A Story of Recovery:

No Substitute for God

A recent mental binge, fueled by self-centered fear, started with a text from my 21-year-old sister: She would be substitute teaching at the school where I teach. My first thought was, Thank you God she has an opportunity to earn additional income today! But, that thought was immediately followed by, What if something goes wrong? The fear flurries began, and I found myself knee-deep in a fearmageddon. My school works with a population of students I have sometimes found challenging, and I feared she would be physically or emotionally harmed by one or more students, that she would be unable to defend herself, and that I would need to come to her aid in a way that would jeopardize my job.

My sister stopped by my classroom that morning before I started teaching, and I gave her a pep talk that she didn’t ask for but I knew she needed: “Sometimes, it’s not you. It’s them. Don’t take things personally. Remember they are teenagers—children, in fact. Your students might be a little self-conscious because they are in high school and are still emerging readers. Oh, and feel free to let Ms. Such and Such know that you are my younger sibling, but only if you want. Basically, don’t lose your temper or your job today, and I will try to do the same.” Insert wink and awkward chuckle here. I tried to handle my fear by giving her too much advice. Her coy smile indicated that my advice, although unsolicited, was well received. I hugged her, she sauntered across the hall to her classroom, and I began setting up for my first class.

As the students began trickling toward our respective classrooms, I thought, This is going to be okay.

It was—until the lunch period. As my boss and I waited in line to use the microwave, a voice pierced through the walkie-talkie my supervisor was carrying. “Administrator presence is needed in room 313!!” My supervisor locked eyes with me, adjusted the volume on the walkie-talkie, and evaporated into the hallway. At that point, things didn’t really register. I forgot that I informed my supervisor that my sister would be substituting today. Anyway, my lunch looked delicious and its aroma was inviting me to sit down and thank God for another abstinent meal. Before I prayed, a thought bubbled over in my mind: Text your sister. Ask her what room she’s in. I debated with myself about whether I should just eat lunch or text my sister to confirm her safety. Really, this was a debate about whether I would trust God to handle things or if I would substitute faith for fear. Fear won, and I asked my sister what room she was in. I flipped over my phone (as if that was going to magically mean that she wouldn’t be in room 313), prayed, and started to eat.

Half way through my meal, my phone vibrated. I didn’t touch it. I took a deep breath and keep eating, abiding by my sponsor’s suggestion to eat without interruption. My fears grew, but I took my time eating and continued thanking my Higher Power for another abstinent meal. I was trying to combat potential negative thoughts with thankful ones. As soon as I finished my lunch, I turned my cell phone over to see her reply: “Room 313.” My fears gripped me, and I should have turned to God but I didn’t. Instead, I went to see if I could help my sister because I assumed students were fighting or had engaged her in a power struggle. I was so disturbed by her text message that I torpedoed out of my seat, a roving kaleidoscope of fear, anger, and rage. I weighed my approach as I obsessed over possible scenarios. Would I enter room 313 using profanity to address and shock the students? Would I lecture them and disclose that the substitute they were taunting was one of my younger siblings? Could I demand that they exit the room and attempt to “scare them straight?” Would I resort to physical violence? Should I contact their parents?

When I entered room 313, I immediately identified two students I had previously found to be challenging and figured they were now being disrespectful to my sister. How dare they?! Miraculously, my Higher Power intervened. I paused long enough to notice her sitting quietly at her desk, safe and calm. So, I followed suit. I kneeled down and in a quiet voice she explained that a few students were testing boundaries but assured me she was fine.

Before program, my negative thinking would have transformed me into a tornado: anything in my path would have been torn to shreds—if not with my hands, then with biting words. After confirming that my sister was ok, I simply left room 313—an action that clearly demonstrated how my Higher Power, little by slow, has changed my personality! I was able to focus on her well-being instead of my fear. I didn’t so much as make eye contact with the students as I left the room.

I walked down to the supervisor’s office to speak with her, but by the time I arrived, a voice over the walkie-talkie again summoned administrators to room 313. That still, small voice told me to let go and go outside. I desperately wanted to run to my sister’s aid, but program has taught me that when I can’t be with the people I love, particularly during difficult times, to believe that God is already with them. So, I walked outside.

Outside, as the sun danced on my skin, I smiled and chuckled. God, you are sooooo good! I thought to myself. I laughed at my mental binge and how absurd it was for me to not only conjure up hypothetical scenarios between my sister and her students that didn’t even come close to happening, but a ridiculous menu of fear-based reactions to the fiction I created in my head. A few students said some foul things to and about my sister, but their words to her had nothing to do with me. Besides, like me, she has a Higher Power. I realized that an unkind word (especially from a 14 year old) is not an invitation for unkind behavior by me.

Next, I said a brief prayer and started calling fellows. One fellow reminded me to trust that a power greater than myself would sanely get me through the rest of my day. After our call, I went to gratitude: I was abstinent, I made a choice that didn’t result in me needing to make an amends or lose my job, I surrendered my will, my sister was safe, and my Higher Power stepped in when I needed Him. I was reminded that I must not only continue to weigh and measure my food, but weigh and measure my thoughts. I cannot afford the luxury of mental binges. In the end, my sister was the substitute teacher who taught me there is no substitute for God. God is always in control, especially when I am not.


This story was originally published in the connection Magazine. Subscribe to the connection Magazine for more stories of recovery. Or submit your own story of recovery.