Step Ten Eleven and Twelve

 

STEPS TEN, ELEVEN, AND TWELVE FROM THE “TWELVE AND TWELVE” OF ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS

 

Step Ten

“Continued to take personal inventory and

when we were wrong promptly admitted it.”

AS we work the first nine Steps, we prepare ourselves for

the adventure of a new life. But when we approach Step

Ten we commence to put our A.A. way of living to practical

use, day by day, in fair weather or foul. Then comes the

acid test: can we stay sober, keep in emotional balance, and

live to good purpose under all conditions?

A continuous look at our assets and liabilities, and a real

desire to learn and grow by this means, are necessities forWe alcoholics have learned this the hard way. More experienced

people, of course, in all times and places have

practiced unsparing self-survey and criticism. For the wise

have always known that no one can make much of his life

until self-searching becomes a regular habit, until he is able

to admit and accept what he finds, and until he patiently

and persistently tries to correct what is wrong.

When a drunk has a terrific hangover because he drank

heavily yesterday, he cannot live well today. But there is

another kind of hangover which we all experience whether

we are drinking or not. That is the emotional hangover, the

direct result of yesterday’s and sometimes today’s excesses

of negative emotion—anger, fear, jealousy, and the like. If

we would live serenely today and tomorrow, we certainly

need to eliminate these hangovers. This doesn’t mean we

need to wander morbidly around in the past. It requires an

admission and correction of errors now. Our inventory enables

us to settle with the past. When this is done, we are

really able to leave it behind us. When our inventory is

carefully taken, and we have made peace with ourselves,

the conviction follows that tomorrow’s challenges can be

met as they come.

Although all inventories are alike in principle, the time

factor does distinguish one from another. There’s the spotcheck

inventory, taken at any time of the day, whenever we

find ourselves getting tangled up. There’s the one we take at

day’s end, when we review the happenings of the hours just

past. Here we cast up a balance sheet, crediting ourselves

with things well done, and chalking up debits where due.

Then there are those occasions when alone, or in the company

of our sponsor or spiritual adviser, we make a careful

review of our progress since the last time. Many A.A.’s go

in for annual or semiannual housecleanings. Many of us

also like the experience of an occasional retreat from the

outside world where we can quiet down for an undisturbed

day or so of self-overhaul and meditation.

Aren’t these practices joy-killers as well as time-consumers?

Must A.A.’s spend most of their waking hours?

drearily rehashing their sins of omission or commission?

Well, hardly. The emphasis on inventory is heavy only because

a great many of us have never really acquired the

habit of accurate self-appraisal. Once this healthy practice

has become grooved, it will be so interesting and profitable

that the time it takes won’t be missed. For these minutes

and sometimes hours spent in self-examination are bound

 

 

 

 

 

to make all the other hours of our day better and happier.

And at length our inventories become a regular part of everyday

living, rather than something unusual or set apart.

Before we ask what a spot-check inventory is, let’s look

at the kind of setting in which such an inventory can do its

work.

It is a spiritual axiom that every time we are disturbed,

no matter what the cause, there is something wrong with us.  If somebody hurts us and we are sore, we are in the

wrong also. But are there no exceptions to this rule? What

about “justifiable” anger? If somebody cheats us, aren’t we

entitled to be mad? Can’t we be properly angry with selfrighteous

folk? For us of A.A. these are dangerous exceptions.

We have found that justified anger ought to be left to

those better qualified to handle it.

Few people have been more victimized by resentments

than have we alcoholics. It mattered little whether our resentments

were justified or not. A burst of temper could

spoil a day, and a well-nursed grudge could make us miserably

ineffective. Nor were we ever skillful in separating

justified from unjustified anger. As we saw it, our wrath

was always justified. Anger, that occasional luxury of more

balanced people, could keep us on an emotional jag indefinitely.

These emotional “dry benders” often led straight to

the bottle. Other kinds of disturbances—jealousy, envy,

self-pity, or hurt pride—did the same thing.

A spot-check inventory taken in the midst of such disturbances

can be of very great help in quieting stormy

emotions. Today’s spot check finds its chief application to

situations which arise in each day’s march. The consideration of long-standing difficulties had better be postponed,

when possible, to times deliberately set aside for that purpose.

The quick inventory is aimed at our daily ups and

downs, especially those where people or new events throw

us off balance and tempt us to make mistakes.

In all these situations we need self-restraint, honest

analysis of what is involved, a willingness to admit when

the fault is ours, and an equal willingness to forgive when

the fault is elsewhere. We need not be discouraged when

we fall into the error of our old ways, for these disciplines

are not easy. We shall look for progress, not for perfection.

Our first objective will be the development of self-restraint.

This carries a top priority rating. When we speak or

act hastily or rashly, the ability to be fair-minded and tolerant

evaporates on the spot. One unkind tirade or one willful

snap judgment can ruin our relation with another person for

a whole day, or maybe a whole year. Nothing pays off like

restraint of tongue and pen. We must avoid quick-tempered

criticism and furious, power-driven argument. The same

goes for sulking or silent scorn. These are emotional booby

traps baited with pride and vengefulness. Our first job is to

sidestep the traps. When we are tempted by the bait, we

should train ourselves to step back and think. For we can

neither think nor act to good purpose until the habit of selfrestraint

has become automatic.

Disagreeable or unexpected problems are not the only

ones that call for self-control. We must be quite as careful

when we begin to achieve some measure of importance and

material success. For no people have ever loved personal

triumphs more than we have loved them; we drank of success as of a wine which could never fail to make us feel

elated. When temporary good fortune came our way, we indulged

ourselves in fantasies of still greater victories over

people and circumstances. Thus blinded by prideful selfconfidence,

we were apt to play the big shot. Of course,

people turned away from us, bored or hurt.

Now that we’re in A.A. and sober, and winning back the

esteem of our friends and business associates, we find that

we still need to exercise special vigilance. As an insurance

against “big-shot-ism” we can often check ourselves by remembering

that we are today sober only by the grace of

God and that any success we may be having is far more His

success than ours.

Finally, we begin to see that all people, including ourselves,

are to some extent emotionally ill as well as

frequently wrong, and then we approach true tolerance and

see what real love for our fellows actually means. It will become

more and more evident as we go forward that it is

pointless to become angry, or to get hurt by people who,

like us, are suffering from the pains of growing up.

Such a radical change in our outlook will take time,

maybe a lot of time. Not many people can truthfully assert

that they love everybody. Most of us must admit that we

have loved but a few; that we have been quite indifferent to

the many so long as none of them gave us trouble; and as

for the remainder—well, we have really disliked or hated

them. Although these attitudes are common enough, we

A.A.’s find we need something much better in order to keep

our balance. We can’t stand it if we hate deeply. The idea

that we can be possessively loving of a few, can ignore the

Step Ten

many, and can continue to fear or hate anybody, has to be

abandoned, if only a little at a time.

We can try to stop making unreasonable demands upon

those we love. We can show kindness where we had shown

none. With those we dislike we can begin to practice justice

and courtesy, perhaps going out of our way to understand

and help them.

Whenever we fail any of these people, we can promptly

admit it—to ourselves always, and to them also, when the

admission would be helpful. Courtesy, kindness, justice,

and love are the keynotes by which we may come into harmony

with practically anybody. When in doubt we can

always pause, saying, “Not my will, but Thine, be done.”

And we can often ask ourselves, “Am I doing to others as I

would have them do to me—today?”

When evening comes, perhaps just before going to

sleep, many of us draw up a balance sheet for the day. This

is a good place to remember that inventory-taking is not always

done in red ink. It’s a poor day indeed when we

haven’t done something right. As a matter of fact, the waking

hours are usually well filled with things that are

constructive. Good intentions, good thoughts, and good acts

are there for us to see. Even when we have tried hard and

failed, we may chalk that up as one of the greatest credits of

all. Under these conditions, the pains of failure are converted

into assets. Out of them we receive the stimulation we

need to go forward. Someone who knew what he was talking

about once remarked that pain was the touchstone of all

spiritual progress. How heartily we A.A.’s can agree with

him, for we know that the pains of drinking had to come

before sobriety, and emotional turmoil before serenity.

As we glance down the debit side of the day’s ledger,

we should carefully examine our motives in each thought

or act that appears to be wrong. In most cases our motives

won’t be hard to see and understand. When prideful, angry,

jealous, anxious, or fearful, we acted accordingly, and that

was that. Here we need only recognize that we did act or

think badly, try to visualize how we might have done better,

and resolve with God’s help to carry these lessons over into

tomorrow, making, of course, any amends still neglected.

But in other instances only the closest scrutiny will reveal

what our true motives were. There are cases where our

ancient enemy, rationalization, has stepped in and has justified

conduct which was really wrong. The temptation here

is to imagine that we had good motives and reasons when

we really didn’t.

We  “constructively criticized” someone who needed it,

when our real motive was to win a useless argument. Or,

the person concerned not being present, we thought we

were helping others to understand him, when in actuality

our true motive was to feel superior by pulling him down.

We sometimes hurt those we love because they need to be

“taught a lesson,” when we really want to punish. We were

depressed and complained we felt bad, when in fact we

were mainly asking for sympathy and attention. This odd

trait of mind and emotion, this perverse wish to hide a bad

motive underneath a good one, permeates human affairs

from top to bottom. This subtle and elusive kind of self-righteousness

can underlie the smallest act or thought.

Learning daily to spot, admit, and correct these flaws is the

essence of character-building and good living. An honest

regret for harms done, a genuine gratitude for blessings received,

and a willingness to try for better things tomorrow

will be the permanent assets we shall seek.

Having so considered our day, not omitting to take due

note of things well done, and having searched our hearts

with neither fear nor favor, we can truly thank God for the

blessings we have received and sleep in good conscience.

 

 

Step Eleven

“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.”

PRAYER and meditation are our principal means of conscious

contact with God.

We A.A.’s are active folk, enjoying the satisfactions of

dealing with the realities of life, usually for the first time in

our lives, and strenuously trying to help the next alcoholic

who comes along. So it isn’t surprising that we often tend to

slight serious meditation and prayer as something not really

necessary. To be sure, we feel it is something that might

help us to meet an occasional emergency, but at first many

of us are apt to regard it as a somewhat mysterious skill of

clergymen, from which we may hope to get a secondhand

benefit. Or perhaps we don’t believe in these things at all.

To certain newcomers and to those one-time agnostics

who still cling to the A.A. group as their higher power,

claims for the power of prayer may, despite all the logic and

experience in proof of it, still be unconvincing or quite objectionable.

Those of us who once felt this way can

certainly understand and sympathize. We well remember

how something deep inside us kept rebelling against the

idea of bowing before any God. Many of us had strong log-

ic, too, which “proved” there was no God whatever. What

about all the accidents, sickness, cruelty, and injustice in the

world? What about all those unhappy lives which were the

direct result of unfortunate birth and uncontrollable circumstances?

Surely there could be no justice in this scheme of

things, and therefore no God at all.

Sometimes we took a slightly different tack. Sure, we

said to ourselves, the hen probably did come before the

egg. No doubt the universe had a “first cause” of some sort,

the God of the Atom, maybe, hot and cold by turns. But

certainly there wasn’t any evidence of a God who knew or

cared about human beings. We liked A.A. all right, and

were quick to say that it had done miracles. But we recoiled

from meditation and prayer as obstinately as the scientist

who refused to perform a certain experiment lest it prove

his pet theory wrong. Of course we finally did experiment,

and when unexpected results followed, we felt different; in

fact we knew different; and so we were sold on meditation

and prayer. And that, we have found, can happen to anybody

who tries. It has been well said that “almost the only

scoffers at prayer are those who never tried it enough.”

Those of us who have come to make regular use of

prayer would no more do without it than we would refuse

air, food, or sunshine. And for the same reason. When we

refuse air, light, or food, the body suffers. And when we

turn away from meditation and prayer, we likewise deprive

our minds, our emotions, and our intuitions of vitally needed

support. As the body can fail its purpose for lack of

nourishment, so can the soul. We all need the light of God’s

reality, the nourishment of His strength, and the atmosphere

of His grace. To an amazing extent the facts of A.A. Life

confirm this ageless truth.

There is a direct linkage among self-examination, meditation,

and prayer. Taken separately, these practices can

bring much relief and benefit. But when they are logically

related and interwoven, the result is an unshakable foundation

for life. Now and then we may be granted a glimpse of

that ultimate reality which is God’s kingdom. And we will

be comforted and assured that our own destiny in that realm

will be secure for so long as we try, however falteringly, to

find and do the will of our own Creator.

As we have seen, self-searching is the means by which

we bring new vision, action, and grace to bear upon the

dark and negative side of our natures. It is a step in the development

of that kind of humility that makes it possible

for us to receive God’s help. Yet it is only a step. We will

want to go further.

We will want the good that is in us all, even in the worst

of us, to flower and to grow. Most certainly we shall need

bracing air and an abundance of food. But first of all we

shall want sunlight; nothing much can grow in the dark.

Meditation is our step out into the sun. How, then, shall we

meditate?

The actual experience of meditation and prayer across

the centuries is, of course, immense. The world’s libraries

and places of worship are a treasure trove for all seekers. It

is to be hoped that every A.A. who has a religious connection

which emphasizes m

Well, we might start like this. First let’s look at a really

good prayer. We won’t have far to seek; the great men and

women of all religions have left us a wonderful supply.

Here let us consider one that is a classic.

Its author was a man who for several hundred years

now has been rated as a saint. We won’t be biased or scared

off by that fact, because although he was not an alcoholic

he did, like us, go through the emotional wringer. And as he

came out the other side of that painful experience, this

prayer was his expression of what he could then see, feel,

and wish to become:

ELEVENTH STEP PRAYER The Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi

“Lord, make me a channel of thy peace—that where

there is hatred, I may bring love—that where there is

wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness—that where

there is discord, I may bring harmony—that where there is

error, I may bring truth—that where there is doubt, I may

bring faith—that where there is despair, I may bring hope

—that where there are shadows, I may bring light—that

where there is sadness, I may bring joy. Lord, grant that I

may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted—to understand,

than to be understood—to love, than to be loved.

For it is by self-forgetting that one finds. It is by forgiving

that one is forgiven. It is by dying that one awakens to Eternal

Life. Amen.”

As beginners in meditation, we might now reread this

prayer several times very slowly, savoring every word and

trying to take in the deep meaning of each phrase and idea.

It will help if we can drop all resistance to what our friend

says. For in meditation, debate has no place. We rest quietly

with the thoughts of someone who knows, so that we may

experience and learn.

As though lying upon a sunlit beach, let us relax and

breathe deeply of the spiritual atmosphere with which the

grace of this prayer surrounds us. Let us become willing to

partake and be strengthened and lifted up by the sheer spiritual

power, beauty, and love of which these magnificent

words are the carriers. Let us look now upon the sea and

ponder what its mystery is; and let us lift our eyes to the far

horizon, beyond which we shall seek all those wonders still

unseen.

“Shucks!” says somebody. “This is nonsense. It isn’t

practical.”

When such thoughts break in, we might recall, a little

ruefully, how much store we used to set by imagination as

it tried to create reality out of bottles. Yes, we reveled in that

sort of thinking, didn’t we? And though sober nowadays,

don’t we often try to do much the same thing? Perhaps our

trouble was not that we used our imagination. Perhaps the

real trouble was our almost total inability to point imagination

toward the right objectives. There’s nothing the matter

with constructive imagination; all sound achievement rests

upon it. After all, no man can build a house until he first envisions

a plan for it. Well, meditation is like that, too; it

helps to envision our spiritual objective before we try to

move toward it. So let’s get back to that sunlit beach—or to

the plains or to the mountains, if you prefer.

When, by such simple devices, we have placed ourselves

in a mood in which we can focus undisturbed on

constructive imagination, we might proceed like this:

Once more we read our prayer, and again try to see
what its inner essence is. We’ll think now about the man
who first uttered the prayer. First of all, he wanted to become
a “channel.” Then he asked for the grace to bring
love, forgiveness, harmony, truth, faith, hope, light, and joy
to every human being he could.
Next came the expression of an aspiration and a hope
for himself. He hoped, God willing, that he might be able to
find some of these treasures, too. This he would try to do by
what he called self-forgetting. What did he mean by “selfforgetting,”
and how did he propose to accomplish that?
He thought it better to give comfort than to receive it;
better to understand than to be understood; better to forgive
than to be forgiven.

This much could be a fragment of what is called meditation,

perhaps our very first attempt at a mood, a flier into

the realm of spirit, if you like. It ought to be followed by a

good look at where we stand now, and a further look at

what might happen in our lives were we able to move closer

to the ideal we have been trying to glimpse. Meditation is

something which can always be further developed. It has

no boundaries, either of width or height. Aided by such instruction

and example as we can find, it is essentially an

individual adventure, something which each one of us

works out in his own way. But its object is always the

same: to improve our conscious contact with God, with His

grace, wisdom, and love. And let’s always remember that

meditation is in reality intensely practical. One of its first

fruits is emotional balance. With it we can broaden and

deepen the channel between ourselves and God as we understand

Him.

Now, what of prayer? Prayer is the raising of the heart

and mind to God—and in this sense it includes meditation.

How may we go about it? And how does it fit in with meditation?

Prayer, as commonly understood, is a petition to

God. Having opened our channel as best we can, we try to

ask for those right things of which we and others are in the

greatest need. And we think that the whole range of our

needs is well defined by that part of Step Eleven which

says: “. . . knowledge of His will for us and the power to

carry that out.” A request for this fits in any part of our day.

In the morning we think of the hours to come. Perhaps

we think of our day’s work and the chances it may afford us

to be useful and helpful, or of some special problem that it

may bring. Possibly today will see a continuation of a serious

and as yet unresolved problem left over from yesterday.

Our immediate temptation will be to ask for specific solutions

to specific problems, and for the ability to help other

people as we have already thought they should be helped.

In that case, we are asking God to do it our way. Therefore,

we ought to consider each request carefully to see what its

real merit is. Even so, when making specific requests, it

will be well to add to each one of them this qualification: “.

. . if it be Thy will.” We ask simply that throughout the day

God place in us the best understanding of His will that we

can have for that day, and that we be given the grace by

which we may carry it out.

As the day goes on, we can pause where situations must

be met and decisions made, and renew the simple request:

“Thy will, not mine, be done.” If at these points our emotional

disturbance happens to be great, we will more surely

keep our balance, provided we remember, and repeat to

ourselves, a particular prayer or phrase that has appealed to

us in our reading or meditation. Just saying it over and over

will often enable us to clear a channel choked up with

anger, fear, frustration, or misunderstanding, and permit us

to return to the surest help of all—our search for God’s will,

not our own, in the moment of stress. At these critical moments,

if we remind ourselves that “it is better to comfort

than to be comforted, to understand than to be understood,

to love than to be loved,” we will be following the intent of

Of course, it is reasonable and understandable that the

question is often asked: “Why can’t we take a specific and

troubling dilemma straight to God, and in prayer secure

from Him sure and definite answers to our requests?”

This can be done, but it has hazards. We have seen

A.A.’s ask with much earnestness and faith for God’s explicit

guidance on matters ranging all the way from a

shattering domestic or financial crisis to correcting a minor

personal fault, like tardiness. Quite often, however, the

thoughts that seem to come from God are not answers at

all. They prove to be well-intentioned unconscious rationalizations.

The A.A., or indeed any man, who tries to run his

life rigidly by this kind of prayer, by this self-serving demand

of God for replies, is a particularly disconcerting

individual. To any questioning or criticism of his actions he

instantly proffers his reliance upon prayer for guidance in

all matters great or small. He may have forgotten the possibility

that his own wishful thinking and the human

tendency to rationalize have distorted his so-called guid-

ance. With the best of intentions, he tends to force his own

will into all sorts of situations and problems with the comfortable

assurance that he is acting under God’s specific

direction. Under such an illusion, he can of course create

great havoc without in the least intending it.

We also fall into another similar temptation. We form

ideas as to what we think God’s will is for other people. We

say to ourselves, “This one ought to be cured of his fatal

malady,” or “That one ought to be relieved of his emotional

pain,” and we pray for these specific things. Such prayers,

of course, are fundamentally good acts, but often they are

based upon a supposition that we know God’s will for the

person for whom we pray. This means that side by side

with an earnest prayer there can be a certain amount of presumption

and conceit in us. It is A.A.’s experience that

particularly in these cases we ought to pray that God’s will,

whatever it is, be done for others as well as for ourselves.

In A.A. we have found that the actual good results of

prayer are beyond question. They are matters of knowledge

and experience. All those who have persisted have found

strength not ordinarily their own. They have found wisdom

beyond their usual capability. And they have increasingly

found a peace of mind which can stand firm in the face of

difficult circumstances.

We discover that we do receive guidance for our lives

to just about the extent that we stop making demands upon

God to give it to us on order and on our terms. Almost any

experienced A.A. will tell how his affairs have taken remarkable

and unexpected turns for the better as he tried to

improve his conscious contact with God. He will also re-

port that out of every season of grief or suffering, when the

hand of God seemed heavy or even unjust, new lessons for

living were learned, new resources of courage were uncovered,

and that finally, inescapably, the conviction came that

God does “move in a mysterious way His wonders to perform.”

All this should be very encouraging news for those who

recoil from prayer because they don’t believe in it, or because

they feel themselves cut off from God’s help and

direction. All of us, without exception, pass through times

when we can pray only with the greatest exertion of will.

Occasionally we go even further than this. We are seized

with a rebellion so sickening that we simply won’t pray.

When these things happen we should not think too ill of

ourselves. We should simply resume prayer as soon as we

can, doing what we know to be good for us.

Perhaps one of the greatest rewards of meditation and

prayer is the sense of belonging that comes to us. We no

longer live in a completely hostile world. We are no longer

lost and frightened and purposeless. The moment we catch

even a glimpse of God’s will, the moment we begin to see

truth, justice, and love as the real and eternal things in life,

we are no longer deeply disturbed by all the seeming evidence

to the contrary that surrounds us in purely human

affairs. We know that God lovingly watches over us. We

know that when we turn to Him, all will be well with us,

here and hereafter.

 

Step Twelve

“Having had a spiritual awakening as the

result of these steps, we tried to carry this

message to alcoholics, and to practice these

principles in all our affairs.”

THE joy of living is the theme of A.A.’s Twelfth Step, and

action is its key word. Here we turn outward toward our

fellow alcoholics who are still in distress. Here we experience

the kind of giving that asks no rewards. Here we begin

to practice all Twelve Steps of the program in our daily

lives so that we and those about us may find emotional sobriety.

When the Twelfth Step is seen in its full implication,

it is really talking about the kind of love that has no price

tag on it.

Our Twelfth Step also says that as a result of practicing

all the Steps, we have each found something called a spiritual

awakening. To new A.A.’s, this often seems like a very

dubious and improbable state of affairs. “What do you

mean when you talk about a ‘spiritual awakening’?” they

ask.

Maybe there are as many definitions of spiritual awakening

as there are people who have had them. But certainly

each genuine one has something in common with all the

others. And these things which they have in common are

not too hard to understand. When a man or a woman has a

spiritual awakening, the most important meaning of it is

that he has now become able to do, feel, and believe that

which he could not do before on his unaided strength and

resources alone. He has been granted a gift which amounts

to a new state of consciousness and being. He has been set

on a path which tells him he is really going somewhere,

that life is not a dead end, not something to be endured or

mastered. In a very real sense he has been transformed, because

he has laid hold of a source of strength which, in one

way or another, he had hitherto denied himself. He finds

himself in possession of a degree of honesty, tolerance, unselfishness,

peace of mind, and love of which he had

thought himself quite incapable. What he has received is a

free gift, and yet usually, at least in some small part, he has

made himself ready to receive it.

A.A.’s manner of making ready to receive this gift lies

in the practice of the Twelve Steps in our program. So let’s

consider briefly what we have been trying to do up to this

point:

Step One showed us an amazing paradox: We found

that we were totally unable to be rid of the alcohol obsession

until we first admitted that we were powerless over it.

In Step Two we saw that since we could not restore ourselves

to sanity, some Higher Power must necessarily do so

if we were to survive. Consequently, in Step Three we

turned our will and our lives over to the care of God as we

understood Him. For the time being, we who were atheist

or agnostic discovered that our own group, or A.A. as a

whole, would suffice as a higher power. Beginning with

Step Four, we commenced to search out the things in ourselves

which had brought us to physical, moral, and

spiritual bankruptcy. We made a searching and fearless

moral inventory. Looking at Step Five, we decided that an

inventory, taken alone, wouldn’t be enough. We knew we

would have to quit the deadly business of living alone with

our conflicts, and in honesty confide these to God and another

human being. At Step Six, many of us balked—for

the practical reason that we did not wish to have all our defects

of character removed, because we still loved some of

them too much. Yet we knew we had to make a settlement

with the fundamental principle of Step Six. So we decided

that while we still had some flaws of character that we

could not yet relinquish, we ought nevertheless to quit our

stubborn, rebellious hanging on to them. We said to ourselves,

“This I cannot do today, perhaps, but I can stop

crying out ‘No, never!’” Then, in Step Seven, we humbly

asked God to remove our short comings such as He could

or would under the conditions of the day we asked. In Step

Eight, we continued our housecleaning, for we saw that we

were not only in conflict with ourselves, but also with people

and situations in the world in which we lived. We had to

begin to make our peace, and so we listed the people we

had harmed and became willing to set things right. We followed

this up in Step Nine by making direct amends to

those concerned, except when it would injure them or other

people. By this time, at Step Ten, we had begun to get a basis

for daily living, and we keenly realized that we would

need to continue taking personal inventory, and that when

we were in the wrong we ought to admit it promptly. In

Step Eleven we saw that if a Higher Power had restored us

to sanity and had enabled us to live with some peace of

mind in a sorely troubled world, then such a Higher Power

was worth knowing better, by as direct contact as possible.

The persistent use of meditation and prayer, we found, did

open the channel so that where there had been a trickle,

there now was a river which led to sure power and safe

guidance from God as we were increasingly better able to

understand Him.

So, practicing these Steps, we had a spiritual awakening

about which finally there was no question. Looking at those

who were only beginning and still doubted themselves, the

rest of us were able to see the change setting in. From great

numbers of such experiences, we could predict that the

doubter who still claimed that he hadn’t got the “spiritual

angle,” and who still considered his well-loved A.A. group

the higher power, would presently love God and call Him

by name.

Now, what about the rest of the Twelfth Step? The wonderful

energy it releases and the eager action by which it

carries our message to the next suffering alcoholic and

which finally translates the Twelve Steps into action upon

all our affairs is the payoff, the magnificent reality, of Alcoholics

Anonymous.

Even the newest of newcomers finds undreamed rewards

as he tries to help his brother alcoholic, the one who

is even blinder than he. This is indeed the kind of giving

that actually demands nothing. He does not expect his

brother sufferer to pay him, or even to love him. And then

he discovers that by the divine paradox of this kind of giving

he has found his own reward, whether his brother has

yet received anything or not. His own character may still be

gravely defective, but he somehow knows that God has en-

abled him to make a mighty beginning, and he senses that

he stands at the edge of new mysteries, joys, and experiences

of which he had never even dreamed.

Practically every A.A. member declares that no satisfaction

has been deeper and no joy greater than in a Twelfth

Step job well done. To watch the eyes of men and women

open with wonder as they move from darkness into light, to

see their lives quickly fill with new purpose and meaning,

to see whole families reassembled, to see the alcoholic outcast

received back into his community in full citizenship,

and above all to watch these people awaken to the presence

of a loving God in their lives—these things are the substance

of what we receive as we carry A.A.’s message to the

next alcoholic.

Nor is this the only kind of Twelfth Step work. We sit in

A.A. meetings and listen, not only to receive something

ourselves, but to give the reassurance and support which

our presence can bring. If our turn comes to speak at a

meeting, we again try to carry A.A.’s message. Whether our

audience is one or many, it is still Twelfth Step work. There

are many opportunities even for those of us who feel unable

to speak at meetings or who are so situated that we cannot

do much face-to-face Twelfth Step work. We can be the

ones who take on the unspectacular but important tasks that

make good Twelfth Step work possible, perhaps arranging

for the coffee and cake after the meetings, where so many

skeptical, suspicious newcomers have found confidence

and comfort in the laughter and talk. This is Twelfth Step

work in the very best sense of the word. “Freely ye have received;

freely give . . .” is the core of this part of Step

Twelve.

We may often pass through Twelfth Step experiences

where we will seem to be temporarily off the beam. These

will appear as big setbacks at the time, but will be seen later

as stepping-stones to better things. For example, we may

set our hearts on getting a particular person sobered up, and

after doing all we can for months, we see him relapse. Perhaps

this will happen in a succession of cases, and we may

be deeply discouraged as to our ability to carry A.A.’s message.

Or we may encounter the reverse situation, in which

we are highly elated because we seem to have been successful.

Here the temptation is to become rather possessive

of these newcomers. Perhaps we try to give them advice

about their affairs which we aren’t really competent to give

or ought not give at all. Then we are hurt and confused

when the advice is rejected, or when it is accepted and

brings still greater confusion. By a great deal of ardent

Twelfth Step work we sometimes carry the message to so

many alcoholics that they place us in a position of trust.

They make us, let us say, the group’s chairman. Here again

we are presented with the temptation to overmanage things,

and sometimes this results in rebuffs and other consequences

which are hard to take.

But in the longer run we clearly realize that these are

only the pains of growing up, and nothing but good can

come from them if we turn more and more to the entire

Twelve Steps for the answers.

Now comes the biggest question yet. What about the

practice of these principles in all our affairs? Can we love

the whole pattern of living as eagerly as we do the small

segment of it we discover when we try to help other alcoholics

achieve sobriety? Can we bring the same spirit of

love and tolerance into our sometimes deranged family

lives that we bring to our A.A. group? Can we have the

same kind of confidence and faith in these people who have

been infected and sometimes crippled by our own illness

that we have in our sponsors? Can we actually carry the

A.A. spirit into our daily work? Can we meet our newly

recognized responsibilities to the world at large? And can

we bring new purpose and devotion to the religion of our

choice? Can we find a new joy of living in trying to do

something about all these things?

Furthermore, how shall we come to terms with seeming

failure or success? Can we now accept and adjust to either

without despair or pride? Can we accept poverty, sickness,

loneliness, and bereavement with courage and serenity?

Can we steadfastly content ourselves with the humbler, yet

sometimes more durable, satisfactions when the brighter,

more glittering achievements are denied us?

The A.A. answer to these questions about living is “Yes,

all of these things are possible.” We know this because we

see monotony, pain, and even calamity turned to good use

by those who keep on trying to practice A.A.’s Twelve

Steps. And if these are facts of life for the many alcoholics

who have recovered in A.A., they can become the facts of

life for many more.

Of course all A.A.’s, even the best, fall far short of such

achievements as a consistent thing. Without necessarily taking

that first drink, we often get quite far off the beam. Our

troubles sometimes begin with indifference. We are sober

and happy in our A.A. work. Things go well at home and

office. We naturally congratulate ourselves on what later

proves to be a far too easy and superficial point of view. We

temporarily cease to grow because we feel satisfied that

there is no need for all of A.A.’s Twelve Steps for us. We

are doing fine on a few of them. Maybe we are doing fine

on only two of them, the First Step and that part of the

Twelfth where we “carry the message.” In A.A. slang, that

blissful state is known as “two-stepping.” And it can go on

for years.

The best-intentioned of us can fall for the “two-step” illusion.

Sooner or later the pink cloud stage wears off and

things go disappointingly dull. We begin to think that A.A.

doesn’t pay off after all. We become puzzled and discouraged.

 

Then perhaps life, as it has a way of doing, suddenly

hands us a great big lump that we can’t begin to swallow, let

alone digest. We fail to get a worked-for promotion. We

lose that good job. Maybe there are serious domestic or romantic

difficulties, or perhaps that boy we thought God was

looking after becomes a military casualty.

What then? Have we alcoholics in A.A. got, or can we

get, the resources to meet these calamities which come to

so many? These were problems of life which we could never

face up to. Can we now, with the help of God as we

understand Him, handle them as well and as bravely as our

nonalcoholic friends often do? Can we transform these

calamities into assets, sources of growth and comfort to

ourselves and those about us? Well, we surely have a

chance if we switch from “two-stepping” to “twelve-step-

ping,” if we are willing to receive that grace of God which

can sustain and strengthen us in any catastrophe.

Our basic troubles are the same as everyone else’s, but

when an honest effort is made “to practice these principles

in all our affairs,” well-grounded A.A.’s seem to have the

ability, by God’s grace, to take these troubles in stride and

turn them into demonstrations of faith. We have seen A.A.’s

suffer lingering and fatal illness with little complaint, and

often in good cheer. We have sometimes seen families broken

apart by misunderstanding, tensions, or actual

infidelity, who are reunited by the A.A. way of life.

Though the earning power of most A.A.’s is relatively

high, we have some members who never seem to get on

their feet moneywise, and still others who encounter heavy

financial reverses. Ordinarily we see these situations met

with fortitude and faith.

Like most people, we have found that we can take our

big lumps as they come. But also like others, we often discover

a greater challenge in the lesser and more continuous

problems of life. Our answer is in still more spiritual development.

Only by this means can we improve our chances

for really happy and useful living. And as we grow spiritually,

we find that our old attitudes toward our instincts need

to undergo drastic revisions. Our desires for emotional security

and wealth, for personal prestige and power, for

romance, and for family satisfactions—all these have to be

tempered and redirected. We have learned that the satisfaction

of instincts cannot be the sole end and aim of our lives.

If we place instincts first, we have got the cart before the

horse; we shall be pulled backward into disillusionment.

But when we are willing to place spiritual growth first—

then and only then do we have a real chance.

After we come into A.A., if we go on growing, our attitudes

and actions toward security—emotional security and

financial security—commence to change profoundly. Our

demand for emotional security, for our own way, had constantly

thrown us into unworkable relations with other

people. Though we were sometimes quite unconscious of

this, the result always had been the same. Either we had

tried to play God and dominate those about us, or we had

insisted on being overdependent upon them. Where people

had temporarily let us run their lives as though they were

still children, we had felt very happy and secure ourselves.

But when they finally resisted or ran away, we were bitterly

hurt and disappointed. We blamed them, being quite unable

to see that our unreasonable demands had been the cause.

When we had taken the opposite tack and had insisted,

like infants ourselves, that people protect and take care of

us or that the world owed us a living, then the result had

been equally unfortunate. This often caused the people we

had loved most to push us aside or perhaps desert us entirely.

Our disillusionment had been hard to bear. We couldn’t

imagine people acting that way toward us. We had failed to

see that though adult in years we were still behaving childishly,

trying to turn everybody—friends, wives, husbands,

even the world itself—into protective parents. We had refused

to learn the very hard lesson that overdependence

upon people is unsuccessful because all people are fallible,

and even the best of them will sometimes let us down, especially

when our demands for attention become unreasonable.

As we made spiritual progress, we saw through these

fallacies. It became clear that if we ever were to feel emotionally

secure among grown-up people, we would have to

put our lives on a give-and-take basis; we would have to

develop the sense of being in partnership or brotherhood

with all those around us. We saw that we would need to

give constantly of ourselves without demands for repayment.

When we persistently did this we gradually found

that people were attracted to us as never before. And even if

they failed us, we could be understanding and not too seriously

affected.

When we developed still more, we discovered the best

possible source of emotional stability to be God Himself.

We found that dependence upon His perfect justice, forgiveness,

and love was healthy, and that it would work

where nothing else would. If we really depended upon

God, we couldn’t very well play God to our fellows nor

would we feel the urge wholly to rely on human protection

and care. These were the new attitudes that finally brought

many of us an inner strength and peace that could not be

deeply shaken by the shortcomings of others or by any

calamity not of our own making.

This new outlook was, we learned, something especially

necessary to us alcoholics. For alcoholism had been a

lonely business, even though we had been surrounded by

people who loved us. But when self-will had driven everybody

away and our isolation had become complete, it

caused us to play the big shot in cheap barrooms and then

fare forth alone on the street to depend upon the charity of

passersby. We were still trying to find emotional security by

being dominating or dependent upon others. Even when

our fortunes had not ebbed that much and we nevertheless

found ourselves alone in the world, we still vainly tried to

be secure by some unhealthy kind of domination or dependence.

For those of us who were like that, A.A. had a very

special meaning. Through it we begin to learn right relations

with people who understand us; we don’t have to be

alone any more.

Most married folks in A.A. have very happy homes. To

a surprising extent, A.A. has offset the damage to family

life brought about by years of alcoholism. But just like all

other societies, we do have sex and marital problems, and

sometimes they are distressingly acute. Permanent marriage

breakups and separations, however, are unusual in

A.A. Our main problem is not how we are to stay married;

it is how to be more happily married by eliminating the severe

emotional twists that have so often stemmed from

alcoholism.

Nearly every sound human being experiences, at some

time in life, a compelling desire to find a mate of the opposite

sex with whom the fullest possible union can be made

—spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical. This mighty

urge is the root of great human accomplishments, a creative

energy that deeply influences our lives. God fashioned us

that way. So our question will be this: How, by ignorance,

compulsion, and self-will, do we misuse this gift for our

own destruction? We A.A. cannot pretend to offer full answers

to age-old perplexities, but our own experience does

provide certain answers that work for us.

When alcoholism strikes, very unnatural situations may

develop which work against marriage partnership and compatible

union. If the man is affected, the wife must become

the head of the house, often the breadwinner. As matters get

worse, the husband becomes a sick and irresponsible child

who needs to be looked after and extricated from endless

scrapes and impasses. Very gradually, and usually without

any realization of the fact, the wife is forced to become the

mother of an erring boy. And if she had a strong maternal

instinct to begin with, the situation is aggravated. Obviously

not much partnership can exist under these conditions.

The wife usually goes on doing the best she knows how,

but meanwhile the alcoholic alternately loves and hates her

maternal care. A pattern is thereby established that may take

a lot of undoing later on. Nevertheless, under the influence

of A.A.’s Twelve Steps, these situations are often set right.*

When the distortion has been great, however, a long period

of patient striving may be necessary. After the husband

joins A.A., the wife may become discontented, even highly

resentful that Alcoholics Anonymous has done the very

thing that all her years of devotion had failed to do. Her

husband may become so wrapped up in A.A. and his new

friends that he is inconsiderately away from home more

than when he drank. Seeing her unhappiness, he recommends

A.A.’s Twelve Steps and tries to teach her how to

live. She naturally feels that for years she has made a far

*In adapted form, the Steps are also used by Al-Anon Family

Groups. Not a part of A.A., this worldwide fellowship consists of

spouses and other relatives or friends of alcoholics (in A.A. or still

drinking). Its headquarters address is 1600 Corporate Landing

Parkway, Virgina Beach, VA 23456.

better job of living than he has. Both of them blame each

other and ask when their marriage is ever going to be happy

again. They may even begin to suspect it had never been

any good in the first place.

Compatibility, of course, can be so impossibly damaged

that a separation may be necessary. But those cases are the

unusual ones. The alcoholic, realizing what his wife has endured,

and now fully understanding how much he himself

did to damage her and his children, nearly always takes up

his marriage responsibilities with a willingness to repair

what he can and to accept what he can’t. He persistently

tries all of A.A.’s Twelve Steps in his home, often with fine

results. At this point he firmly but lovingly commences to

behave like a partner instead of like a bad boy. And above

all he is finally convinced that reckless romancing is not a

way of life for him.

A.A. has many single alcoholics who wish to marry and

are in a position to do so. Some marry fellow A.A.’s. How

do they come out? On the whole these marriages are very

good ones. Their common suffering as drinkers, their common

interest in A.A. and spiritual things, often enhance

such unions. It is only where “boy meets girl on A.A. campus,”

and love follows at first sight, that difficulties may

develop. The prospective partners need to be solid A.A.’s

and long enough acquainted to know that their compatibility

at spiritual, mental, and emotional levels is a fact and not

wishful thinking. They need to be as sure as possible that

no deep-lying emotional handicap in either will be likely to

rise up under later pressures to cripple them. The considerations

are equally true and important for the A.A.’s who

marry “outside” A.A. With clear understanding and right,

grown-up attitudes, very happy results do follow.

And what can be said of many A.A. members who, for

a variety of reasons, cannot have a family life? At first

many of these feel lonely, hurt, and left out as they witness

so much domestic happiness about them. If they cannot

have this kind of happiness, can A.A. offer them satisfactions

of similar worth and durability? Yes—whenever they

try hard to seek them out. Surrounded by so many A.A.

friends, these so-called loners tell us they no longer feel

alone. In partnership with others—women and men—they

can devote themselves to any number of ideas, people, and

constructive projects. Free of marital responsibilities, they

can participate in enterprises which would be denied to

family men and women. We daily see such members render

prodigies of service, and receive great joys in return.

Where the possession of money and material things

was concerned, our outlook underwent the same revolutionary

change. With a few exceptions, all of us had been

spendthrifts. We threw money about in every direction with

the purpose of pleasing ourselves and impressing other

people. In our drinking time, we acted as if the money supply

was inexhaustible, though between binges we’d

sometimes go to the other extreme and become almost

miserly. Without realizing it we were just accumulating

funds for the next spree. Money was the symbol of pleasure

and self-importance. When our drinking had become much

worse, money was only an urgent requirement which could

supply us with the next drink and the temporary comfort of

oblivion it brought.

Upon entering A.A., these attitudes were sharply reversed,

often going much too far in the opposite direction.

The spectacle of years of waste threw us into panic. There

simply wouldn’t be time, we thought, to rebuild our shattered

fortunes. How could we ever take care of those awful

debts, possess a decent home, educate the kids, and set

something by for old age? Financial importance was no

longer our principal aim; we now clamored for material security.

Even when we were well reestablished in our

business, these terrible fears often continued to haunt us.

This made us misers and penny pinchers all over again.

Complete financial security we must have—or else. We

forgot that most alcoholics in A.A. have an earning power

considerably above average; we forgot the immense goodwill

of our brother A.A.’s who were only too eager to help

us to better jobs when we deserved them; we forgot the actual

or potential financial insecurity of every human being

in the world. And, worst of all, we forgot God. In money

matters we had faith only in ourselves, and not too much of

that.

This all meant, of course, that we were still far off balance.

When a job still looked like a mere means of getting

money rather than an opportunity for service, when the acquisition

of money for financial independence looked more

important than a right dependence upon God, we were still

the victims of unreasonable fears. And these were fears

which would make a serene and useful existence, at any financial

level, quite impossible.

But as time passed we found that with the help of A.A.’s

Twelve Steps we could lose those fears, no matter what of

material prospects were. We could cheerfully perform humble

labor without worrying about tomorrow. If our

circumstances happened to be good, we no longer dreaded

a change for the worse, for we had learned that these troubles

could be turned into great values. It did not matter too

much what our material condition was, but it did matter

what our spiritual condition was. Money gradually became

our servant and not our master. It became a means of exchanging

love and service with those about us. When, with

God’s help, we calmly accepted our lot, then we found we

could live at peace with ourselves and show others who still

suffered the same fears that they could get over them, too.

We found that freedom from fear was more important than

freedom from want.

Let’s here take note of our improved outlook upon the

problems of personal importance, power, ambition, and

leadership. These were reefs upon which many of us came

to shipwreck during our drinking careers.

Practically every boy in the United States dreams of becoming

our President. He wants to be his country’s number

one man. As he gets older and sees the impossibility of this,

he can smile good-naturedly at his childhood dream. In later

life he finds that real happiness is not to be found in just

trying to be a number one man, or even a first-rater in the

heartbreaking struggle for money, romance, or self-importance.

He learns that he can be content as long as he plays

well whatever cards life deals him. He’s still ambitious, but

not absurdly so, because he can now see and accept actual

reality. He’s willing to stay right size.

But not so with alcoholics. When A.A. was quite

young, a number of eminent psychologists and doctors

made an exhaustive study of a good-sized group of socalled

problem drinkers. The doctors weren’t trying to find

how different we were from one another; they sought to

find whatever personality traits, if any, this group of alcoholics

had in common. They finally came up with a

conclusion that shocked the A.A. members of that time.

These distinguished men had the nerve to say that most of

the alcoholics under investigation were still childish, emotionally

sensitive, and grandiose.

How we alcoholics did resent that verdict! We would

not believe that our adult dreams were often truly childish.

And considering the rough deal life had given us, we felt it

perfectly natural that we were sensitive. As to our grandiose

behavior, we insisted that we had been possessed of nothing

but a high and legitimate ambition to win the battle of

life.

In the years since, however, most of us have come to

agree with those doctors. We have had a much keener look

at ourselves and those about us. We have seen that we were

prodded by unreasonable fears or anxieties into making a

life business of winning fame, money, and what we thought

was leadership. So false pride became the reverse side of

that ruinous coin marked “Fear.” We simply had to be number

one people to cover up our deep-lying inferiorities. In

fitful successes we boasted of greater feats to be done; in

defeat we were bitter. If we didn’t have much of any worldly

success we became depressed and cowed. Then people

said we were of the “inferior” type. But now we see ourselves

as chips off the same old block. At heart we had all

been abnormally fearful. It mattered little whether we had

sat on the shore of life drinking ourselves into forgetfulness

or had plunged in recklessly and willfully beyond our depth

and ability. The result was the same—all of us had nearly

perished in a sea of alcohol.

But today, in well-matured A.A.’s, these distorted drives

have been restored to something like their true purpose and

direction. We no longer strive to dominate or rule those

about us in order to gain self-importance. We no longer

seek fame and honor in order to be praised. When by devoted

service to family, friends, business, or community we

attract widespread affection and are sometimes singled out

for posts of greater responsibility and trust, we try to be

humbly grateful and exert ourselves the more in a spirit of

love and service. True leadership, we find, depends upon

able example and not upon vain displays of power or glory.

Still more wonderful is the feeling that we do not have

to be specially distinguished among our fellows in order to

be useful and profoundly happy. Not many of us can be

leaders of prominence, nor do we wish to be. Service, gladly

rendered, obligations squarely met, troubles well

accepted or solved with God’s help, the knowledge that at

home or in the world outside we are partners in a common

effort, the well-understood fact that in God’s sight all human

beings are important, the proof that love freely given

surely brings a full return, the certainty that we are no

longer isolated and alone in self-constructed prisons, the

surety that we need no longer be square pegs in round holes

but can fit and belong in God’s scheme of things—these are

the permanent and legitimate satisfactions of right living for

which no amount of pomp and circumstance, no heap of

material possessions, could possibly be substitutes. True

ambition is not what we thought it was. True ambition is

the deep desire to live usefully and walk humbly under the

grace of God.

These little studies of A.A. Twelve Steps now come to a

close. We have been considering so many problems that it

may appear that A.A. consists mainly of racking dilemmas

and troubleshooting. To a certain extent, that is true. We

have been talking about problems because we are problem

people who have found a way up and out, and who wish to

share our knowledge of that way with all who can use it.

For it is only by accepting and solving our problems that

we can begin to get right with ourselves and with the world

about us, and with Him who presides over us all. Understanding

is the key to right principles and attitudes, and

right action is the key to good living; therefore the joy of

good living is the theme of A.A. Twelfth Step.

With each passing day of our lives, may every one of us

sense more deeply the inner meaning of A.A.’s simple

prayer:

God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change,

Courage to change the things we can,

And wisdom to know the difference.

Leave a Reply