A dog got me sober and taught me about a higher power.
I have had 12 years of continuous sobriety through the AA program. However, my first two years in AA were rough, with plenty of challenges and relapses. When I first came into AA, I had no concept of a “higher power.” I took one look at the Third Step – “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him” – and I ran the other way. I had a relapse the very evening that I studied the Third Step in a meeting.
But after sinking to a new bottom, I knew that I had to put my ego aside and dive into AA with all of my might. Still, I just couldn’t do the whole “God” thing. AA wasn’t going to work for me if I tried to connect with any traditional forms of a higher power. Instead, I turned to the most gentle being that I could.
A few months into what I hoped would become my long-term sobriety, I drove to upstate NY to find the new puppy that I was going to bring home. As soon as I walked in, a golden retriever approached me, as if she knew that I was broken and that I needed her help. Dogs have soulful eyes. I looked into this dog’s eyes and, feeling as if I was looking into her soul, I connected with a higher power for the first time in my life. I named her True, with Hamlet’s “to thine own self be true” in mind.
Raising a puppy proved to be exactly what I needed for recovery. Life was no longer about me. It was now about me and True.
In my drinking days, I had also had a dog, but I was not the best dog-dad that I could have been. There were many days that I was just too hungover to take care of her properly. I couldn’t get up early to take her out for walks. At times, I raised my voice in anger at her. She wasn’t the priority she should have been.
I was determined not to do the same with True. I was committed to being the best dog-dad that I could be. I resolved that I would never let her see me drink. I would never be too sick to take her out for a morning walk, and I would never lose my temper with her.
In early sobriety, I kept myself busy taking care of True. She gave me a purpose outside of myself. To be the best dad that I could be, I took her to Central Park every morning. We sat on a small cliff of rocks (which I now call True’s Rock) and we contemplated the morning. I never missed a morning of walking her. Whether rain, snow, or sun, we went for our walks. After work, I had to get home to take care of this dog. I couldn’t leave her without dinner and an evening walk just so I could go drinking. I never raised my voice or raised my hand in anger at her. I showed her nothing but soft love.
I learned about a higher power from True. I learned that I could not be my own higher power. And True, as my higher power, wanted the best for me. She didn’t want me to suffer. She didn’t want me to relapse. She wanted nothing but good things for me, and my purpose in life became taking care of her.
Prior to making True my higher power, I would happily argue with anyone about religion. After I opened the door to a higher power through True, I no longer put up a fight about it. If a dog could be my higher power, who was I to argue against anyone else’s beliefs, especially if those beliefs helped them through life.
A few of the 12 steps refer to God, and I was finally able to navigate these steps with True as my higher power.
Step 2: We came to be aware that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
My drinking behavior was certainly not sane and I had to return to sanity. Connecting with True helped to put my life back on track, and because I had to take care of her every morning, my schedule started to become regular. I had to get up, feed her and walk her at the same time every day. At a time that I would have usually been too hungover to even be awake. If I overslept now, True would wake me up. Her schedule ensured my schedule would resemble something rational and sane.
Step 3: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
Turning my will over to a higher power became easy. I could talk to True. I could cry with her. She heard my problems and did not judge them or reject them. She was as good a being as any to turn my will over to.
Step 5: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
Step 5 is about coming clean with the damages that we created while we were using. If I had to admit the stuff that I did, to talk about the nature of my wrongs, I might as well have this conversation with True. Praying to a god that I didn’t believe in would have felt disingenuous. Talking to True made sense to me.
Step 6: Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
Again, I couldn’t really talk to god. However, True seemed to want to remove my defects of character. She believed in me and trusted me, having raised her from a puppy without ever raising my voice to her. She was a very calm dog that showed me a lot of affection. I realized what an amazing thing it was that she never saw me come home drunk or miss meals. She had trust in me, and I needed that.
Step 7: Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
If I was going to make it through these steps, it was going to be True that got me there. I asked True for forgiveness and support.
Over the course of my time with True, she centered my life. She kept me on track. She kept me on schedule. I no longer had to go out to parties. I didn’t have to hang out in bars. I had a new purpose in taking care of her, and she had a purpose helping me to stay sober.
As I spent more time in recovery, my concept of a higher power changed. By making True my higher power, it opened the door for me to really explore the concept. I still really have no fixed belief in what it should be. It can be a dog one day, and a recovery group on another. It can be nature.
I am now 12 years sober. It saddens me that my sobriety has had to outlast her, but the biggest gift that she gave me is truly my life.
Adam Banks is a certified recovery coach and interventionist at Suntra Modern Recovery. He received an MBA from the University of Chicago and built a company which United Health Care acquired. He learned his rigor and attention to detail from his career as an airline pilot, holding an ATP, the FAA’s highest license.
Suntra Modern Recovery provides medical treatment for alcohol and opiate addictions via video visit with medical doctors. Suntra’s alcohol and drug intervention services are available in New York, Long Island, and the Hamptons. Treatment for opiate and heroin addiction, including Suboxone treatment, can start today.