Self-acceptance was only one of many rewards he found in working and reworking the Steps
IN THE LAST six months, I’ve begun to experience the striking benefits of working and reworking the Twelve Steps on a regular basis. My life is changing; my relationships with my family are improving; work goes better; and I’ve started to understand that I can help others by simply passing on this kind of experience.
I drank heavily for fifteen years, bankrupting myself physically, mentally, and especially spiritually. Today, after twenty-two months of alcohol-free living, I can still discount somewhat the days of mental terror and drastic physical ills. Drinking allowed perfectionist thinking, and I fell godlike in my abilities. Therefore, if I did not get what I wanted, I believed I was entitled to drink.
But my unwillingness to accept myself and the world had existed before I drank; it continued while I drank; and this same unwillingness cropped up after I stopped drinking. My greatness still was not appreciated. Poor me! With my mind directed to that kind of thinking, it was impossible to consider that God had a plan for me.
I attended an average of over six meetings a week in my first year of sobriety. During that time, I took two Fourth and Fifth Steps, about six months apart. I made amends to one person, but I did not work the Eighth Step. No regular meditation was practiced, although I did receive some benefits from reading the Big Book, from the beginning of “How It Works” through the Third Step prayer (page 63), and then saying the Seventh Step prayer (page 76).
After sixteen months in the Fellowship, I was greatly depressed and out of touch with reality. I was probably disappointed (as I sometimes am now) that this humble, spiritual life wasn’t paying off in instant sex, large bank accounts, big cars, and overdue, constant recognition.
My wife was beginning to wonder about the life of sobriety, with me out six or seven nights a week at meetings for the first year. So I cut it to three meetings a week. These were mostly closed, general-discussion meetings, and I wasn’t getting as much help from them as in the early months.
While I was attending an AA conference that summer, one of the speakers told about the benefits of repeated working of all the Steps. After the conference, I learned more about this approach and became convinced that this is what the AA program consists of.
I began to work the Steps. Since that time, I have prepared written inventories and then swapped Fifth Steps with approximately ten different members of the Fellowship. In my Fourth Step, I list specific character defects, but I do not list my assets, as I believe that they will take care of themselves, and that the main asset is the freedom derived from revealing my innermost thoughts to another human being.
I have worked the Eighth Step by making a written list of people to whom I owe amends, and I have become willing to carry out these amends. I have actually made amends (Ninth Step) to twenty-five out of the thirty-five people on the list. Immediately after making one of these amends (to my father), I experienced a feeling of exhilaration similar to the effect of a Fifth Step.
I have practiced regular prayer and meditation for several months now. In the early mornings and before going to bed, I say the Serenity Prayer and the Prayer of St. Francis (as found on page 99 of the “Twelve and Twelve”). Saying the Third and Seventh Step prayers with fellow AAs over the phone and in person, if the occasion arises, has increased the effectiveness of these prayers and made them more meaningful.
I consider it a part of the Twelfth Step to tell other AAs the way I have worked the Steps and the effect of this work. I continue to go on actual Twelfth Step calls.
The results of this repeated inventory-swapping and amends-making, regular time spent on prayer and meditation, and Twelfth Step work seem enormous when I compare my present situation with where I was in sobriety before I started doing these things. I have experienced a stronger Third Step and more relaxed attitude. Depression is reduced in length of time and depth, and occurs less frequently. I have good feelings toward myself and others more often, and I am able to cope with life’s problems more effectively. I have increased energy and tolerance, and my mind is beginning to become more orderly.
Taking the Sixth and Seventh Steps follows each taking of a Fifth Step. I have learned that some character defects may be reduced for a time, and then reappear with renewed strength. When this happens, it may seem that all this work has minimal benefit. Not true! “God could and would if He were sought.” By working the Steps in this manner, I am seeking God’s will for me, and striving to do all I can to effectively change my life by continuous use of the program of Alcoholics Anonymous. For me, the seeking of God’s will means willingness, acceptance, and the ability to cope with life no matter what comes along. If we believe we are honestly doing everything we can with conditions as they exist, we are using the Serenity Prayer as a guide to our lives.
By repeatedly revealing my innermost thoughts to others, I accept these innermost thoughts more and thereby accept myself more and more. My ego cries for perfection, but honesty tells me that I am human, that humanity is not so terrible, and that it’s okay to be half child of God and half s.o.b.
When I make amends for harm I have caused, I am not only doing a lot to remove conscious and subconscious fear and guilt about the past; I am also learning to accept myself as I am today; and that gives me greater ability to deal with the future.
My meditation helps clear the spiritual airwaves to allow me better conscious contact with God’s will, as He chooses to reveal it to me. Twelfth Step calls remind me of the grim reality of “what it was like,” and how grateful I can be.
To carry the message today, I try to lead another alcoholic into doing what the Steps say. This includes helping him get his Fourth Step inventory written, and encouraging him to take a Fifth Step. If he takes his with me, then I take mine with him at the same time.
The Fourth and Fifth Steps dramatically changed one man’s life. He had gone through several hospitalizations and spent quite a bit of time in a halfway house. Although he had some periods of sobriety, he returned to drinking each time. After one such bout, he was going around obviously intoxicated, asking various members to help him. He questioned whether another hospitalization would be of any use. He was a nervous wreck. Then it was suggested that he write out his inventory and go over it with someone.
I saw him a week or so later. He looked physically refreshed and was not visibly nervous at all. He reminded me that I had mentioned the great benefits derived from working the Fourth and Fifth Steps. For Some reason, this had stuck in his mind. He contacted his sponsor, and after writing out a lengthy inventory, he went over it with his sponsor for three and one-half hours on each of two consecutive days. The effect of this work was overwhelming. He told me that guilt had previously caused him to drink, but he could now talk about this feeling and cope with it. He had prepared a written list of amends and was proceeding to work on actually making the amends. I see him every week or so, and he is more and more outgoing and interested in others.
At present, I attend two or three meetings a week, finding discipline and benefit especially in Step meetings. Thank God for the Fellowship and members like that conference speaker. Thank God for the Steps; they have allowed me to live in the world with increasing freedom, through good and bad days, a day at a time.