Unzipping the Steps – Grapevine Article September 2004 by Linda B.

Necessary protection during emotional free fall

A man who had begun drinking again after a long period of sobriety spoke in a meeting about how he “had worked the Steps in reverse.” First he quit doing service (Step Twelve), then he let go of his spiritual life (Step Eleven), then he quit taking a daily inventory (Step Ten), making amends (Steps Nine and Eight), asking for help on character flaws (Steps Seven and Six), sharing his difficulties with his sponsor and others (Step Five), using the tool of writing (Step Four), turning his life over to a Higher Power (Step Three), believing in a power other than himself (Step Two), not dealing with unmanageability in his life (Step One-B), and there he was, drink in hand, because he forgot he was powerless over alcohol (Step One-A). Only this last Step on the staircase to a slip deals with the actual ingestion of alcohol. The other eleven plus are tools for transforming or at least keeping the alcoholic mind in check.

Attending meetings and listening to others share allows me to remember I’m an alcoholic. Alcoholism is a disease that feeds on isolation, loneliness, and a false sense of self-reliance. I need to hear what actions you are taking in order to live “in the sunshine of the spirit,” freed from such negativity. The main thing I need to remember about recovery is that I cannot recover alone.

Attending meetings is both a Step One and a Step Twelve activity. I remind my innermost self that I am an alcoholic because I am attending a meeting for alcoholics (Step One) and I am there to listen to others (Step Twelve). I may have experience, strength, and hope to share with the newcomer. I may have only fear or weakness to offer, but my courage to open up may lift others out of their circling thoughts, or give others a chance to reach out in service.

A novel I once read begins as a climber on a big wall in Yosemite makes a mistake and falls. In less than three seconds, each piton that he carefully hammered into the vertical rock face fails to hold his weight and pulls free of the wall. Eleven spikes of steel and the climber himself are hurtling toward the valley floor a thousand feet below. In climber’s lingo, it’s called “unzipping your protection.” Suddenly the fall is arrested; the climber dangles on his rope, his full body weight suspended from the last remaining piece of protection.

When I go into emotional freefall, I want more than one Step in place as my “protection,” so that if inventory fails, prayer and meditation may hold me from drinking; if a sponsor isn’t home, I might think to reach out to another alcoholic.

I like the way they close AA meetings abroad: “With a moment of silence for those who are sick and still suffering, let this circle represent the love and support of AA in this room and throughout the world.” The linking of hands at the close of each meeting symbolizes the rope we all need to hang onto.

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