David A-S (NY)
The Twelve Steps are the backbone of our recovery program. They provide us with a series of suggested actions that completely transform our lives. Working the Steps has provided me with a structure and rhythm that I always longed for, but did not even know how to verbalize before I came into Twelve Step programs. My life is so different as a result of working the Steps that I can barely believe it is my life. I always see the Steps as a rope that I use to drag myself out of the quicksand of my addiction. Though the rope is attached to my Higher Power, only I can grab hold of that rope and drag myself out of the quicksand. No one else can do that for me. It’s a do-it-yourself program, and thank goodness.
Step One. I’ve heard a lot people struggle with the concept of "powerlessness". I did too, when I first came into sexual recovery 11 years ago. However, there is a very simple exercise that makes it very easy to understand and experience powerlessness. First of all, you have to get a Magical Hat. The hat must have moving parts or this won’t work at all. Tassels are great but other moving parts like propellers are also okay. Then you put the hat on your head. Once you have the hat on your head, you close you eyes and you describe in great detail the last time you acted out and describing how really desperate you felt. And while you all think about that time, I will go ahead and show you how you do the exercise since I already have my Magical Hat on.
It was about 5 years ago. I was in a back room, with video booths and long dark corridors. There were not many people there and Mr Right had definitely stayed home that night. It was getting later and later and I was getting more and more desperate and frustrated because there was no one around who I really wanted to have sex with or who wanted to have sex with me. Suddenly, I noticed a guy who seemed to have appeared out of nowhere, who was old enough to be my father, someone I wouldn’t normally be interested in. But within no time at all, before I could even realize what was going on, I was running my hands all over him trying to "make him" have sex with me. "Make him" have sex with me, is the key here. Soon I was doing things that I never wanted to do, but could not stop myself nevertheless. That, is powerlessness: when I am trying to "make you do something" and when I am doing something I do want to do but am doing it all the same. That shows me the crippling nature of this disease and my inability to make it do what I want it to do for me. That’s my powerlessness.
I can feel you all shaking your heads. This is where the moving parts of your hat come in handy. As the moving parts move about, they remind you that when it comes down to it, we are just tassels in the wind. We are powerless over the feelings that come to us. And though, they can be pleasant, like tassels against the skin, they can also make our lives unmanageable. But we are also bigger and more than our feelings!
When I recognize my powerlessness I have only one choice. I have to disengage. I have to put down that thing that is making my life unmanageable. Otherwise, my life goes on being unmanageable and that is stupid, n’est-ce pas? Yet, that’s where most of us have trouble with powerlessness. We imagine that if we try just one more time, just one more, we’ll get it licked and get just what we wanted. Meanwhile, we are just getting weaker and weaker and not more powerful at all, as we like to imagine.
Once I disengage, I can look at my feelings and see if I can take any actions to deal with my feelings directly. Am I hungry, angry, lonely, tired, or serious (HALT)?
Step Two. Once you really, experientially get powerlessness, it’s like getting a sex change. There really is no going back. There is only one choice then and that is to go on to Step two. You can take off your Magical Hat for this Step. The key to Step Two is the word sanity. What does that mean? If you look it up in the dictionary, you will find that it says that sanity means avoiding extreme views and treading the middle path. Treading the middle path does not mean being mediocre and middle of the road. No it means considering the extremes and then finding a path that goes through the middle. Mediocre is when you haven't considered any choices and have just stayed in the middle all the time. Taking the middle path is quite different and involves a conscious choice after considering the options. This is where that promise comes into view.. "we will be grateful for our past". It is the middle ground that is the most fertile. The middle path is centred, balanced and least compromising. Sanity therefore comes from being able to stand back and consider options. This is often not possible if our lives are completely unmanageable, and insane from living on the edge.
Step Three. Step Three asks us to make a decision first of all, and then to give over our whole lives to a power greater than ourselves. If I’ve disengaged from harmful behaviour and found sanity in the middle path, why would I want to give my life over to someone else, albeit a power greater than myself? Making a decision is one of the most difficult things anyone can do. We all avoid making decisions, all the time. If you don’t believe me, just think of how often you wait for someone else to make the first move, or make the first comment, and you will see what I mean. As addicts, we would always rather go and act out that make a decision about the rent or the television or whatever.
I’ve heard people often ask, "How do I hand my life over to God? What do I do to let go?" How do I make a decision, basically. To let go and let God, we have to put on our Magical Hats again. Believe it or not it, surrendering our will and life to God doesn’t actually involve prayer, though it can. It doesn’t mean throwing yourself out the window either. No, it’s not a giving up of anything. No, rather it’s a matter of putting on our Magical Hats! When we do this, we bring the focus back on ourselves, which is to say that we let go off all the things that are annoying and bothering us. We disengage from everything, except, of course, our Magical Hats. Once we are alone with our Magical Hats and ourselves, we are soon able tap into to the clarity and serenity of being in the safety of our own Magical Space. Once there, we can contemplate our situation and work towards making a decision about whatever situation is annoying us. Making a decision immediately places us in the hands of our Higher Power. We surrender the safety of thinking we know, the safety of not taking any action, the safety of being alone with our pain, and throw ourselves out into the "cloud of unknowing" that is our Higher Power. The moment we make a decision almost without knowing it, we begin moving along the middle path. By making a decision we have let go, we have moved out of holding onto to a particular result or insisting on staying in a particular state. By making a decision and therefore throwing ourselves in the arms of our Higher Power, we know that we are disengaged, connected to a power greater than ourselves and are ready to take a sane and sensible action. The moving parts on our Magical Hats here help us to enjoy the dancing with which we now spontaneously proceed.
This is how I work the first three steps everyday: I disengage myself from whatever is driving me crazy, I make a decision with my Higher Power that locates me on a middle path, and then I take an action along the middle path. This helps me to cope much better with whatever comes along in my life.
I have a prayer that I wrote some years ago that helps to remind me of this process. In the prayer, I ask God to help me to be grateful for whatever comes each day. Gratitude is so important in the process of recovery. Whenever I want to make things other than they are I know that I am in trouble, and I need to return to being grateful for the way things are. I remember that I am powerless. I can’t make anything other than what it is, and when I can experience gratitude for everything exactly as it is, only then can I experience it changing. Everything is, after all changing; but oddly enough, it doesn’t seem to be changing if I want it to change.
Pope John XXIII wrote a prayer that very much summarizes the first three steps. It says: "God, help me to see everything, [admit my powerlessness, see the whole picture, step out of denial] to overlook a lot [seek out the middle path by ignoring the petty stuff] and to change a little myself [take an action that might effect a change on myself first]".
Step Four. This steps asks us to put all of our hats on the table, and if you are like me, a person of many hats, this can seem like an overwhelming and exposing process. However, taking stock is ultimately a very sane and decisive step. How many times in my addict mode have I run through the night on an empty tank, never once considering (seriously) how this would affect me later. Step Four provides me with the opportunity of taking stock of my life, thus allowing me to make better decisions, it also allows me to look at my whole life and consider what my options are with regard to my whole life. It’s definitely a step that can’t be done quickly and ought not to be attempted till the first three steps are well and truly in place. I found sorting through my many hats both exciting and annoying. There were so many hats I didn’t know I had, and so many that didn’t fit me any more. Even more annoying I discovered that there were so many that I didn’t have because I had been acting out instead. But, I was onto myself now!
Step Five. This is another step where we have to take off our hats. However this time it’s in acknowledgement of all the things we have done that ultimately hurt us. All our actions ultimately come back to us. So while this step seems to want to make us "small" by making us admit our wrong doings, it actually frees us into realizing that there are certain actions we need never take again in order to feel strong and powerful. We learn through the Steps that admitting what is true and real and right will always make us stronger than taking revenge or hitting back at others. Interestingly this step says that we "admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being". I believe this means that we ought not to dump all our emotional garbage onto people in meetings, and use them as a dumping ground. Instead we ought to just tell our sponsor, (ie one other human being) who may be able to give us some much needed and sought feedback.
Step Six. To do this step, we have to put on our Magical Hats, one after the other. Indeed we have to even acquire many new ones! If we are entirely ready to do anything, then we must have everything ready to go, no? Well, I know a lot of people think that this is a Step where you have to do nothing, but in fact it is one of the most active steps there is. If I am "entirely" ready to go to work, then it means that I have got out of bed, had a shower, got dressed, meditated and done yoga, had breakfast, made my lunch, worked for an hour on the Great Global Novel, etc. This is hardly doing nothing. If I want to have my defects of character removed, then I better start taking some actions that are the exact opposite of the defects of character. For example, if I am shy, I better start going to social skill classes (put on another Magical Hat), go to parties, make myself stay after meetings and talk to people. I’m never going to be entirely ready if I just sit around waiting for someone to do it for me.
Step Seven. Step Seven indicates that we should ask to have our shortcomings removed. Well, "asking" is just as difficult as making a decision, and if you don’t believe that just consider how much easier it is to go to a back room than to ask someone on a date. Of course as an addict I believed I didn’t have any shortcomings, which of course is a major shortcoming. None of us is perfect. If anyone of us were perfect we would never need anyone else. So to have our shortcomings removed we have to ask others for help, most specifically our Higher Power. In order for me to develop the humility to do this I was willing to wear a lot of new hats that allowed me to experience myself to be just like everyone else, something the addict in me said was just not true. I volunteered to scrub toilets, to feed the homeless and gave away some of my possession. I stripped myself naked emotionally. It helped immensely to experience myself at the level of everyone else. It made me very aware of some of my shortcomings, arrogance was first on my list.
Step Eight. It’s amazing what clarity can be obtained while scrubbing toilets, and doing service that takes me outside of myself. Step Eight asks us to make a list of the people we had harmed. My immediate response to this was: "But, I was the one that had been harmed, that’s why I was acting out, to make up for the love I had lost or never got in the first place". Scrubbing toilets, and cleaning up after homeless people soon taught me that I am only as hurt as I choose to be and that the more hurt I think I am the less I can contribute to heal others. In healing others, I also heal myself. My list came together spontaneously from the Fourth Step and from the clarity I got while scrubbing toilets. I also learnt how wonderful it is to get things on paper and out of my head. While I carry things in my head, I can’t have clarity and peace in there. The moment I put it on paper, there is room for peace and quiet to enter into my head.
Step Nine. The worst thing about Step Nine is the expectations that making amends builds up in me. I always expect to be praised for making amends, to be given something wonderful in return. The sad reality is that often the people to I’ve made amends, just did not want to know. They didn’t want to be reminded, couldn’t remember what I was referring to, or simply made out that it didn’t matter to them. I thought that amends making was another opportunity to put on my many different hats and do a song and dance, but this was not the case at all. I have found that making amends in an anonymous way has helped me the most. I’ve done the restitution work but without bringing any attention to myself. Working for charities also helped me to give back to anonymous people I had harmed by helping other people whom once again I did not know.
Step Ten. This step brings me into the present. If I have done all the previous nine Steps I am in a pretty good place to deal effectively and honestly with anything that may come my way on a daily basis. Now I can really use all my hats, effectively, appropriately and spontaneously. I can be whoever I need to be when I need to be it. No longer afraid or victim to my emotions I can admit when I am wrong and move on immediately. It’s like a game of juggling hats. One minute a Dunce’s Hat the next a Crown, and then a Beret. Life is rich and varied (as it should be) once we can fully live in Step Ten.
Step Eleven. Once life has become a game we love to play, in the Eleventh Step we are asked to sit quietly and contemplate what we can do that will benefit all of those we come into contact with. Prayer and meditation is for me an opportunity to hook up to the Universal Principle. I always have wonderful moments of deep peace and serenity that make me feel I can do anything at all. Once I come out of meditation, however I am confronted with the sweeping, the dirty dishes and I recognize that in order to do the greater things I have to take steps to accomplish the small stuff first. "Before Enlightenment carry water and chop wood, after Enlightenment, carry water and chop wood".
Step Twelve. The most difficult part of Step Twelve is not so much having a spiritual awakening. We’ve all had those, even if we don’t realize it. The difficult part is continuing to stay awake after we’ve had a spiritual awakening. For me this has meant going back to the First Step. Admitting that I am powerless over people, places and things helps to remind me that whatever happens All is in the hands of my Higher Power. All I have to do is show up and Give Love. This keeps me calm in the storm and acts a powerful example to others. At last, in working this Step I am at home and at peace with all my Hats, and I know when and how to use them best.