As the day goes on, we can pause where situations must be met and decisions made, and renew the simple request: "Thy will, not mine, be done." If at these points our emotional disturbance happens to be great, we will more surely keep our balance, provided we remember, and repeat to ourselves, a particular prayer or phrase that has appealed to us in our reading or meditation. Just saying it over and over will often enable us to clear a channel choked up with anger, fear, frustration, or misunderstanding, and permit us to return to the surest help of all -- our search for God's will, not our own, in the moment of stress. At these critical moments, if we remind ourselves that "it is better to comfort than to be comforted, to understand than to be understood, to love than to be loved," we will be following the intent of Step Eleven.
-- "Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions" (AA's 12 & 12) pg. 103
In fact, for me, one of the things I learned in the sexual inventory of my 4th Step was how I used sex to avoid intimacy -- in other words, to keep people from seeing Me.
And to keep me from seeing Me, too.
In my experience, when it comes to how alcoholism takes good, healthy things and twists them to its own service in a never-ending drive to isolate the alcoholic, physical intimacy is not about closeness or truth -- or even fun, really. It's about walls or masks.
One of the nicest things about the 10th Step for me (Step 10: Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it) is that after I learned how to promptly admit when I am, I learned how to not admit when in fact I'm not.
In other words, I used to admit I was wrong to diffuse a situation, or to avoid confrontation, or to placate, or in a passive-aggressive feint to try and manipulate the other person into admitting they're wrong. (twisted!)
But once I began admitting when I was really wrong, the not-reallly-wrong's admission didn't fit me anymore. Various stressers would occur and the coping mechanism would kick in and I would have the impulse to admit/apologize, but a little voice (that infamous, ubiquitous little voice) would sort of pipe up and go, "Hey! Waitaminute!"
There were -- there are -- plenty of times when I was/still am wrong.
Yet I find that after practicing these principles in all my affairs to the best of my ability, there are now a good number of occasions when I'm not. At one time it was the easiest thing in the world to take blame and apologize for things I didn't do -- but the funny thing is, after you experience how clean it feels to admit when you're truly in the wrong it actually feels dirty to admit you're wrong when it looks like you're not.
Thanks to inventory work I'm healthier than that today.
(Well, most days.)
We say "work the Steps" and it can sound daunting -- but the experience of many, many people in recovery is that if you stay the course it is worth it in ways you can't see from wherever you're currently standing.
Mr. Sponsor pants,
A character on a television show I just watched (thanks, internet!) had gotten sober and gone to AA "offscreen." (He is a very minor character on the show.)
The running gag in this episode was his attempt to "do his Step 9" with people at work. He would apologize with grave sincerity for ridiculously trivial things, or tell people things they didn't need to or want to hear, the apology apparently constituting the sum total of his Step 9: "I need to say I'm sorry for my recovery." (Though to be fair, later in the episode, he briefly mentioned accepting the consequences of his actions).
I will be the very first to admit I am likely a little sensitive to how AA and the 12 Steps are generally portrayed in modern film and television. Over the course of this show's run 12 Step things have snuck in around the edges, so a producer or head writer or some such is probably in one 12 Step Program or another.
But I did find myself wanting to shout at the screen for a minute.
"It's not about apologizing! It's about making things right! It's about restitution! It's not about forcing your amends process onto anyone who doesn't want it!"
As I said, it was a minor character, and so I understand they had limited time in any given scene to explain what he was doing on the way to setting up a punchline.
And I can even believe that it was a well intentioned inclusion in the story... but dear god that makes me nuts sometimes. I would wager that, right after the whole "it's a religious program" thing, believing that Step 9 is just about saying "I'm sorry" is the most common misconception regarding all things 12 Step.
It's not just about saying "I'm sorry" -- though certainly that's often one appropriate thing to be done. It's about righting the wrong, balancing the ledger, owning the damage we did in whatever form and making whatever restitution we can.
And it's not so we can be "good" people -- that's just sort of an accidental, occasional result. It's so we are relieved of the things like guilt or arrogance or shame or denial which, left inside us, fester and poison us.
An apology can offer relief from a guilty conscience, that's certainly true; but an amends offers freedom from sickness, and heals a tormented spirit.
From J's question yesterday:
"These Steps seem so strange to a logical thinker like myself. Can you share anything that might help me?"
Well J, there's much discussion in Chapter 4 of the Big Book titled "We Agnostics" about logic and faith, but let's address instead the very specific problem you describe: A rational reluctance to the 12 Steps.
Frankly my friend I suspect, for whatever reason, you're probably over thinking it.
I have found that considering the first 3 Steps with slightly different wording can help people experience them with fewer filters. I am NOT trying to reinvent the 12 Steps (for me they are perfect as is). This is simply how I first found a way to embrace Steps 1, 2 and 3:
There's something wrong with my drinking and it's fucking up my life, and although I keep telling myself I'm going to get it together I just keep... not getting it together.
And things keep getting worse.
It's actually crazy that on the one hand I want so very badly to get it together and then on the other hand I just... don't care. Or I just change my mind. Or I forget.
But I believe there's something in AA that can help me.
So I'm going to do what AA suggests -- all of it.
That's it, basically. I admit I have a problem I can't solve on my own. It's getting worse. I think AA can help, so I'll do the AA deal. Steps 1, 2 and 3.
Actually, if you want to deconstruct the Steps from a logic standpoint -- and the Big Book too, for that matter -- that's pretty much the rhythm of the whole thing: Problem. Solution. Plan of Action. Lather, rinse, repeat.
(And as far as the above is concerned, I could define "wrong" pretty clinically, but I think if you're really a problem drinker you get how right the word "wrong" is. )
As for the rest of the 12 Steps, I'm going to suggest to you, J, something that I heard in maybe my first week of sobriety, and it served me well:
Balk at the Step you're on.
Don't get your kippers in a clip about all the rest. If you have had a problem getting and staying sober, then in my humble opinion you are best served by focusing on the first three steps, and the timing for the others will fall into place pretty gracefully after that.
As I said before, I can tell from your email you have a great attitude and you're willing -- keep those fires stoked, keep an open mind, and keep coming back.
Is it possible that sometimes we cling to a resentment so we can keep someone neatly labeled, rather than consider them from another point of view?
If I stay resentful at someone then I've defined them -- as the villain or the perpetrator or the bully or the thief or whatever -- and I can avoid the hard work of having an open mind, of considering what their illness or issue might have been (or might still be).
And then I can subtly minimize my part in the equation, postpone or avoid taking the full responsibility for my proverbial side of the street when I have one (as I so often, often do). In my heart I can slow the inventory-driven recovery process down, quietly whispering in my head "yes but they blah blah blah" every time I consider my part in something.
It's much less work to stay closed off in anger rather than open myself to seeing those who wronged me as fellow sufferers, or even, with Divine help, see them through eyes of love.
That's why I try to remember that the first thing the Big Book suggests I do in writing an inventory (the dreaded 4th Step) is not to pick up the pen and make a list of the people, institutions, etc. I resent -- no, the first thing I'm instructed to do is try to view those who I believe have wronged me as spiritually sick themselves.
Letting go of resentment is not just about taking responsibility for our part in things -- though that is essential -- it is about compassion, too.
ME: Well that sounds a bit subdued. What's up?
SPONSEE: I'm kind of freaking out about tomorrow.
"Tomorrow" was when they were going to do their 5th Step with me -- for the new kids, this means that they had written an inventory of their resentments, sex conduct and fears, and that inventory was their 4th Step. Reading the inventory to another person is the 5th Step. They had done one 4th and 5th Step before, with a previous sponsor, and they had been quite thorough -- but as is often the case, "more will be revealed" and their reports of how the inventory writing was going this time around indicated a lot of deep dark stuff was being dredged from the depths.
SPONSEE: Freaking out and... and I'm... I'm arguing with you in my head.
ME: You are? Cool! How am I doing? Am I winning?
They laughed a little, then sighed.
SPONSEE: Actually, you're kind of mean.
ME: Mean? Wow. That's a little out of character, I think... I hope, anyway.
SPONSEE: I'm just ... I'm just really freaking out about reading you this stuff. I'm just imagining you saying all kinds of...
ME: Okay, stop. Listen. I am not there to endorse or condemn. I am there to witness, and offer my experience if you want it and some insight if you feel its needed. That's it. I'm a witness to your process -- and that is a role, in fact, I feel it is a privilege to have. The 5th Step says, "Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being..." it does not say "... another human being who will, like that one unfair judge at the Olympics, always give you a bad score even though everyone agrees you totally stuck the dismount."
SPONSEE: Okay. Okay. That... that helps.
ME: Good. Honestly, remember, whatever you read me will always stay between you and me, and for the most part I am just there to witness. If I can and it's needful, maybe I'll offer some thoughts or help you fill in some blanks. NO judgment. Just tell the mean me in your head to shut up. No, wait. Tell him I might need him some time when I'm negotiating a good deal on a car, but he needs to just shut the hell up when it comes to the Steps. Okay?
ME: See you tomorrow?
SPONSEE: See you tomorrow.
And they did.
Didn't want to fall too far behind with emails, hence these "Quickies" from the inbox. For those of you who recognize your question in my brief summary of what you wrote, but feel I did not grasp the heart of what you were asking, please accept my apologies and write again so I can get it right. Cheers!
Dear Mr. SponsorPants,
I am very new to AA, and when people share about their sponsor sometimes it sounds like everything from a therapist to a life coach. What does a sponsor actually do?
A sponsor should take you through the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and in general help you apply AA's principles to your life on a daily basis -- not because it makes you a "good" moral person -- but because when we don't live that way we tend to snap, and drink again. A sponsor is most definitely NOT a therapist or a life coach although I understand why you might draw those comparisons. A sponsor is a sounding board, a person to check in with when life hands you the inevitable forks in the road, a resource for AA experience and direction. (AA's direction, not their personal brainstorm, exactly.) By sponsoring people the sponsor stays sober, so you are helping them as much -- if not more -- than they may be helping you, so please remember that. There is no debt incurred on the part of a sponsee towards their sponsor in any way, although often gratitude and real affection develop over time. But that's not a debt. A sponsor is not qualified to give medical advice or financial counsel outside of how AA suggests one approach those issues -- which boils down to seeking the appropriate professionals and being honest with them about whatever issues you may have which brought you to them in the first place. Ideally a sponsor shares their sober experience and support over time, hopefully setting an example, not "giving instructions." As there is no debt, you can change sponsors at any time.
In the book "Living Sober" there is a whole chapter which talks about sponsorship, and there is a (free!) brochure called "Questions and Answers on Sponsorship" which you should be able to find at most AA meetings, or if not at your AA Central Office, the location of which you should be able to find online if no one you ask can give you clear directions as to how to find it. No doubt you could contact any number of AA resources online and someone would send it to you, too. I STRONGLY suggest that you read those to get more clarification on sponsorship.
Dear Mr. SponsorPants,
The other day [Mr. SP edit: this post] you talked about "partnering" with God to help get rid of character defects, as in Steps 6 & 7. I'm a little confused by that. I thought in Step 7 the point was that we were asking God to remove our defects/shortcomings. Can you explain what you mean about "partnering"?
The 12 Steps are a process, the primary result of which is a spiritual experience which allows alcoholics and addicts to remain clean and sober in a state of Grace, without the kind of clenched mental anguish and gritted teeth which most would call "white knuckling it" -- and which does not have a great track record among real alcoholics when it comes to staying sober for the long haul. (There is, of course, much more to be said about what a spiritual experience is and can achieve, but let's keep it to basics for a moment.)
Back when we took Step 3 ("Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.") we agreed that from that point forward, God was the Boss, we were the gopher ("... God was going to be our Director. He is the Principal; we are His agents..."). So while I ask God to remove my character defects, I don't get to sit back and not do anything (I wish!) simply waiting for God to magically make me defect-free. I am a part of the process -- on my better days, a willing part, on my worser days, a grudging part -- but part of it nonetheless.
Dear Mr. SponsorPants,
What's the deal with 13th Stepping newcomers?
13th Stepping? I vote No. (A brief definition of 13th Stepping would be using AA as a way to hit on people, newcomers in particular. There's nothing wrong with hitting on people, it's the deceit and/or the potentially taking advantage of those who are not entirely "on their game" -- vulnerable -- that is the "wrong" part.)
More on sex and newcomers to AA here.
Hope some of that is helpful!
Once again, cheers!