Working the 12 Steps
In my opinion, one of the most amazing things about working the 12 Steps is that each time I make even a little effort, a change occurs within me. Sometimes the changes are so subtle I don’t notice until months later, and sometimes they are so profound I feel like I am suddenly transformed into a different person. Even when I feel like nothing is getting better and I’m just making the same old mistakes I’ve always made, each time I do some work on the Step I’m on, I see the world a little differently.
There are a few times I can remember, however, that the inner transformation I felt was so powerful it rocked the foundations of my life. The first time that happened was when I had only one day sober. The woman who 12-Stepped me handed me the 12×12, one of AA’s main books, which goes into exquisite detail about the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions of the program.
We sat in her living room and read the first Step. It was a quiet, warm evening, and for the first time in many years, I felt genuinely safe and almost glowing with hope. As we read the chapter, peace descended over me, and I kept thinking, I never have to drink again. I never have to drink again! I never have to feel that horrible remorse and regret and depression! Anything can happen! Anything is possible!
It was that moment I accepted that I was getting into recovery, and I was more than okay with it. I was happy about it. I began to actually believe this program could work for me.
My next major turning point was almost nine months later, when I had just finished Step 4 with my Sponsor. In case you don’t know, Step 4 reads like this: “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”
I had almost an entire journal filled with every experience and every person that I didn’t feel good about. Everything from embarrassing moments in elementary school to cheating on boyfriends to stealing from my parents. It was all there. As my Sponsor put it, “Write down everyone that if you saw them on the street, you would want to avoid them.”
So I did. I put down everything that I could remember, even when it made me blush and feel nervous and sweaty just writing it. What I didn’t realize yet at the time was that a change was already brewing within me. Just bringing all of those moments I had felt scared, ashamed, angry and resentful out of the darkness of suppression and into the light of acknowledgment was bringing me relief and peace.
Finally the day came for Step 5: “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”
With shaking hands I sat down with my Sponsor at her house with my notebook open before me. We prayed together first, and then I began to read. My voice shook, at times I cried, as all the things I swore I would take with me to my grave were released into the morning air. At times I wanted to skip paragraphs, leave certain events out, but I ignored that impulse and forced my mouth to read the words I had written.
At one point, after a particular paragraph where I admitted what I believed to be my most heinous act, I forced myself to meet my Sponsor’s gaze.
“Do you hate me?” I asked.
“No, darling. In fact, I love you all the more.” And she smiled at me.
In that moment, I had one of the most profound realizations so far in my nineteen years of life. I realized that it is possible to be loved and to love others no matter what they do or say. I realized in that moment that unconditional love from God, from others, and from myself, is REAL.