Recovery Is a Process of Awakening

“Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps …” (B.B. page 60). This is the promise confirmed in Step Twelve: having submitted to, taken the action required by, and been brought through the prior 11 steps, a spiritual awakening is guaranteed.

The Big Book is not self-explanatory — at least that is my experience. I am college educated, but the instructions for this spiritual process eluded me — and I wasn’t conscious of my lack of a spiritual awakening, even at four years sober. I was clueless even to its necessity or its possibility.

At the general direction of my sponsor, I had worked the steps, on my own, reading the Big Book and doing the best I could, with very few specific directions. My first step was about drinking events; second and third steps — about my cradle Catholic God; fourth step — about behavior; fifth step — a script-reading and therapy-mode disclosure; sixth and seventh steps — short, but ineffective; eighth and ninth steps—about sorry!, very sorry, indeed!; tenth and eleventh steps — about prayer, which I viewed from my previous religious exposure (versus experience); twelfth step — seemed mandatory and mundane drudgery, not an honor and privilege to be of service.

In anticipation of my fifth-year milestone, I was given the inspiration (breathed into from the Spirit) to:

  1. Rework the steps; and
  2. Ask a man (not my sponsor, since I’d already done that in my first year) to help guide me through this step process (this second thought was even more important than the first).

I had no idea this would change my life from the inside out. It brought me into an ongoing transformation that provides the emotional stability and spiritual development I had been pursuing through religion, therapy, and a variety of self-help programs for 30 years.

This man, Jerry R., introduced me to a very structured method of approaching the Big Book based on:

  • Prayer
  • Reading
  • Consideration/Reflection
  • Writing
  • Discussion

He pointed out that the Big Book:

  • … is “the basic text” (B.B. page xi) telling “the story of how many thousands of men and women have recovered from alcoholism” (B.B. face page)
  • … has as its main purpose “To show other alcoholics precisely how we have recovered …” (B.B. page xiii)
  • … describes “… a plan of recovery …” (B.B. page xxv)
  • … gets us to ask the question … “What do I have to do?”; “It is the purpose of this book to answer such questions, specifically.” (B.B. page 20).
  • … gives “clear-cut directions … showing how we recovered” (B.B. page 29 referring to Chapters 5-11).

The Big Book is about answering the question “But where and how … are we to find a Power greater than ourselves?” “Its main object is to enable you to find a Power … which will solve your problem” (B.B. page 45) — that is, lack of power.

Could it be a coincidence that the architecture analogy of “building an arch through which we shall walk a free man at last” [B.B. page 75] permeates the book whose cover is blue, as in blueprint — a specific “plan of recovery” [B.B. page xxv]?

Based on my previous effort (in my first year of sobriety) of working through the Big Book’s steps on my own, with no specific guidance, it’s clear to me that the Big Book requires assistance. For me the directions in the Big Book were not self-evident. I needed a step guide —
a person who himself had been led through the step process, who could share with me his instructions and experience.

My step guide gave me homework assignments, reducing the process into manageable projects, one for each step.

He asked me to:

  • Pray each time I sat down to do any of the assignments
  • Read with intention, highlighting words, phrases, and sentences that spoke to me
  • Review this assignment with consideration and pick out the most meaningful thoughts
  • Rewrite the highlighted passages in my own words
  • Call and make an appointment to get together and discuss the assignment when finished; we shared our respective observations, questions, and experiences on each Big Book page for this specific reading assignment.

This process (Steps One through Nine) took 11 months. While I had several important ah-hahs!!, the two most significant were:

  1. My body chemistry is different than normal people’s. When I ingest alcohol ,I cannot predict what will happen — but I can predict that periodically I will drink more than I intended. I have what looks like an allergy, which sets up a physical craving over which I have no control. I am totally powerless once I take that first drink.
  2. I have a role and responsibility for the turmoil in my life (fourth column of resentment inventory). This discovery paralleled Columbus’s observation that the world is round — my whole perspective changed. I found my troubles “… are basically of my own making” (B.B. page 62).

These results were revealed to me a couple of months after finishing my amends. I became conscious that I was no longer in conflict with my family, my work colleagues, or myself. The tension I was so used to experiencing in my everyday interactions evaporated. I began to experience a sense of peace and a demeanor of happiness. Life had become sweet. The promises I hoped would manifest in my life were now a reality.

About three years later (1991), I was moved to do the work again with a new step guide. The method and instructions were similar to what I had done in 1988, but there were important and valuable differences. I experienced new awakenings, new insight in several of the steps, especially:

Step One:    My mind is powerless to perceive the truth about alcohol — my mind is fundamentally flawed, defective. I experienced “no choice” at a previ-ously unknown core level. I had experienced that “strange mental blank spot” (B.B. page 42). I needed to fully concede to my innermost self (B.B. page 30) that I had a mental obsession over which I was powerless — even to see the truth when it is presented.

Step Four:    My troubles are of my own making arising out of a distorted sense of self-esteem (third column of resentment inventory); I lived in delusion, a lie, believing it to be the truth. I am not who I think I am.

The process this time took six months. My spiritual evolution continued; my spiritual awakening widened and deepened.

In anticipation of my tenth anniversary (1994), I was inspired to do the work again with a different step guide. Once again, the method and instructions were similar to 1988 and 1991, but not entirely the same. This time it was a very meditative process. I was instructed to approach each step from the vantage point of my experience and practice with Steps Ten and Eleven. Furthermore, I was asked to turn the statements in the Big Book into questions.

This method/process cracked open the meaning of the sentences by relating them to my personal experiences.

It took two years (there were major time lapses [balking] between columns in Step Four). Once again, I experienced new spiritual awakenings in several of the steps; the most meaningful were these:

  1. A deeper insight into unmanageability as the core of the disease — the spiritual malady; my will is radically (at its root) flawed — it has a natural (innate) tendency to choose self over all else. (Is this the origin of “sin” … choosing self over God?). I am powerless to choose other than myself without outside intervention.
  2. I came to understand that I had done the work previously with preformed ideas (a prejudgment) about God — bringing to the work a closed mind built around the previous “cradle Catholic God.” This prior knowledge and experience had prevented me from seeing the truth: I had a shadow corner of agnosticism (doubt), which was made clear to me when I looked at how I conducted my life (not how I thought, but how I walked — self-reliant). I was really a practical agnostic.

The questions asked in the presence of Grace and willingness have been the trip trigger to my recovery:

  • “What is your relationship with alcohol?” (1984)
  • “What happens when you put alcohol in your body?” (1988)
  • “Have you ever decided to stop drinking and found you couldn’t (or that you changed your mind!)?” (1991)
  • “What areas of your life are unmanageable? How effective has been your decision making, your use of your will power?” (1993)
  • “Do you have any doubts about God?” (1993)

It has been my experience that when, in an atmosphere of prayer, a thought-provoking question is asked and a thought-filled bit of information is presented, the result is new knowledge — not just at the intellectual level, but at the intuitive level. We become just a little bit more awake, a little bit more conscious. Our perceptions are shifted; our being is changed, ever so slightly, ever so subtly.

Transformation is our life’s goal. But we cannot make it happen. We can only be open to the process, and make ourselves ready to receive this gift. We can be taken to a place of willingness (Grace), but we must be willing to be taken (our cooperation). As I said previously, for me, the Big Book is not self-explanatory. I needed a lot of help over a prolonged time to understand both the depth of my disease and my responsibilities in recovery.

As a result of my experiences, I wrote “Twelve Step Guide to Using The Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book”(2004) to lay out the aggregate of instructions I received in the hopes that it might help others to see the “… clear-cut directions … showing how we recovered” (B.B. page 29). I could not find these instructions or follow them without specific guidance from one who had preceded me on the path. Having a guide was like wearing a coal miner’s helmet with a light on it — my step guide was able to switch on the light so that when I read the Big Book I could see the instructions and when I followed them precisely, I was led to the Truth.

Many men and women have journeyed the Twelve-Step path precisely. Find one and ask for help. Does this person have what you want? By their fruits (actions, lifestyle) you will know them.

It’s a matter of your life! Death does not scare me, but the dying process from here to there does. A drinking alcoholic’s life is filled with pain; a dry alcoholic’s life is filled with insanity. But the recovery process the Big Book outlines promises a “… high road to a new freedom.” (B.B. page xxi).

We are asleep dreaming that we are awake. The application of the Twelve Steps is a process not an event. It is an “awakening”: a gradual change in the way we think, feel, and behave and it is done to us not by us. It is not self help; it is a solution for the helpless.

The Twelve Steps are the introduction to a path that leads to an effective relationship with an accessible, personal Power. The Big Book says “… we are sure that our way of living has its advantages for all” (B.B. page xiii). This means those with addictions other than alcohol and even those without addictions — “normal” people looking for an improved spiritual life — can benefit from this process.

“We shall be with you in the Fellowship of the Spirit, and you will surely meet some of us as you trudge the Road of Happy Destiny.

May God bless you and keep you –until then.” (B.B. Page 164)

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