How I Live The 12 Steps

“Align your actions so that they match your values and inner knowingness of what’s right for you.” — Doreen Virtue

This recovery stuff can be really confusing sometimes. Applying the 12 steps in all of my affairs feels can feel especially confusing.

At the beginning it was just about not drinking. But nowadays, things look and feel a bit different. Now it’s about accepting life on life’s terms, cleaning house, trusting God and helping others so that I don’t drink. Oh — and trying to figure out what the heck God is trying to teach me. Which ironically, requires less “figuring it out” and more, shutting the hell up long enough to hear the message.

Here’s what it looks like for me…

Steps 1 through 3 usually come pretty easy. Disclaimer: I said easy, not quickly.

There’s this thing in my life, right? This person, place or thing that I keep trying to fix, manage and control. I can’t force my boyfriend to marry me, like yesterday. I can’t stop picking my face no matter how many times I swear I won’t touch it. I have no idea what the next phase of my career looks like and I want to know NOW. Whatever it is. It’s chronic. It’s bothersome.

I’m a slow learner so usually I’ll wrestle with said “thing” for a few days, weeks, or even months. Until one day, I’m like, Fine! You’re right, God. It’s true. I have no idea what I’m freaking doing and shit is getting real crazy up in here. Step 1.

Step 2: I had this compulsion to drink and nearly killed myself. Most would agree I was pretty insane. But you handled that pretty well, God. I guess I could let you handle this, too?

Step 3: Alright, God. You’re invited into this shit storm. I’m just going to let you figure it out, okay? I’m out.

Sometimes I get stuck at this step. Correction — I often get stuck at this step. Okay fine, I always get stuck at this step.

Intellectually I know that my higher power — God, the Universe, whatever you want to call it — is fully and 100 percent capable of working said “thing” out (insert boyfriend, body, job, whatever), but emotionally and spiritually I’m still hanging on. Whatever it is I’m holding onto has claw marks all over it.

Then I remember, there’s a difference between willfulness and willingness. And when I can get to that point of recognition a slow shift in my perspective starts to occur. And that shift in perspective comes from being open to the lesson. Because I’ll tell you what, my God is allll about the lessons people.

The Universe puts people, places and things in my path not to frustrate the shit out of me (although that seems to be an inevitable byproduct); but rather, to point me to a shortcoming or defect that’s disguising itself, or that I didn’t even know existed.

Phew, now we can slowly make our way into the remaining 9 steps.

My most recent lesson? Integrity.

Now I thought I had earned back plenty of integrity by just putting down the drink, which I had, but I’m learning that there’s much more to this integrity business.

This is a bitch of a lesson to learn, but I’m glad I’m open to learning it. The hard way…because….well….alcoholic.

Let me tell you another story just to illustrate. I’ll try to make this brief.

My boyfriend is in the German Special Forces. He lives in Germany and I live in Arizona. Side note: I used to live in Germany, too! But I lost that privilege when my drinking hit an all-time (hopefully) low.

Anyways — he comes to Arizona for training about 2-3 times a year. When he’s not here, and I’m doing my own thing, I’ve got a routine. I’m starting my day off with meditation and prayer; going to meetings, doing service work, hanging out with people in the program; hitting the gym, reading books, eating lots of healthy food, and doing all the other things that make me feel like a goddess in my own right. I’m balanced. I’m on the beam. Life is great.

Then this “thing” happens. My boyfriend comes back into town and suddenly my disease is like, “Woo! Hoo! Vacation!”. Usually I realize what’s going on and at least make sure I’m checking in with my sponsor, meditating and praying, staying in the book. Putting forth the effort to stay plugged in. Even if, admittedly, I don’t make it to any meetings that’s usually enough to fend off the crazy.

But this past trip I decided to throw the baby out with the bath water and just stop living my program cold turkey. I didn’t drink. Thank God. But I was all sorts of page 52.

What do I mean by page 52?

“We were having trouble with personal relationships, we couldn’t control our emotional natures, we were a prey to misery and depression, we couldn’t make a living, we had a feeling of uselessness, we were full of fear, we were unhappy, we couldn’t seem to be of real help to other people…”. — Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, page 52

That’s what I mean by page 52. This is what happens to me when I’m not doing what I’m supposed to be doing.

So let’s bring it back to the steps.

When I’m getting all sorts of pissed off at my boyfriend for whatever reason, how do I return to God, get back on the beam and find serenity? I do a 4th step. That’s how.

I ask myself — What’s my part in this? What’s the lesson God is trying to teach me here?

In this case my part had to do with integrity.

How did I get to integrity? Well — my definition of integrity is when my insides are not matching my outsides. When my intentions are not matching my behavior. When my values are being ignored.

I value my sobriety. I value my serenity. I value my sanity. But I wasn’t acting like a person who values any of those things. There was a disconnect.

Step 5: Call my sponsor (a few weeks too late albeit). Share at meetings.

Step 6: Get willing. Become open to the lesson.

I’m willing when I’m teachable. When I’m able to say — Yes. it’s true, my way didn’t work. I’d really like a new way of doing things, please.

Step 7: Ask God to remove my shortcomings.

I fell short. I missed the mark. I lacked integrity. So I ask God to help me have integrity in all areas of my life.

Step 8 & 9: Admitting my mistakes and setting an intention not to repeat them.

Who did I hurt? Who do I need to make an amends to?

Wow, Tommi, I really fell off the beam there. As a result I started exuding old behaviors. Next time that happens, would you be willing to ask me whether I’ve been working my program or not?”

Hey girls — I didn’t make the meetings I said I was going to make. I didn’t reach out to see how you were doing. I was too self-absorbed. You worried about me while I was away. I’m sorry.”

Whatever it looks like. I have to address the people who were affected by my behavior.

Step 10: If I’m wrong — admit it, apologize for it, move on, and do better next time. I have to check in with myself everyday.

Step 11: Talk to God, then shut up and listen.

Step 12: Pass it on.

Somedays the steps come easier than others. And that’s okay. I claim spiritual progress, not spiritual perfection. I am not a saint. I am an imperfect human living an imperfect human existence which is absolutely perfect in the eyes of my Creator. The point is, I’m willing to grow along spiritual lines. If I fall off the beam, it doesn’t mean I have to fall off the wagon completely. I never have to drink over anything, because I believe without a shadow of a doubt that for me, to drink is to die. And no human problem I’m dealing with today can be made better or be solved by drinking. It can only be made worse. I’ve surrendered to that fact. And for that, I am grateful.

photo credit: Mike Boening Photography Atlanta Office Complex via photopin (license)

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