The Twelve Steps

Step One

Step One I learned early on in my new life is the only step I need to practice with perfection. The good news is that most of us, myself included, are already working this step prior to setting foot in an AA meeting. I never dreamt as a child or adolescent that someday I would get to grow up and go to AA. Not many people come to AA for the first time with the idea that this is going to be a wonderful life-changing experience.

My first experience with AA was in a jail cell, so in a way it doesn’t count as going voluntarily. I only wanted a cigarette and a cup of coffee, and since I had 30 days to kill—these things were important. My second experience with AA was the one I was ready for. I had told my family doctor that I had a problem with alcohol (I had no one else to tell I guess). He poked my abdomen on my right side (my liver), and he said, “does this hurt.”

I said, “No.”

He replied, “Don’t go away.” I didn’t go anywhere. I sat obediently in my little doctor’s office. He returned in a few minutes with a business card. He told me, “tomorrow night, you will meet this man in the lobby of Crittenden Hospital and he will take you to an AA meeting. Try not to drink before that time.”

This doctor gave me a prescription that saved my life.

It took me close to a year before I could pick up my cherished 90-day token of sobriety, but by then Step One was understood. I was powerless over alcohol and I could not live life without it. I was willing to do anything to have a happy life, so I showed up and listened as best I could at the time. Thank God for AA.

I believe that AA teaches me to live One Day at a Time, and that means that I wake up and work the first several steps as soon as I am conscious. I am powerless over alcohol; I need and want to live this day close to God as I understand Him/Her; I turn my life and my day over to this power and pray for a change in consciousness today. I make a conscious choice to life this one day in the Sunshine of the Spirit—in the Presence of Divinity.  

Step Two

Today is a good example of what Step Two means to me. I awoke at 05:00 am with the “monkey mind” going too fast. All of a sudden I was worried about life but could not be specific about what it really was I was worried about. Was it global warming, no; the state of the nation and politics, not really; my health, no; work, no; just anxiety in general, YES.

I remember my ma doing the same thing. Sometimes she would be up at 05:00 in the morning sitting in her favorite chair. At least she knew enough to get out of bed and do something instead of letting the mind keep on whirling.

So what does this have to do with Step Two?

Well, everything—because the solution to such anxiety is in the action of Coming to Believe. Step Two says We Came to Believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. Thinking is not the answer. Drinking is not the answer. Sitting in bed and stressing out is not the answer. The Solution is Spiritual—Step Two tells me that the Solution to All my difficulties is Spiritual. Often the becoming willing to do such things is painful—before one really works Step Three and Decides to turn his/her will and life over to the care of God as we understand Him/Her. This pain, this anxiety, this lack of soundness of mind (sanity) is the prerequisite to peace. Before we became willing to stop drinking alcohol, the pain of drinking had to touch us deeply. Before we become willing completely surrender our life and will to God as we understand Him/Her, the pain of thinking has to touch us deeply. In AA I learned that these things are connected: my drinking and my thinking.

We have to be willing in Step Two to recognize that thinking is not the answer, nor is drinking. We look around and see people, happy people in AA or in our lives at work or in the community. In AA I have learned that this true happiness comes only from living a Spiritual Life. This does not mean I have to be a saint today or tomorrow. It simply means I have to be willing to trust God.

This morning, when I awoke and the mind was worried and whirring too fast, I had to take action—Spiritual action. I have learned to get out of bed and put the mind aside and trust God. A change in consciousness is what AA is about and the secret to a joyful life in or out of AA. This change in consciousness starts with working Step Two and begin the Journey, the Spiritual Journey. The rest of my life I can try to awaken with God in my Heart and God in my thoughts and God in my Breath. However I chose to focus on God is up to me—the world is full of solutions as it is in veils of confusion.  The world’s libraries and the internet if I choose—has lots of excellent resources of Spiritual materials. One does not have to be this or that religion or believe this or that dogma. One just starts to search and the door of willingness cracks open the Spiritual side of being human. I love libraries– that is just me. I love to walk around the world religion sections and just see what the world of Spiritual Ideas has to offer and I find an Ocean of Love waiting for me. I just have to look and seek and knock and open the door to my Heart.

I remember as a teenager, the years I was “loose” as my sponsor used to say, a juvenile delinquent—I once sat by the river in the park (which I still love to do—but the rivers in Tucson rarely have water in them). I then took a walk and entered my home town library. For some reason I just walked around and touched some of the books in boredom I guess. I was led to check out a book by Herman Hesse called Peter Camenzind.  I fell in love with this author and I now believe that I was led to him—there was no mistake. Hesse writes about people, young and old, who struggle with finding joy, finding meaning, finding Spirituality.

Years later, I had a professor at St. Mary’s College tell me (by this time I had found AA and a new life that included dreams coming true—like going to college) I should “put away the Herman Hesse books and go to a carnival.” He was right. I do not read much anymore, but the books still changed my life for the better. Maybe I will pick up Mr. Hesse again, maybe not.

So I’ve rambled about this step long enough. More to come!

Love, Michael

Step Three

Step three is: Made a Decision to turn my life and will over to the care of God, as I understand Him/Her. Since we became willing in step two, we now made the formal decision to Surrender (as my Sufi friends would say) to God.  In fact, the word Islam, means Surrender.  In Christianity, the image of the crucified Christ on the cross is an image of Surrender also. We give our entire Selves to God—our entire being—every aspect one can think of: emotionally, mentally, physically, financially, our romantic lives, our jobs, our relationships and connections to others, our decisions and indecisions—everything.  

This decision can be done formally if one wishes—in a church setting—in a park—in the privacy of one’s home. One can be on one’s knees if one wishes. This is an ancient expression of devotion and humility. In fact, in the AA world, going to Akron is a kind of calling for many. Having lived there myself for ten years (it’s a long story on the horizon), I know many people go to Dr. Bob’s home and go to the same room where many of the original 100 took this step—on their knees in a certain bedroom.

I can remember being in the cab of my first sponsor’s pickup truck in the Avon Park parking lot near the police station in my hometown. He had me read from the Big Book, the third step prayer. I can remember feeling awkward, not because of the words we read, but due to the fact that the windows of the cab had fogged up and I worried about what people might think we were really doing. (The worrying about what people think is the highest form of selfishness one can think of—and the root of our soul sickness). Later that week, or maybe it was a month later—that period of time is foggy for me. I remember sitting in the park not far from where we parked and read the prayer aloud. It must have been at least a month later because it was winter when the truck windows fogged up and it was warm and Spring-like when I had my experience on the park bench.

I was going to AA meetings and my life was slowly changing for the better—quickly in fact. I was putting together days and weeks and months of sobriety. I sat on my favorite bench (I tried them all naturally), and I watched the water rolling by in Paint Creek.  I thought about step three and turning my life over to God. I had an image of myself sitting on a leaf and just floating downstream. I liked that idea of letting go and letting God. This image still works for me, and I still use it. I picture my life as a river, and I can kind of steer a bit but the direction and the speed are up to God now. I turn my canoe around. I no longer struggle trying to go upstream against the current. I conform to His will.

It just so happened that there was a dead bird not far from me under a nearby tree. A little girl and her mother walked past behind me. The little girl asked, “what happed to the bird mommy?”

The mother replied, “I guess he just didn’t fit-in.”

It is funny how God talks to us through others sometimes.  I got it, and I get it. AA was a place I had where I felt like I fit-in for the first time in my life. There are others like me—hermits, Wolves of the Steppes, loners, drunks, unbalanced people just like me.  I still remember feeling something that day—I knew AA was the place for me and I kept going.

One of my favorite parts of the Big Book are the stories in the back because they all share the experiences other have had like mine in getting sober. I invite others to use my blog for the same purpose. You can share your step stories with the world if you want.

Step Four

People get stuck on this step for some reason. I did at first because it is kind of a daunting task to make these lists. Another reason one hesitates here is because we often think of the next step and how much we do not want to do step five, so the longer I dally on step four the longer  can put off step five.

When I first started attending AA meetings and encountered these 12 Steps—often hanging on a wall or at least emphasized somehow or another. After reading them over and over a few times, I had in the back of my mind certain ones I was not going to do. For me steps four and five seem uncomfortable and step nine was out of the question. But as time goes on and the willingness increases, we find ourselves working these steps in order. Since I have turned everything over to God, the next item on the agenda must be done with action, not praying or thinking.

Step four is just a list or two or three or four, depending on what you want to focus on. Often it helps to turn off the mind prior to working this step because the mind gets in the way. If I ask myself, do I hold a resentment against anyone today, or an institution? At first the mind says, of course not. But turning off the mind and making the list makes a difference. I found banks on my list. I always hated the dang banks—the fees and the interest and there never seemed to be enough money in there anyway. But after putting a bank on my list I had to ask the next question: okay, why do I resent them—ok, the fees—so why are there fees?  Well, for making errors they have to cover—overdrafts or bad checks. Ultimately, I have to ask, who is responsible for this? The answer is I am. The reason I had the fees and higher interest was my own mistakes. I have to own my responsibility in this picture. The same is true in all the resentments and fights and foolishness I have encountered. The funny thing is—once I see it on paper and take responsibility for my own foolishness, 90% of the discomfort and anger and resentment evaporates.

The other 10% or so needs attention also of course. But since we are only on step four, we continue to just make our lists and write. If one journals it is a plus. I see people who journal a great deal have an easier time looking at their feelings and reactions and ideas. I think it helps to see things more clearly.

I can remember making lists at work. I worked at a call center, and in between phone calls I’d work on my lists. This was a way that worked for me as it helped get my mind and ego out of the way. I could make my lists without my mind hesitating so often. One day I recall making a list and finding pretty much the whole world on my list. The traffic on the highway on the way to work—all those dang other fools driving around me. All the fools here at the call center. I hated them all. After I wrote this down I could easily see the error of my thinking. Oh, if I just let go and turn this awful movie off, I can be happier. Sometimes it is easy to change the movie of my life from bad to bliss in just a few seconds. Working step four helps to see the lists of things that pile up in our minds and emotions.

Step Five

This step scares people at first, but it is not that bad. After all we have been through with drinking and early recovery, this cannot compare. I have heard stories of awesome things happening during or after this step: feelings of peace, burdens lifted from the soul. I wish I could say I had one of those experiences but I did not. There is a part of me that says, “maybe you didn’t do it right.” Another voice says, “maybe I just didn’t do stuff that was THAT bad to be so upset about.”  The truth is I told my story to my first sponsor—Steve, before he moved to Florida on me. After listening to me for a couple hours he said, “Well, if you are not convinced you are an alcoholic, I sure am.”

Over the years I have thought of things I did not mention that first time, so over the years I have taken this step with other people—not necessarily sponsors. I believe the term is a closed mouthed friend. I have found this useful. I once had a girlfriend, and we kind of used each other in different ways. I confessed things to her that I could not tell anyone else in the world—my innermost-self kind of stuff. Maybe this is why we did not continue dating. I smile when I write that—like a Seinfeld episode: good luck with ALL THAT.

None of the 12 steps are done to perfection, except Step One. One of the great things about speaker meetings is we get to hear how others have worked the steps. Of course, the steps are outlined in our books, but that does not mean we all have the exact same experience—except healing that takes place sometimes quickly, sometime slowly—if we work for it. I heard one speaker say she vowed NOT to cry in a certain sponsor’s bedroom like half the other females in the group did. Eventually, she told the story of how she cried with that same person on the same bedroom floor. It was humorous and healing to hear. She cried her eyes out and felt healed afterward. I wish men could be closer to such emotions sometimes.

Like all the other steps and the AA program itself–all that is needed is the key of willingness. If you are willing to walk into the door of an AA meeting (pain being the motivation), then you are showing a willingness for something different to happen, besides being sick and tired and drunk again. I remember walking into the Friday night Adams Road meeting in my hometown near Oakland University. For weeks I had gone, and watched people walk in the door, and for weeks I would chicken out. One night I felt the car door open and my leg touch the ground. I felt myself walking toward the door. I thank God I found the willingness to walk into that door.

In the same vein, if one is willing to work steps two and three—one can feel the joy begin. If one is willing to work steps four and five—one can expect blessing of healing to happen.

Step Six

My experience with Step Six is problematic and entertaining, kind of. I used to think this was an easy step, more easy than say, 5 or 9.  I once sat at my Thursday night home group—this was in Akron, OH (yes, THAT Akron). I had been chair of the group more than once and I knew and loved my fellow home group members. As a part of the home group routine we would put a plastic coated step at the table at random place settings. As I like to participate (just add coffee and off I go), I sat at a place where there was something to read. I sat in front of the plastic card for Step Six. I said out loud, “oh, I got an easy one today.”

Judging from the smiles of the old-timers around me, I sensed maybe I did not understand the step much. (This was the same home group that had me read the promises twice in one meeting—as I was having a bad time. I love them all dearly for this. ) Wasn’t this just another becoming willing to do something step—half the steps are becoming willing ones, so what’s so hard about that?  

In the Twelve and Twelve it reads, “This is the step that separates the men from the boys.” With this in mind I pondered it a bit—and I still ponder. Sitting where I am today I can see that the becoming willing is never easy. It took a lot of pain to get me to walk in the door, to become willing to go to AA in the first place. It makes a difference in step six as to the degree of our willingness now. If I want to stop stealing because if I am caught I will go to jail again, it is one thing, a lower level of motivation. If I want to stop stealing because now I am a human being joining the rest of humanity on a path of rightness and loving others and not stealing because it is wrong, then this is a higher level of motivation. The difference is in the degree of motivation.

I have a humorous story I used to tell about this step. When I lived in Douglas, AZ, my group was next to my church I was going to (yes she was pretty).  On a certain evening, Maundy Thursday I think, I was asked to write on a small piece of paper (provided by the usher) something I wanted God to remove—a character defect as I used my AA filter to understand the assignment. At first I wrote down—LUST. I thought about it and after a minute I crossed off LUST and wrote something else. It is funny in that I was with a woman and I did not want God to remove lust from my heart as I still was using it somewhat often and liking it.

Step Eight

This is another becoming willing step—like before Step One, like Step Two, like Step Six. I become willing to make amends to those I have harmed. Sometimes this is easy—it takes a few seconds for me to think, “Oh, yes, I owe this person an amend.”

Like Step Four, I think people get freaked out and hung up on the following step. Step Nine was one that I shook my head in horror when I first read it on the wall. I am NOT doing that. So the becoming willing is important in this lifetime education without a graduation. I recall one of my sponsors telling me to take my list from Step Four of those I had harmed, and make it into several. One list is for those I feel I can do soon, within a week or month or so. The next list is those I am afraid to make—there are issues that have to be first digested, so this second list is for those I may find very difficult and may have to put off for a year or so. The third list is for people I swear to myself I will never speak to ever again as long as I live and I will never make amends to them.

The point is – over time we find people moving from list two to list one, and people from list three to list two. After all, we are not perfect, but we do want to be free, so we do this kind of stuff as we live our lives and we don’t drink no matter what.

Step Nine—

This step scares the hell out of people when they first see it. Yet over time we understand that we become willing to do such things as we gradually find the life of sobriety a promising one. It is not by chance that “The AA Promises” are found in the Big Book after Step Nine.

I have made amends face to face and I have sent checks in the mail. I have sent letters and made phone calls. These really did not take that long. It took some nerve to approach certain people, and some were surprisingly receptive, others not so much. I have one friend from High School who surprised me by choosing to not be my friend even after I made my amends. I hurts. I want his friendship back, but this step is not about getting things back—my motivation has to be just to clean my side of the street.

My favorite amends story goes back to my early days in high school and my early days in recovery. When I was a freshman in high school I was not so much a drinker as I was a thief. I was a delinquent. I once store a certain teacher’s purse when she was distracted by other students during class. Years later, I knew this had to be cleaned up if I wanted a joyful life in sobriety.

So I went to the high school—twelve years later. It was 04:00 or 05:00 in the afternoon and there was no one around, no students, no teachers, the principal’s office was closed and locked, and the lights were out. I’m sure there was a custodian somewhere but he/she was not visible. I took the envelope of money in my hand and put it in my back pocket and sighed to myself, “This was not one of my best ideas; everyone has gone home hours ago, and for heaven’s sake, this teacher could have moved to Nova Scotia years ago, or retired, or passed away.”

I then heard a pitter patter of footsteps coming from the cafeteria area near the Principal’s office where I stood. It was so quiet I could hear the footsteps coming for an entire minute I think.  And guess who turned the corner. Yes, it was her. Talk about all the planets lining up or lightning striking something twice. Talk about miracles that really happen—this is an example of a real one.

She looked at me and stopped smiling—oh she remembered me. I began my stuttering over-rehearsed discourse. I said, “Oh hi Ms. W—I’m not sure if you remember me.”

She interrupted, “Oh I remember you.”

I continued, “Well, then maybe you recall that one time I stole your purse. I don’t exact recall how much money was in it, but I have an envelope here with enough to cover what I took and some extra for the trouble I caused.”

She began to cry. She said, “OMG, you are working Step Nine.”  

I cry when I write this because it was so awesome. She knew exactly what Step Nine was. She hugged me and took the envelope. We smiled and cried together for a bit and then things became awkward.

I felt it was time to make an exit, so I did. I told her how sorry I was if I caused too much stress for her back then.

She smiled and wiped some tears away—and I walked down the hall and out the door.