My home group is a step group, which means we focus exclusively on the 12 steps. Every week we read a step, and then we share what that particular step means to us. I love it, because I believe working the steps is what keeps me sober, so reading through them each week, and then hearing others’ interpretations is invaluable for me.
As most will tell you, 12-step work is not a one-and-done kind of thing. A lot of us find that we have to work the steps to some degree over and over again, every single day. Some steps are harder than others, some we do better than others, but we’re always plugging away at them, and it’s that work that keeps us from going back out there. Speaking personally, that’s the work that keeps me from relapsing.
My group has spent the last two Saturdays discussing Step 12:
Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
This step is so huge. When I think of Step 12, I think about how, after all my hard work from steps 1-11: the soul-searching, the digging, the honesty; after humbling myself before my higher power and the rest of the people in my life; after learning how to listen, how to take responsibility for myself (and myself alone), and how to let go; after learning how to live life on life’s terms, I now get to experience joy, peace and fearlessness, something I have sought my entire life, but could never find, so I chased numbness instead, with a bottle.
After all the work, I’ve had a spiritual awakening- which I simply define as “change”. I’ve done a lot of work. A LOT of work, and as a result, I’ve changed. My lens that I view the world through is no longer even remotely similar to what it once was. That, is a spiritual awakening.
My life, and the lives of those who depend on me, are a thousand times better than it used to be. In order to keep I that way, there are only two conditions: I have to remain sober, and I have to give back what I was given.
We’re not salespeople, so the good news is, I don’t have to cold-call anyone, or go door-to-door telling the world about my program of recovery. I don’t actually have to seek anyone out. There are a thousand ways for me to be of service to other alcoholics without ever putting another human being on the spot or making someone else uncomfortable. My program is one of attraction, not of promotion, as the old-timers like to say. We don’t advertise- we live our lives authentically, and as fellow alcoholics decide they want what we have, they may choose to come to us and inquire about what we’re doing differently.
Probably one of the first things people think of when they think of 12th step work is sponsorship. Yes, I can sponsor alcoholics that want what I have, and are looking to get sober. By sponsoring them, I can walk them through the 12 steps, just as my sponsor has done for me, and as her sponsor has done for her.
As an introvert, sponsoring other alcoholics doesn’t come naturally to me just yet, and I haven’t had the best of luck so far. What I have done, that also counts, that I did enjoy, was to chair some meetings, volunteer for service work (like cleanup after meetings, set up before meetings, etc), and most recently, I had the opportunity to share my story at a rehab facility.
But that isn’t all. Step 12 isn’t solely about taking the message to other alcoholics… there is so much more in this step, if only we look deeply enough to find it!
Speaking personally, one of the coolest things about step 12 is all the other hidden gems found in there. We’re taught in step 12, for example, to take all the lessons we’ve learned in this program and practice them in all our affairs.
We need to apply this stuff in real life, not just during our meetings, or while we’re actively working on recovery. Do it while we’re on the clock at work, do it while we’re interacting with our spouses, our kids, our friends. Even while we’re standing behind that prick in line in front of us at the grocery store. Do it all the time. This advice is absolutely invaluable for an otherwise judgmental, resentful person like myself. It’s a gentle reminder to treat all people- even the most difficult and hateful- as I would a newcomer to recovery. To keep my mind open, and remember that I don’t know everyone else’s struggles, nor is anyone else’s behavior in my control.
There are many, many other lessons to take away from Step 12, but the last one I’ll touch on has to do with maturity. The step talks about how, even as adults, we alcoholics tend to be “childish, emotionally sensitive and grandiose”. After reading that passage, I was too busy laughing- from self-recognition- to be offended. It goes on to talk about how we have such a hard time acknowledging that our adult dreams are often truly childish.
Reading this passage, I was reminded of a time when I was in my late 30s, and was trying to verbalize to someone why I felt like a total failure in my professional life. I was working for a fortune 100 company, closing in on a solid 6 figure income. As a high-functioning alcoholic, I’d managed to do well in the company. I had full benefits, lots of perks, had the luxury of working from home, and was the chief bread-winner of my family by many, many thousands of dollars per month.
The reason I felt like a failure? Because as a child, I had wanted to be either a Broadway star or an Opera Singer, and here I was, in my late 30s, having accomplished neither of those things.
I couldn’t be grateful for what I had accomplished- true success by any reasonable person’s standards, because I could not let go of that silly, childhood dream. Childhood dreams are great, of course. However, when we can’t even acknowledge our current state of success because we can’t see past the make-believe games we used to play as grade-school children, that is the mark of immaturity. In my case, I was truly devastated. Something was wrong in my brain, and I needed serious help.
Eventually, I got the help.
Today, I’m one day shy of 16 months sober.
All I know is, it works if you work it.