A Realm Beyond Craving – Grapevine Article March 1950 by N.H.

The statement is often made in AA that our problem is primarily one of “right thinking”–a problem of the intellect–and that the more thoroughly we can rid ourselves of our emotions, the better. But we also know we can no more stop feeling than we can stop breathing. Any situation in which we find ourselves produces some feeling, some emotional reaction. We must remember that the positive feelings of love, humility, faith, compassion, and charity are also emotions.

Our problem is one of changing our emotional reactions to life. How does following the 12 Steps contribute to this shift of emotional orientation? Let’s quote from the Big Book: “For alcoholics, we who have been trying to run our lives by self-propulsion, by self-will on an egocentric basis, it is important to note that this acceptance of ourselves as we are involves a giving-up–a surrender.”

I suggest that a consideration of the meaning of “surrender” will prove enlightening.

For the most part, alcoholics must “hit bottom” before they are ready for, and can be helped by, AA. Circumstances force us to admit that we are powerless over alcohol and that our lives have become unmanageable. If this admission reflects a true inner surrender; if we have really given up, without clinging to the phony hope of learning to “drink like a gentleman”; if it be no mere submission to the practical exigencies of the moment; if we have truly rid ourselves of the feeling lurking deep down inside that “there will come a day” when we can drink with impunity; then–we have taken a big stride on the road to recovery.

All of us know, however, that a state of surrender is not necessarily permanent. Self-will doesn’t die easily. That’s why, as I see it, the 11 Steps which follow “the 1st Step of submission” are all designed to help us maintain and broaden our surrender until it encompasses all reality.

What are the implications of the word “surrender”? An army surrenders only to a superior force. So do we, surrendering, first, to the force of circumstances. But I don’t think any human being goes very far along this new road without beginning to realize the existence of a Power outside himself, a law or a something which is ever present and all powerful. The mere act of surrendering to reality, incomplete and limited in scope as the act may originally be, seems to prepare us for the greater submission–breaks the ice, as it were.

For the first time in our lives, perhaps, we are able to admit there is something which we, by ourselves, cannot lick. The realization that we are not and cannot be sole masters of our fate, Captains of our Souls, brings us to an increasing awareness of a Higher Power, We get an inkling that this Power is, has been, and always will be, an important factor in our lives. Thus are we conditioned for the 2nd Step–coming to believe that a Power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity.

With these glimmerings of faith we are ready for the 3rd Step, even though we approach it timidly: to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand him. This Step says “we made a decision” to do so. It does not say we have done it! A complete surrender of our will and our lives is a lifelong task which any one of us will be fortunate to realize to any considerable degree. To the extent, however, that we can do this, and continue in it, we find peace for ourselves–a realm beyond craving–a contented sobriety.

Steps 4 through 10 help us in this spiritual quest to abandon our self-centered attitudes and relinquish the primacy of “me,” “my,” and “mine,” and so clear the way for full acceptance of what the principle of surrender is beginning to mean to us. As a start towards acquiring humility, therefore, we must begin to know ourselves. So, in the 4th Step, we make a searching and fearless moral inventory. Then in the 5th, as a further lesson in practical humility, we admit to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

By logical progression, in the 6th Step, we become entirely willing to have God remove all these defects of character. Note the word “willing.” In the next Step, the 7th, we humbly ask Him to remove our shortcomings. Up to here we have done none of these things. We have merely signified a willingness for Him to do them. We are still trying to unbuckle our ego–and turn our will and our lives over to a Higher Power! As we understand Him!

There are things we can and must do for ourselves, however. We may turn our wills over to God but we can’t expect him to run our errands. So, in the 8th Step, we make a list of all persons we have harmed and become willing to make amends to them all. In the 9th, we make direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. We have made a start in turning over our wills and our lives. We have, in a manner of speaking, cleared the decks and brought ourselves to a state of momentary surrender. But only momentary.

Now we come to another practical consideration. We have the rest of our lives before us. We must know how to sustain this fleeting sense of security and strength, found so surprisingly in “surrender.” To insure our continued growth in AA and a deepening of our sense of surrender, we move into the 10th Step–continuing to take personal inventory and when we are wrong, promptly admit it. Keeping the decks clear. Then, in the 11th, we seek through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understand him, praying only for knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry that out.

The 12th Step has two parts, both designed to further our spiritual growth. The first is to carry this message to alcoholics. It is perhaps enough to say here that “faith without works is dead.” The opening words of the Step, Having had a spiritual awakening, do not mean, as I see it, that only old-timers in AA are qualified to do 12th Step work. Surrender may be, and often is, a very sudden thing. The danger is in a person who may have once surrendered but emerged from it. Such a person doing 12th Step work will not be sufficiently conscious of his position as merely an agent of a Higher Power working through AA. On the contrary, he will ascribe both his failures and his successes to his own abilities. Such a person may find his failures frustrating, and his successes ego-building, conducive to pride rather than to humility.

In the second part of the 12th Step we try to practice these principles in all our affairs–seven words which tie up all the preceding Steps into one package.

I have tried to relate the 12 Steps of AA to the psychological fact of surrender. A continuing and patient effort to maintain a conscious relationship with a Higher Power helps to maintain a state of surrender and of sobriety. Note the word “patient.” Frantic efforts to hurry the progress in this direction are self-defeating.

Relatively few persons are so fortunate as to lead their lives, or any considerable portion of their lives, in a state of calm surrender with its accompanying lack of tension and peace of mind. Those who are so fortunate often reach such a state through extreme suffering or through some emotional cataclysm. Religious writers refer to such people as “twice born men.” Such are we in AA. It has been written, “Happy are those persons who, at the crisis of their lives, suddenly break through some mysterious wall and find a storehouse of energy. The release of energy often comes as a result of a great surrender, for not seldom the surrender seems to melt away a middle wall of partition within–which was dividing the life asunder–and lets the whole of our energy go out in a single direction.”

Perhaps we alcoholics are not so unfortunate after all.

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