When we work Steps 4 and 5, the point of the inventory and the admissions to God, ourselves, and another human being is to pinpoint the exact nature of our wrongs. What is that exact nature—in other words, what is a character defect? Is it a sin, a mistake, a psychological maladjustment?
It’s confusing, but we don’t need to be confused. Our literature is clear on the point, and in my experience, Centering and Welcoming Prayer both address that “exact nature”—exactly.
Join me on January 19 to consider and discuss this vital, and compassionate, understanding of character defects.
For years and years in the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, the !0th Step was an unknown land for me. Step Nine--drama, struggle, amends, freedom, the Promises! Step Eleven--prayer and meditation, exploration of spirituality; loved it.
As for Ten, well, it was apologizing when you needed to, right? And making a list of good deeds and bad at night. Or something.
I was good at apologizing, bad at listing up my daily goods and bads. Mostly, I just ignored this Step. Then I discovered that it is 1) confusing (the Big Book and the 12 and 12 don't quite agree about it) and 2) substantial, powerful, and liberating, because it is a kind of mini-version of the whole program. By missing it, I was missing out on a lot.
I'll explore this somewhat-under-appreciated Step when we get together on April 14. See you there.
What propelled me into my second Fourth Step was unbearable resentment. I knew
I was an alcoholic of the hopeless variety; I understood that I needed to defend
myself against the first drink. I had been without a drink for seven years, was
grateful for the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, and so on. But I was angry at my
wife, my situation in life, my cats, and the rest of the world. Prayer wasn’t relieving
me, meetings weren’t relieving me; I needed to take a look at myself.
On Saturday, January 13, I’ll talk about what happened when I finally did a truly
searching and fearless moral inventory.
For me, Step 7 has been a sometimes painful, always wonderful replay of good old Step 1, the Step where I received the great gift of a white flag. I was so relieved when my first sponsor told me to stop fighting alcohol, relax, and settle into the buoyancy of the fellowship of AA and the love of a Higher Power.
In Step 7 I discover a pattern just as inflexible and impervious to my unaided will as drinking was: my complex of bone-deep negative character traits, the ones that power up my resentments, my fears, and my compulsive acts of self-seeking. And just as with alcohol, I don’t hate or deride or attack these defects of character; I give them some love and hand them over to God with prayer. Again and again. And I get a little more patient, a little less reactive, a little less selfish, over time — along with plenty of backsliding, forgetfulness of prayer, and self justification.
Centering Prayer helps me feel closer to God on a daily basis so those times of forgetfulness of His love are shorter than they used to be.
I’m looking forward to seeing you on February 11, when I’ll talk about this and hear from you.
Step 1 suggests — very strongly! — that I admit my powerlessness over my main problem (in my case, alcoholism), as the “firm bedrock” upon which my recovery is to be built.
When I came into the program, I was encouraged to admit complete defeat where alcohol was concerned. And in working the Steps on problems other than alcohol, an admission of powerlessness was also very strongly recommended.
How, I wondered, was this supposed to work? How was utter weakness and total defeat supposed to turn into victory over my compulsion and mental obsession? When we get together on Saturday, October 8, I’ll share my experience of this process, and how it transformed my understanding of power, defeat, and victory.
“Spiritual experiences” and “spiritual awakening” are powerful phrases, and when we as addictive people in recovery contemplate them, they can seem like 1) invitations to a new kind of “high” or 2) nearly impossible goals.
But one of the most remarkable things about the 12 Steps is how they define and “engineer” spiritual experiences so that anybody with willingness, honesty, and open-mindedness can have them. And these very doable experiences turn out not to be momentary highs, but new adventures in, and perspectives on, living.
On May 14, I’ll talk about how my understanding of spiritual experience has changed (from thrilling encounters with God to a slow acceptance of other human beings), and try to describe how the process of spiritual awakening happened for me.
“Though we may at first be startled to realize that God knows all about us, we are apt to get used to that quite quickly. Somehow, being alone with God doesn’t seem as embarrassing as facing up to another person.” –Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Step 5
When Bill Wilson writes, he generally chooses his words with care, and when I first read the word embarrassing in that sentence from the Twelve and Twelve, I wondered why he was trying to make us alcoholics (and other compulsive folk) feel worse about ourselves than we already did. He seemed to be recommending embarrassment, for crying out loud.
I mean, haven’t we substance and relationship abusers had enough embarrassing experiences? Mine included knocking over bar tables on my way to the restroom and having to respond to repeated questions about my personal hygiene. I for one, am aiming to get embarrassments like that out of my life for good.
So what is Bill W. getting at with the use of this loaded word? And how does it relate to our basic problem? (Hint: Our basic problem isn’t alcohol, food, gambling, drugs, debt, the alcoholic, or any of the other impetuses that get us into the rooms.)
I’ll see if I can figure out what Bill is talking about when we meet on Saturday, January 9.
When I came into AA, I was advised do a series of simple things, many of them seemingly unrelated to my “problem,” all of them somehow “spiritual.” Showing up at meetings, listening, praying, meditating, helping others, doing simple acts of service.
And I was advised to work all twelve Steps, which have been called “spiritual experiences leading to a spiritual awakening.”
With time, I learned that the only act that brought about real and lasting change in my wounded, angry, egocentric personality was deliberately ands consciously giving myself and my problems to a Higher Power, directly in Steps 3 and 7, and indirectly in the other Steps.
I took a particularly firm hold on Step 11, which advises us to make use of resources from the great spiritual and religious traditions of the world as we strive to improve our conscious contact with our Higher Power.
In recovery I became very interested in spirituality in many forms, from Zen meditation to Catholic theology, Hindu devotional songs to Jewish mysticism.
On May 9, I’ll talk about some of my adventures in these realms, with particular emphasis on the times that I tried to stay emotionally sober on Hinduism or Buddhism or Catholicism, or a mixture of the above, while de-emphasizing the Program — which is, of course, far less colorful and dramatic. (Hint: things didn’t go too well.)