12 Step Recovery: In Giving That We Receive

  1. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

In the early years of what would become the 12 Step program, the originators worked one-on-one with suffering addicts, trying to help them gain sobriety. Their efforts largely failed – in terms of those receiving help. The people giving the help, however, soon realized that their efforts were instrumental in keeping them sober.

conversation-degas

The Conversation – Edgar Degas, 1895

You keep sobriety by giving it away, a paradox that all-or-nothing thinking can never countenance. You are only ready to see the wisdom in the 12th Step once you have gone through all of the other steps, including the contemplative mindset of the the 11th Step. By this point you realize that you are not in control and that recovery is happening in you and through you by a Power not your own. This “spiritual awakening” is what moves you to let it happen.

An important and parallel psychological process is also at work. By carrying the message, you gather and process all of your recovery experiences in the left brain. Early on, neither addiction nor recovery make much sense. You are consumed by the experience itself, like “breathing underwater.” To completely internalize and own an experience, you have to understand it at some level using reason and language. Words symbolize and organize, creating insight. The resulting message reinforces the integration and the integration strengthens the message. Old-timers in recovery have a deep wisdom.

This anchoring of experience is not just conceptual, but also practical. We further try “to practice these principles in all of our affairs,” a broadening of the 8th, 9th and 10th steps.

Communicating and practicing with “these principles” indicates not only recovery, but also transformation. I would say that a person who is sober in emotion and behavior is transformed beyond typical consciousness, which is why these folks make such valuable and wonderful friends.

Advertisements

12 Step Recovery: Illumination

  1. 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.

Some say that the Eleventh Step is the least attended in the whole program. Once you’ve passed the Ninth Step, you may be restored to sanity, including emotional sobriety. Then the Tenth and Twelfth Steps appear to be the ongoing practice to hold on to your gains. Perhaps I might have reversed the last two steps to get the most natural ordering, but that would have just made the Eleventh Step even easier to ignore. Why is this step so vital?

The Good Samaritan Window (panel 4), Chartres Cathedral

The Good Samaritan Window (panel 4), Chartres Cathedral

The Eleventh Step is the doorway out of the Twelve Steps and into the broader spiritual journey. In the ancient Christian tradition (and in the Perennial Tradition, I would say), this path was described as having three stages, states or “ways:” purgative, illuminative and unitive. Recovery is mostly about the purgative way – the purging of the demons of addiction (all kinds). To move fully into the illuminative way, we need “prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God.”

Much ink has been spilled throughout history describing the illuminative way. I will not attempt a coherent synthesis of the traditional sources but instead give my own intuition. First I note that illumination is a word close to the Buddhist word, “enlightenment.” That might be a coincidence or a clue that by this point we have to get out of our doctrinal forts, hence, “as we understood Him.” For me, illumination starts by leaving the dualistic mind (all or nothing thinking) and learning to see “what is,” … and keep seeing, delaying any judgment or self-interested evaluation. Then illumination continues by seeing, and seeing some more, God-in-all-things. In everything and every situation, something of the goodness of God is revealed, and the more I look the more I realize that God is better than I ever thought.

This step ends with an intention to desire only God’s will for us. The discernment of God’s will is a topic for a whole other series of blogs. Personally, I do not think that divine will is a specific and predetermined script for our lives. If I can be cryptic, I would say that God’s will for us is God’s will, period, in this particular situation, using our particular set of gifts and wounds. How to get this specific application of God’s general will is the matter of discernment. For now, I will just end with the Ignatian Suscipe (Receive) prayer, one of my favourites.

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.
You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me.

12 Step Recovery: Mindfulness

  1. Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.

Steps 10-12 are the so-called maintenance steps because they have to be practiced everyday. The previous nine steps are revisited from time to time, as the addict matures into ever-deepening levels of sobriety. The last three steps, however, are the way of life that sustains our connection to the source of our recovery, our Higher Power.

painting-font-b-art-b-font-girls-font-b-beautiful-b-font-sexy-font-b-women

The old tendencies covered in Steps 4 and 5 remain, but, now exposed, they lose their absolute power. Going forward, they are being watched and in Step 10, we are doing the watching. The recently popular term for this form of self-monitoring is mindfulness. In the 12-Step language it is called taking personal inventory. We watch ourselves, either “live,” or in a mental instant replay, but no later than a daily review.

What was my intention in that behavior? Does it remind me of anything in my Step 4 inventory? Was I overly responsible or not responsible enough? Was I too selfish or selfless? Did I adequate respect the dignity of the other? These questions have to be asked seriously but also kindly. The purpose is not to beat myself up but only to promptly admit what was discovered. Pulling anything from the darkness into the light is more than half of the solution.

You can afford to admit dubious intentions only because of the first nine steps. With an adequate Higher Power, no number of wrongs are too many! Just catch them and admit them. No shame, grudge or lasting judgment is needed.

Another term for Higher Power might be Absolute Ground. The root meaning of humility is “ground.” Now you can see why it is possible to be humble (noting and admitting our wrongs) day in and day out. There is nowhere to fall from the Absolute Ground.

12 Step Recovery: Right Relationship

  1. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  2. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

“Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (Jas 2:17). Up to this point, except for “to another human being” (often one’s trusted sponsor) in the Fifth Step, this journey of emotional sobriety has been internal, in one’s head, heart and gut. You have to start there to act authentically, but you cannot stop there. Inner experience has to be fully realized (made real) by outer experience.

forgivness

What counts as outer experience? We meet the world in every breath, ray of light and grain of sand, but we encounter the world most fully through fellow human beings. Before emotional sobriety, our relationships were smeared with manipulations. How can I get you to do what I want in order to fit my program for happiness? In recovery, we regard and relate to others in their full dignity. The philosopher Martin Buber calls this form of address “Thou” as opposed to “It.” Two people who say “Thou” (a respectful “you” present in other languages but not English) are in right relationship.

The suffering addict is in wrong relationship with a great many people. The “praxis” (practice, action) of our new way of being starts with these folks, usually our family, friends and co-workers. We have to go to each one of them and admit that we were wrong, that we caused harm and that we want to make whatever possible amends that can reset us into right relationship. These encounters make sobriety real and interpersonal, not just personal and private.

Of course, there are often no amends that can revert all of the harm, or certain types of harm. The point of the Eight/Ninth Steps is not to pay off debts, though that could be part of it. These steps continue the necessary humiliation of the ego that has been taking place since the First Step. Put more crudely, you are practicing not being full of yourself – again, not to make you good (you were always good), but because you no longer need to prove your goodness. Your dignity and worthiness are guaranteed by your Higher Power, so you can afford to take as much blame as is necessary, even a tad more.

12 Step Recovery: Dependence is Freedom

  1. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  2. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

The more we depend on God, the more we are free. When I first heard this statement from a wise teacher, I could not get my head around it. Independence equates to freedom, I thought, not dependence. The way to think about this freedom, I eventually discovered, is as an unburdening from the impossible task of earning my worth. When your dignity depends on an infinite source, the problem is solved. You have nothing to prove to anybody, and all of your reassuring yet futile habits for happiness (defects of character) can fall away.

silent-meditation

These two steps are a repetition and elaboration of Steps 2 & 3. Other common expressions of radical dependence are “letting go and letting God” and “turning it over.”

It might be easier if you did not think of these steps in a transactional, petitionary manner. It is not “6 – prepare oneself to make the big request; 7 – make the request; 7.5 – check to see if the request was granted.” Depending on God is a rinse and repeat process. All of your character defects are not going to be wiped out in one pass through Step 7. The ego does not give up suddenly or easily.

The worst thing that can happen is for your life to go so well that you are satisfied with your separate, independent self. You almost need a failure or a crisis that God can use to turn you around from alienation to participation (Step 1). Then the next two steps (2 & 3) can tell you who you really are and the Fourth and Fifth Steps can purge you of your secret demons. Now you are “entirely ready” to live differently, depending on God rather than your defective habits. The Seventh Step is the definitive “Yes” to this new way of being.

God not only tolerates and forgives your defects of character, but he even uses them to convert you into a person who is plugged in to (dependent upon) the Spirit with everybody and everything else, actually participating in the life of God. This conversion is not merely some moral improvement. Just becoming a nicer person is not the point. You want a whole new identity and vision. Moral behavior follows naturally.

You really do most of work, which should placate you agnostics. However you cannot do it alone. You can only do it in the Presence, Faith, Hope and Love of your Higher Power.

12 Step Recovery: Shadow Boxing

  1. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  2. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

The shadow is the underbelly of the psyche, the vulnerable and messy side, the part that we would rather not see, let alone own. It is not bad yet our first inclination would be to reject it. We are sure that it does not fit into our persona, our “best” side. It shows up in consciousness as “defects of character,” which are easy to excuse or deny.

shadow-boxing

Shadow Boxing – Steve Huston

In terms of emotional addiction, the shadow covers our programs for happiness, those insatiable appetites for security, esteem, pleasure or control. Moreover, it conceals all of the maladaptive thoughts and behaviors we will deploy to get those appetites fed. When our programs are thwarted, our shadow is revealed in irritation, anger and what I term thrashing/flailing – things we say or do but do not really mean.

“You cannot heal what you do not first acknowledge.” Owning the problem is two-thirds of the solution (three-quarters?). As soon as you expose the insidious device it loses much of its power; it comes out of the shadows and into the light where it can be gradually transformed, integrated and forgiven. Christian scripture presents the image of demons, which I think are an apt representation of addiction. Jesus heals them by merely calling them out. “I see you!”

“Moral inventory” sounds a bit like an exercise in flagellation. Don’t let it be. You will not be judged or condemned by a Higher Power. Anybody who cares about your inventory does not matter and everybody who matters will not care. Instead they will have compassion for the True Self that is deeper than both shadow and persona. Therefore, let your inventory be “fearless” of shame and blame.

The fifth step allows you to experience the promise of acceptance and compassion and know that you are still good! The demons can only suffocate you from the inside. Once let out, they flee; you do not disintegrate. At the same time, this step makes ownership real and eviscerates any lingering denial. It holds your feet to the fire and begins to make you accountable – a conscious act of coming out of one self.

These steps are a movement of rigorous honesty. Only with honesty can a person relate to and be supported by a Spirit-filled community.