Continuing work on the Steps will keep us connected with
I HAD COME to the AA program and had found a new way to live. Life was good. I experienced a level of freedom and happiness I had never before known. Then, after almost five years of peaceful, contented sobriety, the honeymoon was over.
In my first year of sobriety, I had worked on the Twelve Steps. Upon the advice of a good sponsor, I had written an inventory. I had discussed my inventory with my sponsor in the Fifth Step. I continued on through the amends Steps. I did about all I could see to do with those Steps at that time.
I was convinced from the beginning that the power of the program works through the Twelve Steps. The compulsion to drink left the day I consciously took the Third Step. My life seemed to become more comfortable as I worked my way through the rest of the twelve. I had what I consider a real spiritual awakening, i.e., a great change in my outlook upon life, people, and God.
It all came to an abrupt end, however, when things started happening in my life that I could not accept. I had enjoyed four years of sanity and sobriety, and now fear, frustration, anger, resentment, and depression became the ruling emotions of my life. People who were important to me rejected me. All around me, people were doing things I didn’t like or approve of. I reacted with every conceivable negative human feeling. The misery of these emotions was even more intense than it had been during my drinking days, because my senses were not sedated by alcohol or other chemicals.
I started out to try changing the unacceptable circumstances around me by attempting to manipulate people and situations. Nothing worked. I became lost in a maze of confusing emotions. There seemed to be no way out.
I could argue quite convincingly that the problems in my life were being caused by the conduct of others. “If only those people would straighten up,” I would tell myself. When I talked of my problems with others, I sometimes received sympathetic agreement. “You are absolutely right,” they would say. “You have a right to be upset.” That kind of sympathy I didn’t need. (I don’t want to exercise my right to be upset. What kind of “right” is that?) The effort to justify my resentments did nothing but intensify the problem.
For three or four months, I pursued the frantic search for my lost serenity. Because I had heard and believed the “spiritual axiom,” I knew that something was wrong with me. To find out what was wrong and where the answer might lie, I read extensively in psychology, philosophy, and theology. With each new theory or dogma I encountered, I thought, “Maybe this is the answer.” There are many interesting, plausible, and possibly valid ideas available from many sources. But every time I thought I saw a glimmer of hope in some new system, I fell back into the pit of my black emotions. I considered seeing a psychiatrist. It seemed to me that the battle was no longer worth it. Five years without alcohol, and I was an emotional basket case.
Where had I failed? Had I missed something in the AA program? I continued to go to many meetings. I was doing much Twelfth Step work. I was still seeking through prayer and meditation for guidance in my life. I thought I was working the program.
Then I started to suspect that despite all the outward appearances, I was not really practicing the principles in all my affairs. The Twelve Steps were things I had done, not something I was doing. In the Step study group I attended regularly, I had begun to talk of the Steps in the past tense: “When I took this Step . . .”
I had begun to study, analyze, and expound upon the Steps, but I had gradually ceased to make them a part of my life by actually working them and keeping them current each day. Perhaps the answers I had been seeking in more esoteric realms were back where I had left them, in the Twelve Steps. Indeed, they were.
With renewed commitment, I started again with Step One. By the time I had written a new inventory and taken the Fifth Step, I began to receive convincing demonstrations of the effect of reworking all the Steps. People began to appear in my life who eloquently expressed the continuing need to keep working on all the Steps. They urged me on and told me how to apply the Steps to my life today.
It works. As a result, I have acquired an enthusiastic new faith in the AA program. I have personally experienced what is available at any time, at any stage of sobriety, when we honestly approach the Twelve Steps as the solution to the condition of our lives today.
Now, when a particular Step is discussed at our meeting, I ask myself, “What am I doing about that Step today?” or “What do I need to do about that Step today?”
Perhaps our groups should be Step application groups instead of Step studygroups. I have seen others start to really work on the Steps either with renewed commitment or for the first time. You don’t have to ask which members are doing it. You can tell. Lives are noticeably changed, far beyond the removal of alcohol, when we work and rework the Steps. People change.
Now, the important thing for me to remember about the program is that I must continue to work it and live in it and grow in it, or I will slide backward. It is not in the nature of things for me to get my life “fixed” and have it stay “fixed.” If I don’t keep working on it, it will, sooner or later, fall apart. How do I work on it? With the simple kit of spiritual tools offered to me by the AA people when I first came–the Twelve Steps. I have tried other tools, but they don’t work too well for me. Of course, I reserve the right as an individual to practice any form of religion or study any science, pseudo-science, or mental discipline. But I have discovered that knowledge acquired through such study does not really solve anything in my life. Knowledge alone never does.
If I am to have a share of those promises enumerated in the AA book, there is a price I must pay. That price is “destruction of self-centeredness” (Big Book, page 14). The roadway to freedom, sanity, peace of mind, and serenity is not traversed by intellect. AA directs me toward a goal of greater humility and less self-centeredness. It means replacing some of my self-will with God’s will for me. Acquisition of more knowledge has very little to do with that goal. My acceptance of a Higher Power came, not from understanding how God works, but from a simple faith based upon the premise that I need not understand as long as I have faith that “the Great Reality” is at work in my life.
Sometimes, I have deluded myself with thoughts of a lofty spiritual realm where I could rise above the problems of ordinary people and attain some exalted state of being. Such thinking, I now believe, contradicts the idea of the AA program–humility. It also seems to abandon the AA method of attaining some degree of that humility. The method, I’m told, is the practice of this simple program.
When I learned about the Twelve Steps, I had the knowledge I needed to keep me sober. That same knowledge will give me maturity, sanity, freedom, serenity, and real happiness–but only if I keep applying that simple set of spiritual principles to my life today.
I will remember, I hope, that life is not always 100 percent built to my specifications. God doesn’t work well under close supervision. When things do go my way, and when I have the pleasure of realized hopes and dreams, I want to meet those conditions with gratitude born of the realization that the good things are now possible because of God in my life and the AA program and the AA people. But when the disappointments come and the pain starts to reappear, they bring real opportunity for growth. The pain can also be a cause for gratitude. Without it, I probably wouldn’t grow much.
I am grateful today that I have been forced by the circumstances of my life to find a deeper meaning in the AA program.
Bill W., AA’s co-founder, once said that we measure our progress in AA by two words, “humility” and “responsibility.” May I ever keep my eye on these yardsticks as I continue to seek only knowledge of His will for me. Where I found it before is the most likely place to find it again–in the Twelve Steps.