Archive for the Twelve-Step Recovery Category
Each one of us works our own individual program. In twelve-step programs we are given many suggestions, but there is only one requirement: the desire to stop drinking. Attending meetings or speaking with our fellows, we see how differently each of us works our program. It is a beautiful thing that we are encouraged to work the program how it works for us, and there are always people more experienced than us who have different experiences to offer. The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous says on page 29, “Each individual, in the personal stories, describes in his own language and from his own point of view the way he established his relationship with God.”
Our Own Higher Power
In my personal experience, the ability to choose your own Higher Power is one of the greatest examples of people working their own programs. I have met people of all faiths and traditions in the rooms: Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Pagan, Atheist, and simply spiritual. Regardless of your spiritual/religious beliefs, there is a place for you in twelve-step programs.
Although Alcoholics Anonymous was founded by Christians and on many Christian principles, it was created with an expressed intention to work for people of all belief systems. I practice Buddhism myself. My sense of a “Higher Power” or “God” is very different than a lot of my fellows. I choose to utilize the Dharma as my Higher Power. Rather than a supernatural or ethereal force or figure, I use the path of Buddhism as my Higher Power. It works well for me, for I am able to turn my will and my life over to it. I am able to pray and meditate, be grateful for my Higher Power, and not fully understand my Higher Power.
Whatever your beliefs are, the principles are the same: trust in God, pray, meditate, turn your will and life over. I have met many atheists in my time sober, and have found the principles also apply there. In Buddhism, there is the teaching that we all have seeds within us; we have seeds of doubt, anger, love, fear, acceptance, etc. When we take action, we are watering these seeds within us. Being of service waters the seed of compassion, love, etc. Punching somebody waters the seed of anger, hatred, etc. Speaking with atheists, I have heard a very similar account of things. Even though they do not believe in a greater deity, they do believe they have a better person within them. I see atheists in my home group be of service, share eloquently, relate to others, and be wonderful members of our fellowship.
As discussed in a recent post, it is important to keep religion out of twelve-step meetings. I have heard speakers that truly move me that I find out have completely different beliefs than I do. I have heard other Buddhists share that I do not especially relate to. Religion (or lack of) is not important in twelve step meetings. We are all sitting there for the same reason, and sharing our differences only separates us. If somebody is Christian, Hindu, atheist, or whatever, it is their program, not ours. It is my honest opinion that it is absolutely none of my business unless they are directly hurting me or the integrity of the program. The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous says on page forty-five about the program, “Its main object is to enable you to find a Power greater than yourself which will solve your problem.”
Alcoholics Anonymous was the first program to suggest the twelve steps as a program of recovery. The twelve steps have been an incredibly useful tool that millions have used to recover in hundreds of different programs. However, the twelve steps are fairly vague and general. Even with the Big Book and the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (Twelve N’ Twelve), there is a lot left to the individual in working the steps. In the Foreword to the First Edition, the Big Book says, “To show other alcoholics precisely how we have recovered is the main purpose of this book.” This, to me, says that the goal was to show what helped them in order for us to have some experience to help us. However, it does not say that we must work a program exactly as anyone else did.
My sponsor is an old-school type of guy. He reminds me constantly that Bill went through the steps in two days when he was in the hospital. He took me through all twelve steps before I had ninety days sober. I take my sponsees through the steps in the same way. However, I know many people who go through the steps much slower, and still have a full sobriety and life.
With the second and third steps, we may choose different Higher Powers as discussed above. With the fourth step, there are many ways that people work it. I know some sponsors have their sponsees write every single resentment they have ever had and write several pages on each one. I know other sponsors who only want the bare minimum, for they believe the point is to get the character defects out. All of the twelve steps can be worked in a different way really.
Steps ten, eleven, and twelve are steps that are often worked very differently in any given fellowship. With the tenth step, some people write daily. Writing a daily inventory either at night or in the morning helps many people. Some even write during the day when they feel a resentment arise. Others prefer to use meditation as their chief means of taking inventory. Sitting in silence or after prayer is a way that many people see what is arising in themselves and take an inventory. With the eleventh step, any given individual’s prayer and meditation is most likely going to differ from his fellows’. There are people of all spiritual beliefs who practice in many different kinds of ways. There are those that hit their knees every morning and evening, those that meditate avidly, and those that don’t do either formally. With the twelfth step, there are those that sponsor a lot of people, those that volunteer time with Hospitals and Institutions, those that hold many service commitments, and those that participate in conventions and other committees.
Even though the twelve steps are direct in their suggestion, there is much room for interpretation. Whatever an individual’s program looks like, what matters is that they stay sober and help other addicts and/or alcoholics.
Outside of the Rooms
There are also many differences in what we do outside of the twelve-step rooms. Some of us seek therapy or psychiatry. Whether somebody seeks therapy, acupuncture, or attends religious meetings, these are outside issues. People do these things because they help their recovery. People do yoga, surf, work out, or do a number of other things to enhance their sobriety.
People work different jobs, spend free time doing different things, and engage in different activities in daily life. This is one of the freedoms we are allowed with the twelve-step program.
These differences in our programs are a beautiful part of twelve-step programs. It allows us to find people that have worked the program in many different ways. If we maintain an open mind and open heart, we will find that each way is unique, right for the individual, and we must find our personal truth.
The First Step of Alcoholics Anonymous states, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.” The principle behind this first step is honesty. Step One also is closely related to Right View in Buddhism.
The first step is a simple (not easy) declaration of our complete defeat. Looking out our addiction, we see that our behavior has centered around our addiction. The first part of Step One, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol,” is a look at the nature of our using. Powerless is a strong word, and frightens many of us. However, when we look at the way we use, powerless is indeed a fitting word. When we drink and use, we lose all control and power. Taking the first drink, pill, hit, etc., we immediately succumb to our own powerlessness, and give in to the power of the substance.
We also experience powerlessness with the mental obsession we have. Even before we take the first drink, we are in constant thought of alcohol. Our lives are centered around alcohol. When we are not drinking, we are looking for the first drink. We are preoccupied with alcohol, not only losing power of action but also power of thought over it.
When we work this first part of Step One, we are practicing rigorous self-honesty. In order to see the nature of our powerlessness, we must be willing to set down the ego and be genuinely honest. This honesty helps us see that true extent of our powerlessness. As we honestly look at places we drank when we should not have, times we drank when it was inappropriate, and amounts we drank that we should not have, we recognize our powerlessness.
The second half of the First Step is “that our lives had become unmanageable.” Many people read this the first time and misinterpret it. What this is saying is not that our drinking had become unmanageable, but our lives. Yes, our drinking is obviously unmanageable, but the point is that our entire life is unmanageable by ourselves. When we look honestly at our lives, we see how unmanageable it has become. Our entire lives are out of our own control. With honesty, we are able to concede to our innermost selves that we are alcoholics and that our lives are unmanageable by our own control.
Step One and Right View
Right View and Step One are very closely related. Right view is the practice of seeing things as they truly are. The principle of honesty goes very well with Right View. In Right View, we begin to see things as they really are. When we are drinking and using, our perception is certainly disturbed. We are not seeing things as they really are, although it seems real to us.
Practicing the First Step and Right View, we open our minds to seeing the world from a different perspective. We look at our drinking and using, and we recognize the truth. We see more clearly the nature of our addiction. Rather than blaming everything on external issues, we recognize it is our own powerlessness that is the root of our suffering.
We also recognize how unmanageable our life has become. This is not to say we recognize the need for a Higher Power in our lives; rather, we come to terms with the reality of our lives being out of control. Often for some time, we have not been able to manage our lives. Where we previously believed we were in complete control, our convictions change.
Right View is essential to the First Step of Alcoholics Anonymous because we must begin to see things more clearly. We recognize the cause of our suffering is the addiction, powerlessness, and unmanageability.
The Tenth Tradition reminds us that we as a group do not have an opinion on outside issues. This is an important principle, as it keeps our meetings focused on our primary purpose: to help others. As a sober member of twelve-step programs and an active member of the local Buddhist center, I have some experience with keeping outside issues of mine out of the rooms.
Although my participation in this other organization is very helpful to me, has helped me connect with myself and the world, and is very important to my sobriety, it has no place in the rooms. When I speak directly about my “religion” rather than my spiritual program of working the Twelve Steps, I am
minimizing my effectiveness to others.
When someone shares and makes clear his or her religious affiliation, I must admit I close my mind a tiny bit. I am not proud of this quality, but it is the truth. I think if I, with a few years of sobriety, have even the slightest amount of contempt for this, than it is probable that a newcomer also would.
The need to share religious affiliation in meetings baffles me. I often wonder why somebody would share that kind of information. My personal opinion is that it tends to come off in a demeaning way. When somebody speaks about his or her intense religious practice, I feel contempt because I feel judged. I often feel like it is a separating act, not a unifying one.
Although at any given meeting there are possibly people with similar religious beliefs, there are generally far more people with different beliefs. One of the
most beautiful things about twelve-step rooms is the unifying of addicts and alcoholics from all different walks of life. Feeling a part of was one of the most wonderful feelings I felt upon entering the rooms. Putting differences out there like religious beliefs is simply unnecessary and certainly unhelpful.
Knowing this, it is my opinion (based on my personal experience, as well as those that came before me), that any religious affiliation should stay out of a
regular meeting. Where I live, there are twelve-step meetings that are designated for people of certain faiths or beliefs, just as there are gender-specific meetings.
When I am asked to share at a meeting, when I speak to someone at a meeting, or when I am working with a sponsee, I very rarely even mention the word Buddhism. I always mention my meditation practice, but not in any religious sense. The steps mention meditation, and most literature from twelve-step groups does as well. It is not difficult for me to use twelve-step lingo when speaking about my personal faith. I do so, thus keeping my outside issue outside of the rooms. Whether it is Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, or Hinduism, I would definitely have had a harder time getting sober if religion was being pushed in my face.
My sobriety has taught me accountability and commitment that has helped me maintain a job. Early in sobriety my sponsor directed me to take commitments at meetings, show up regularly, and have integrity. I learned to arrive at meetings on time and not break commitments. My first commitment was making the clean up announcement at a meeting. I showed up every week thirty minutes early and stayed late to make sure that everything was cleaned up. I engaged in fellowship with people as a result and enjoyed the accountability that was required.
I also regularly attended a meeting in Venice; one week the secretary didn’t show up and didn’t notify anyone that he wouldn’t be there. There were twenty people standing outside about to leave, when I suggested that we hold the meeting outside. I asked someone to speak, grabbed a big book out of my purse and asked someone else to do the readings. With six months sober I was elected secretary of that meeting. As much as the clean up commitment taught me I gained a true sense of pride and responsibility from running a meeting. I found speakers, showed up early and stayed late again. I helped set up the meeting and enjoyed seeing people every week that counted on me to be there. Having that commitment gave me a sense of pride and confidence.
Working Before Sobriety
Before I was sober I was a lifeguard. I showed up to work late, I fell asleep on my lunch breaks, and I constantly called in sick. I didn’t have a sense of commitment or pride in my job so I didn’t care if I was late or called at the last minute to say I wouldn’t be there. Even though I had a job and I showed up somewhat consistently I didn’t have any sense of accountability or commitment to my job. I didn’t have those qualities in any area of my life, so I was unable to display them in my work. I didn’t build confidence from my job because I didn’t put real effort into it. Once I learned accountability and a sense of commitment I carried it through to my work.
Working in Sobriety
Four months into my sobriety I got a job at a clothing store. In my time there I have had a strong sense of loyalty and commitment to my job. I am always on time, when necessary I work on my days off, and do anything I can to help my boss. A few months ago my boss’ uncle died, seeing how upset she was I offered to help. I accompanied her to her uncle’s house, moved furniture, and cleaned out everything she needed. Shorty after I started working my boss asked me if I could take a look at the web site, just to see if I could figure out how to post some picture. Knowing nothing about websites I took a look. I realized that I needed help figuring it out, I asked my boss to hire someone to redo her site and told her I would communicate with him and do anything needed from our end. I helped open the online store; and now I am in charge of all social media, blogging and I run the online store.
From these estimable acts I built self-esteem and self-confidence. I finally had a strong sense of pride in my job and in my ability to perform my job well. This confidence started entering other areas of my life and sobriety. I have an overall sense of integrity and self worth that I have learned from having a job for a year and a half. I am able to show up for my friends and not break commitments with them. I do my step work on time and with integrity. I try to never be late when meeting with anyone for anything. These qualities that I learned first from commitments at meeting, then from work, have helped me be and responsible and have integrity.
Alcoholics Anonymous provides us with many great tools. We suddenly are given an amazing support network, a spiritual program of action, and wonderful opportunity to grow. Although Twelve-Step programs offer us so much, there are certainly things that we may find outside of Alcoholics Anonymous. The stigma surrounding this prevents many people in the program from doing so, which is hurtful toward recovery. There are several ways people look outside Alcoholics Anonymous for help, and none of them are wrong.
There are many professionals out there that offer great help to addicts of all kinds. However, people tend to treat seeking professional help as taboo in twelve-step programs. This attitude is extremely hurtful and close-minded. Many of our fellows benefit from professional help of different kinds, and discouraging them or making them feel different because of it can change someone’s life.
Taking the example of physicians, there are many issues which we cannot ourselves handle. Our physical health is of the utmost importance to our recovery, as the body’s health can dictate the mind’s health. There are times where we must seek a physician’s help. Our physician may prescribe medications as he or she sees fit. In my personal experience and opinion, we may take certain narcotic medications when they are absolutely necessary. It is also always important to speak with a sponsor or mentor before doing so. We must be careful in taking any medication of any kind, but sometimes it is absolutely necessary. We cannot trust our own heads to make the decision on whether or not it is necessary, and this is why we speak to a sponsor. Also, it helps substantially to have a doctor that is sober.
Another professional that we may seek help from is a psychiatrist. Psychiatrists may help diagnose and treat mental illness. Obviously medication comes into play here, and that is perfectly alright. There are many addicts that suffer from mental disorders. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, “Over 8.9 million persons have co-occurring disorders; that is they have both a mental and substance use disorder.”* Not seeking help can be an issue of life and death.
Although psychiatrists may prescribe medications, this is not a reason to shy away from them. Dealing with co-occurring disorders is not easy. Without treating the mental illness, sobriety is near impossible. The addiction and mental illness create a vicious cycle, and without treating both simultaneously, the person has little chance of recovery. Again, we should be careful of blindly accepting medications without speaking to those with more experience than us.
Another group of professionals that we often seek help from are the psychologists. Therapists help us speak about what is going on with us, much as a sponsor or friend does. However, a psychologist is a trained professional who may be able to offer insight that a sponsor will not. We are sometimes discouraged from going to therapists because a sponsor provides much of the same support. However, a psychologist has experience, education, and training to offer that others may not. It is worth a try, but it is important to remain loyal to the twelve-step program.
According to the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, “But this does not mean that we disregard human healthy measures. God has abundantly supplied this world with fine doctors, psychologists, and practitioners of various kinds. Do not hesitate to take your health problems to such persons… Their services are often indispensable in treating a newcomer and in following his case afterward.”**
Another way that we may seek outside help is through spirituality or religion. Some of us come into the program with religious views. If so, there is absolutely no requirement that we leave our beliefs behind. If we find a spiritual path or religion in our sobriety, it is also alright to pursue. Whether it is an organized religion or a spiritual method, these things offer us something to enhance our programs. In my personal experience, I have found Buddhism to be extremely useful with my prayer and meditation practice. However, we must remember that sobriety comes first. How I see it is that my spiritual practice enhances my recovery, my life, and my twelve-step work.
Other Support Groups
As with the other outside helpers, this one can be helpful to many people. People who suffer from drug addiction and alcoholism also may suffer from trauma or PTSD, living with other alcoholics, or co-occurring addiction such as an eating disorder, gambling addiction, or criminal addiction. There are hundreds of twelve-step programs and even more outside support groups. We should not hesitate to address and treat these other issues we have. Seeking help for them may make all the difference in the quality of our lives.
In conclusion, we must seek outside help if it is correct for us. I also believe that it is important for us to keep outside issues out of meetings where we can.
**Alcoholics Anonymous p. 133 (The Family Afterward)
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.
Whether you are in shape, overweight, malnourished, or anywhere along the spectrum, exercise is an amazing tool in recovery. Exercise and recovery go together well because when we are using, we exercise very little. Our eating habits are often unhealthy. We sit around, use, and do not utilize our bodies. When we get sober, we often feel like doing the same, as our minds are running, we are full of anxiety, and we want to lie in bed all day.
There are many benefits of exercising. The most important point to mention is that exercise releases dopamine in the brain. When we exercise, it keeps our dopamine receptors working and prevents them from dying off. As we exercise, we are physically providing ourselves with the happiness chemical. One day at a time, and over an extended period of time, exercise helps create happiness. If we do not exercise or utilize these dopamine receptors, the brain prunes them off in order to increase efficiency.
As we exercise in recovery, we get rid of much negativity. Exercising is a fantastic way to get rid of anxiety, anger, worry, restlessness, racing thoughts, and many many more emotions. Working at a dual-diagnosis treatment center, I see many clients join us with anxiety disorders and anger issues. They resist exercise as much as they possibly can. However, when they finally begin exercising, they invariably admit to feeling the benefits. As somebody who deals with anxiety and extreme anger myself, I find exercise to be absolutely invaluable in my recovery. Exercising is one of my most useful tools when I am feeling any negative feeling.
Finally, when we exercise in recovery, we are taking contrary action and building esteem. For many of us, exercise and taking care of our health are not things we have been doing. When we begin to exercise, we begin to feel better about ourselves. Whether we are losing weight, gaining weight, or remaining at the same weight, exercise helps us feel better about ourselves. We are active, get outside, and ultimately are happier.
There are many simple ways to exercise without going to a gym or exercising in a tedious manner. Some of us may be gym rats, but if you are like myself, the thought of going to a gym feels like going to work. There are ways to exercise in a more relaxed, peaceful manner.
One of the best ways to exercise is to simply walk. When you think of driving to the nearby store, walk instead. You don’t need to stress yourself and walk too far, but many people live within walking distance of things they need. Taking a walk instead of driving helps get your body moving, and may make a great difference in your recovery, emotional sobriety, and happiness. These walks are a great way to clear your head, make some phone calls, and release tension. You may also take a short walk around your neighborhood.
One of my favorite ways to exercise is hiking. Living in Los Angeles, many people are surprised that I am an avid hiker. There are always places to hike, regardless of where you live. I have hiked in beautiful mountains, along cliffs by the Pacific Ocean, and through gorgeous canyons. Hiking is basically walking, but through nature. I find much solace in hiking, especially with a close friend. It creates a great way to exercise, get out emotions, and connect with a friend.
Finally, a simple way to exercise in recovery is to find a group of sober people that like to do a similar activity. I know in several major metropolitan areas there are groups of sober people that get together and do things. Whether it is surfing, snowboarding, bike riding, bowling, or even shooting pool, there are always sober people looking to connect in a physical activity. Remember that even a little physical activity beats no physical activity!!!
The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous states in the second Appendix, “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… Most of our experiences are what the psychologist William James calls the “educational variety” because they develop slowly over a period of time.”
Although many members do have a white-light experience, this is not the case for most of us. Even those of us who have moments of clarity often have our spiritual experiences occur over a more extended period of time. When we first begin hearing about spiritual experiences, moments of clarity, and conscious contact with a Higher Power, we may be turned off by this misunderstanding. Although this is just a misunderstanding; the truth is that these educational spiritual experiences are far more common, and just as helpful.
My spiritual experience has come in many waves over quite a long time. Although I most certainly had a moment of clarity where I decided I want to be sober, it wasn’t until I was about 30 days sober that I realized the change that was taking place. Over the first year of my sobriety, I experienced my spiritual awakening from following the suggestions I was given. Around two years sober, when I went to jail, I had more of a white-light experience. Although it was not any single moment, the 30 days in jail led to a spiritual experience unlike any I had experienced up until that point.
When we use the phrase spiritual experience, we mean this personality change sufficient to bring about recovery from alcoholism. The book discusses a physical craving, mental obsession, and spiritual malady. If we do not drink, we do not have any physical craving. As far as the mental obsession we experience, the only way to treat this is by examining our spiritual malady. When we treat this spiritual malady, our mental obsession dwindles down. This treating of the spiritual malady is the essence of a spiritual experience.
Willingness is one of the keys to my sobriety. In early recovery as much as today, I must maintain an open mind and a willingness to learn something new. Whether it is accepting a Higher Power into my life, letting character defects go, getting a sponsor, or listening to the experience of others, willingness is an essential quality of my spiritual growth.
When I was newly sober, willingness was one of the qualities that saved my life. Although I did not immediately want quality sobriety at first, I was willing to go to treatment. I did not see it as willingness at the time, but I had enough of an openness to consider an alternative to the way I was living. Unfortunately, the only reason I had this amount of willingness was because of where I was emotionally; I had become emotionally exhausted, confused, and completely afraid of life.
Attending twelve-step meetings, I had the slightest amount of willingness, and was able to listen to speakers and fellows share their experiences. With the little amount of willingness I did have, I heard enough to help me grow. I did not have the most open mind, nor the most willingness in the room, but I was reminded that I only needed a little to begin.
I heard repeatedly to get a sponsor, even if it was a temporary sponsor. I heard I needed to work the steps, help others, get commitments, and go to a meeting every day. All the cliche pieces of advice for newcomers, I took in. I had enough willingness to get a sponsor on my fourth day of sobriety. He told me he would be my sponsor one day at a time until I found a new one, and that I should call him the next day so we could start working together. With over 30 years of sobriety, I had enough willingness to believe in what this man was telling me. He is still my sponsor today, and we have grown extremely close over the past several years.
Being a newcomer, willingness is not an easy quality to come in contact with always. My ego was in the way, telling me that I could do it differently. Spending my whole life “knowing everything, always,” it was a dramatic shift to have it brought to my attention that I needed help. However, my sponsor asked me in my first 30 days one simple question, “Are you willing to just entertain the idea that maybe there is a different way for you to interact with life?” My answer was that I was, and this was and still is a great reminder to remain open-minded and willing.
Willingness also takes a crucial role in the development of my relationship with my Higher Power. When my perception of a Higher Power first began to develop, I had to have willingness to even consider the possibility of it. Raised in a Jewish family, I attended a Catholic high school before moving to rural Costa Rica, where Roman Catholicism was by far the most popular religion amongst the community. My religious views were cloudy at best, and I bashed any form of a “god” as weak, ignorant, and irresponsible. Not truly an atheist, I acted like one as a defense mechanism.
When I began attending meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous, I was completely put off by the talk of a Higher Power or of God. However, I had the willingness to stay, and ignore what I did not need. As time went on, my willingness spread to this aspect of my recovery, and I considered the presence of a power greater than myself in my life. As many people getting sober, the rooms and meetings were my first sense of a Higher Power. I thought of love, the energy in the room, or of compassion as my god. It took a growth in willingness for me to even accept any of these into my life.
As my growth continued, I began praying and meditating as suggested by the program and my sponsor. Willingness was one of the most frequent things I prayed for (and continue to pray for). My relationship with the world grows with my willingness. As I have maintained an open mind with my faith, my sense of a power greater than myself has greatly changed. With willingness, I become open to change and do not get attached to one idea of a god that I have set in my mind.
As the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions says on page 34, “There is only one key, and it is called willingness.”
Writing a fourth step is an act of courage. It takes immense bravery to write in detail a complete moral inventory of oneself paying close attention to our part. It is important to detail our resentments, because after doing so we can look at how we were affected and what our part in the resentment was. When we break down resentment we learn that we still carry it because it affects a constant fear that we have. Perhaps someone bruised our ego or we felt cheated, we change our perspective to see where we were selfish, dishonest, or afraid. When looking at our fear inventory, we break down each fear and find that most fears are related. Our fears all share the commonality that we are not actually scared of something concrete or material, but of how it will make us feel. When writing our sex inventory it is important to look at how our behavior affected our relationships. Without beating ourselves up, we accept responsibility for how we acted. It is the act of catharsis to write how we feel, and an act of courage to look at our part.
The courageous act of putting this all on paper must immediately be followed with an act of integrity. The catharsis is incomplete if we do not quickly read it out loud, so we can admit to our high-power, another human being, and ourselves, the exact nature of our wrongs. The power of the inventory lies in this confession. When we read it out loud, we take the power away from everything we have held on to. We are finally able to let go of guilt, shame, resentment, and fear.
Recently I went through my steps for the second time with my sponsor, and the difference between my first fourth step and second one was astonishing. After I read my fifth step the first time, I felt like a weight had been lifted. I felt as though everything that I had carried around for all those years finally dissipated. I was expecting a similarly visceral experience the second time. They were roughly equally in length, and both thorough. However, after the second one I wasn’t as emotional or changed. I attribute this to the constant inventory I take. Since my first fourth step I have tried to tell the truth and tell it faster. This means doing a tenth step any time I have a resentment, and reaching out when I am struggling. After some time of doing this I found that I am fundamentally changed. A weight wasn’t lifted the second time because I no longer let the weight of resentment and pain accumulate.