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When God Laughs: 12-Step Magic at Work

Before recovery, I didn’t want to be vulnerable. I was afraid I’d break.

Helen W Mallon
5 min readMar 2, 2023


I used to be a pro at helping people. Well, until I got into recovery. Working the steps is like leaving an egg in a glass of vinegar. The hard shell gradually dissolves, and you end up with the same egg. But it’s soft and undefended…Vulnerable.

Pre-recovery, I was a pro at helping, partly because I have actual gifts and I enjoy working with people. All fine. But without consciously doing so, I surrounded myself with clients who didn’t intimidate me. Who were always, always grateful for my help. Who didn’t poke too hard at my shell.

My 12-step meetings are Zoom-based. Initially I thought I was uncomfortable in meetings because I was new. Who wouldn’t be? When a new weekly meeting opened up that needed a host, I jumped in. It’s what I do! It’s what I’m SUPPOSED to do! I enjoy this kind of thing, right? But something felt very off. I’d finish out a meeting that went well. I knew I’d done a good job, but I felt like shit. This happened again and again. I dreaded those meetings.

Before recovery I thought I was good at vulnerability. I open up easily, but I was actually comfortable being vulnerable only when I felt in control. My friends wouldn’t have said I was particularly controlling. But, say, I’d be happy in my kitchen with my best friend until my husband walked in to join the conversation. Everything stayed friendly. But the two of them might go into some topic that doesn’t interest me, and I’d get very squirmy. Again, I feel relaxed with him, but add a well-meaning cousin or two to the mix, and I want to dive out a window.

My little egg worked hard to keep a safe distance and not get cracked. I’m not talking about people being unkind or judging me. I knew they didn’t!

What do you do when you know everyone has your best interest at heart, and you still feel an alien from the planet Zorg?

If you’re in recovery, you pray. If you’re in recovery, you notice when the same dynamic happens as in other relationships. This was especially painful because my fellow addicts speak my heart-language. I knew the problem wasn’t them. It was me.

If you’re in recovery, you recognize that the Big Book isn’t fooling around when it speaks of “a complete psychic change” being necessary.

You let the vinegar do its thing, dissolving the ego, dissolving stuff that you didn’t even know was in you. Like I said, I used to think I was good at vulnerability.

You don’t do things the way you used to. If it comes to hosting a meeting, for instance, you learn to discern when to say no. So I did. It wasn’t easy. My codependent urge to rescue and fix speaks in shaming tones, but I smile. Thanks for sharing!

An hour before last week’s meeting, I learned we didn’t have a host. Not only that, but the speaker had to cancel, putting more responsibility on the host. I‘d hosted the week before. I took it to prayer, but I didn’t drop to my knees in some pious pose. I stomped around making the bed and muttering to God: “I feel like a real brat, but if you want me to do this, would you please send me a sign? Oh, and make it one I can’t ignore!”

Turning away from the bed, I passed the shadowed bookcase in our bedroom. The barely legible title on the spine of this book caught my eye. Really? I thought. Then, What the hell. I grabbed the book.

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It belonged to my grandmother a long time ago. It’s about serving God with our talents as well as money. I opened it at random:

If our influence is to be rightly used and increasingly exerted, the first great secret is really to recognize that, be our influence apparently great or little to begin with, it is distinctly from God. This is equally true whether it seems to spring from any natural energy of character with which He has endued us…or, whether it comes to us almost in spite of ourselves, by force of circumstances.

I had to laugh. So service in meetings isn’t about me at all! (God was laughing, too.) I’ve already asked for, and gotten, a few signs from God. But I really wasn’t expecting one. My Higher Power isn’t operating some big candy store up in the sky, and this request put me on thin ice. If anything, I expected a divine scolding.

But something much bigger than me was at work. I got on Zoom early with two women who are on the team for this meeting, and I offered to host. Then I asked them, “Is it okay if I share something that just happened?”

They thought it was pretty cool. One of them asked if I wanted to be the speaker and share the same thing. I gulped. Oh, and I could also host, too, if I wanted.

“Nah,” I said. “I’m good. But I will speak. I’ll talk about being God’s agent, from the Big Book, p. 62.”

So I did. I don’t remember most of it. But this stayed with me: Serving God by serving others, by being vulnerable, has a bigger context than being God’s “employee.” When I quit playing God, God doesn’t just become my Director or Principal. The keystone of the 3rd-Step arch through which recovered addicts pass to freedom is a loving, parental relationship with a Higher Power. Business terms like Principal and agent represent aspects of this relationship. But what softens the heart, that allowed me to be vulnerable with my friends and then in the meeting, what made me smile after I tested God by asking for a sign: That’s the unseen honey mixed in with the vinegar.

What really softens my hard, outer shell is love.