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.”
I spent three years going to meetings, always wondering when the miracle was going to happen. When are they going to teach me the one quote, the one thought that would protect me from my addictions? At times, I questioned why they kept reading those same 12 steps at every meeting. There must be more!
I would read third, seventh and eleventh-step prayers every morning. They were comforting in the moment, but then my ego and I would spend the rest of day together arguing, wishing and hoping my life would get better.
Finally, at one those meetings, I heard the message, “Life is a symphony and the 12 steps are the sheet music.” The roadmap to my recovery had been there on the wall at every meeting I attended. I had ignored that the purpose of the steps was to achieve a goal. The goal of having a spiritual awakening, as a result of experiencing the steps, would transform me, as it had thousands of alcoholics and addicts before me.
I wasn’t the only person in the rooms of AA who didn’t recognize that the 12 steps had a purpose other than sobriety. A spiritual awakening, a true transformation, will always come to those who can be honest, open-minded and the willing to change.
My spiritual awakening did not strike me like a lightning bolt. Nor did it happen while frolicking in nature’s beauty – it was a profound moment of clarity that occurred while shaving in front of the mirror. As I looked directly into my own eyes I became acutely aware that the self-hatred and shame that I had carried with me for decades had totally disappeared – I smiled at the glow on my face and said out loud, “I’m OK!”
I think of that moment often and remind myself where I came from and who I am. I can hold my head high as a man in recovery; I never have to live like I once did. If I ever choose to have one drink or ingest one mind-altering drug, it would play tricks on mind and I would eventually loose everything. My addiction is always laying in wait for me to falter. However, I also know that with the God of my understanding, the fellowship of AA, and the principles of the 12 steps I am no longer powerless over alcohol and drugs.
My sobriety alone brought me nothing. Like a prisoner released from a dungeon, beaten and emaciated, my newfound freedom from alcohol and cocaine did not bring me instant joy. My freedom delivered the question we all must eventually ask ourselves: Who am I?
As I started to learn not what I am but who I am, I recognized the road to absolute peace continually gets narrower and narrower. When the road was no wider than the blade of a razor’s edge, I became aware that I have one omnipotent purpose: total acceptance of God’s will.
Accomplishments or labels do not define who I am, nor do organizations, employers or fellowships. I, along with all the sons of God, am defined by God’s will for me: Love and Truth.
The world I see is a judgment of me. How I see myself is how I see the world. My ego wants me to perceive a sickly universal illusion. When it succeeds, I comprehend the world as a fearful, merciless place. When I choose to see the world through happy eyes, I no longer judge my brothers and sisters. I recognize their innocence and simply accept them as they are – just like me.
At the moment of my spiritual awakening I thought, “Finally, God is smiling down at me”. Now I know He never stopped smiling; I was simply missing in action. I have become aware that God is not positioned above me; rather I am part of his creation and therefore I am part of Him.
It’s important to note that my step work did not finish with the completion of the 12 steps; it had just begun and it will never be complete. To keep the positive energy of recovery we must also give it away. If we do not share our gift of recovery it will dissipate within a relatively short time. The shelf life of our healthy condition depends entirely on us actively carrying on the message to those who still suffer.
On the day I got home from jail after my arrest my chief pilot Captain Gary Meermans called me at my home that had been ransacked by the police. He told me that when I get well I could keep what had happened to me a secret and in a few short years no one would remember that it was me who was arrested for possession of cocaine. Then he said, “On the other hand, if you share this experience, it just might help someone else recognize that they also need help.” In that instant I decided to share my experience with others. Little did I know that quick and undemanding decision would be the cornerstone of my long-term recovery. Sharing my story was the elementary stage in my life as a healer.
A day does not go by that I don’t reach out to another recovering person. This is not a noble act; it’s simply what I believe I need to do to keep the incredible life that I have today.
There are so many people suffering from addiction that initially I was baffled about with whom I should spend my time. The solution presented itself: Do not seek out people who need help; help people who seek it.
Having a spiritual awakening is the accumulation of spiritual experiences as the result of practicing all of the steps. The journey we are on provides a sense of emotional sobriety that only people who have experienced a quantum shift in values can truly understand. These are the results of the life-changing events.
Sources of Quantum Shifts in Values
Surviving what is usually a fatal disease or accident
Making a profound and authentic decision to change
Having a spiritual experience or a spiritual awakening, as referred to in step 12
Men and women often experience different values shifts in the following ways:
Men’s Value Shifts:
Adventure Personal Peace
Be respected God’s will
Attractiveness Faithfulness to others
Women’s Value Shifts:
Fitting in Happiness
Knowledge Personal peace
Being loved Forgiveness
I suggest we all challenge every belief system we hold. This includes religious beliefs, political views, parenting rules, stereotypes, prejudices, general attitudes and outlooks on life and, most importantly, our beliefs pertaining to our own self-worth.
If our belief systems are not serving our new personal value structure, it best serves us to change our belief system. The two questions we must ask ourselves are: Is our belief true? And is it always true?
The next phase is reinventing how we live our lives by daily practicing self-enhancing behaviors, including:
12-step and self-help groups
laws of attraction
Carrying the Message
Going forward in our daily lives, we reach out to others who suffer from addiction. We walk through life with the strength of a Higher Power within us and the fellowship of a 12-step program surrounding us. With this support, we can handle anything that the world throws our way. We must share the gifts we have received by practicing what we have learned in all areas of our lives.
When it comes to carrying the message, the words “we tried” in step 12, reminds us that we are in the action business and are not responsible for results. While working with others, I remind myself that I don’t like being told what to do, so I avoid directives and try to make suggestions based on my experiences, thus allowing the person I’m guiding to figure out his or her own way. New people in recovery are sensitive and do not like to be should upon.
Experiences in Meetings
Early in my recovery I attended a speaker meeting where the young woman sharing finished every sentence with “you know”. I found myself not listening to her message and counting her you-knows instead.
The next day I was talking to an old-timer and complained about my experience, noting that I got nothing out of the meeting. He looked at me in a way that only an AA old-timer could and replied, “Sometimes your only purpose is to be a set of eyes and ears for the person who is sharing. It’s not always about you.”
Ouch. His message came through loud and clear. This AA thing isn’t all about me. Over the next few years, I witnessed many acts of love, kindness and understanding sitting in AA meeting rooms.
A year later, at a large meeting in Newport Beach, California, a young man was asked to read “How it Works” from Alcoholics Anonymous. He accepted the request, but he could barely read. He literally struggled with every word longer than three letters. The meeting leader stood quietly behind him and would whisper to him the words he simply could not interpret. His courage to stand up there for what seemed like eternity and muddle through the entire reading was met with a standing ovation from every person in the room. Many of us had tears in our eyes as he left the podium. I felt a wonderful sense of belonging that evening. I knew then that I was part of something much bigger than myself.
The Big Book says about Bill W’s experience, simply and personally, “Recovery begins when one alcoholic talks to another alcoholic, sharing experience, strength and hope… One alcoholic could affect another as no non-alcoholic could. It also indicated that strenuous work, one alcoholic with another, was vital to permanent recovery.”
It goes on to say about accumulated experience, “Our very lives as ex-problem-drinkers depend upon our constant thought of others and how we might meet their needs.”
The Big Book refers to step 12 as the “…foundation stone of your recovery. A kindly act once in a while isn’t enough. You have to act the Good Samaritan every day, if need be.”
Herb K. in his book, Twelve Steps to Spiritual Awakening, states, “A sponsor is a person who has what you want and is willing to walk the path of recovery with you. He should be available and really care about you, your life and your recovery.”
I suggest that we recognize that sponsorship is not a marriage. We should seek a new sponsor if our sponsor doesn’t return calls and is not responsive to our needs. Obviously, if a sponsor relapses or is often in relapse mode, it’s time to find another. Remember that the primary purpose of a sponsor is to give guidance through the 12 steps.
I have found it helpful to review all of the steps before diving into actually working them. This should include the recognition that we have a goal in mind – achieving a spiritual awakening – as a result of working all of the steps to the best of our abilities.
Our ability to experience the intent of each step is based on our conscious awareness of the task at hand. Please take the time to be thorough with every step. This is not a race – each step truly is a spiritual experience. As a sponsor, it is our responsibility to dissect every word of the 12 steps to ensure that our sponsees truly experience each step. This is the very essence of every 12-step program.
It’s a “We” Program and a “We” Experience
We may have started down the path of recovery believing we are truly unique. We hold on to hopes of being able to drink or use drugs without negative consequences. We had surrendered, made decisions and promises to ourselves only to mentally relapse. After getting a glimpse of recovery, we would go back to thinking that we were in control. We bounced between the sanity of the fellowship and the insanity of our egos.
We struggled with denial and questioned every suggested solution. Some of us would surrender to our powerlessness only to drink and use again. We had failed to be totally honest with ourselves or we simply did not place our recovery first. We eventually learned to ignore our egos and allowed our pain to be our teacher. We not only made a decision to change, we took the action required to implement that change.
The actions we took eventually paid off. We experienced a profound spiritual awakening. We could have never imagined the joy we discovered in our new lives as sober people. The promises of AA started to materialize, and as long as we place others before ourselves, they continue to come true.
Decision-Making after Transformation
“Today I will make no decisions by myself…”
Now that we are reborn through a spiritual awakening that was delivered to us, we face continuous decisions. Most routine daily decisions are made subconsciously, easily done without real thought or struggle. We should not become preoccupied with every move we make. Allowing ourselves to flow with total acceptance prevents us from returning to the chaos we faced when starting this journey.
When we find resistance strong and dedication weak, we need not fight ourselves. I find strength by simply revisiting my morning meditation. Morning meditations may include a vision of how we wish the 24 hours ahead of us to unfold – what kind of day do I want? My morning meditations end with the affirmation, “Today I will make no decisions by myself.” This means that today I choose not to be judgmental of situations that may arise and I will seek help from God when needed.
Since I ask God for help with my decisions, I must acknowledge that His will includes lessons that I need to learn in preparation for eternity. If I judge situations in front I me, I create confusion, uncertainty and, ultimately, fear.
If I forgot to plan the day or my plan for the day has run amok, I can always revert to this affirmation: “If I make no decisions by myself, this day will be given to me” (A Course in Miracles).
And When All Else Fails…
Since the ego speaks loudest and speaks first, it still – in spite of our good intentions – my ego may get the best of us. When our judgments of others have created uncertainty that results in fear and anger, we cry now what? There is nothing to lose by asking for a different frame of reference. Ask for direction that is Spirit-driven. We will recognize the solution as it is delivered in a quiet voice. God’s will of nonjudgmental love, peace and truth is always the best resource. God is never the enemy. He patiently waits, seemingly in hiding, for us to make the decision to ask for His guidance and the knowledge to carry out His will.