In my journey of recovery there were many unsuccessful starts. They were unsuccessful for many different reasons I believe, but I can distill them down to two basic flaws: lack of honesty and lack of willingness.
My 12-Step Experience
Presently, I belong to and am very active in two 12 step fellowships. I have “belonged” for several years, but until a year ago I was never really “in the middle”. I didn’t buy-in. This is so common among many. Over the past few years, I have started the 12 steps many times but never completed them until recently. Each time I was either in active addiction or relapsed, killing my half-hearted efforts. The truth is, I was never willing to give fully of myself. Nor was I able to be honest with myself, let alone anyone else. My mind was so clouded that I was able to hide this tragic fact from myself. I wasn’t even honest about my dishonesty.
Letting Go and Letting God
Things changed, however. In complete and utter desperation, I gave up doing things my way. I let go of the “Michael Program” as my sponsor used to call it over and over. I can still recall the moment – it resonates with me on a deep feelings level -when I gave up and said “okay”, I will do it. “It” being staying longer in my sixth go at treatment. In that moment, I had a measure of honesty and willingness that I didn’t have before. I was open, just a fraction and just for a moment, to listening to what others who understood and who lived my experience before me had to say. But it was a fraction and moment enough. Since then, I have followed the advice of those I trust to a tee. And I mean to the letter, without waiver. I still am able to think for myself, and don’t blindly follow the suggestions of my sponsor and other with long-term recovery just because they say it. I follow because I often do not know and experience has made clear that they do. I think for myself in making the decision to take suggestions, situation by situation. A rule of thumb for me is: the more I resist seeking the help of others on any given issue, the more I need to (and I do).
I’m Still Human
While they may not always have the perfect answer, I am guaranteed that the suggestions they do have will never harm me. But my thinking often will – something else that has been made very clear through experience. The number of times and scenarios in which I seek help is lessening as I grow in recovery, but I still get stuck. That’s not just the condition of the addict, however, it is the human condition.
So What Does this Have to do with Spirituality?
When I initially attempted to separate myself from drugs some 11 years ago there was not a bloody chance in hell that I was going to even entertain AA or NA. I had nothing but contempt. Nor was there a bloody chance in hell that my goal of abstinence was going to succeed on that basis. Not with that attitude. Why did I feel that way about 12 step programs? It was for the weak and it used the G-word – God. I had nothing but contempt for weakness and for the notion of God. But a major factor underlying that contempt was fear. I feared spirituality because I didn’t know what it meant and it sounded a lot like giving up control. I couldn’t get my head around it. And I just couldn’t get past the idea of God the way it is normally spoken of in our Western culture.
The Process of Surrender
When I cleaned up this last time, I had finally surrendered, although I didn’t necessarily know that at the time. In that process of surrender, I had become honest, open-minded and willing. BAM! THAT was and is spirituality. That’s all I needed. Spirituality didn’t start with an event or a becoming or a tangible connection. It started, out of desperation, with the way I began to approach life: honestly, with an open heart and the willingness to accept that I had a problem I didn’t know how to manage but that others did. That is exactly how my spirituality started. Since that time, it has grown; tremendously and in ways I could not have imagined. I don’t choose how it grows, it just does – provided I govern myself by the three simple spiritual principles: honesty, open-mindedness and willingness. I call them the spirituality starter-kit.
I Am Humbled
I have a sense of humility today. I know that not because of my own assessment but from those who have watched and participated in my growth. They tell me so. Most times on most days, I am now am able to embrace the world as it is. A while ago I stopped crying out “when are things going to get better?” and began to see that it was I who needed to get better. That process is well underway and, lo and behold, “things” are getting better alongside. And it all began with my spiritual starter kit. This is not cliché, it is not a generalization. It is a hard fact. Spirituality need not be this vague, other-worldly concept. I rarely think of who or what is God. I don’t know and I never will. In fact, I don’t think of “God” in that way at all. What I am now able to see is how “God” is in my life today. And for what it’s worth, I don’t actually use the word God normally, but have absolutely no problem with those who do. In the end (in the beginning actually), I didn’t find spirituality; it was always there. All I needed to do was show up and put myself right there with it. The spiritual start kit did that for me.
Why I Need a 12-Step Program in My Recovery
It may be that some do not need 12 step programs to stay clean and sober. Even if that had been the case for me (which it most definitely wasn’t), I now see how tragic it would have been. The question I ask now isn’t “can I make it without a 12 step program?”, rather, “why would I want to?” You see, my primary reason for staying in the programs and fellowships isn’t to stay clean and sober – by itself that doesn’t mean a whole lot. I needed to change so much about me that caused me to use in the first place. And it is for that precise reason I stay. It is because of what they have done for my life. Aside from my glowing personality and wit, there is little about me that is the same. The insane judgment, irrational fears and intense anger are all but gone. I am a good person today who likes who he sees when he looks in the mirror. I have relationships on a dimension I never new existed; I connect in ways that were previously unknown to me. Today, I OWN my life and am no longer on the sidelines. In short, my spirit has awakened. That is what all of this can be reduced to: a spiritual life. Even if I was able to stay clean and sober today without a 12-step program, I have no desire.
No Longer a Skeptic
If you are like I once was – skeptical and contemptuous (I doubt anyone could have been anymore so than me), maybe take another look. Or maybe continue to live a shadow of a life if indeed that’s happening for you. That’s what I did for my ENTIRE life prior to recovery (without ever knowing it). All I have is now, and now I choose to live a better life.