Taking Steps

I’ve talked here, on occasion, about the 12 Steps.  I don’t know what percentage of the world knows of the 12 Steps, much less works them.  Judging from the percentage of commenters on Bud’s Blog who know what I’m talking about, it may be more than I’d have guessed.  I know that there is a lot of skepticism … even hostility … toward the 12 Steps and the organization that brought them to light, Alcoholics Anonymous*.  The Orange Papers has been crusading against AA, its founders and anything remotely connected to the Steps obsessively** for years.  Since I have no experience with the Steps as an alcoholic, I won’t even try to defend their effectiveness in that arena except to say that I have many friends who swear they worked for them.  Scientific American has a reasonable and balanced article on the subject if you are interested.  I will address the critics who claim that 12 Step programs are cults by saying that in 19 years of attending meetings, I’ve never been coerced or forced to do anything.  As with any community, there has been some well-meaning pressure by a few individuals to do it their way but I’m good at ignoring it.   Others may be more susceptible and in human hands, the best of philosophies can develop cult-like characteristics.  I won’t deny that there are dominating sponsors and an occasional cult-like meetings.  My advice to my fellows has always been, If someone tries to tell you what to do, walk away or change meetings.

For me, the Steps have been the path to two things I’ve always wanted … self-acceptance and a belief in God … and something I didn’t know I wanted … serenity.   Let me rephrase that.  The Steps have been a means for me to find my path to self-acceptance, God and serenity.  I believe every person has to find his own path.  Parenthetically, for me, finding serenity means accepting life as it is, if not always joyfully, at least with a modicum of peace.  Not every minute but more often than not.   Written in the past tense and in the first person plural … we … the Steps lay out a procedure which others have used to find their true selves, which is the  definition of recovery.  Having the  Steps written in terms of we is a reminder that they should not be worked alone.   As a species, we are too good at denial, self-delusion and rationalization to take on such a project alone.  I listened to how many others, including my sponsor, worked the Steps … and read about others … before working them my way.

Over the next four Sundays, I’m going to talk about my experience with the Steps in four groups often used in meetings.  I’ll talk about how I worked the Steps … or how they worked me … not the details of what I learned about myself.  Steps 1-3 are often called the God Steps (I can’t, He can, I’ll let Him).   I was always told the Steps should be done in order, and coming to the Steps as an agnostic, I found it frustrating to have do the God Steps first.   Looking back through 19 years, I think of the first three steps as the Letting Go steps, where we realize that we are not in charge of the Universe, even our little corner of it.   They are a taste of humility.   In Steps 4-7, we get honest with ourselves through a searching and fearless moral inventory, which we share with a trusted friend and whatever Higher Power we’ve been able to cobble together to date.   In Steps 8-10, we make amends to our fellows for damages done and commit to the process hence forth.  To me, Steps 11 and 12 have been the real God Steps, involving conscious contact though prayer and meditation leading to a spiritual awakening.

I’ve wanted to write this for some time but there is a part of me that says it’s egotistical to write about something as widely used as the 12 Steps, as if I’m an expert … or worse, a guru.   After all, if I’m just trying to more clearly see my process (which writing certainly helps me do), these words could stay safely in my notebook.   One of the things I’ve learned in meetings, though, is that I often gain insight in expressing my experience to others, so I spoke to a few trusted friends about this project.  What they said was this: As long as you describe your experience with the Steps, it’s OK. So, for the next four Sundays, I’ll do just that.  Read along if you’re interested but remember that it’s my experience only … I’m not trying to convince you of anything.   Because, in the end, I believe the Zen saying:  Paths cannot be taught, they can only be taken.

* Wikipedia reports that there are about forty programs using the 12 Steps and another ten that are patterned after AA.

** I’d suggest to Mr. Orange that there is a 12-Step Program for that, but there probably isn’t and he’d probably just crusade against it.

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7 Comments on “Taking Steps”

  1. Jessica Says:

    If we all lived our lives by something so simple, we would improve ourselves exponentially and, in essence, improve the people around us as well.

  2. ceceliafutch Says:

    I look forward to the upcoming posts. I have drifted in and out of 12 step programs throughout my life, and I think you put it very well when you speak of it as a pathway…and ended with the zen saying. Thank you for sharing.

  3. territerri Says:

    I’m looking forward to your coming posts and will definitely be following along.

  4. I, too, am looking forward to hearing more about your path to self-acceptance, God and serenity.

  5. You are the only person I’ve ever known to work the Steps without being an alcoholic. I’m interested to hear your perspective and what you’ve found from it as you’re willing to share.

  6. Jeni Hill Ertmer Says:

    I’ve used the 12-Step Program via Al-Anon since a counselor recommended it to me 36 years ago this coming June. I haven’t attended meetings for many years though as the group nearest to where I live disbanded but once the steps/principles are learned and accepted, the meetings aren’t then really as needed -just nice though to have them for refreshers and out of friendship too. Once the realization comes about that we are trying to control everything and anything and ultimately have no control over anything but ourselves, a whole lot of things about live do become much more manageable -and even pleasant too! Reading your thoughts about this great program is something I always find very interesting as well as helpful with reminders in your posts about the Steps.

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