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STEP 11

 A Practical Spirituality

Audio Version  

When I first came to meetings and tried peering through the fog of my rock bottom to the far and unfathomable reaches of the 12 Steps, it all seemed like a huge mountain to climb. Whilst I was strongly encouraged to get a sponsor and work through the Steps IN ORDER. One old-timer also said that if you are going to do any of the Steps out of order, it would be acceptable to engage with a bit of Step 11 whilst working through the others.  This actually makes sense as the Big Book is littered with prayers throughout- prayer is encouraged during Step Three, Step Four (the sections on resentments, fear and sex conduct), meditation after Step Five, praying for willingness during Step Six and of course Step Seven.

My journey towards a conscious contact with a Power greater than myself started way before I even reached AA. Of course, fear, self-centredness, self-obsession and resentments all seemed to be powers greater than me from a very early age. Then along came alcohol which was also a Power greater, first in a positive way - temporarily alleviating those crippling defects- then after a few years, the defects and my craving for alcohol came right back at me, knocking me over like a freight train.

I wasn’t against God when I was drinking but I mostly forgot about It. I remember saying the Lord’s Prayer a few times out of sheer desperation. I also had quite a profound spiritual experience when I was going through a tough time. I was experiencing various degrees of anxiety, depression, hangovers from hell and a general decline in mental functioning when I went to a friend’s house in the Forest of Dean – a pretty, peaceful place close to nature and away from the craziness of the city. About 7pm, I had a strong sense of “realignment” –everything seemed to suddenly make sense and fit in to place, whilst experiencing a creative, positive Power flowing through the world that interlinked everything. That evening I was more sociable, funny and positive than I had been for years BUT amidst all the feelings of spirituality, I of course got drunk and smoked weed.  The next morning was horrible. The fog, the anxiety, the low self worth, and most of all the confusion came back like a tonne of bricks. I could not rekindle the good feelings I had experienced the previous night with all the willpower in the world. I use that as a valuable lesson today – all the spirituality I have built up in 19 years of recovery (much more slowly) would disappear in a few hours if I were to pick up a drink- God forbid that should happen.

So anyway, after seven years of drinking, mental illness and watching my life slide in to the abyss, I clearly needed a more reliable power. Counsellors, therapy and crystal healing workshops just weren’t doing the job.

I arrived at AA as a last resort at 23, with nowhere else to go- not wanting to drink myself to death or insanity but equally having no idea how I could live comfortably without alcohol. I had reached the jumping off point.

The first Power I came across at my very first meeting was the Power of identification. I really identified with people in meetings and this was the first place I had ever felt like I belonged. Here were people who had done a lot of the things I had done, felt a lot of the things I had felt and yet were now living comfortable, spiritual lives in recovery. This gave me hope and I soon got a sponsor who took me through the Steps.  I didn’t expect them to work for me but I did them anyway, partly because I didn’t have any other options and partly because my sponsor told me it didn’t matter what I thought,  I just needed to act- I could bypass my faulty thinking altogether.

I got a bit gung-ho about the spiritual angle at first and had very ambitious plans to become a shaman or something, but quickly realised that a much simpler concept of a Higher Power would help me stay sober, which was,  after all,  the point of it all.  I actually really like the paragraph in ‘The Family Afterwards’ which states:

“We have come to believe He would like us to keep our heads in the clouds with Him, but that our feet ought to be firmly planted on earth. That is where our fellow travellers are, and that is where our work must be done. These are the realities for us. We have found nothing incompatible between a powerful spiritual experience and a life of sane and happy usefulness.”

A life of sane and happy usefulness sounds good to me.

Over the last 19 years of sobriety I have stuck closely to the prayers in the Big Book, which I use every day, and tried some guided meditation using a few apps. I also read a lot. I couldn’t read at the end of my drinking as my concentration was shot- it has been a privilege to complete an English Literature degree in recovery.

The only other prayer that I have stuck with,  that isn’t in the AA literature,  is this one that I would like to finish with- I think it incorporates many of the elements of a “Practical Spirituality” which we are looking for in AA.

Oh, Great Spirit, whose voice I hear in the wind, whose breath gives life to all the world. Hear me; I need your strength and wisdom. Let me walk in beauty, and make my eyes ever behold the red and purple sunset. Make my hands respect the things you have made and my ears sharp to hear your voice. Make me wise so that I may understand the things you have taught my people. Help me to remain calm and strong  in the face of all that comes towards me. Let me learn the lessons you have hidden in every leaf and rock. Help me seek pure thoughts and act with the intention of helping  others. Help me find compassion without empathy overwhelming me. I seek strength, not to be greater than my brother, but to fight my greatest enemy - Myself. Make me  always ready to come to you with clean hands and straight eyes. So when life fades,            as the fading sunset, my spirit may come to you without shame.

ALISTAIR  M,
Bristol