Category Archives: Twelve Steps in Everyday Living
I hit an intellectual wall when I first read Step Three, which I covered already in an earlier post (read Step Three in Everyday Living). I got the concept of admitting powerlessness over addiction (I didn’t actively do it, but I at least understood it), I always intellectually understood the idea of a Higher Power, and His ability to help me. But I really, truly, sincerely did not understand how to practically apply Step Three to any part of my life. I wanted to turn this whole mess over to God, I thought I was attempting to do just that every day, but clearly I had been doing something wrong, because I was still “going the wrong way!” (Any fan of Planes, Trains and Automobiles will enjoy that reference).
Finally, a light bulb went off when it was explained to me this way: imagine your life as if you are driving a bus, and God is your co-pilot. In the same way that you would check in with your co-pilot for directions, check in with God. The more you check in, the better your directions will be. Sounds hokey, but for whatever reason the analogy worked for me.
In terms of recovery, God’s will is obvious: do not drink (or use any mind-altering substances). So the practice is simple: will doing x, y, or z make me want to pick up a drink or drug? If the answer is yes, I don’t do it. If this answer is no, I do it. Simple, right? It sounds simple, but takes a lot of practice to actually be simple. In the months prior to hitting my personal bottom, I was all about, “but I HAVE to go, it’s a family obligation, people will talk if I don’t show up, blah, blah blah…” And that thinking had me relapsing on a very regular basis. So when I hit bottom, I simply stayed away from anything concerning mind-altering substances, if I absolutely had to be there, I limited my time, and I backed it up with a 12-step meeting.
And guess what? The family obligations went on, quite nicely, without my royal presence. And if people talked, well, guess what? I wasn’t around to hear it, so it did not matter anyway.
As time marched on, and I got stronger in my recovery, being around alcohol stopped being an anxiety-producing element of a social gathering. I can actually remember when it turned around… I was about 3 months sober, at a First Holy Communion party for my God Daughter, so it counted as a function I deemed necessary, but might need to limit. And while talking to various family members, I realized, “Wait a minute, I’m doing the exact same thing as every other member of this party (aka standing around, eating, talking, laughing), the only difference between me and them is the type of liquid in my glass!” From that point on, I felt completely comfortable in social situations with alcohol.
In terms of everyday living, Step Three can be a bit more challenging to practice, and is a gradual and ongoing process. God’s will is not always transparent, at least not to me. I ask Him, every morning, to direct my thoughts and actions. In bigger decisions, I attempt to check in with Him, to ensure I am heading in the right direction. For example, situations involving my children crop up on a regular basis, and decisions need to be made… does the behavior require discussion, discipline, both or neither? Frequently my husband and I reach different conclusions, and so now there are two issues, how do I handle each? Prior to Step Three, the answer would have been, react immediately to child’s behavior, with little to no thought if I am teaching the proper lesson, and then argue with my husband that my way of handling it is the right way. Turning these kinds of things over to the care of God gives me the much-needed pause, and allows me to reflect on the most effective way of dealing with everyone involved.
But the biggest use of Step Three in everyday life, for me, is when I am feeling anything less than peaceful. The minute I notice I am feeling “off,” in any way, I take it as a sign that I am not practicing Step Three. So, I check in with Him, and review what’s going on with me… what’s causing distress? Why am I feeling this way? More often than not, when I take the mental step back, I can clearly see where I’ve veered off the “God-centered” path and onto the “self-centered” one. Sometimes it is small enough that a quick mental review and prayer is enough, other times, talking it over with someone is necessary, and, if large enough, sometimes an all-out amends needs to be made, but since that is not until step 9, and we are only on step three, I’ll save that bit of fun for a later post!
There is a great deal of variety in how people in recovery come to take this step, because there is a great variety of belief (or lack thereof) in a Higher Power.
I consider myself fortunate to have had a lifelong belief in God. Prior to recovery, my mindset on God was simple. God helps those who help themselves… and since I, in active addiction, was doing very little to help myself, how could I possibly expect Him to help me? I certainly prayed in active addiction. Unfortunately, they were what we in AA call “foxhole prayers.” God, please just get me out of this mess, and I’ll never (fill in the blank) again! Of course, once the urgency disappeared, so did my end of whatever bargain I had made.
When I finally hit bottom, I got down on my knees, and my prayer took a slightly different format. I asked God to show me what I was doing wrong. As I asked this, I had reviewed what had worked for me, what did not, and what seemed to be working for others that I had not yet tried. Before I rose from the kneeling position, I had a plan in place: I would do 4 things every day: I start each day on my knees and pray, I would go to a meeting, I would talk to another alcoholic, and I would not pick up a drink or drug.
And day by day, that is just what I did, and some days, in the beginning, that is all I did, and little by little, life got better. That is how I came to believe that God could restore me to sanity, because I believe God gave me the blue print to start my life over.
What happens in Step 2, at least what happened for me, is that you start to think, if it can work with addiction, can it work with the rest of life? And the answer, of course, is a resounding YES.
Maybe the most recent example I can give from my own life is dealing with my daughter. She is almost 13, and, I don’t want to sound like a cliché here, but she is turning into a completely different person before my eyes. The physical I expected. The personality changes… I have been blown away by how quick and how complete the change has been. It’s to the point that when I see glimpses of the pre-hormonal child, it is then that I am surprised.
Now of course I know, and any Mother of a teenage daughter is nodding sagely as she reads this, hormonal personality changes are a part of life. But, for real, my daughter was the most angelic person I have ever known, and it is just heart-breaking to see that go away. Basically, dealing with the suddenness of these changes, and wanting desperately to stop them, could drive a person insane.
So in the same way that I described in Step One, when events happen, and my life feels unmanageable, I now know what I have to do, which is believe that God will help me find peace. I just have to let Him, which brings me to…
This is the first in what will hopefully be a 12-part series, something that has been percolating in my mind for a while. The 12 steps are an amazingly helpful tool in overcoming addiction, but they offer so much more. At least for this alcoholic, the 12 steps are a framework for living my whole life happy, joyous and free. So I want elaborate on how each step has helped me overcome addiction, and also how it continues to help me in all areas of life.
Step One: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.
The essence of this step is surrender, something that is difficult to do under any circumstances. We have an amazing ability to deny, to justify, and to defend when in the throes of active addiction. For me, admitting I was powerless took some time, and even longer to see how my life had become unmanageable. I knew I had a problem, I just thought I could figure out a way to control the problem. The harder I tried to control it, the worse the problem became, and, if you have read A Series of Bottoms, Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4, then you know the end of that story.
But the good news is that once I finally surrendered to the idea that I was powerless, the solution became clear… not easy, but clear. And to this day, step one is like the antidote to the thought of a drink or a drug.
So that’s how Step One helps my recovery, but here’s how it helps me in everyday life. Mind-altering substances are not the only things over which I am powerless. My life can still become unmanageable without picking up a drink or drug. If I try to control those things over which I have no control, my life suddenly loses the serenity for which I have fought so hard, and step one helps me to keep all my thoughts in check, not just the ones concerning addictive substances.
When the people that I love are behaving in ways with which I disagree, and I fight to make them see my way is the right way, my life becomes unmanageable.
When situations arise that are unjust, and I am outraged with the injustice, my life becomes unmanageable.
When I am filled with fear over a future event, or filled with regret over a past event, my life becomes unmanageable.
When I am fixated on what is wrong in my life, instead of being grateful for all that is good, my life becomes unmanageable.
In each of those cases, and many others, simply admitting that I am powerless over those people, over the future, over the past, over so many things, frees me from the accompanying negative feelings, and allows me to remember what I can control, and restores me to sanity.
I am hoping my fellow friends in recovery will be willing to add to this post. How does step one help in everyday living? I can’t wait to read your ideas on this subject!
I showed up to a meeting today that I do not usually attend, and found a friend just coming back from a relapse. Watching the courage it took for him to admit his mistake, and the unconditional love he received, was heart-warming. Remembering again how grateful I am to be sober is a miracle!