Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
There are many misconceptions of the Twelve Step program, one of which is how long each Step should take. One guy I spoke to years ago told me he’d been working on his 6th Step for a little over a year. Huh? How is that possible given the 6th Step is simply a one-hour meditation directly following our 5th Step reading of our 4th Step inventory? Others I spoke to at meetings would tell me they were working the Steps again for the third or fourth time in a month or year. Huh? This is why it is important to read the Big Book carefully and interpret this process as best we can. Done thoroughly and without relapse, the first 9 Steps don’t need to be repeated. They deal with the past and that’s that. Our 10th, 11th and 12th, however, go on forever, as you will see. These steps give us the tools we will need to maintain our spiritual health. Sure there will be new wisdom to acquire, new actions and lifestyle changes you can incorporate into your life, but these Steps are certainly a good start and will help you to build a solid foundation.
In our 10th Step, we are asked to continue to use the tools of both inventory and amends. Let’s take inventory first and then look at the amends. No human being can write a 4th Step and then magically become a saint for the rest of eternity. It doesn’t happen. As we move through life, we will face new challenges as well as the return of old baggage. New resentments are bound to crop up, and this is why we continue to write them out, call or meet with someone to read them, take a moment to meditate or reflect, and then recite the 7th Step prayer once again. Many of us lead busy lives and cannot immediately sit down to write, so we can jot down the resentment for the time being and sit down later to hash it out. If no one is around to hear your 10th Step inventory, it is okay to sit on it for a bit, but do not wait too long. In other words, don’t do what I do! I tend go along for a while and think, “Hey, look at me, I’m really okay now… I don’t even need to do the work anymore!” Then what happens? Wham! I allow too many resentments to build up and when I finally do write inventory, I wait too long to read them. Suddenly the RID bubbles up and I feel stuck, edgy and depressed. As life gets busier and busier, it’s easy to only do what we need to do to stay sane, but that is not an approach we should adopt consistently. If we stay on top of our spiritual work, we remain even and balanced, and things will tend to go smoother as we are easily able to let the annoying stuff go.
Writing 10th Step inventory regularly can save us. We are doing the work that needs to be done to maintain our mental, physical and spiritual well-being. I include our physical health because resentments and anger left unchecked will take a toll on our bodies, despite what the Western medical and scientific community may tell you. Angry people get colds and back pain more often than calmer individuals who have the ability to compartmentalize and let things go. As well, people with financial insecurity may experience lower back pain, while those who hold grudges will tend to hunch over more. Our emotional health is very much connected to our physical health. Grave spiritual maladies can have severe physical consequences, including serious disease and even death in some cases. So besides the fact that this continuous expulsion of resentment is the right thing to do for those in our lives, it is also crucial in maintaining our own inner and outer health.
Turning now from resentment to fear, if you are human, new fears will continue to crop up and so again, we use the same 4th Step protocol for our 10th Step fear inventory. Fear is very intriguing. It is both the greatest human illusion and at the same time has enormous power over us. How can something not be real but grow to such strength in power? It does so because we make it real. We create and give power to fear by succumbing to it. When we are afraid of say, the dark, it is not because the darkness is inherently dangerous. It is only dark outside because the earth has spun around so the other side can catch some rays for a while. It is we alone who give darkness some ominous personality. It is we who turn fear into something it is not.
Contrary to popular belief, the best way to conquer our fears is not to avoid them, but instead recognize that they exist within us, that they are part of us, and then walk right into them and through them. In other words, DO what you fear and what you fear will gradually lose its power. Some people fear public speaking to the point of panic. Our heart rate goes up, it palpitates, we can’t breathe… but here’s the thing: Often these symptoms only precede the actual event. Most of our symptoms are caused by anticipatory fear – fear we create ourselves by thinking and worrying about the event. Once we open our mouths and begin talking, in many cases the fear goes away and we think to ourselves, “What was I so afraid of? That wasn’t so bad.”
Therefore, if you fear public speaking, go speak publically. The first time might be brutal, and maybe the second time as well, but by the third and fourth and so on, we start getting used to it and each time it becomes easier and easier. One day we will go to speak somewhere and have no fear whatsoever. We can then go speak publicly and give of ourselves freely whenever we are called to do so, and without even thinking about it. That is a great moment because you will remember how much angst it once caused you and how you have now conquered it. You just had your way with a fear that used to cripple you, which will prove to you that fear isn’t real but rather self-created, like a figment of our imagination.
Likewise, if you fear flying, fly more. If you fear being still, be still more. If you fear socializing, socialize more. If you fear dating, date more. If you fear intimacy, be intimate. I understand that it may be hard to just throw yourself right into, say, public speaking. There are other ways to gradually address this sort of fear, such as taking an acting class. Be creative. Fears, thoughts and feelings don’t have to stop us. They are not tangible. Trust me, they will not kill you. But they will prevent you from doing what you want to do in life if you don’t deal with them, and the truth is that nobody can do this for you but you yourself through consistent action. Talking to the shrink might be educational and so forth, but ultimately, talking really doesn’t change the way we feel. The truth is that talking in therapy doesn’t actually change people. Only through repeated right action do we change, so do yourself a favor: talk less, act more.
Finally, sexual misconduct and other indulgent but potentially harmful behaviors, while perhaps fun and satisfying in the moment, can cause tremendous harm to self and others. Addicts and alcoholics must be especially careful not to recover and then substitute drugs for sex, or worse yet, cheat on our spouses. Sex is a drug, but cheating is an even more powerful drug. This sort of behavior can bring us down and inflict psycho-emotional damage onto others, so we cannot simply do the wrong thing and just make sure to write about it later in our 10th Step inventory and it’s all good. This may sound ridiculous, but I’ve talked to many alcoholics supposedly in recovery who believe sexual misconduct is not a big deal and will not affect their recovery. Think again. For us addicts and alcoholics, if we plan on staying sober, it is most certainly a big deal. Addict or not, our spiritual health is in grave danger if we engage in sex as a drug, or worse yet, manipulate others for sex or engage in adultery. Karmic triangles are never good, and there are always ripple effects to spouses, children etc. Needless to say, our new path should reduce victims, not create more.
This may be uncomfortable, but some people have specifically lost power over sexual misconduct or deviance. As discussed in the first chapter, we can lose power over anything, and sexual misconduct is certainly one such thing. Sexual deviance of any kind is a sign that evil has somehow entered the body and must be exorcised at once. Even pornography and masturbation, as harmless as they may seem, can slowly eat away at the soul and rob us of our vital energy, our inner peace and our love for others. These compulsions will amplify feelings of depression, frustration, angst, irritability and unhappiness. Like an addict or an alcoholic, miserable is the man who becomes addicted to sex or masturbation and relies on it to feel good and fill himself up. The truth is that some of us use sex to replace emptiness and boredom when we are really looking for purpose and meaning. We must take Steps and give our lives over to God. No excuses.
The second part of the 10th Step revolves around our commitment to right our wrongs with haste if and when we mistakenly hurt others by saying or doing something inappropriate. Keeping our side of the street clean will help us to maintain our moral compass and our newfound serenity. It keeps our foundation in tact and continues to strengthen it. What’s the point of making amends from our past and then go out and refuse to right new wrongs as we go? So when we do stupid things, which we all do from time to time, we are called to make it right and with haste. When we bark at our loved ones or flip out on some clerk, we calm ourselves down, swallow our pride, go back and make amends.
Promptly admitting our wrongs also reinforces what we have learned from our inventory, that when some person or situation sets us off, it has nothing to do with them. It reminds us that when we lash out at others, as wrong and annoying as they may be, it comes from within. 10th Step inventory keeps us in check, and promptly admitting our wrongs keeps us humble. The idea is to not only keep the sanity we’ve worked so hard to achieve, but learn not to burn bridges, as they are often so hard to rebuild.
*When we continue to write and read inventory as new resentments or fears crop up, and when we promptly make it right when we engage in destructive behavior or wrong others, we are taking a 10th Step.
Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
Just as we need exercise to keep physically fit, we need to engage in prayer and meditation to stay spiritually fit. When I came home from treatment, while still basking in the glow of my recent spiritual experience, I’ll admit that I was still all over the place emotionally. I prayed constantly. I also chose to meditate religiously everyday for the entire first year of my recovery, and this consistent practice actually altered my brain chemistry. I was able to restore levels of serotonin and dopamine and achieve a new homeostasis. Regular meditation vanquished any and all remnants of the depression I carried home with me after treatment. It completely changed my life, but it requires time and discipline.
Prayer also changed me. I never knew or witnessed just how real and powerful prayer was, as God and prayer were always reduced to mere academic or social constructs. I never felt anything on the inside, nor did I see results on the outside, but once I began to pray in my own language, once I began to pray deeply and earnestly, and once I began to pray unselfishly, something exploded. God is not Santa Claus. When we pray for others or when we pray for self but with the purpose of being more useful, our prayers alter reality. The outcome may not be the exact way we envision, but unselfish prayer can effect real and lasting change in the very heart of humanity. I’m telling you, when you pray and then you see an actual result, it is truly amazing. I personally believe that consistent prayer and meditation are absolutely crucial to anyone who is serious about healing and changing.
Some of us bristle at rituals such as prayer, but it doesn’t have to be that way. You don’t need to recite prayers from 2000 years ago or abide by all sorts of rules such as praying only in church or synagogue, only before a meal or before going to bed, only with a freshly cleaned body, or only on a prayer mat. Most of these rituals were introduced by people and are of the worldly realm, but guess what? It’s okay to pray when you’re on the can in the morning or in the subway station on the way to work. It’s also okay to pray when you are filthy. In fact, it’s okay to pray anywhere and anytime and it should be encouraged. As well, you don’t need to use someone else’s words or prayers. This process is very much about learning how to pray in our own way and with our own voice. Our relationship with God is personal, so feel free to pray in your own authentic voice for what you need at the time in order to serve, walk forward and draw closer to the Source.
I was sitting in treatment when I finally got it. After taking a 3rd Step, I left the chapel and thought about those words and what they meant. I realized that prayer is not necessarily about ritual, but about simply maintaining and “improving our conscious contact with God” as the Big Book describes. Deep, earnest, wholehearted prayer is a living meditation that helps us to access or tap into God’s power line, and so our prayers must be authentic and sincere. We are asking God for help to find and gather willingness, strength or courage. We are asking for calm, patience, tolerance or compassion. We are asking for help becoming more honest, selfless or humble. The point is that we are asking for a very specific need that is personal to our own life experience at the time, so it’s okay to simplify the task and not get caught up in the fluff.
For instance, if I don’t feel like writing my inventory, I ask God to help me become willing to do so. If I am exhausted and don’t feel like going to work, I ask God to help me walk through my exhaustion and get my ass to work. If someone is pushing my buttons, I ask God for help being patient with this aggravating person. If my mind is racing and causing me to suffer, I ask God to please keep me out of my freaking head… if it is His will. I can ask for help with whatever situation I encounter as I move through my day, and I can use my own language.
“God, please keep me out of my racy, messed up head today. God, help me to push through my exhaustion and get to work. God, help me to keep my cool with this painful jerk. God, teach me how to meditate. God, please remind me to pray as I’ve been forgetting to pray. God, give me the power to start exercising…”
Just go for it. Anything and everything. The more we pray, the better:
“God, help me to be more honest today. God, please give me the willingness and the power to do anything it takes to grow spiritually. God, help me to WANT to continue writing inventory and helping others. God, please remove my anger, fear and resentment, and replace them with Your principles of love, tolerance, strength and courage. God, help me to keep You and my spiritual health FIRST in my life. God, show me other ways to grow and become a better person. God, bring me the opportunity to help someone. God, make me a better man today. God, teach me to love and accept myself that I may love and accept others and do Your work well. God, teach me what Your will is for me and help me to be more useful to You and to others. God, please guide me as I go help this sponsee today.”
And if you don’t prefer to be too elaborate about the whole thing, feel free to keep it simple:
“God, be with me. God, help me. Thy will be done. God, teach me that you love me. God, help me to better do Thy will. God, take my will and make it Your own.”
As we grow and become stronger in ourselves, we can begin to pray for others and their needs. When our family members or friends are suffering, we get out of our own selfishness and pray for them. These are the prayers that really have some juice behind them. I encourage you to see what happens.
“God, if it is Your will, please comfort my spouse; embrace her and remove the pain she is in. God, please remove my mom’s migraine, that she may have some relief and get through her work today. God, please give my friend the strength and courage he needs to endure his loss and find peace again. God, please give my sponsee the willingness to write his inventory and the honesty to do it thoroughly, so that he may find You and be free of addiction. God, help my relative to really feel his hopelessness, that he finally sees the futility of drugs and alcohol as a solution and become desperate enough to reach out to You.”
Finally, when we resent others strongly and writing resentment inventory fails to remove our feeling of bitterness and anger, we are left with only one option: Pray. Pray for those you resent, even if you don’t mean it at the time. Just keep praying for them and the energy behind it will gradually shift. See Alcoholics Anonymous, p.552.
“God, I wish for this person who has hurt me deeply and whom I resent to have everything I want for myself. I wish for them to have peace, joy, happiness, laughter, love, success, health and prosperity. Please God, if it is Your will, bring them endless blessings and spiritual freedom. Bring them closer to You so they can feel your love. Wrap your arms around them, that they may feel the comfort of Your warm embrace.”
I often see searches on my blog for the question, “What is the difference between self-will and God’s will?” In Chapter 3, we learned about turning our will over to God, obeying our conscience and the concept of letting go and leaving the details and outcome up to God. Self-will also has to do with personal desire and pushing too hard for what we want. We cannot force things to go our way, especially if they’re not meant to, and if we keep trying, it can become quite torturous. A while back, I wrote a blog about God’s will versus self-will. Rather than try to rewrite something that has already been written, let me just share it with you.
“The only time something becomes impossible is when I become hell bent on getting it. I used to agonize over getting things. I had to have this, become that, change into this, look like that. The more I pushed, the farther away it all went. Trying to grasp too hard, I couldn’t seem to actually get anything.
I pushed and pushed to become a musician, and the more I pushed, the farther away the record deal got. I pushed and pushed to become an actor, and the more I pushed, the farther away the lead role got. I pushed and pushed to become a writer, and the more I pushed, the more the rejection letters came pouring in. I pushed and pushed to make money, and the more I pushed, the less money I made. I pushed and pushed to become enlightened, and the more I pushed, the more angry, frustrated and depressed I became.
But when I finally let go of needing to achieve, I found peace. When I stopped trying to force my will, everything began to materialize. When I let go of my selfish desires, dreams and hopes, they began to hit me in the face when I wasn’t looking. When I simply let go and focused on doing the right thing in this moment, everything fell into place. When I put all of my ambitions aside and just focused on growing spiritually, I became free.
Sure I have to work, pay the bills, and put some effort into my art, business, and spiritual growth… but when I let go of the outcome, that’s when I feel truly calm. Whatever happens, happens. Whatever doesn’t happen, doesn’t. Whatever comes, comes and whatever goes, goes. Letting go is the best thing I have learned because I don’t care about the outcome anymore.
Expectation is a form of torture. But forgetting about all the worldly shit I thought I had to achieve and instead accepting God’s will, I am free. And by God’s will, I don’t mean anything in particular. All that means is letting go of my insane need to push and drive and speed and force my way here and there, conquering this or that.
God’s will, in the simplest terms, is just NOT my own. I simply do what’s right in front of me and the next thing will happen on its own. And when I do actively pursue something, it’s because I have become still and quiet, and my gut tells me that I need to go do this thing. When I wake up and know what I need to do, that is God’s will. When a friend, relative or sponsee calls for help, that is God’s will. When I feel compelled to create something, fix something, get rid of something or attend to something, that is God’s will. When I get out of my own way, what fills the space is God’s will.”
Now that we have distinguished between God’s will and self-will, the idea is to use our self-will to do God’s will. “Every day is a day when we must carry the vision of God’s will into all of our activities. ‘How can I best serve Thee – Thy will (not mine) be done.’ These are thoughts which must go with us constantly. We can exercise our will power along this line all we wish. It is proper use of the will.” -Alcoholics Anonymous, p.85 Translation: I can use my self-will until I’m blue in the face… to do God’s will.
Along with prayer, meditation is the other tool we are given in the 11th Step and as we noted, is one of the most powerful in our toolbox. Meditation can bring us profound clarity and awareness, which enables us to listen deeply and hear God’s will for us. As previously noted, meditation not only clears away mental garbage and empties the mind of useless thoughts, but it can change our neurochemistry and heal us from all kinds of physical disease. Eastern thought and psychology teach us that many of our problems are indeed self-created by an overly cluttered mind. Much of our suffering arises from too many thoughts, all of which lead to painful feelings. We tend to worry about the future and dwell on the past, but guess what? Neither exist, so why go there? Slowing and calming the mind allows us to simply be where our feet are right now and to just do what’s directly in front of us without drifting off into fantasyland. Thinking too much causes worry, frustration, grief and depression, and we can end up going to pieces. Losing control of our mental activity will eventually cripple or even paralyze us altogether.
People sometimes think meditation is some strange activity and are baffled as to how to go about doing it, and yet, there is almost nothing to it. It’s as simple as sitting down, closing your eyes and breathing. Go for it. Sit down comfortably in a chair or on the floor, close your eyes and focus on your breath. If you’re anything like me, thoughts will bombard you immediately. As previously mentioned in chapter 6, one way to help prevent them from going too crazy is to say “in” and “out” in your mind as your breathe in and out, so “innnnnnnnn…” as you breath in and “ooooooooout…” as you breath out. As well, try to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. That is the natural way to breathe, though it is certainly not a requirement. As well, posture and position are important to make sure we don’t float off into space, but again, sitting, standing or lying comfortably is perfectly fine as well. The most important thing is just to start meditating regularly.
To note, sure we all want to feel better and it’s fine to use meditation to do so, but its real purpose is to allow whatever arises to come into your mind or consciousness and move through you. In other words, when we stop and breathe, the stuff that comes up is part of us and therefore has a right to come up. It needs to come up. Though we may at first find it very uncomfortable or painful, if we continue to let our thoughts and feelings exist without fighting them and judging ourselves so much, we eventually come to accept it all, light or dark. As well, the painful stuff loses its power and moves through us without getting stuck. Some of it may stop coming altogether. What you resist will persist, so do yourself a favor and allow what’s inside of you to not only exist, but to move freely. Befriend what you own, for even the dark and painful stuff deserves respect. It deserves to be heard, accepted and loved. Making war with any part of our selves just makes things worse.
Though I had a profound experience taking the first 7 Steps in treatment, I sure as heck came crashing back down to earth and was occasionally haunted by old challenges such as depression and anger. While meditation and prayer helped tremendously, I also continued to push myself in other ways. I continued to write inventory, run groups, speak publicly and work with others. I began to exercise everyday, work hard and move forward. I spent any leftover free time with my family, helping them or just hanging out and being present with them. I slowly built a family, did what I love, and found some success. The healthier we want to get, the more action we will take. Success = action. And as we just learned, action includes non-action as well, so we must be careful not to pile on and fill up our days so much that we lose our calm and sever the connection to our inner voice. We don’t want to become too dependent on action itself. As empowering and strengthening as it can be to constantly push and fill our lives with activity, we are at risk of becoming dependent on distraction, so be sure to stop sometimes and just let it all come up.
The key is balance, but don’t worry. Nobody can balance life perfectly. Balance is a lifelong effort and journey, and moreover, it’s subjective. Balance changes. Ten years ago, balancing for me meant more recovery, less career and family. Now balancing means more family and more career. Life cycles between action and non-action, self and family, career and fun. It’s not always easy, and it’s a lesson we go on learning forever, so don’t beat yourself up too much.
Ultimately, this entire process is helping us to achieve the great and universal life lesson of letting go. That is the name of the game. What are we letting go of, you may ask? We are letting go of everything – from what other’s think of us to what we think of ourselves, from what we’re doing in life to what we’re not doing in life, from what we did in the past to what we may do in the future, from the reality of life to the reality of death. The trick is just to let go of it all. Life just is, and it takes place right now, not in the past or the future. Peace is to be found in a calm, sane mind that can accept reality and what is happening. Make sense?
Finally, I want to mention that the Steps will not and should not rob you of your authentic self and your personality. I wrote in my memoir that I haven’t castrated myself and joined the brethren in seclusion. I don’t walk around with a long beard, sporting a cloak and a staff. I still enjoy being the same person. You can still have fun, do what you love, eat food and have sex. You can still live a relatively normal life. The point, as the Big Book so beautifully expresses, is that “we are willing to grow along spiritual lines.” That’s all there is to it.
*When we engage in prayer or meditation with the intent to seek, know and understand God’s will for us and gather the power to carry it out, we are taking an 11th Step.
Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to [others], and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
“Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics. It works when other activities fail. This is our twelfth suggestion: Carry this message to other alcoholics! You can help when no one else can. You can secure their confidence when others fail. Remember they are very ill.
Life will take on new meaning. To watch people recover, to see them help others, to watch loneliness vanish, to see a fellowship grow up about you, to have a host of friends, this is an experience you must not miss.” –Alcoholics Anonymous, p.89
Why do we take Steps? Sure we embark on this journey to “grow along spiritual lines” and find some peace, but the larger purpose behind all previous 11 Steps is to equip us properly to go help others. We have dug deep and peeled back the layers of emotional pain and psychic damage. We have cleaned up our past, gained confidence and stand firm as we can now look the world in the eye. We have humbled ourselves and let go of our need to force our will on everything and everyone. Instead, we have learned to pray, meditate, get quiet and listen to the will of God. We are now in the position to be of maximum usefulness to others who suffer as we did.
Service is the silver bullet of getting better. When in doubt, go help others. There are times when we suffer no matter how hard we try to change the inner landscape, when the feelings get heavy and become suffocating, when the thoughts and worries come fast and hard. Sometimes our daily repertoire of tools, while useful in keeping us sane, fail to do very much about the way we feel. That is when we go help someone. It is the strongest medicine in the cabinet and it works every time.
I remember plummeting off of the cozy pink cloud I was perched upon after reading inventory and making some amends. I felt euphoric and invincible for months… and then suddenly all of my spiritual tools began losing their effect. Eventually, there was no spiritual buzz anymore. Time to learn how to live life without always feeling good. Time to learn how to work on myself for the sole purpose of staying healthy and warding off self-centeredness. So that’s what I did. I wasn’t going to walk backwards again. I wasn’t going to be ruled by fear. But despite the fact that I feel mundane and human again, there is one thing that never fails to lift me up, and that is service.
Every time I speak publicly at a meeting, school, sober house or hospital, I am filled with a spiritual charge. It flows through me for several hours and I am reminded of this Power that exists beyond the scope of self and human ability. Every time I sit down and take a sponsee through the Big Book, I am filled with spirit. The change is noticeable. You can see it in my face – the color of my skin and the glow in my eyes. You can see it in my posture. You can even hear it in my voice. When we go to give and help others, we tap into spiritual power or God.
Why is that?
I suppose it’s because when we are selflessly engaging with someone, we are NOT thinking about ourselves. It gets us out of our heads and our normally selfish frame of mind, as we are temporarily blocked from thinking about, well, us! This is the magic of service, and for people like me, it is a miracle. I remember one night when I had to guest speak at a local sober house with a horrible cold, but as soon as I opened my mouth, the cold disappeared. It’s as if the illness just left the room while I focused on the guys in the house and tried to be of service to them, only to return after I left. How is it that my symptoms disappeared entirely and then reappeared once I got back into my car, or rather, back into my head? An old friend once told me to ignore my illness and it’ll go away. This is also true with many things we tend to react to, such as the colleague who won’t stop bothering us, or the emotional vampire who won’t stop dumping their woes on us. Ignore something and it usually goes away, as it has nothing to feed on anymore. Ignore yourself and perhaps your Self will go away!
So though I have landed back on planet earth and ten years have gone by since I was zapped by the power of God in the mountains of New Hampshire, helping others works every time. If I ever really start to lose it and need something to bring me back and give me a little boost, service is the key. The power behind it is real and the effect on self and others can be profound.
Service can take many forms. It can be as focused and specific as taking someone who has lost power through this Twelve Step process, which is indeed a righteous cause and necessary for our own growth. It can be directly carrying this message to others by speaking publicly, writing, or talking to a friend in need. At the same time, 12th Step service can also be as simple as pitching in around the house, helping a neighbor, cleaning out mom’s basement, having the courage to speak up when you see a wrong, or volunteering somewhere. It can be as simple as picking up a piece of trash or comforting a loved one in need. Service is any selfless or helpful action, as well as non-actions such as simply listening to someone who needs to be heard. Taking on the 12th Step is essentially taking on a new frame of mind. We are going to be useful and productive as opposed to lazy and selfish and willing to ignore the needs of others. There is every incentive to make this shift because every time we reach out and serve, especially when we are tired and don’t feel like it, we gain more than those we serve. The better we want to feel and the better we want to get, the more we will help others and carry this message. Cause and effect is a universal law and one that must be honored.
So when you go to a meeting or support group, don’t sit in the back and stay silent. Raise your hand and talk about your experience in the Steps. Sharing our painful past and our woes is fine to an extent, but we also need people to share their experience in the solution. Maybe it’s just me, but I often hear stories about how messed up someone was, or what a bad boy someone was, or how desperate and miserable someone is now, or what outside of someone caused them to drink or use. I often hear a victim frame of mind that is counter-productive to recovering and becoming accountable and responsible. So when you go, bring the solution instead! Share, inspire and educate others with your experience in taking spiritual action and giving back.
We can also use our voices to speak, share and educate regionally at schools, hospitals, detox facilities, treatment centers, you name it. If writing is your thing, you can pen your story and your process of recovery and then share it online, in a magazine or book. Every time we gather courage and make the effort to use our voices, it will bring us people to help individually. Many of the guys I’ve taken through the Steps have approached me after speaking publicly somewhere, so use your voice in an effort to find people to help. There are always people in need, people who share your common suffering. Trust me, if you truly want to work with others, they will find you. The Universe will conspire to bring them to you. If for some reason they don’t come, feel free to force your will a bit. Walk into any hospital or house of worship and ask if there are people to help and how you can be of service. Even if there isn’t some particular individual in need, there are always other opportunities like volunteering in the soup kitchen or perhaps leading a group on the solution for Saturday morning adult education. Better yet, go out there and maybe start a group of your own. There are many ways to help, so be creative and most important, be willing.
“…and to practice these principles in all our affairs.” There is always that guy at the AA meeting who acts nice to everybody and talks a good talk, but then gets back in his car and devolves into a cauldron of jade, negativity, anger and selfishness. Don’t be that guy. He is the one who is fine around his recovery buddies to try to look solid and enlightened, but if you ask his family back home, you get a different story – short fuse, edgy, judgmental, pity pot, verbal abuse, maybe physical abuse. You don’t want to follow that guy, and you definitely don’t want to be that guy. We don’t take Steps to continue seeking a self but rather to get rid of our disingenuous, phony self. As the Big Book reminds us, we take Steps to live them. “The spiritual life is not a theory. We have to live it.” We must be mindful not to limit our new spiritually minded and moral self to our recovered community, but to carry our commitment to live by spiritual principles to all facets of our lives.
However, we must also remember to maintain a healthy balance between the needs of others and our own needs. There is no sense in helping people constantly and burning out, as we then render ourselves useless to everyone. A balance between self-care, service, family, work and fun is essential.
Another thing to remember about helping others is that we can’t chase people around. Sure you can try, but chances are you will be sorely disappointed and will exhaust yourself in the process. I made some pretty hefty mistakes when I first started trying to embark on the 12th Step, including hunting down some woman who cried about how she struggled from anxiety, depression and a racing mind even long into her sobriety. I was suddenly convinced that she could have the same exact experience as I did if I could just show her the meditation I learned in treatment. The problem was I didn’t raise my hand at the meeting and neglected to approach her before she left. Worse yet, my wife was at the meeting with me and recognized her as the waitress at a local restaurant, so I called the restaurant like a whacko and told her I have just the meditation for her! Needless to say, she thought I was some crazy stalker and the next time I saw her at a meeting, I was dutifully accosted by a few old timers who threatened to bust me up if I messed with any of “our AA women”. True story. This anecdote is rather extreme, but you see the point. You will work with those you are meant to work with.
The best thing to do is to pray. If you really want to be of service and work with others, say this prayer: “God, please bring me the opportunity to help others.” Be careful what you wish for because every time I say this prayer earnestly, people come out of the woodwork looking for help. Trust me, it works. The bottom line is that while chasing people around may not work, if that’s what you need to do to be okay, do it. The effort of taking selfless action will serve you, lift you up and keep you close to God. The more action we take, the more we nourish and maintain our relationship with our Maker, so go for it. Besides, if you think about it, what is the larger purpose of doing all of this work? Is it just for ourselves, to clear our conscience and enjoy some peace of mind? Sure that is a wonderful byproduct of taking Steps, but with our newfound understanding and set of tools, we are responsible to share this solution and this program of spiritual action with those who still suffer. We go to help others because we can. It’s as simple as that.
The 12th Step, like 10 and 11, goes on forever. We never stop helping people and working with others. Why? One, because it helps us to maintain our mental and emotional health and stability. Two, when we sit down with another person, we are bringing God into the room and perhaps into the other person, and anything that expands the presence of God within heals us and keeps us sane. Three, because it also lifts us up emotionally, which is perfect for those of us who are somewhat preoccupied with feeling good. And four, because it sets in motion the law of cause and effect, so any selfless action all but guarantees a good return.
The opening quote of this book by Neale Donald Walsh asserts that “life begins at the end of our comfort zone.” This is perhaps the single most important thing for us addicts and alcoholics to understand if we truly want to recover and conquer ALL of our demons. It was by doing the very things I didn’t want to do that fixed me and made me stronger. Doing what scared me or made me uncomfortable, insecure and self-conscious is what repaired my mind and soul, enabling me to go from recovering to recovered. Making a tough amends, running a group or speaking publicly are good examples.
At times, we all feel like isolating, shutting off, going inward and avoiding people, places and things that push us out of our comfort zone. But this is exactly why the most important part of this process is to go work with other people. When we get up and force ourselves to sit with another addict who is suffering, it thrusts us out of isolation and lifts us up. It shifts our direction from the small and narrow world of self-focus to the colorful and limitless world of service. Giving, sharing and being with others is perhaps the greatest contributor to personal strength and adds the most to our reservoir of inner peace, relief and freedom.
More importantly, helping others to change changes the world. Since we are all inter-connected and made of energy, when someone is altered, the world is altered. In fact, the entire universe is altered, and this shift in the energy of the person you are working with will also have a positive effect on you. And that’s not fluff, that’s science. So try some service. It is like injecting spiritual medicine.
Taking Steps is just one of many spiritual traditions and programs of action that help to clean us out with honesty and humility so we may see things clearly, move forward and find some purpose. What’s most important is that we simply take right, positive action and grow along spiritual lines, Steps or not. If you find another method or program of action that works for you, that is wonderful. The point is to understand that if we are to walk away from the darkness and into the light, action will be required, not simply talking, studying, believing, or even praying for it. We cannot will ourselves better. We must act our way better.
The choice between the expansive, colorful world of growth versus the narrow, miserable world of stagnancy and selfishness should be easy. We can ingest emotional poison or we can ingest the magic of loving service. We can evolve and expand spiritually or we can remain shackled, narrow and mundane. We can work hard, do the right thing and make a difference or we can remain preoccupied with our selves and our concerns. We can walk backward or we can run forward. The choice is yours. Really, it is. Thank you for reading.
*When we carry this message and take others through this Step process, when we respond to the needs of others, when we get outside of our comfort zone to be helpful, useful and to serve, when we are willing to give of ourselves even when we are tired and struggling, and when we listen quietly and become an instrument of God’s will, we are taking a 12th Step.