Stepping Forward

Step 11: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
Step 12: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others*, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

And so I came to the Steps that would change me more than any of the first ten, changes that would come more slowly and affect me more deeply.   To proceed, I’d accepted my powerlessness over many things outside myself, I’d come to know who I was … and who I wasn’t.   I’d cleaned up my side of the street with others.  Now, it was time to get right with God, which would be a good trick, given how vague and tenuous my beliefs could seem.  But I had that phrase … as we understood Him … working in my behalf.  And improving my conscious contact wouldn’t be too hard, since there hadn’t been a lot of contact for many years.

My meetings and books offered many suggestions as to how to pray, anything from formal prayers to a simple, Help me, God.  My sponsor told me, as he did with most things, Find what works for you.  What worked were a few prayers I’d written while doing the other Steps, the Serenity Prayer and a letter to God in the morning.  Stopping to say, What do You want me to do, God? and Thank You, God became more of a habit.   Literature provided less guidance on exactly what was meant by meditation … I’d learned Trancendental Meditation (TM) some years ago, so I  assumed that was it.  Over the years, I’ve broadened my definition to mean anything that stills my mind, from TM to painting to sitting on the beach listening to the surf.   Although I’d heard that Prayer is when you talk to God and meditation is when God talks to you, God’s never stopped by while I was meditating (or, if He did, He didn’t say anything).  However, I do think meditation makes me more receptive to seeing God’s will in the events of my day and hearing it in what others say.

Praying only for knowledge of God’s will has always been problematic for me.   Since I never hear God’s voice or encounter a burning bush, it’s always up to me to decide which is God’s will and which is mine, so sometimes, it’s trial and error.  Trial and error is better on a small scale than a large one, so it’s best for me to look for God’s will on a moment by moment basis and do my best with what’s in front of me.  God can build a grand purpose out of my little steps if that’s His will.  Besides, I’m only human … sometimes, I can’t resist asking for specifics … of course, the answer is sometimes yes, sometimes no and sometimes wait.   I’m not sure which confounds me more.  In the end, it was not the how of prayer and meditation that changed me.  It was the how often.

So here we are at Step 12, home of the spiritual awakening.  Over the years I had become willing to believe more while understanding less and to believe less but believe it more deeply.  Yes.  I came to believe.  I even had moments that I regarded as spiritual awakenings.  But I still resented others who seemed to have so much more, especially when they made it clear that they thought I needed so much more, too.   Then, shortly after a spiritual meltdown over just that issue at one of our Men’s Retreats last year, it happened.  I found myself completely comfortable with what I believe and unconcerned about the beliefs of others.  It seemed like it happened overnight but, of course, it took eighteen years.

Learning to practice the principles of the Steps in all my affairs has changed my relationship with the world.  My sponsor told me from the start, Bud, you don’t learn this stuff to do it in meetings.  Anyone can do that.  You need to practice it in your life.  My career was a place that this changed things dramatically.   I was always a my-way-or-the-highway guy.   People respected my skills but only the brightest wanted to work with me.  After I had been working the Steps for some years, a colleague stopped me in the halls asking, Are you working a 12 Step program?   Yes, I said, astonished.  How did you know?   You’ve changed, he answered.  People like to work with you.  At my retirement, someone who’d only known me for the latter part of my career said, You’re the only person I know who can work with anyone.  That’s how I know this stuff works.

And so I get to carry this message to others.  I go to meetings and share my experience.  I answer phones at the 12 Step office and talk to people in need.  I speak on panels at rehab facilities.  I sponsor other men.  And now, I’m writing about my experience here.  Part of the Traditions of 12 Step programs is that they are programs of attraction not promotion.  That’s why I always say at the end, This is my experience.   I’m not trying to convince you of anything, just telling you what worked for me.  I don’t think the 12 Steps are for everyone but I think anyone could benefit from them.

So, there you go.  12 Steps**.  19 years.

* In the A.A. Steps, it says carry this message to alcoholics.  This is the version used by Al-Anon

**If you are interested in reading more, Melodie Beattie’s Codependent’s Guide to the Twelve Steps provides a nice summary in a general context. Or find yourself an alcoholic and attend an Al-Anon meeting.  Or try Codependents Anonymous.  There’s a little codependent in all of us.

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3 Comments on “Stepping Forward”

  1. Thank you for this series. It’s been enlightening to those of us who have never “felt the need” to consider a 12-step program. I’ve heard the opening of meetings and I think I’ve seen the steps listed, but never really saw how they worked in practical ways, particularly not for someone who does not have an alcohol abuse problem. Maybe I’ve missed this, and I apologize if I have (I went back and read your intro to this series): why did you decide to start working the steps? Are you willing to share? Again, apologies if I’ve missed the answer! Just tell me which post to read and give me an implied smack upside the head to send me on my way.

    • oldereyes Says:

      I’ve never really said specifically why I started. Someone was using a certain substance and and it was recommended I try Al-Anon, for families of alcoholics. After a while it became more about me than anyone else, so I still go.

  2. Jeni Hill Ertmer Says:

    AA, Al-Anon and any other programs that use the 12-Steps can be applied to virtually any issue or problem area one encounters in life. Just substitute the issue for alcohol or alcoholic. It’s not an easy program at times but yet, it is an easy program all the time. Just depends on how the person reads and works it.

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