in there. The big, little, boring and mundane. Things that ran me around and wasted my time. The hatred I felt for my step-monster was intense, but now I look at those scrawled notes ("She did this!" "She did that!") and I see this woman as just a sad human. A lost soul. While my father’s passing remains painful to this day, there is a gift in that I never have to see the step-monster again. She is a memory, a rapidly fading memory. I can still conjure up my anger and outrage; even writing this I'm having "I'd like to shoot her in the face" murder fantasies, but why? Those rob me of peace, of serenity, of the possibility of joy. So I can keep that pain in the God Box and out of my body. And for the atheists out there the God Box can surely exclude the G word. It can be the Problem Box, the Issue Box, the "I’d rather not shoulder this burden alone" Box. On the God Squad or not, the human condition comes with problems big and small. Challenges for the mind, body and spirit. When I put something in my God Box I am making a decision to ask for help. That does not mean to say that I just sit back and relax. There is an old Russian proverb that I love. It is a prayer for shipwrecked sailors scrambling in their lifeboats which says "Pray to God but row to shore." That's what my God Box feels like. By putting a note in it I am praying to God but still moving, still rowing, still heading for the safety of shore.
Sometimes I'll clean out my God Box when it gets so full I can't close the lid and what I find in there amazes me. I'll find a scrap of paper that says "November 15th, 2014. Cannot stand to work with Eric for one more day! Hate him!!!! If he doesn’t quit I will!” And I'll laugh and scratch my head and think "who the hell is Eric?" A lot of my resentments are like that. They burn hot and fast and furious. They steal my serenity. And if I give them enough attention they are capable of stealing all my joy. I'm always happy to see things that drove me absolutely crazy at the time have such little sway over me today. Sometimes I can't even remember what the offending person did or said or even looked like. That always makes me pause. It also makes me see that whatever fresh pieces of paper I have in there today, whatever problems are consuming me now, will someday mean nothing to me. Slowly, one day at a time, their grip on my psyche will lessen, their intensity will fade, they will eventually become just scraps of paper to be thrown away. Thanks to my God Box I have come to know the truth about all of my feelings, happy, sad, angry, indifferent. They too shall pass. Everything always does.