Everyone (even pop culture) seems to know that “admitting you have a problem” is the First Step proper. But does that admittance look like? And what about after Step One? And what does “Step Work” look like in practical living?
This series has been on my mind and in my heart for quite some time, because I know how confusing step work can be. The following blog entries will explore the traditional life-changing and oft-intimidating 12 Steps through observations made along the way. Each day will invite you to ponder a different step. It is only sharing my own experience, strength and hope, nothing more. Take what you need and leave the rest, as they say in the rooms. If the 12 Steps can help me, they can help anyone. I promise.
“A Journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Lao Tzu
The first time I darkened the door of an AA meeting, I was a 20 year-old. I wanted recovery, but I wanted it yesterday, and my understanding of the program reflected my impatience. These are actual thoughts I experienced when I first walked into my first 12 Step meeting:
“Well, Step One…..check! I admitted I have a problem, so that one is done. On to Step Two.”
“And I believe that a Power Greater than Myself can restore me to sanity, on account of I’m clearly not in charge here. So, worked that step already. Next!”
“Turning my will and life over to the care of God? Okay, I’m down with that. ‘God, I turn my will over.’ This isn’t so hard…..”
“Step Four: Making a fearless and moral inventory of myself……yikes.”
And with this one, I was stuck. Trust me when I tell you that Step Four cannot be done in one afternoon, even if you have the whole day off. Truly. You can take an inventory haphazardly, but not a searching and fearless one. This is where the rubber meets the road, right here on Step Four. (And sadly, yes … I actually believed that I had ‘worked’ Steps 1-3 in the course of a one-hour meeting. Ta daaaaa! Of course I only believed that because of, um….denial reasons.)
It would be many years before I would get serious enough about working the 12-Steps to truly explore what they look like in ‘real time,’ how they play out as workable ways to live life on life’s terms. Now, in my fourteenth year of continuous sobriety, I am just starting to get it. Here are some of the stones that I picked up on my ongoing walks with God. With them, I am building a future; and a good future at that!
Musing on 12 Step programs:
You will work the steps more than once. If you had a flow chart that depicted each of your issues and where you are Step-wise on each, well, there wouldn’t be enough ink or paper on the planet to print it out. Seriously, there wouldn’t. It is an overused analogy, but recovery really is peeling an onion. One layer gets addressed and another is exposed. I’ve employed the steps in a number of situations in my life and will continue to do so, and personally, I think they are applicable for anyone – addict or not – to apply. Unless your life is perfect, in which case you can go ahead and stop reading now, because you will not be able to relate to me at all.
Our addictions may look differently, but the root causes that trigger them are almost always similar. Alcohol was my drug of choice, heroin might be yours. I really don’t care because it matters little what you drink, smoke, or shoot, because I would venture to bet that the core issues that drove you to do so are pretty identical to mine. The answer is the same for all of these problems, as well. Without my Highest Power Jesus Christ, I wouldn’t have survived my addiction to tell the tale. One of the things I love most about the Celebrate Recovery program is that it is for anyone to experience the overcoming of any hurt, habit, or hang-up. In my estimation, if an issue or addiction is coming between me and God, it’s a problem worthy of applying the 12-Steps to. Alcohol, drugs, food, porn, gambling….you can learn a new way to live as an Over-comer with any struggle.
There is no schedule for working the 12 Steps. Oh how I wished for a timetable for the 12-Steps when I first got into recovery! Someone to say, “Okay, you will do A, B, and C, and then you will never want to drink again.” It does not work that way, at all. You will, if you are honest, become ‘stuck’ on a step. This used to frustrate me to no end, until I learned to think of the phenomenon as “marinating” in step work. “Working the steps” alludes to putting in time and energy and waiting for the quittin’ time whistle to blow. Marinating in a step brings to mind a soaking-up, a “take-your-time because it’s gonna be worth the wait” mindset. A good marinade cannot be rushed. For it to become part of the meat, it needs time. But you don’t want to spend your entire life in a bowl of marinade either.
If you can find a Step Study Group, by all means, please explore it! It is not for the faint of heart, it is for the determined to survive. But under guidance from a Step Study Leader and some very fine workshop materials, an in-depth study of each of the steps can be a game changer. No longer floating about in the Program of Your Understanding, but in a group in which everyone has Experience, Strength and Hope, and everyone brings it to the table in order to get well. You will bring ESH to your group that only you can bring. The value of having people delving into the steps one-by-one alongside you cannot be overstated. Find a group in your area and ask if Step Studies are being done. They are a separate animal altogether from the meetings, but incredibly worth your time.
There are no two recoveries alike. They are the snowflakes of the wellness world – each and every one is different. One of the slipperiest slopes out there is to see someone else’s recovery journey and decide they are not doing it right. Trust me when I say that your own side of the street is enough to keep clean. Don’t be passing judgement on someone else’s sidewalk, just stay on yours, keep it clean, and lead by example. I have had people tell me that I’m not really sober because I don’t have a sponsor. I’ve been told a plethora of things by a myriad of people; people who are – just like me – learning to live life on life’s terms. You just do you, and I’m going to do me.
Put one foot in front of the other and ask God to bless your footfalls. And marinate in this new way of living.
Celebrate Recovery 12 Steps and Biblical Comparisons
1) We admitted we were powerless over our addictions and compulsive behaviors, that our lives had become unmanageable.
“I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.” – Romans 7:18
2) We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
“For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” – Philippians 2:13
3) We made a decision to turn our lives and our wills over to the care of God.
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.” – Romans 12:1
4) We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
“Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord.” – Lamentations 3:40
5) We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” – James 5:16
6) We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” – James 4:10
7) We humbly asked Him to remove all our shortcomings.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness,” – 1 John 1:9
8) We made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
“Do to others as you would have them do to you.” – Luke 6:31
9) We made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” – Matthew 5:23-24
10) We continue to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
“So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” – 1 Corinthians 10:12
11) We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, praying only for knowledge of His will for us, and power to carry that out.
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” – Colossians 3:16
12) Having had a spiritual experience as the result of these steps, we try to carry this message to others and practice these principles in all our affairs.
“Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore them gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.” – Galatians 6:1