Hola mi Gente,
Right off the bat: I am not interested in debating people who consider 12-step fellowships cults, or who think they are ineffective or whatever. The 12 step fellowships aren’t for everybody. If you were to attend a meeting, you would here this repeated in the prefatory readings at every meeting. However, if you were to ask me how I got clean, I would have to tell you that the fellowship of Narcotics Anonymous saved my life. My experience also tells me that internalizing and applying the principles found in the 12 Steps could be beneficial for everyone, regardless of whether they identify as an addict.
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Turning it Over
Step Three: We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
The first time I came to the fellowship of Narcotics Anonymous, by the time I reached this step, I had decided to quit. This is bullshit! I told myself. Fuck that God shit.
At that time I wasn’t ready for recovery and I spent the next five years, the worst of my life, chasing my addiction so that I could get outside of myself. In a very real way, my addiction was my Higher Power, and at some level I knew this, but I would not kneel before a God I didn’t believe, or religious principles that I saw as intolerant and juvenile.
I didn’t sit still long enough to read the part of the step that says: … as we understood Him. The second time around, I was more willing to learn to listen and listen to learn because I had a burning desire to stop the suffering. Yet, while I was more open, but I also knew that I couldn’t pretend to submit to religious dogma because my efforts had to be genuine or I would risk going back.
My First Step work forced me confront the contradiction of my addictive process: that I felt powerful when in fact, I was powerless over my addiction and needed help. The First Step gave me hope… However, having internalized and accepted my powerlessness (not to be confused with hopelessness), I was left open and vulnerable, and while I understood my powerlessness, I needed something to latch onto, some form of support.
My Second Step work helped me come to terms with trust, at least a little, and it challenged my feelings of grandiosity, bringing me to the realization that I am a human being, and as such, I am not all-powerful — the “Great I Am.” It taught me the value of surrendering my small self in favor of my Higher Self. The Second Step helped me take a fresh look at faith and it helped me begin my spiritual search anew with a new perspective. In fact, I see my entire history of active addiction as a spiritual search gone wrong. Recovery was a matter of turning that mad search into something sane and good.
In the beginning, I was able to accept the collective consciousness of the fellowship of NA as my Higher Power, but as I continued to work the steps in my life, I revisited the teachings of Buddhism (The Dharma) and I accepted them as my Higher Power. In Buddhism, I found a Higher Power that could restore me to sanity.
In Narcotics Anonmyous I was taught that there are no “shalts.”In other words, nothing is forced down our throats and everyone works the steps to the best of their abilities and at their own pace. In fact, working the steps is not a requirement, simply a suggestion. The first three steps serve as a foundation — a bridge — back to life. It’s not about belief, but about practice. Believing is not enough; it is through living and applying the steps that we recover our Original Self. I think what’s most important for anyone, is maintaining a frame of mind described by Zen masters as “beginner’s mind.” In the mind of an expert, it is said, there are few possibilities. But in the mind of a beginner, everything is possible.
Let me add that I as I have progressed spiritually, I have come to realize that bridge back to life was made from the bones of those who came before me, many of whom never got clean, never tasted spiritual freedom.
Truly, change and recovery are about coming back to a state where we’re open to suggestions and looking at life with fresh eyes. It’s about dropping the mess and listening to the message. If you’re like me and many others, there are issues that have tested you sorely. Whether it is drugs, sex, relationships, your emotions, food, or other people, we all have found ourselves at our wit’s end at one time or another. The Third Step is about letting be, as the Taoists put it.
One thing I was painfully aware of was that whenever I imposed my will, things became messed up quick. If I was in a relationship, my will meant lots of insanity. Imposing my will on my addiction meant that it made it worse because my will was warped. So recovery (and specifically the Third Step) is a lot about letting go of the impulsive need to control. It’s about allowing a Higher Principle, set of moral and ethical guidelines, Higher Power, or God — or whatever you choose to call it — guide your actions.
For me, that Higher Power as I understand it is The Dharma. In other words, instead of exerting my will on my addictive behaviors, I was letting go in favor of a set of spiritual principles that emphasized ethical behavior, contemplation, and cognitive restructuring. Rather than chasing a bag, or the delusional grasp for happiness through destructive behavior, I was instead flowing into a spiritual practice that guided me toward a saner way of life. For my purposes, I do not believe in an Abrahamic God, but I am an addict in recovery.
My experience with the 12 Steps is that they have taught me that when I’m less reactive and defensive, life becomes less stressful and simpler. The truth of the matter is that I’m constantly taking my will back. I become a backseat driver to my life and demand to make a left turn, when my Higher Power (as understood by me) is telling me to make a right. There are times I’m downright nasty about it and I take the wheel and “all of sudden” there I am, ass out on Broadway. In my early recovery I would take my will back on an hourly basis. I had the good fortune to have someone explain to me that recovery (and life) is really about practice not perfection. The point is if we’re to evolve, then letting go becomes a way of life. These principles are guidelines to progress. The issue isn’t spiritual perfection, but spiritual practice. No one, my guide told me, gets this perfectly.
Whatever your understanding of your Higher Power, it is suggested that it be a loving and understanding. For me this means living a life of non-harming, of skillful speech and action. If I can turn my life over to that Higher Power, then I’m released from the bondage of my smaller, ego-driven self. For some this can mean throwing away the concept of an angry and jealous God for one that is loving, accepting, and compassionate. It could mean an understanding of God that resides within, instead of the concept of a patriarchal God-in-the-sky. Perhaps the Universal Principle is a stream flowing through all of us. Maybe my Higher Power, rather than being an old white guy with a beard can look like Halle Berry, instead. Who’s to say? What’s important, in this spirituality, is that your Higher Power be loving and trustworthy.
Most importantly, this step is all about coming to terms with trust. It is really about learning acceptance, of letting go of the compulsive need for control. In my active addiction, I was more concerned with control than about relationships. Lack of trust, my friends, is really about control. If you don’t trust someone, then you’re trying to control that person. In other words, lack of trust is the impulse to control because if you can’t trust another, you want to do everything yourself. And how has that worked so far?
This is for you, whoever you are. Take what is useful. Ultimately, however, this is mostly for the still sick and suffering addict out there all alone thinking there’s no way out, or defending a madness slowly killing him or her.
My name is Eddie and I am an addict in recovery…