(Discovered in the Twelve Steps.)
I found myself asking that question repeatedly as I worked the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Addressing it, to both myself, and my new- found Higher Power. Why was it suddenly so important? Was it because the steps were constructing a path designed to lead me in a new direction; a road that would take me through a dense forest of denial, confusion, and one peppered with bits and pieces of a stranger that should be left behind? Could it be that I was developing a curious interest in myself? One that was no longer garbed in familiar shades of self- contempt and condemnation?
I rarely bothered with these kinds of ponderings when I was drinking. Perhaps I didn’t want to know because I wouldn’t like the answer. I spent a lot of time escaping that assessment. Because, Intuitively, I was, and had always been, aware of my character defects. I drudged them up almost every day, then tried to wash them down with another drink. I had a damned good idea of who I was.
So here is how it worked for me through the steps of alcoholics Anonymous.
Step one: Admitted we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable.
This was a concept that took some getting used to. But eventually, my rebuttal to where I had ended up in life began to dissolve with that indisputable knowledge. And by repeating the words “I’m Dallas and I am an alcoholic” at every AA meeting, I became more and more convinced of the noose alcohol had tied around my emotional development and my ability to choose not to hide in the bottle.
Step two: Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
This one was a bit more difficult. I wasn’t insane. I was still working, taking care of my responsibilities, at least most of the time, and was never in jail or a mental institution. And I had yet to be introduced to whatever, or whoever, that power greater than me was. Could it be that the insanity was my addiction? Not an excuse, to be sure, but a little insight into what influenced my behavior.
Step three: Made a decision to turn our wills and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
This step took me a while. Not because I didn’t believe in some kind of a higher power, but because I thought he was too busy to bother with someone as tainted and inconsequential as me. Thankfully, expediency is not a prerequisite in AA. Eventually, with the help of my sponsor and the program, I got it. And once I figured it out, decided that it didn’t matter if I trusted God. He trusted me. And as important as He Is, He wouldn’t be wasting his time on a low life.
Step four: Made a searching and moral inventory of our selves.
Unlike many who bulk at this step, I wasn’t hesitant. I was ready to jump right in. like I said, I knew all of my character defects and was ready to face them, if it meant I was heading in the right direction. What I didn’t realize was that an inventory meant taking stock of my assets as well as my defects. It was during the working of this step that I began to realize that beneath the refuse pile, there lurked a glimmer of hope. Something worthwhile, was waiting in the shadows to be excavated. And I was accumulating the tools to do just that.
Step five: Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
“Whoa,” I said. “Let’s put on the brakes.” But the train had already left the station I’d made a commitment. I had already fed my sponsor crumbs, a few bits, and pieces here and there of my past. And there had been no recriminations. As a matter of fact, she had neither criticized, nor turned her back on me. So, with fear and trepidation, in a three-hour window, I began to shed my burden. Page by page I read my fourth step aloud and she listened with an expression of love and acceptance. And for the first time in my life, I felt safe and unashamed. On that afternoon, she told me something I have held onto for years.
“Dallas, you are becoming the person God has always intended you to be.”
And that declaration became the framework that inspired me to begin the odyssey of discovering just who Dallas was. The steps leading up to that moment, and the ones that followed, helped me peel away the damaged fabric, layer by layer, that no longer served a purpose.
Step six: Were entirely ready to have God remove these defects of character.
By this time, I had somewhat reluctantly allowed God into my life. And I was cognizant enough to realize that I could not achieve this on my own. That cocky self-reliant attitude that I shoved in the face of those who tried to help or guide me in the past was slowly dissolving.
Step seven: Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
The defining word here is humbly. Without false pride or a puffed- up ego. I was learning a lot about ego and the seductive ways it worms itself into our behaviors and our personalities. And I knew that it would require a lot of restraint to subjugate that ego. Visions of a new me were beginning to cumulate.
Step eight: Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
I began to stall on this step. Fear started to creep in. But then my sponsor reminded me that this step was simply to make the list. I could draw on my fourth step for help. So, I did as was suggested, a remarkable occurrence to say the least. Who was I? At that point, someone willing to take instruction.
Step nine: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible except when to do so would injure them or others.
I really didn’t need to use the fourth step as a template, I knew damned well who I needed to approach. My three children were at the top of that list, and that was what was causing me so much angst. Could they ever forgive me for not being there for them emotionally because I stuffed every problem I ever had into the bottle, thinking it would somehow magically disappear?
“Dallas,” My sponsor took my hand, “This step was not designed to solicit forgiveness. It is about becoming accountable. Taking ownership of our actions. How it is received, is not the point.” Then she added, almost as an after-thought, “There is another person you need to put on that list. Someone you have been beating up for a longtime. Because if you don’t, it will stand in the way of your becoming that person you want to be, one free of the weight, that bogs you down.” I gave her a quizzical look. “You have to forgive yourself.”
Once I tackled this step to the best of my ability, those that remained were enhancements that offered so much more than just relief. They gave me the structure that lends impetus to my daily effort in becoming a better version of myself.
Step ten: Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
I’ve heard many say they do this every night by reviewing their day and reexamining their responses to situations that may have been uncomfortable. And if an apology is required, doing so. What seems to work best for me is to try and be alert, and aware of my faux pas as they occur and remedy them on the spot, so I don’t have to worry about making a formal apology. Still have a way to go on this becoming the kind of person God intends me to be.
Step Eleven: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for the knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
Today, I incorporate six meditation books into my morning prayer routine. Though I may not be able to recall the text in each message, the gist of these positive inspirations seems to have an inherent influence on my day.
Step twelve: Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principals in all our affairs.
My spiritual awakening has been an ongoing metamorphosis, a shedding of beliefs and behaviors that are no longer conducive to my growth. The steps have given me a sense of who I am, and as long as I do the best that I can on any given day, I no longer have to grapple with some unattainable image of perfection or Sainthood. I can simply continue to become…?