Archive for the 10th Step Category
I was recently asked to speak at a meeting in which the speaker chose a reading from As Bill Sees It. I flipped open the book randomly, and came to the entry on page 226 entitled Give Thanks from the March 1962 episode of the Grapevine. It read:
Though I still find it difficult to accept today’s pain and anxiety with any great degree of serenity – as those more advanced in the spiritual life seem able to do – I can give thanks for present pain nevertheless.
I find the willingness to do this by contemplating the lessons learned from past suffering – lessons which have led to the blessings I now enjoy. I can remember how the agonies of alcoholism, the pain of rebellion and thwarted pride, have often led me to God’s grace, and so to a new freedom.
I have not read every page of As Bill Sees It, but I don’t know if I could have turned to a page that I agree with more. Although I do not practice this in every moment, I try my best to. Turning toward our suffering and not running from it is a indispensable practice. The tendency of recovering addicts to run from unpleasant feelings is often a result of what is taught in twelve-step programs: to call your sponsor, go to a meeting, or help a newcomer.
Generally, I think these things are great. I call my mentors every day, go to many meetings, and work with as many newcomers as I am able to. However, these are not solutions for our own issues. When I am feeling an unpleasant feeling (like anxiety), calling a sponsor may not be the right choice. A sponsor may tell me to go to a meeting or help a newcomer, but these are not helping me grow how I need. Going to a meeting or working with somebody else are both important aspects of my recovery, but again, they do not necessarily offer the best solution.
I have found that the best answer is often to just sit in it. I don’t mean whine, play the victim, or blame others. I mean that we simply must sit in our feelings sometimes. When anxiety takes over, we must allow ourselves to feel the feeling. There are many ways I have benefited from doing this.
First, awareness of our suffering allows us to learn about the feelings. When an unpleasant emotion arises, I run. It is one of the foundational parts of being an addict. When I began to sit with my emotions, I began to learn about them. I noticed that my anxiety was generally a combination of tightness in my chest, a feeling in my arms and hands, and racing thoughts. Only when I sat with it was I able to see that anxiety was just a combination of other sensations, and not really as “bad” as I had thought. It was just unpleasant.
When we sit with our suffering, we are doing the most compassionate thing possible. It may not seem this way at first, but when we truly sit with our pain, we are able to change our relationship to it. When we accept our pain and look at it with a curious eye, we are able to treat it with more love and compassion. When we run from it, we are not giving it any attention, nor allowing it to teach us anything.
We also learn a lot about our instinct to run from unpleasantness when we sit with our feelings. When we run, we encourage ourselves to not feel the feelings. Every time we sit with an unpleasant feeling, we are able to strengthen our ability to change our relationship to unpleasantness. We may see our immediate reaction of aversion, and work on changing it to a more loving and compassionate response.
Finally, as the reading in As Bill Sees It points out, suffering has a lot to teach us. If we are willing to learn, our pain may be our greatest teacher. Pain is a motivator for change, and without it, we probably wouldn’t be on a spiritual path. When we suffer, we are truly offered a chance to learn something about ourselves. Buddhist monk Ajahn Chah says, “In each moment of suffering lies an opportunity for awakening.”
1. Work the steps – Whether or not you have gone through the steps before, go through them this year. The steps are great practice for all of us, and can be a tool of great growth.
3. Read the literature – Regardless of what group you belong to, read the literature. Most programs have a fair amount of official literature, and many unofficial books and pamphlets.
4. Check out a new meeting – Many of us have “home groups” or regular meetings. Although this is great, it is also beneficial to step out and try a new meeting. You may meet new people or hear new things!
5. Find a home group – If you don’t already have a home group, find one! This should be a meeting you attend consistently, have a commitment at, and are a part of.
6. Get a commitment – Even if you already have commitments, grab a new one! Commitments are a wonderful encouragement to show up, and also help us become a part of the community.
7. Greet a newcomer – When newcomers identify in a meeting, watch and listen. After the meeting, stop and talk to them. Remember how it felt when you were new, and how beneficial a kind word can be!
8. Greet a visitor - Just as with the newcomer, watch for visitors from other areas. Welcome them, offer a phone number, and make sure you do what you can to make them feel at home!
9. Sign up for a panel - You may have a local Hospitals and Institutions group (H and I) where you may find opportunities to speak at jails and hospitals. If not, you may keep your ears open in meetings and ask around for ways to bring your program to those who are not able to come to you.
10. Do a tenth step – Not everyone does a written tenth step. This year, try doing a tenth step that works for you, whether it is through meditation, writing, or speaking to a trusted friend.
11. Pray and meditate – Many people slight prayer and meditation. This year, give it a try. Even as an atheist myself, I am able to pray and meditate and find it extremely important in my program.
12. Go through the traditions - Just as we work the steps, many people go through the Twelve Traditions. Going through the traditions with a guide is a great way to learn about their importance and how they hold the group together.
13. Do 30 and 30 – Many newcomers are given the suggestion of going to 90 meetings in 90 days. To recommit to your recovery, try doing 30 meetings in 30 days!
15. Attend a gender-specific meeting – Attending gender-specific meetings is something that many of us shy away from. However, there is some relief in sharing amongst people of your own gender. Try one of these meetings!
16. Sponsor someone - This year, sponsor someone. Taking somebody else through the program you are in is a great way to learn more about the program and be of service. In my experience, being able to take others through the steps is both the greatest tool and the greatest gift of my recovery.
17. Go to a conference - Many areas have conferences or roundups. Attending one is very powerful. There are around-the-clock meetings with different topics, fun activities with others in recovery, and great opportunities to meet others.
18. Be of service - There are many ways to be of service. You may give someone a ride to a meeting, talk to somebody after a meeting, or give somebody a call. The simplest actions can make a big difference.
19. Help your Central Office - Find your local Central Office, and see what you can do to help. Many offices need help answering phones, selling literature, or organizing events.
Being in an intimate relationship in sobriety is difficult to say the least. Relationships are like steroids for my character defects; they cause them to grow more powerful than I imagined possible. From jealousy to control issues, my need to be right to my need to know everything, my character defects really come to light in relationships. However, being in a relationship has taught me a lot, and my growth has been great.
Keys to My Healthy Relationship
With my character defects glaring me in the face in this relationship, I have found several important keys to keeping the relationship strong and healthy. As with the rest of my recovery, I must remain vigilante with myself in order to sustain this healthy relationship.
The first, and most important, tool in my healthy relationship is communication. Communication is an absolutely indispensable tool in my relationship. Obviously, this applies in the sense of not lying, straightforward nor by omission. However, communicating goes much further than telling the truth.
In order to maintain a healthy relationship, communication must go both ways. I must walk through my (often irrational) fears, and be able to communicate how I feel. Remaining considerate of her feelings, I tell her how I feel, whether I am upset (with her or not), happy, anxious, or dealing with something. She is not my sponsor, nor is she my Higher Power. However, she is an integral part of my support network. Furthermore, when I hold things in too much, it closes off my heart to her. As my heart fills with fear and resentment, my capacity to love is diminished. As I become able to tell her how I feel and what is going on with me, it frees my heart up to be filled with love. It is not always easy, as fears of being judged, not being enough, and driving her away do arise. However, I consistently walk through these fears, and each time the fears are easier to overcome.
Also, I must be open to communication from her end. As important as talking is to communication, so is listening. When she speaks to me, whether it is a casual conversation or something more serious, I make a diligent effort to listen mindfully. My reactions are not always compassionate and loving, and it is something I am consciously working on. I find that as I listen with more mindfulness, I am able to respond with more compassion rather than reacting with fear. When I react with fear, I am not encouraging a safe, open environment. Just as I go through fears sharing my feelings, so does she. It is not within my control whether or not she will be open and honest with me, but it is within my control to encourage a safe space to nurture the love rather than the fear.
Step Ten of Alcoholics Anonymous reminds us to promptly admit when we are wrong. This is a huge part of a healthy relationship for me. I make mistakes, I hurt myself, and I hurt her. Never once have I done so on purpose, but it simply happens. When it does happen, regardless of my intentions, I absolutely must promptly make amends. If I am not able to admit when I am wrong, the behavior is not likely to change, and I will continue to hurt her. Selfishness is at the root of our disease, and I must be vigilante with my character defects.
This is something that we hear a lot in regards to relationships in sobriety. My loved one and I must keep our sobriety number one in our own lives, independently of each other. I cannot make her my Higher Power, my sponsor, nor put her above my sobriety and my program. This being said, I don’t have to ignore her in order to work my program. I find time to meet with my sponsor, sponsees, friends, and go to meetings on my own. I have a different perception of a Higher Power than her, I have a sponsor that works differently than hers, and I don’t enjoy all the same meetings as she.
Keeping our programs separate, we are able to grow together. Something different works for everyone, and I must constantly remind myself that. We go to meetings together, we meditate together constantly, and we have many talks about our spiritual work. However, there are certain things that are different, and we recognize these things. It is one of the most beautiful things about both Twelve Step programs and Buddhism: to be able to have our own experiences and find our own truths. As we work on ourselves, we are becoming more and more human each day. Capable of loving, compassionate, insightful, and accepting, we are able to grow closer together.
These are just three big things that come to mind when I think of my first healthy relationship I have ever had in my life. With all the defects popping up of mine, it can be overwhelming at times. However, we always have a support network to get us through things, give us advice, and share experiences with us.
One year ago at this moment, I was driving from Los Angeles to San Francisco. I was to stay at my parents’ house for a night, then drive with my mom from San Francisco to Portland, Oregon. The plan upon arriving to Oregon was to turn myself in to the Washington County Sheriff’s Department for a federal warrant that had been issued in my name. I had spoken with a lawyer, and was walking blindly into the situation, without a real knowledge of what would happen.
With my mom at my side, I walked up to the clerk’s desk at the Sheriff’s station at 6am and let them know I was turning myself in for a warrant. They took my ID and ran my name. An officer came out, handcuffed me, and walked me from the station over to the county jail, with my mom at my side. My mom cried as the officer told her she could not hug me, and he led me into the jail.
I got arraigned that day, and released on bail. I spent the next week and a half in a motel in Portland and bouncing around friends’ houses. On my court date, the judge heard the situation, and sentenced me to 30 days in county jail. Expecting less time, my heart immediately started racing. I asked my lawyer if there was anything we could do, but there was not. My mom gave me a serious hug, the kind only moms can give, and away I went.
I spent the next 30 days in the violent criminal cell pod. Not being “hard” or very much of a thug at all, I had no choice but to keep to myself. Thirty days goes by awfully slow all alone in jail. I had expectations of a lesser sentence, and the first few days of processing before getting into general population were extremely painful. I found myself reaching for a Higher Power of some sort, only to find that my conscious contact was almost non-existant. The faith that I had been professing and felt for the past few years suddenly eluded me. My first few days were full of an intense struggle to make sense of my situation.
Here I was, a 21 year old young man, raised in an upper-middle class family with all the opportunities in the world. I had been through my troubled times, but felt I had come out the other side. I was almost two years sober, had active service commitments in Alcoholics Anonymous, had panels with Hospitals and Institutions, had started new meetings in my community, had a sponsor, had sponsees, tried to practice the principles in all of my affairs, and had been meditating on and off. Where had I gone wrong?
I quickly realized that it was only up to me to decide how the 30 days in jail went. I wrote A LOT. I meditated more in those thirty days than the rest of my life combined. I prayed like it was life or death. And it was for me. My own behavior had ended me up here, and it was about time I find a better way to behave. Rather than look at the symptoms (my behavior), I took a look at the causes for the first time. I dove deeper than before.
There are a few things that stick out to this day as great spiritual experiences I had there. First, I reached for a Higher Power with complete surrender and total desperation. Where I had tried other solutions in the past, this conscious contact was really my only option. The key to this was for me to learn to accept without necessarily understanding. As I prayed and meditated, hoping to find some lessons to be learned in this situation, I found that the lesson was to accept, and have faith that each moment can be a teacher if I let it be. I truly turned my will and my life over to my Higher Power, which was meditation at the moment.
The next thing I came across was a feeling of truly living. It seems strange at first to think of experiencing true living in jail. However, when I awoke each morning, I had no agenda. The only thing I had to do was eat, drink, and live. I didn’t have work, school, relationships, meetings, or anything else on my mind. There was nothing I needed to do. What I learned from this was a very simple yet powerful idea: staying present. I was able to pray, meditate, eat, read, and live fully in the moment, without worrying about what I had to do later. Waiting for my time to be up, there was no action I could take to improve my situation except stay present.
Finally, as I began to dive into the cause of my behavior, I found out a lot. I found that my behavior was caused by fear, not by loving-kindness. I found my fears were controlling me at times, with my permission. I let my fears build and build until I had “no mental defense against the first” unskillful behavior. As I uncovered the fears, I made a conscious effort to begin addressing my fears before they were powerful enough to control my actions.
After being released from jail, this last lesson grew into a regular way of life for me. I began meditating far more frequently, and with far less expectations. I eventually found that although the 11th Step of Alcoholics Anonymous suggested prayer and meditation, my meditation practice was closely associated with my Tenth Step. As I began to meditate more often, my mindfulness and the Dharma began to permeate my everyday life. My personal inventory has become far easier, and at some times involuntary.
An example of this is this story of me taking a test at UCLA last week. I filled out the first page of the test without a problem. I knew every answer right off the top of my head. Flipping to the second page, I read the first three questions, and I had absolutely no idea how to answer them. My heart rate immediately increased, my hands shook, and my head raced. Within just a few seconds, I found myself taking a seriously deep breath. Just as the increase in heart rate was an involuntary reaction, so was the deep breath. I didn’t do the normal, “Take a deep breath. It will help.” The thought did not even enter my consciousness. I simply responded by taking a deep breath.
This is just a simple example of how the meditation practice I acquired in jail works in my life today. With this meditation practice and mindfulness, I am able to notice when something doesn’t feel right within me. Rather than wait until it is controlling me completely, I catch it earlier and earlier. I’m not perfect, but I have come a long way.
A year ago today I was on my way to jail. Terrified, confused, and close-minded I entered. I came out with a gift that I cannot truly describe in words, but I feel it. I feel it in my relationships with myself, with the world around me, and with my Higher Power. My relationship with my family has greatly improved over the last year, my intimate relationships have improved, I respond far better to emotions I deem negative, and I make conscious contact daily.
A year ago today I could have never even imagined the gifts that would come from my journey. I feel I have made more spiritual progress in this past year than any other year of my life, including my first year sober. Thank you to everyone who helped me get from there to here, and I look forward to sharing the journey with you all.
The Seventh Step of Alcoholics Anonymous states: “Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.” I have noticed this step is often passed over quickly by many who are working the steps for their first time (myself included).
As time passed on in my recovery, and I progressed, I found this to be an extremely important step that I absolutely do not take lightly. Step Seven works hand-in-hand with the 10th Step.
When I constructively review my behaviors and resentments I always strive to find what defect of character is the driving force. Whether it be ego, fear, pride, or any other defect, I consistently find that my poor behavior and resentments center around flaws in my character.
If I stopped here at recognizing my defects, nothing would get solved. I know I must actively work on letting my character attributes take place of my defects if I am to progress. The simplest way for me to do this is to get the list of my character defects from my daily inventory, and to literally sit down and say a prayer that each individual one be removed. Sometimes my list is longer than others, but I take the time to sit down and go over each one.
My prayer usually goes along the lines of, “Please take away my pride, so that it may increase my usefulness to others…if it is your will.” Simple, quick, and meaningful, I do this every night, and often throughout the day. The Sixth Step of Alcoholics Anonymous declares that we must be willing to have our defects removed. Through my prayer, and doing my best to steer clear of acting on my defects, I practice willingness every day.
Recently, I have not been following through with my commitment to my sobriety. Yes, I have abstained from the use of any and every mind altering substance, but I lost some fire for the program. I had a legal matter come up that requires me to go to jail for a few weeks, and then have a hearing to decide if I will have to spend more time behind bars. I shut down emotionally and spiritually, and my connection to my Higher Power and the program quickly dwindled.
All that being said, I am back! I have gotten back to taking a daily inventory, to my prayer and meditation, to contacting my fellows around me, and to suiting up and showing up. I am preparing myself to head out-of-state to turn myself in within the next couple weeks. What really helped get me back on track more than anything has been doing my inventory every night.
I was finding that my resentments were largely directed toward me. More appropriately, they were directed toward my behaviors. I was putting off what needed to be done, and trying to skate by undetected. The reality, however, is that I can never truly escape my own radar. Although I was acting as if everything was good, I was not progressing in any healthy way. Rather than face my challenges, I turned away and ignored them.
Upon seeing where my resentments were, I knew I had to promptly admit I was wrong, which meant taking action. We all have ups and downs of different calibers whether we are sober or not. What I know now is that I do not have to wait until I am miserable to make a change. As they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, “The bottom is wherever you choose to stop digging.” I notice that the only way for me to stop digging is to start climbing.
Starting climbing is often a seemingly impossible task. When I am down, not active, and not in communication, the last thing I want to do is reach out, go to a meeting, or take an inventory. However, it is the most helpful thing to do.
Basically, the point I would like to get across is that taking an honest look at myself through my daily inventory and 10th step is what is pulling me out of the rut I am in. I have experienced it before, and as I am experiencing it now, I am absolutely in awe of how Step Ten is working in my life to help me grow closer to my Higher Power.
“Having so considered our day, not omitting to take due note of things well done, and having searched our hearts with neither fear nor favor, we can truly thank God for the blessings we have received and sleep in good conscience.”
“Being still inexperienced and having just made conscious contact with God, it is not probable that we are going to be inspired at all times. We might pay for this presumption in all sorts of absurd actions and ideas. Nevertheless, we find that our thinking will, as time passes, be more and more on the plane of inspiration.
I often hear people quote the line in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous where it says, “Resentments are our #1 Offender.” I have taken this line as gospel, and done everything possible to purge myself of resentments. Furthermore, I try to prevent from acquiring resentments in the first place. However, after having a discussion with one of the most special people in my life, I have come to a somewhat contradictory conclusion.
I have found in my recovery that I must continue to take personal inventory ON PAPER. Simply trying to do it in my head does not work, and I fall behind. Furthermore, when I am doing a written inventory, I must also take the action to make amends where they are due.