Living out the Twelve Steps
“Having had a spiritual awakening we try to practice these principles in all our affairs.” (Step 12, Alcoholics Anonymous)
+ + + + +
What are the guiding principles in your life? Are there any teachings you believe in that empower you and give you hope and strength? There are bunch out there, including the Ten Commandments of Christianity, the Eight Fold Path of Buddhism, the Golden Rule, the Dali Lama’s religion of ‘Kindness’, or for the purpose of this writing, the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. The reason I believe the 12 Steps work—transforming the lives of millions from the ‘walking wounded’ to the ‘wounded healers,’ is because it taps into universal truths that are part of everyone’s healing and personal growth.
I’ve been asked by a local recovery center to lead a group of clients on a regular basis, assisting them in their recovery—sharing what is working for me that may assist them in their early, often difficult, painful and shameful recovery. The first thing that came to me was the 12 Steps as a way of life, breaking them down into a four part series: 1) Steps 1-3: GIVE UP; 2) Steps 4-7: CLEAN UP; 3) Steps 8-9: MAKE UP; 4) Steps 10-12: KEEP UP.
I am sharing with them what I wish someone had shared with me early in my recovery; not just telling me to read the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, or that I have to go to recovery meetings and finish my 4th and 5th Steps before I can graduate and leave my inpatient treatment. I needed a simple, clear overview of the heart of the Steps. The heart of the Steps are simply the best way to live and grow as a real human being—ALL human beings, not just those with certain addictions—and what I have found to be the foundation of all spiritual teachings.
1) Steps 1-3: GIVE UP! Give up what??? How about thinking I can drink socially, or that my life is all together, or that I can play God??? Hey, we’re all free to do whatever we want in life, that’s true, except when the things we keep doing have almost destroyed our lives on a number of occasions through our drinking and using! It’s time to ‘give up’/ SURRENDER! A very scary thought for sure, let alone actually doing it. But there are not many options except ‘Jails, Institutions, and Death!’ And if you don’t believe this now, you will in a year or two or three relapses down the road, if you’re fortunate enough to still be alive, sifting through the wreckage of your life and what you’ve caused in the lives of others around you.
GIVE UP! Let go! Let God—whatever you think of as a loving God or power greater than yourself. That’s all. Yes, much easier said than done, but the good news is that this unconditional, loving power gives you the power when you are powerless, the grace to take that first step—the greatest step of all. And since the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step, you begin a new journey, a new life.
2) Steps 4-7: CLEAN UP! Most people know that if they don’t clean their bodies physically from the dirt and grime of everyday activity, they will get sick and eventually die, period. The same is true for our emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being. In working the 4th and 5th Steps of AA, our Higher Power gives us the strength, courage, and insight to make a fearless moral inventory of our character defects, as well as of our strengths. We confess to God, ourselves, and another human being the exact nature of these wrongs, especially those causing us the most shame and pain, tempting us to medicate again through drugs and alcohol.
Having made the good confession, we are entirely ready to have God remove these defects of character, humbly asking that Power to take them away. The most beautiful part of my recovery has been to see that my Higher Power does not simply take away these defects of character, but He recycles them, making something brand new out of what was destructively old! I can help others who are where I used to be. They can receive living hope in front of their very eyes, believing that if I can make it, so can they.
3) Steps 8-9: MAKE UP! So, you’re all ‘clean’ inside, or at least feel you have somewhat of a growing new start, having left much of your dark side behind. Now it’s time to be clean ‘outside’ as you run into others that you have hurt through the acting out of your disease. And the phrase ‘run into’ is not only appropriate, but also freeing. I have found in my life over the past six years of active sobriety that I don’t have to try to run out to make amends to others that I have hurt through my use, misuse, or abuse; my Higher Power will bring them to me when I’m ready to receive them and share with them. My daily challenge is not to run away from those that are sent into my life for my greater recovery and healing.
To make amends is to set that prisoner free and realize you were that prisoner. It’s not up to us to decide what another person we have harmed through our addiction can handle or not handle. It is up to us to speak the truth in love to them, as we are able, when the opportunity presents itself. If we keep it locked up inside, not only will that resentment eat away at us, but we will continue to be as sick as our secrets. Again, where we have little power or even desire to do so, our Higher Power is willing and able to empower us to simply do the next right thing.
4) Steps 10-12: KEEP UP! Having come this far, however long it has taken, we are entering a new phase of recovery. We are now able to daily take our personal inventory and when we are wrong, promptly admit it, not allowing old behaviors to creep back in so easily. We begin to realize that if we went to any lengths to obtain our ‘drugs of choice,’ we can now go to any lengths to keep healing and growing in our recovery. To do this, we learn how to more frequently plug into our Power Source through prayer and meditation, whatever or whoever that may be.
All this ongoing activity brings us to a spiritual awakening. Our lives are radically changing. We do not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. EVERYTHING we have gone through is now being used to not only humble us, allowing our Higher Power to better flow through us, but to shine through us onto others still powerless and torn apart by their addicted lives. We are carrying the message to others as we are learning to practice these principles in all our affairs.