Archive for the 11th 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.
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 Eleventh Step of Alcoholics Anonymous states, “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, prayer only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.” Like everything I have learned in the program, this is something I must practice everywhere in my life.
What is shared here is just my personal experience with this step, and I absolutely do not claim to be an expert nor an authority. My way is just one of many to come in contact with a Higher Power, and it has worked for me.
The first statement in the 11th Step is to seek through prayer to improve our conscious contact with our Higher Power. I pray in the morning, at night, and at lunch time every day. For me, prayer and meditation go hand-in-hand, and often are inseparable. My prayer generally consists of a very short request for direction and to accept my Higher Power’s will for me. I end my prayer with gratitude to my Higher Power.
The second part of Step Eleven direct us us to seek through meditation to improve our conscious contact with our Higher Power. Meditation for me takes many forms. In the morning, the afternoon, and before bed, I sit and meditate for 20 minutes. I usually begin with a simple Samatha meditation, bringing my attention inward and tot he present moment. I then either recite mantras with my malas, practice mindfulness of my senses, or practice metta meditation and my love of others. My morning meditation helps get my day started right, the afternoon one keeps me on track during the day, and the nighttime meditation helps me go to sleep with positive thoughts in my head.
The last part of Step 11 recommends we pray for God’s will, not ours, to be done and the power to fulfill His will. For me, this direction is very blunt. We must not pray for selfish things, nor for things for others necessarily. For example, when I pray for someone to stay sober or for someone to have something happen to them, I am imposing my will upon them. Rather than do this, I pray for my Higher Power’s will to be done in my life as well as those around me. I pray for the patience and acceptance to see what the Universe wants for me. The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous suggests on several occasions that we end prayers with “If it is Thy will,” or “Thy will be done.”
Something that I think is often passed over when discussing the Eleventh Step of Alcoholics Anonymous is the phrase “conscious contact with God.” For me, prayer and meditation helps improve my conscious contact with my Higher Power, but the real contact comes through practicing my spirituality in daily life. The essence of my conscious contact with my Higher Power is mindfulness. When I am able to be present and mindful of my actions, thoughts, feelings, and senses, I am able to find serenity. When I am mindful of my actions and what I am doing, I am more compassionate toward others and able to be of greater service, which is what I believe my Higher Power wants from me.
Practicing mindfulness in my daily life helps me not stray into my own will. In my experience, I often lose mindfulness when experiencing strong thoughts and emotions. When I am angry, anxious, or stuck in my negative thoughts, I lose my mindfulness and my free will. I become a slave to the negativity. When I can periodically bring myself back to the present, I am able to stay in contact with my Higher Power and away from hurtful actions.
(Please note I wrote this while in jail, and am now posting it here.)
I have found an extreme urge to do as the 11th Step of Alcoholics Anonymous says and improve my conscious contact with my Higher Power. With a bit of struggling at first, I fouond myself disconnected from my Higher Power, and living in complete and debilitating fear.
When I was sentenced, I immediately had to turn myself over to a power greater than myself: the law. Being taken into custody, I had to practice acceptance of being completely powerless. As I turned my life over to the jail, I dopped some faith in my Higher Power. Essentially, I transferred my faith from a spiritual concept to the deputies in control, and quite unnecessarily so.
I quickly craved a connection to some sort of spirituality. I saw that the moment I turned myself over to the legal system, I ceased turning my will and life over to my Higher Power. However, quite the opposite was true. When I turned myself in, I was trusting the Universe to take care of me.
Step Eleven reminds us to pray and meditate regularly, whatever that means for us. For me here in jail, I have made my own morning meditation routine that works well for me. I started this because I felt a very explicit desire to connect with a power greater than myself. The desire came in many forms. I had anxiety, fear, anger, curiosity, and sorrow. I felt alone and vulnerable.
With practice of the Eleventh Step, I feel far less lonely. I know if I have conscious contact with my Higher Power, I truly am never alone. As long as I let it happen, my Higher Power is always waiting to be with me. With this also comes a sense of comfort. Fear slips away as faith fills my being. I found my Higher Power, and have kept it close to me, but only through putting effort toward seeking.
Spending the vast majority of my day alone in a cell, I get stuck in my thoughts really easily. When I pray, meditate, and keep a routine, I am able to quiet these thoughts more, and improve my spiritual health. I have the most steady routine of spiritual work that I have ever had in my life right now, and I hope to continue on the outside.
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.
I have felt at times in my life that my Higher Power was not there when I reached for it. I also find that I often pray for things for situations to turn out how I want them to. The Twelve N’ Twelve Quote of the Day today was “In the morning we think of the hours to come. Perhaps we think of our day’s work and the chances it may afford us to be useful and helpful, or of some special problem that it may bring. Possibly today will see a continuation of a serious and as yet unresolved problem left over from yesterday. Our immediate temptation will be to ask for specific solutions to specific problems, and for the ability to help other people as we have already thought they should be helped. In that case, we are asking God to do it ourway. Therefore, we ought to consider each request carefully to see what its real merit is. Even so, when making specific requests, it will be well to add to each one of them this qualification: “…if it be Thy will.” We ask simply that throughout the day God place in us the best understanding of His will that we can have for that day, and that we be given the grace by which we may carry it out.”
This reminded me that I must pray for God‘s will, not mine. When I am praying for something to turn out the way I want it to, I am setting myself up for failure. As the popular quote from “Doctor, Alcoholic, Addict” (or “Acceptance was the Answer” in the 4th Edition) says, acceptance is the answer to my relationship with God.
When I am asking for things that are within my will, my prayer is futile. If I am praying for my will to be done, I find that my Higher Power is absent when I most need it. Hard times come, anger comes, friends relapse, things don’t go my way. When I am not praying for God’s will to be done, I am far less accepting when these things happen. When I pray for God’s will, not mine, I find that I am able to accept these situations with an amazing level of serenity.
In Buddhism, the first step of the Noble Eightfold Path is Right View. I find this applicable to this topic in that when I am in Right View, I see that God’s will is always being carried out, and THE ONLY THING STOPPING IT IS ME. When I am seeing more clearly, working to eliminate my warped perceptions (which is indeed all of them), I see that it truly is my will that interferes.
One piece of advice I have found especially helpful is to practice my Right View specifically when I am praying and meditating. When I am asking for God’s help, I check to see if my perceptions are interfering. I do not pray for many things other than happiness for others, compassion, and patience.
“There is a direct linkage among self-examination, meditation, and prayer. Taken separately, these practices can bring much relief and benefit. But when they are logically related and interwove, the result is an unshakable foundation for life.”
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.
“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”
““When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That’s the message he is sending.”
“Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.”