Editor’s note: The 12 Steps are a program of action. We can act our way into right thinking and not the other way around. Life changes and perspective widens through this process. Big worries become small, self-absorption melts away. Eyes and hearts open to the love and connection with a power that is greater than ourselves. This month, Pippin talks about facing life on life’s terms: that’s the opposite of alcoholic escapism, it’s moving through the pain and coming out at the other end. Julia shares about confronting one’s character defects and overcoming the pride-in-reverse thinking that human imperfection equals being defective. It’s not about keeping tabs and judging oneself: If I do that, it’s still all about me. It’s a program of action. So don’t miss out on this month’s last story and call to action, by Ronald our Regional chair. CER needs you! There are plenty of service opportunities at region. Please click the link to find out what the service positions entail and nominate someone, yourself, or ask your group to nominate you. If you have any questions, please get in touch with Ronald. It’s a program of action. It requires willingness. The willingness to change and to do service. Action!
A few days ago life presented me with a new challenge, one that instantly overwhelmed me. At first, my emotional and physical response was so intense that I felt close to incapacitated. Even now that I am writing and my attention is on this text, I feel the presence of these emotions in my body as a distinct pain in my chest. What baffles me, is that the challenge I am facing and that is causing all of this pain, is not mine, it is my parents.
I grew up being told that with the right education, I would be able to achieve any goal in life. As I fought through the turmoil of my youth I seemed to emerge stronger from every battle. I became aware of my determination as something extraordinarily powerful. It dawned on me that what they told me was not quite right. Education had little to do with this power of mine. This power was not something I would have to acquire, it was already in me. This sense of power provided something like a golden wave on which I surfed through my youth and early adulthood, a time which was in fact a bit of a nightmare: a broken home, an alcoholic father, a family in constant crisis, my own addiction on top making everything worse. And then the guilt. I started blackout drinking when I was sixteen. When I was 25 I went to rehab and continued drinking soon after. I tried to control my drinking for a decade. When I was 36 I finally gave up.
In a fateful turn of events, the fact that I am an alcoholic put me onto a path that eventually led me to AA and into the arms of a wonderful sponsor. Before I was halfway through the steps, I noticed a shift in my perception: Challenges became less unmanageable, problems less problematic, and tricky situations less tricky. It became possible to put some distance between myself and the intense emotions that I experience, especially in difficult situations. I learned that my old reliance on myself, in other words, my self-will, was no longer the solution. I practiced letting go, acceptance, and gratitude. Since then my life has gradually gotten calmer and more peaceful. Often I tell sponsees how lucky I feel to have found AA, because if I remain willing, I can not only get to solve my drinking problem, but I can solve every problem.
For as long as I can remember I have wanted a happy mother and a happy father, a healthy, carefree family. I still do. Having gone through the twelve steps as well as psychotherapy, I have become aware of my character defects associated with my relationship with my parents. Looking at it now, I see that these defects are still well and alive. As long as my parents are reasonably well, I don’t have a problem. Though as soon as they are unwell, I become unwell too. What happened a couple of days ago has brought back a fierce determination to take control. And guess what: I think I know exactly what to do. I want to awaken my sleeping god-self, come down from heaven and fix it all.
But I am sober today. So I try not to think like that. I have a breadth of tools. They have worked for me in the past. Yet this time, nothing seems to help. I feel bad. And I feel bad for feeling bad. Have I learned nothing at all? I have the urge to take control. Yet I feel powerless. I ask God to take away my difficulties. But I do not feel connected to god, I feel connected only to fear. I remember this feeling. This is my mental obsession. This is my alcoholism.
I am taking it day by day. A fellow told me, it is completely normal that you feel bad. You may just feel bad for a while. Paradoxically it is a relieving thought. I am willing to go along with that. I remember what I told myself when I came to AA. I said: Well, this looks like a load of b*****t, but I am willing to go along with it for now. With the actions that followed, bit by bit, sparks of hope and trust began to fly.
I have surrendered in Step 3. I engaged in a thorough inventory of my resentments, my fears, my former sex life including my current sex ideal, and my finances in Step 4. I shared this inventory with my sponsor in Step 5 which led to the ominous ‘4th column’, the one where I begin to understand the concept of responsibility. My sponsor lovingly points out ‘my part’ in all points.
These vary: Abuse suffered in childhood doesn’t make me responsible for that abuse. Step 5 and my sponsor just help me to see that I can’t keep blaming my past for a mediocre life today. In that case, I will never have the glorious life which AA promises me (Step 9 Promises – Oh my God!!) and which I want with every fiber of my being (Step 3 – take ALL of me, God, if-there-is-a-God). It’s the ‘flight of liberation’ our BB talks about. I will have to biblically speak ‘pick up my bed’ (my past, my character, my story, all of it) ‘and walk’ to freedom.
Regarding petty offenses, the harm done to others is obvious. Some examples: using men for comfort and security and sex, stealing money and goods, borrowing things with no intent to pay or give them back, disappearing from my siblings or family’s life, and hurting, criticizing, and abusing my children. Constant demands on my husband. Victimizing myself and thus my loved ones…
So, what’s Step 6? Why willingness? To me, Step 6 means I let the ‘good news’ of Step 5 sink in. I take it in. Digest. I go home, take an hour (or more), and think of what just happened (I mean literally, my sponsor has just turned my whole worldview around forever!). And I ask myself a crucial question: have I left anything out? Is there a secret I haven’t shared? If yes, pick up the phone immediately and share it with my sponsor. It will be beneficial for both of us.
My sponsor points out that if I want to be a ‘person of character’ I need to become willing to develop character defects – that is Step 6. The longer I am sober the more character defects I have since I have become a crazy beautiful person with character, a personality! Just what I always longed for in the booze.
There’s a quote I love in the Basic Text of SLAA (I am not a member, however, their basic text is excellent): Sanity is dedication to reality at all costs. The willingness muscle I am starting to develop in Step 6, not out of virtue but necessity, gives me the courage to see myself as I am, not more not less, just me, right-sized, beautifully, imperfectly human. For an alcoholic, that’s very hard because we grow up thinking that having character defects means actually ‘being defective’. Children feel like that. And didn’t our beloved Dr. Harry Thiebout say that we alcoholics are childish, oversensitive, and grandiose? When we equal character defects to being defective, we can never make amends, never correct our behavior, and never change. We are doomed to be – excuse my language – mean a**holes. And victims.
We AAs known that willingness works well with open-mindedness and Honesty. It’s our famous H.O.W. from Chapter 5, ‘H.O.W. it works’. Willingness is basically willingness to grow a new attitude. I have to be open-minded to do that. Being open-minded helps me be honest. Because I am dedicating myself with the help of my sisters and brothers in AA, and my sponsor, to reality at all costs.
Someone compared Step 6 to the ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’, described by C.G. Jung as the descent to our true self, to stripping naked, to finding myself standing in a state of truth. In the process of Steps 3 to 6 we lift one veil after another. To stand naked in front of God as we do or do not understand God in Step 7 and give Her/Him/It all of us. Our whole humanness.
Hi, my name is Ronald and I am an alcoholic. I am writing to you to raise more interest in doing service at Region.
When I got to the rooms, they told me to keep coming back, read the literature, get a sponsor, and be active in service. Sure, I thought, although I didn’t think so much. I was focusing on staying physically sober. One day at a time. One meeting at a time. That part I understood. I needed the meetings. I needed to listen and learn from the other people in the group. They impressed me. Some even scared me. One guy was very persistent in reminding me to get a sponsor.
But I never thought about who bought the coffee, who paid the rent for the room we met in, who received all the information about the upcoming convention, and how we knew there was another group in a town close by. I just took it for granted. I used the program as a real alcoholic. It was all about me.
This changed. Fortunately. First, my egocentric focus was lessened when I started to work the program with my sponsor. After the first steps, I was introduced to the 12 Traditions. And I noticed there was something called ‘Business Meeting’, where Service positions were being discussed. But still, my contribution was limited. I made coffee (still don’t know who bought it) and chaired some meetings.
Only after a few years, our GSR (I didn’t even know he was the GSR) asked me if I could take over since he was moving. I remembered that we never say no to a direct question to do service. So a few weeks later I Joined the Nordic Intergroup as GSR for my group. This opened up a new universe to me. I started to learn about the service structure of English-speaking AA in Europe and my Intergroup’s contribution to this.
Fast forward, I started to join the Regional Assembly meetings, became Region Rep, later Delegate to Conference, Vice-chair, and a temporary secretary and now I serve as Chair for Region. My service work has provided me with very pragmatic opportunities to apply the program to real issues, to combine my capabilities with the principles of the program in real situations, and to learn to rely on them in a safe and developing environment.
Thanks to this great program of AA, I have a life, a family, friends, and a way to face all the elements of my future. I do not have to run from my responsibilities, I don’t have to drown my fears, and I don’t have to impress on the people around me with inebriated antics. Instead, I can be grateful for the life I have, the opportunity to learn from my mistakes, the joy of listening to group members that share their experience, strength, and hope, and the privilege to contribute to my AA Group, my AA Intergroup and my AA Region. This is indeed a privilege.
And now, I am reaching out to you. AA needs you! We need more volunteers in service. We have open service positions in CER for Secretary, Vice-Chair, Alternate-Treasurer, 3 Delegates to Conference, and a Webmaster. Urgently! We offer an invigorating service structure where we meet regularly (from monthly to quarterly meetings) both online and in person. We offer the wonderful opportunity to meet new, interesting, and inspiring members from all over Europe, each with their individual sobriety stories and experiences.
– Ronald, Chair for the Continental European Region (CER)