Archive for the 12th Step Category
When many people look at the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, they see them in their linear form, as they are meant to be worked in my opinion. However, Step Twelve which states, “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,” can be worked from the beginning. It is not something that is often stressed, but I found and continue to find it to be a crucial part of my recovery.
Although a newcomer may not have worked all twelve steps, and the first part of the 12th Step (“Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps…”) is not fully applicable, they absolutely have something to offer other alcoholics. The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous explains in Appendix II: Spiritual Experience, “The terms “spiritual experience” and “spiritual awakening” are used many times in this book which, upon careful reading, shows that the personality change sufficient to bring about recovery from alcoholism has manifested itself among us in many different forms.” In essence, what this says is that the terms spiritual awakening and spiritual experience mean a personality change sufficient to bring about recovery from alcoholism.
Many of us experience this “spiritual awakening” in the beginning of our stay in Alcoholics Anonymous. My experience is that I had a spiritual experience at around my 30th day of sobriety, where I became truly willing to work the program and open-minded to the ideas laid out before me. It is my opinion that this was enough of a “spiritual experience” to begin my path to sobriety, and be of service.
When I was new, I met people with a few days or weeks more than me, and they were of just as much service to me as anyone else in the program. Similarly, when I had 30 days, I spoke to people with less time, and when appropriate, shared what I had done so far. I had my first sponsee at just over five months sober (and yes, he is still sober today, and an amazing young man), I was secretary of a meeting before having 6 months, I spoke on Hospitals and Institutions panels regularly from 30 days on, and I returned to my treatment center immediately after I left to be of service to those there.
It has been my experience that service is a crucial part of sobriety. Regardless of how important time appears to be in many meetings, we ALL have something to offer our fellows. Being of service from early sobriety and offering what little I did have helped me build a strong foundation of my understanding for compassion and love in Alcoholics Anonymous.
The flip side to this is that I try my hardest to NEVER shut down a newcomer for any reason. When I was new, I was timid and afraid of what the “oldtimers” would think of me. I was afraid to reach out and offer help, because I was surrounded by people who had far more time than me. When I see two newcomers helping each other, I let it happen. I also encourage my sponsees to do their utmost to be of service where appropriate. Having commitments, speaking on panels and carrying the messages, and volunteering to help at meetings are great simple ways to be of service every day.
I have been reading a lot of Thich Nhat Hanh recently. If you are not familiar with him, he is a Vietnamese Buddhist Monk who teaches at Plum Village, has authored many books, and a strong peace advocate. Considered by many as the most influential figure in Zen Buddhism, Thich Nhat Hanh has been paramount in bringing Buddhism to the West.
Thich Nhat Hanh insists that it is through living in the present moment that we find happiness. Relating core Zen Buddhist principles to modern life is one of the many things he has to offer. During his speeches, he often rings a small bell to remind the listeners to return to the present moment.
When Thich Nhat Hanh is with is students, he often asks them the simple question, “What are you doing?” He asks this when it is most obvious what the student is doing, with the intention of bringing them back to what they are doing, and nothing more. The idea behind this is for us to stay present. Regardless of what we are doing, we have the opportunity to live fully in the moment and enjoy what we are doing. The Buddha often said, “Drishta dharma sukha viharin,” which is most commonly translated as, “Dwell happily in things as they are.” Although this may be easier in certain situations than others, we nonetheless have the choice to make the most of our experience.
Another concept that Thich Nhat Hanh often uses is to smile. He stresses the importance of smiling at the world upon awakening, and smiling at intervals throughout the day. Upon practicing this, I have found extreme value in it. When I smile, it encourages a lighthearted, compassionate feeling, and I am almost immediately struck with at least a slight decrease in anxiety.
My sponsor often tells me that my phone is one of the greatest tools I progress for spiritual growth. I can use it to reach out to other members of Alcoholics Anonymous, get in contact with sponsees, read the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, and one more key thing that I have just discovered. With my phone, I set a reminder every day with two things. The first reminder I set for myself it to smile. Twice a day, my phone pops up with a reminder that simply says, “Smile!” Upon seeing this reminder, I follow instructions and smile! I also set a reminder with the question, “What are you doing?” This reminds me to live in the present moment and stay focused on enjoying exactly what I am doing.
These two reminders cover very basic Buddhist principles for me. They are also very helpful in terms of Buddhism and recovery. In Twelve-Step meetings, we are often reminded, “One Day at a Time.” For me, I have to take things one moment at a time. The reminders I set help me practice Right Mindfulness in everyday life. Although I do regularly meditate as a part of my Tenth Step and Buddhism, I know that I must practice mindfulness and self-awareness in everyday life.
Just as meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous are refueling stations for life outside the rooms, meditation is good practice for life outside of our meditation routine. The 12th Step of Alcoholics Anonymous suggests that we “practice these principles in all our affairs.” Although the rooms help us learn from our fellows, hear stories, and learn about ourselves, we must take what we learn outside the rooms if we are to thrive. Similarly, in Buddhism, meditation has much value, and it is through meditation that we calm the mind, realize the nature of our true being, and learn to let go of our attachment to thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. However, we also must take these principles outside our meditation.
I use my phone to remind me to practice the most basic of Buddhist principles, as I am often so wrapped up in my thoughts, that I forget to smile or be present. When my phone goes off, Buddhism slaps me in the face. I am brought back to the present moment, to enjoying my moment, and to not get caught in the future nor the past.
“For it is only by accepting and solving our problem that we can begin to get right with ourselves and with the world about us, and with Him who presides over us all. Understanding is the key to right principles and attitudes, and right action is the key to good living.”
“To lead people, walk beside them. As for the best leaders, the people do not notice their existence. The next best, the people honor and praise. The next, the people fear; and the next, the people hate. When the best leader’s work is done, the people say, ‘We did it ourselves!'”
“If you want to change somebody, don’t preach to him. Set an example and shut up.”
“Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.”
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.
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
“We must learn to live together as brothers, or perish together as fools.”
-Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.
“I came upon a doctor who appeared in quite poor health,
I said, ‘There’s nothing I can do for you that you can’t do for yourself.’
He said, ‘O yes you can, just hold my hand, I think that that would help,’
So I sat with him a while and asked him how he felt.
He said, ‘I think I’m cured. In fact I’m sure.
Thank you, Stranger
For your therapeutic smile.”