Step 12: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to addicts and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
The promise of the 12th step is that by the time we have reached this point in our program of recovery, we will have experienced a “spiritual awakening”. Exactly what that means and what that entails will certainly vary from person to person. However, the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous characterizes it as a “personality change sufficient to bring about recovery”. Thus the essence of a “spiritual awakening” for anyone is marked by a shift in attitude — or as Dr. Silkworth put it, “an entire psychic change” — brought about by working the preceding eleven steps and then implementing the foundational principles associated with each of them in one’s life.
Having made my way through all of the 12 Steps at this point in recovery, I can attest that the promise of a “spiritual awakening” has come true for me. First and foremost, the obsession to use drugs and alcohol has been removed. My life is no longer dominated by thoughts of using nor has it been for quite some time. I think it is safe to say that once I made it into the 9th Step, and began the process of making amends — a process I had feared for many, many years — that I was no longer in the real “danger zone” of potential relapse. Of course, I believe this reprieve is only possible because I have learned new ways to cope with the many frustrations that life has to offer (or, should I say, that I impose upon life through my viewpoint). I believe that Albert Ellis had it right — addiction is largely a condition in which the afflicted share the common characteristic of having low frustration tolerance. Whether it is said that I lacked “coping skills” or “spiritual tools”, I was in desperate need of a new way of living. The program of Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12 Steps have given that to me in ways that I would characterize as both spiritual and rational.
As I look back at the work I have done thus far in the Steps, I am convinced that each of them afforded me the opportunity to learn a new way of living through various “spiritual experiences” as I progressed in my step work. Most of the time, I was not aware of what was happening, nor would I have characterized the experience as “spiritual” at the time. For example, the surrender I experienced at the First Step — when I truly had come to that “jumping off point” as the Big Book describes it — was fraught with pain, anguish, hopelessness, and despair. I really felt like I was losing my mind. In the midst of that, I would have never believed that what was happening to me was “spiritual”. However, I now see that experience as a turning point in my life, for just over the horizon was new hope for a better way of life. I could have never have surrendered and began the process of recovery had I not experienced this sort of deep, existential anguish. Indeed, as stated in Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, “pain is the touchstone of all spiritual progress”.
And so it has been true for me with each of the Steps in this journey of recovery. The 2nd Step challenged me to question my beliefs, to open my mind, and embrace faith in ways I never had before. The 3rd Step forced me to lay aside prejudice against religion, search earnestly for a Higher Power I could believe in, and dedicate myself to the program of recovery by committing to action. As I progressed through the Steps, I learned much about honesty, courage, confession, willingness, humility, vigilance, prayer and meditation, non-action, integrity, compassion, amends, forgiveness, acceptance, perseverance, and wisdom. As it turns out, all of the Steps are individual lessons in living according to wholesome and wise universal principles that could be described as “spiritual”. The Steps are very practical in terms of having provided me very specific directions on how I might interface with these principles and learn to trust their application in other areas of my life.
I can see now that by the time I reached the 12th Step, it was inevitable that I would have had a spiritual awakening. Through the practice of the Steps, I have adopted a whole new design for living based upon an entirely different set of values and principles than I had lived by in the past. Of course, these were not always easy lessons. Often times, living the program has required me to act in ways that were foreign to me and therefore gave rise to much fear. But the fear of what would happen to me if I didn’t do the work was greater than fear of the work itself, and so I moved forward in faith in the program. Now, I endeavor to practice the principles in my life not out of fear, but because the experience of working the Steps has shown me a better way of life. Thus, faith has been transformed into trust.
For years, stricken by the illusion of control characteristic of the addicted mind, I struggled trying to manage others and circumstances beyond my control. “If they would only do what I wanted them to do” or “If I only had this or that in my life, I would by happy” were my mantras. Each time I inevitably lost the battle staged by this sort of faulty thinking, I drank and drugged to drown out the disappointment. Thus for me, the heart of spiritual awakening has been a shift in perception — a willingness to see things differently and courage to live by a different set of principles. This perceptual shift is founded upon the idea that I — and no one else — am responsible for my own subjective well-being. I always have a choice in my viewpoint, and therefore can never cast blame on others nor reassume the role of life’s victim. This shift in perception is monumental for it is what has moved me from a position of powerlessness to a position of power — the power to choose my spirit no matter what the circumstances of life.
Of course, practicing spiritual principles is not always easy, nor does it come as second nature to me in this short time. I still tend to worry obsessively, and I sometimes give into the anger reaction among other character lapses. As such, I am thankful for the foresight of the authors of the 12 Steps who knew that “we are not Saints” and that the goal will always be “spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection”. But progress I have certainly made. I am not the same hopeless person who began this process. My life has new meaning, new purpose, and is marked by a level of peace, freedom, and serenity that I have never known. I have experienced an enormous amount of healing of my body, mind, and my spirit. Stated another way, I have had a spiritual awakening.
As I go forward, I know that these blessings of recovery will only remain and multiply to the extent that I attend to my own spiritual condition and so long as I help others escape the bondage of addiction. As we say in the rooms, “We can’t keep what we have without giving it away”. And so it shall be with me as I continue down the Road of Happy Destiny . . .