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.

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Solution Talk: The 12 Steps

What do indigenous mythologies, gospel music and the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous all have in common? They are three spiritualities native to America, and, I believe, the three most historically significant. In the first you have a reverence for Nature, God’s first bible. In the second you have a form of communal contemplative prayer. And in the 12 Steps, you have a program for the Purgative Way, the first stage in spiritual maturity across many faith traditions.

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Haiku Stairs – Oahu

Spiritual discipline or treatment plan for substance use disorder? The 12-steps are both at once, demonstrating that spiritual and psychological wellness are the same endeavor. When one is purged of egocentricity and its attendant “defects of character,” life flourishes and God rushes in. (God, like Nature, abhors a vacuum.) Alcohol is mentioned in the first step but is apparently forgotten thereafter. Nowhere does it say, even indirectly, when and how one will stop drinking. Instead the focus is fully on emotional sobriety, the real project.

The 12 Steps and the companion 12 Traditions are very practical (i.e. American) spirituality and not weighed down with theological headiness. It has no purity codes or barriers to admission. “The only requirement … is a desire to stop drinking.” This attitude is closer to the Christian Gospel than mainstream Christianity, I’m afraid.

Luke’s version of the Gospel has a cluster of parables of something lost and being found, then rejoicing in the recovery (sheep, coin, son). An AA birthday meeting, where members celebrate milestone recovery periods, feels very much like this kind of celebration. There is something very special to God about recovery, without diminishing those who were never lost. The personal, the communal and the transcendent all come together in one moment as each birthday alcoholic comes forward. I would dare to guess that nobody ever relapsed soon after such a gathering.