I’m working on releasing a collection of essays exploring how the 12 Steps have played out in my own life and how to apply them to life in a practical manner.
It will be a very informal booklet – easy to read one bite at a time – and includes the biblical comparison for each step, a study verse for each, and a simple prayer at the conclusion of each essay. Just something simple to bless you on your own recovery journey…whether you are recovering from alcohol or substance abuse, co-dependency, or any other hurt, habit or hang-up (I think that’s just about ALL of us!)
“Practical to Tactical – Lessons from a 12 Step Life” will release on Amazon and for Kindle in November.
I will post more details when it is published.
A thousand thank-yous to each of you for your readership.
There is something so humbling about attending a 12-Step meeting, thinking “Whew! I’m glad I’m not THAT crazy person anymore!” and then waking up to walk on a carpet of pork rinds in your own bedroom. It kind of really drives things home.
I haven’t had a drink in nearly 15 years. As an alcoholic, I cannot afford to have even one.
That’s the truth about my drinking.
The truth about my ‘everything else?’ Its a little more complicated. I’ve heard it said that recovery is like peeling an onion – you address one issue and another is exposed. It’s so true.
Like this morning. I stepped out of bed, and into a pile of miscellaneous crumbs. They are miscellaneous because I parked out in bed last night (after a day battling chronic illness and a plethora of other minutia) I decided to binge on potato chips, pork rinds (pork rinds!) AND pickles, mindlessly, like a glassy-eyed Cookie Monster. Oh, wait. There WERE cookies involved too. I get so INTO food sometimes that I forget to taste it, and tasting it was not the priority anyway.
Eating my feelings was the priority. I am still – after all these years of NOT drinking – learning what to DO with all of these FEELINGS. There are so many of them, all the time.
The evidence of a ‘morning after’ eating binge can be just as distressing as a morning after alcohol binge. You wake up with that ‘what did I do last night?’ introductory thought, followed by deep shame and guilt when you remember (IF you remember, because sometimes I get so into it, I don’t even.)
I did not take into account last night that I was not actually really hungry, or that I would wake up the next day bloated and angry at myself.
No, because that isn’t how this thing works. You do not think ahead.
You are only thinking …
“I feel bad. I want to feel better. What will make me feel better RIGHT NOW?“
That’s kind of a summary of ALL ADDICTION, even in it’s most seemingly-innocent forms: I MUST feel better right NOW.
One cup of coffee? What is the POINT? Three gets the blood pumping.
Nothing wrong with a sleeping pill on occasion. But I have a high tolerance, you see. It takes more for me. And more than occasionally.
Exercise? No, thank you. UNLESS I work out far past exhaustion, and only in rare spurts.
All or nothing. No moderation. One of anything is insufficient…..candies, hugs, books, cups of coffee, cats. One is too many and a thousand not enough, as they say.
It is a miracle that I’ve not had a drink and I love knowing that sobriety is a real, actual thing…that God can enable ANY of us to live. I have not had a drink in 15 years, but the beast is only debilitated.
My alcoholism recovery is not a means to an end, in and of itself. I’ve de-clawed a Komodo Dragon, in a manner of speaking. Have you ever seen a nature documentary featuring one of those giant lizards? They have razor-sharp claws that can shred an animal bigger than itself in one swipe. They have super-sharp teeth, too. And the worse thing is that their spit is toxic as hell and if the bite doesn’t take you down, they wait patiently for the poison spit to infect and fell you.
So, in this glorious recovery from alcoholism, I’ve de-clawed the dragon. But I have to stay on guard. It has more than one destructive mechanism. It is always poised to pounce.
There is so much work to be done on my inside. The parts that demand instant gratification, while complaining it ‘takes too long’ (as the great Carrie Fisher – herself a recovering addict – has noted.) I want to feel better RIGHT NOW.
That’s not how this thing works.
I’m still that ‘crazy person’ and that’s the truth about me. But I now know that I don’t want to be the feeling-stuffer / eater / drowner / deny-er.) I cannot afford to keep doing that. If I do, the alcoholism is just waiting to infect and fell me.
I want to actually taste life, and think ahead. Look forward. I need to continue to learn how to be kind to myself and gentle with all of my parts. And to heck with what anyone else thinks.
You cannot please everyone and get well at the same time, of this I am sure.
That’s why I’m sharing this today, because you are only as sick as your secrets, and I’m ready to slay that damn dragon.
Here’s what the Bible has to say (insert Lion instead of Dragon, and this is actually kind of scriptural, even!)
“Keep a cool head. Stay alert. The Devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you napping. Keep your guard up. You’re not the only ones plunged into these hard times. It’s the same with Christians all over the world. So keep a firm grip on the faith. The suffering won’t last forever. It won’t be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ—eternal and glorious plans they are!—will have you put together and on your feet for good. He gets the last word; yes, he does.” 1 Peter 5-8 (MSG)
Having had a spiritual experience as the result of these steps, we try to carry this message to others and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
“Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.” – Galatians 6:1
Of all the steps, the twelfth is my favorite. It is the “Hey, me too!” step, the one that is practiced just by sharing your own experience, strength and hope with another human being who believed they were truly alone.
Have you ever been anointed in oil? The first time one of my sisters in Christ prayed over me and anointed me with oil, I wanted to stop her and tell her that she was wasting oil on the wrong girl. But then I remembered that Jesus similarly washed the feet of his favorite twelve common sinners, and not those of the High Priests. He is just the coolest that way, always rooting for (and honoring) the underdog.
I love the anointing with oil. Unlike water blessed by priests that evaporates quickly, oil blessed by Holy Spirit lingers and lingers.
It is messy and difficult to control.
It releases Heavenly fragrance all day long.
If it gets on your clothes, they are stained. It cannot easily be washed out.
If it gets in your hair, forget about it. You are a greaser straight out of the 1950’s until the next shampoo.
If you touch another human being with the same hand that has been anointed, they too carry the softness and scent on their person.
Step Twelve is a blessed, oily step.
Having worked through steps 1-11, we have become ready to receive our divine appointment to serve other addicts, and by doing so, serve Jesus.
We have faced down demons, cast them out, learned more about ourselves, owned our own mess, and made amends whenever doing so would not harm us or others. We worked hard, but frankly, recovery work without Step Twelve is a practice in Dry Drunkenness.
And Spiritual awakenings are not dry affairs. They are drenching discoveries that open us up to truly love others – the underdogs.
We cannot ‘fix’ anyone. We are simply beggars showing other beggars where we found bread.
If you are walking with the Rabbi Jesus in your recovery life, you are already anointed.
He hasn’t blessed the wrong person by reaching you. You are the only one who can carry your experience, strength and hope to the hurting.
Do you remember how hard it was to content with Step One? Somebody right this minute is cowering against it.
It’s messy, isn’t it? But quenching, life-affirming.
You reek of Heaven. It’s all over you, lingering. Touch someone else with the same hand that was touched by the disciple who loved you when you couldn’t yet love yourself. Really that’s all it’s about. But it’s everything.
“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
This post took me forever to write, and that is not coincidence. I really struggle with how to best illustrate Step Eleven.
I struggle with it because I have a preconceived notion of what conscious contact with God is supposed to look like.
And it looks all Instagram-y.
You know ….
I wake up refreshed in the morning hungry for the Word of God. The very first thing I do is make a picture-perfect cup of coffee in the Keurig (for extra effect the coffee cup should be emblazoned with the words “Hope” or “Faith” or “Love” and – in finer print – a scriptural reference.) Taking my place on the sofa, I pray for God to expand my understanding during this special time with him as the kitty cats snuggle in next to me. I open The Message, and hey, looky there! I flip open my Bible and it ‘just happens to’ turn to a verse so very pertinent to my current circumstance. It is already highlighted even!
Thank you, Lord! Your will be done.
It’s so tidy. So picture-perfect.
Tidy, yes. But not an improvement over my current contact with God. And in recovery, improvement trumps tidiness every time.
I have ADD to a pretty good degree, and I find it hard to focus long enough to even make a cup of coffee on some days. It is easy to lose the essence of Step Eleven when we allow our preconceived notions of what conscience contact with God looks like.
How do I even know what to ask for? God is the perfect parent. He knows what I need before I even ask for it. Seeking Him isn’t about knowing what I need when I sit down to a perfect cup of coffee!
Going into my fifteenth year of sobriety (all glory to God, still one single day at a time) a more accurate illustration of my Step Eleven work might be as follows:
I wake up grateful for another day sober, but perhaps a little bit frustrated about a given circumstance. I Say, “Good morning, God. Can you help a sister out today? I need you.” Make a cup of coffee in the Keurig (most likely in either the “Life’s a bitch and then you die” or – my personal favorite – “I thought I was having a hot flash, but my boobs were in my coffee” cup). Accidentally piddle around too long on my way to the sofa doing stupid stuff around the house (Sorry, God.) Get to the sofa, only to find the cats in my spot unwilling to share the space. Hump back to the kitchen table, sloshing coffee on the floor. Pray for God to expand my understanding of Him this day, and open The Message. Hey – LOOKY!
“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:9 (NIV)
It’s highlighted even!
And the more I delve into what God has to say in His love letter, the more His message becomes apparent.
I want to help you. I want you to know Me.
I LOVE YOU.
Step Eleven in recovery isn’t about getting it right. It’s about seeking right exactly where you are today.
We continue to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
Biblical Comparison: “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” Corinthians 10:12
I like to call Step Ten”The GPS Step” because it is so directional. It reminds us that recovery is not a destination but a journey.
Taking my personal inventory is much like plugging in my address to a GPS system. There are many possible routes, but only one destination.
One of the first times I used my GPS was on a trip to visit my cousin in another state. I am a late-comer to this technology. My two adult daughters were accompanying me, and before we departed, they showed me how to pull up the GPS and ask the Very Knowledgeable Lady who lives in it how to get to our destination.
“How?” I asked my tech-savvy offspring.
“Just ask Siri,” they told me.
I did ask Siri, and – wonder of wonders – a magical map appeared that pinpointed my exact location (which was kind of scary.) I then told her the address of my cousin’s house and the entire 200-mile route to her house appeared with my journey clearly marked.
“Take a left on Highway 17,” The Very Knowledgeable Lady helpfully chirped. “And take exit 12 in 70 miles.”
I laid my cell phone down on the console and drove in awe as we traveled the thick blue route line. We were the little digital thumb tack on the screen, chugging down the road! Here’s where it got interesting.
Several times on the trip, I picked up the phone to make sure Siri knew what she was doing, even though I did not know the way myself! And although I had no reason to distrust the voice telling me where to go to arrive in the most efficient manner, I even stopped at a fast food place when we arrived in the destination city to ask for directions to her street!
My kids kept telling me, “Mom, just follow the route already mapped out.”
It has to be more complicated than that, I thought.
Have you ever trusted Siri to get you someplace and ended up somewhere else? That happens too. Once I drove six hours to attend a Blogger Conference in the mountains of North Carolina and instead of taking me to my Hampton Inn late at night, it led me down a dark road to what appeared to have been an old, abandoned sock factory. Really. It was in middle of nowhere! When I pulled in to reboot the GPS, The (not so) Knowledgeable Lady tried to save face with her response.
“Rerouting.” Like she meant to do that.
Although she had mistakenly taken me someplace else, she then had to re-route because my starting point was different from where I’d left six hours prior.
There are many, many routes to take on the recovery journey. Re-routing is always a possibility. The two important things to remember when continuing to take your personal inventory is to keep moving in a forward direction and don’t back-track and return to bad places. Promptly admit when you are lost.
In the GPS analogy of the tenth step, you can replace the Very Knowledgeable Lady in the cell phone to God Himself, who is more than happy to direct your path if you allow him to.
But you have to ask. And keep asking. He will not take you to a dark place (or an abandoned sock factory, for that matter) You have to ask, and you have to trust that His direction is perfect.
Throughout the previous work of Steps 1-9, you have pinpointed your exact location (and that can be a little scary, too.) The tenth step is insurance that we don’t revisit the dangerous places that led us down the wrong paths, even though our journeys are not always so clearly marked out.
It has to be more complicated than that, right?
Only it isn’t.
It is plugging your coordinates back in. Being honest with yourself about your stinkin’ thinkn’. Reaching out. Spending time in self-reflection. Going to meetings. Asking for directions. And when wrong, promptly admit it.
When do you arrive?
That is of less importance, everyone’s route is different. Don’t you see? We were absolutely built to travel – collecting wisdom and experience and fellowship and memories along the way.
We made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
BiblicalComparison: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” – Luke 6:31
Protected behind presumably bullet-proof, fire-proof glass, there it was – one of 14 original official copies of the Bill of Rights to the Constitution of the United States.
My husband had surprised me by taking me to our local museum where it was showcased as part of a national tour. I’m a hopeless history nerd; it was a very thoughtful surprise.
Leading up to case that displayed the bill were velvet ropes with tassels on the posts. It was all so fancy. You knew you were headed for something special just walking towards it.
The Constitution was an incredible and liberty-bestowing document, but it needed amending to increase the freedoms in America. It doesn’t take away from the original document to be amended. Rather, it adds value.
The definition of ‘amend’ is:
Change, modify, reform.
Remedy. Revise. Alter.
Correct. Enhance. Improve.
Mend. Reform. Repair.
The definition of ‘amendment’ is: An alteration or addition.
Making a list of persons we have harmed is hard enough, but being willing to make amends to them all is even harder. By taking pen to paper and making your list, it’s important to include each:
Person who has been harmed as a result of your active addiction
Memories of harm done
Thoughts resulting from the harm – perhaps the thoughts that are continuing to haunt you as a result
Intentions you now have in making things right
Amends that you can make to help repair the damage
Making amends with those you’ve harmed is not a privilege for the more spiritually enlightened among us, but a right as a person in recovery. Making amends increases your freedom.
It’s easy to get stuck here on Step Eight.
There might be relationships that survive addiction that will not survive recovery. Step Eight work is not about extending the amends yet, but about becoming willing to make them. You are setting up the velvet ropes to healing relationships, and letting others in on making history in your recovery.
Step Eight is change, modification, revision or correction to bring about an alteration or addition to your spirit.
It’s not about taking away from what’s been done to you, but owning what you’ve done to others.
It doesn’t take away from your recovery, but adds value.
Amendments modify our existing plane to create a higher existence.
You are heading for something special, just by walking toward it.
We humbly asked Him to remove all our shortcomings.
Biblical Comparison: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness,” – 1 John 1:9
Once upon a time, there was a very stubborn woman who woke up at night to use the bathroom, stepped out of bed, and heard a terrible and loud ‘crack’ in her leg. She collapsed on the floor, writhing in agony from the pain in her right ankle. The pain seared through her entire body. This was no ordinary boo boo, she could tell. But when she was finally able to stand, she told herself it was sprained, and she believed that to be true.
“Walk it off,” she thought. “Walk it off and don’t be a big baby. You just turned your ankle, that’s all.”
This woman is me.
The next day, it was worse. It looked like some kind of poorly-trained circus balloon animal maker had tried to make an ankle out of black and blue balloons. The pain was beyond excruciating. Still, for eleven full days, I wrapped it in an ACE bandage and acted as though it were business as usual.
I’ve heard it said that “if you can walk on an injured leg, it’s not broken.” But whoever said that does not appreciate my capacity for denial. I walked on it, doing everything I normally would, just with a bit of a limp. It kept swelling. I walked more. It’s not broken, I thought. Or I wouldn’t be able to stand the pain.
If I’m honest about it, I can say that over the span of nearly two weeks, I developed a twisted sense of pride that I could carry on with this OBVIOUS, swollen, throbbing issue attached to my leg. I felt like a badass, almost. Look what I can withstand!
The mind is a very powerful thing.
I had to become entirely ready for medical intervention. And eleven days after the incident, I could take no more, badassery or not.
“I think I’m going to the doctor to have it looked at,” I told my husband. “You know, just in case.”
The doctor looked at it, with a series of x-rays. It was broken, and there was no fixing it without surgery. I was sent directly to an orthopedic surgeon, who confirmed it and asked, “How are you even walking on that?” The funny thing is that on the way to the surgeon’s office, I drove myself to the grocery store and hobbled around for ONE LAST TRIP for things we “needed” before I might be told I couldn’t drive. Keep in mind that I am blessed with the most helpful and supportive husband of all time, who would have been glad to go for me. Stubborn.
My inner control freak cannot be reasoned with.
But she can be beat down, which is what happened. By going to the surgeon’s office, I was ready to have this defect fixed.
By the morning of surgery, I was asking – BEGGING – for it to be remedied.The pain was too much to bear. I humbly asked the surgeons to just do this thing already. They did, and it took a metal plate, five screws and a large pin to fix it.
Because I had walked around on it broken for so long, it was fractured in TWO places, not just the one original break. Stubbornness rarely pays off.
That was three years ago. Since that time, many things have changed, inwardly and outwardly. I don’t feel invincible anymore; I know I am a Spirit poured over breakable bones and under fragile skin.
The ankle has healed beautifully, although it will never be the same. You can feel the metal just under the skin, and it still swells at odd times. It has to be babied. It is affectionately referred to by my family as “Franken-ankle” now.
Step Six is admitting your unmanageable pain and knowing it’s not “just a sprain.” Step Seven is asking for help, and asking is an action word of the highest order. Ask God to remove your shortcomings.
Contrary to popular belief, you can walk around damaged and broken. Most of us are.
You cannot be prideful and humble at the same time. Handling it yourself isn’t working. Step Seven is all about humbling yourself and actively reaching out for help.
Just because you can stand the pain doesn’t mean that you have to.
You know what’s wrong now. You’ve identified it. It is obvious to yourself, and most likely others that you need forgiveness and purification. Okay, so you can withstand the character defects and their pesky behavior sidekicks….
But why? That’s the question. Ask yourself why you feel you need to withstand it.
Our broken parts are often manifestations of our war parties, and they are far less interesting than we believe them to be. I broke my ankle getting up to pee at night, not in a glamorous way such as skydiving or horse-back riding. What bad-ass trophies are you holding on to?
Now, ask The Great Physician to do a healing work in you to mend you back together.
Anything less – especially ‘walking it off’ under your own power – is needless suffering.