Category Archives: 12 step discussion

more on the 12 steps: step 5

it’s been almost a year that i last discussed a step from the 12-step programs a la AA. thankfully, someone made a comment on another 12-step post, and that spurred me on to another post.

while the 12 steps were originally intended to help alcoholics and addicts, they have proven to be a fine blueprint for any kind of recovery.

that last step i discussed was step 4, which is designed to help people make an inventory of all the burdens of the past, as well as of all their assets they want to keep.

step 5 says, “admitted to god, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”

once again, if you see the word “god” and freak out, please read on – it doesn’t have to be the god of your childhood or george bush’s god – the word “god” just stands for something good in your life. another word for “god” in 12-step programs is “higher power”.

if this higher power is the highest authority in one’s life – allah, for example, or buddha nature, or one’s internal value system, or simply that power that is greater/other than the little ego that has run the show unsuccessfully so far – then the relationship with that higher power is one of the most important relationships. in that case, after having done all the work of the inventory, why wouldn’t one immediately check this out with this higher power?

it goes on “… and to another human being”. “confessing” to another human being is immensely powerful; the catholics knew what they were doing. that’s also why therapy is so useful. research shows that people who carry too many deep, dark secrets are more accident prone and are generally less healthy. this is corroborated by research that indicates that high concentrations of bodily secretions of people who carry a lot of hate and unresolved anger can kill laboratory animals.

yet this step is not about confessing “sins”. it is the logical continuation of step 3 – “made the decision to turn our wills and our lives over to the care of god as we understood him” – a decision to trust the goodness in your life. if a person is willing to turn their whole life over to this goodness, then it surely makes sense to turn over a handful of mistakes, fears, worries and regrets, even though (and maybe exactly because) they may have been held in secret for a long time.

what about this “other human being?” this really can be a life-transforming step so it’s good to choose that person carefully. i suggest to a) choose a person who understands the process, preferably someone who has been through it more than once, b) someone you can trust in all the different ways you need to trust them, and c) an environment where the precious nature of such a step can be honoured.

at the beginning of sharing, it’s helpful if there is a negotation about what the other person will do. do you just want to recite your list, with the other person simply as a “loving witness”? what type of feedback, if any, do you want, and at what point? do you want to hear the other person’s experience, strength and hope regarding similar difficulties they had?

many 12-steppers believe that “it is only through the process of discussing our shortcomings out loud with an understanding person that we can finally begin to know ourselves and accept ourselves” (from overeaters anonymous).

the “out loud” is really important. “out loud” doesn’t necessarily mean literally – this step has been done successfully over the internet or the telephone – but it does mean that you need to get all that junk out of your head, outside of your head and heart. you know when you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back asleep and you toss and turn with a gazillion worries? it’s because it’s all stuck in there, rattling around, like a bird trapped in your living room, banging its little head against the window. your living room doesn’t need the bird, the bird doesn’t need your living room, let it out!

this is all useless baggage. how can we know ourselves if we’re almost unrecognizable under a mountain of stuff?

something really beautiful happens in this sharing. i like to think of it as the breaking of the bread in christianity or the sharing of the pipe in native traditions. the sharing goes deep inside of us.

what about the “discussion?” a loving witness may not do that much discussing; most of it may come from the person who is laying her burden down. maybe that’s what’s needed, or at least for some of the things that are brought up. some of our baggage feels pretty darn raw, it’s difficult enough to bare one’s soul – maybe it’s a little early to actually engage in a discussion about them. you may need to have space to simply speak your piece, without anyone else’s perspective added to it.

in many cases, though, a bit of discussion is a good idea. it can be illuminating when after a while of talking, the other person begins to see some angles of your burdens that you hadn’t seen before. sometimes they are quite surprising. it’s very similar to what often happens in therapy – indeed, the very reason why many people enjoy therapy. i remember i client who talked a lot about not being focused and ambitious enough at university; it turned out that he simply was not the university type and would be much better suited to more hands-on work. you see, the interesting thing is that in talking about all of these supposed “defects”, a picture slowly emerges – often quite a beautiful picture that simply had never been seen in such clarity before.

towards the end of discussing step 5, one of the 12-step books says, “from this point on, we begin to leave behind the character defects which have caused us so many problems in the past.”

what a beautiful promise! leave them all behind.

fear, shame, self-delusion, procrastination, self-centredness, resentment, gossip, closed-mindedness, destructive anger, neglectfulness … all these can be left behind. imagine opening your hands and letting go of them … and then moving on … with your feet fully, squarely planted on a new path.

recovering from addiction: a prayer

a prayer by someone dealing with addiction:

an image that goes with prayer

dear higher powers:
thank you for another day of life.
help me to walk closely with you today.
work through me so that i may better help others.
help me when i am weak. help me to reach out to your unending strength.
help me to remain hopeful and inspired.
help me to be humble in dealing with my ferocious disease.
help me to remember where to turn for help.
help me to get over myself and reach out to others for help.
and help me to remember what a magnificent being i am, that each and every person is your child, worthy of the utmost respect, that i don’t own anybody, that nobody owes me anything and that i live in a caring, abundant world.
help me to create more harmony, peace, serenity, joy, security, and love.
help me to freely give all these things and find them in return.

(image by alicepopkorn

the 12 steps, buddhist fashion

one of my twitter friends, ben, has been alerting me to all kinds of interesting links lately. through him i found this here, the 12 steps of liberation, a recovery program from a buddhist view. it’s brought to us by the universal compassion centre.

the 12 steps of liberation
1. the truth of suffering. we experienced the truth of our addictions – our lives were unmanageable suffering.
2. the truth of the origin of suffering. we admit that we craved for and grasped onto addictions as our refuge.
3. the truth of the end of suffering. we came to see that complete cessation of craving and clinging at addictions is necessary.
4. the truth of the path. we made a decision to follow the path of liberation and to take refuge in our wisdom, our truth, and our fellowship.
5. right view. we completely see our life as it is. our goodness is indestructible. we are willing to acknowledge and proclaim our truth to ourselves, another human being and the community.
6. right thought. we are mindful that we create the causes for suffering and liberation.
7. right speech. we purify, confess and ask for forgiveness straightforwardly and without judgment. we are willing to forgive others.
8. right action. we make a list of all persons we harm and are willing and able to actively make amends to them all, unless to do so would be harmful.
9. right livelihood. we simplify our lives, realizing we are all interconnected. we engage in active compassion. we select a vocation that supports our recovery.
10. right effort. we acknowledge mistakes and relapse as part of the path. we continue to practice these steps with joyful effort.
11. right mindfulness. through prayer, meditation and action we follow the path of truth, being mindful moment by moment.
12. right concentration. open to the spirit of awakening as a result of these steps, we will carry this message to all people suffering with addictions.

what do you think of this? i particularly liked, “our goodness is indestructible”.

(as coincidence would have it, below these steps i found a link to the australian buddhist recovery site, which i had already mentioned in a previous post. i like it when that happens. it all felt really nice and organic).

would you like to free yourself of your past?

here we have another instalment of our discussion of the twelve steps of alcoholics anonymous and other similar groups. unlike the other three steps we discussed, steps 4 and 5 are two steps that can very easily be taken out of the 12-step framework and applied in everyone’s life.

the purpose of these steps is to “clear the wreckage of our past”, as they say. they suggest to “make a fearless and searching moral inventory of ourselves” and then to “admit the nature of our wrongdoings.”

everyone has this kind of wreckage and sometimes that’s okay. but the sort of wreckage that wreaks havoc is the stuff that still stands in our way, making progress impossible or at least difficult or awkward.

often one piece of wreckage creates a new one, just as lies beget more lies. relationships with relatives are a good example of that. i knew one guy who, in drunken stupor, once wrote a very undiplomatic letter to an uncle. this brought a chill in their relationship, which prompted them to avoid each other, which prompted other people in the family to avoid each other, etc.

it snowballs. steps 4 and 5 stop that snowball.

“fearless” means that we look things straight in the eye. we don’t pretend that there’s no rotten broccoli under our emotional rug.

“searching” means that we don’t just deal with the obvious. we know that there’s stuff under that rug and we lift it up to see if there’s more than that stinking little broccoli tree. aha! a whole army of mental dust bunnies! (constant problems with time management?  procrastination?  negative thinking that just won’t go away?  a habit of making uninformed decisions?) no wonder that carpet is so slippery!

“moral.” moral is an old word – let’s not forget this stuff was written in the 30s. two synonyms for “moral” are “ethical” and “principled” – maybe they are a bit more useful nowadays. so in step 4 we pay particular attention to the ethics of our behaviour.

we compare our behaviour with our values, our standards – exactly what’s done in an inventory. because we have the value that we don’t want to offer inferior goods to our customers, i.e. the people in our lives, we look at our “shelves” and deal with all the dented cans and outdated goods on them.  and since we ourselves are important people in our lives, we also look at all the dented cans, ripped bags and dusty containers that we dislike.

hence, part of what we do in step 4 is to look at all the things we aren’t willing to tolerate anymore – a bad job, a relationship that’s long gone sour, or a habit that doesn’t serve us anymore.
the last thing about the inventory is obvious but often overlooked. an inventory is not just about the “bad stuff.” it’s just as much about what’s beautiful and smart, loving and funny about you.

sometimes people find it difficult to find those assets within themselves. if that’s you, one way of getting a bit of a handle on it is to do a formal asset inventory. if you’ve never done an inventory before, get in touch with me and i’ll show you how.

next time we’ll talk some more about step 5, about bringing this inventory to someone else to witness.

isabella mori
counselling in vancouver

more on step 3: a bit of a theological discussion

this post is in response to scott’s comment on my article on step 3, part of my 12-step discussion.

scott’s last line was, “thoughts”?

oh, scott, i’ll always have thoughts – probably too many of them 🙂

first of all, thanks, scott, for your kind words regarding my attempt to make step three palatable to people who are not religious (or even particularly spiritual).

let me try to reply to some of what you’ve said.

the 12 steps were originally based in christian belief, so i want to speak to the original interpretation of god as it was intended by the founders of aa and your interpretation here.

there is no question that the inspiration for the spiritual foundation of aa is grounded in christian belief. however, throughout the aa literature it says that aa is a spiritual program, not a religious one. christianity is a religion. those interested in learning from aa can, if they so choose, be guided by christian principles but there is absolutely Continue reading

12-step discussion: step 3

this is the third installation of a series of discussion about the 12 steps as conceived in various programs of recovery, from alcoholics anonymous to adult children of alcoholics, from debtors anonymous to naranon.

today i’ll present you with a meditation on step 3:

made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of god as we understood god.

any good atheist worth their salt will vigorously shake their heads at this: no way!!!

one thing that needs to be remembered here is that originally, the steps were written for people who were desperate, who were totally at their wits’ end. the person who has tried everything and doesn’t know where to turn now will say, ok, i’m just going to see how this works, i’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain.

but is this step of any use at all for people who feel that while they do have problems, they’re most definitely not desperate? how is this for people who do have something to lose? Continue reading

12-step discussion: step 2

today i’m on the run. too many things happening, including helping my very pregnant daughter move (yes! i’m becoming a grandmother! more on that soon.)

so let’s turn this problem into an opportunity and see how you, gentle reader, like it when i just present you with my notes.

it’s a continuation from last month, when we started talking about the 12 steps.

today: step two.

“came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity”

believe =

the first step

i’ve been interested in the 12 steps for almost as long as i’ve been a counsellor – 15 years now. what first attracted me to them was their fierce commitment to honesty and being real, to be humble, and to follow an ethical and spiritual way of life.

the 12 steps came originally from alcoholics anonymous, back in the 1930s. it soon became obvious that they would be helpful for other situations as well – for people with alcoholics or drug users in their lives (alanon and naranon), gamblers (GA), drug users (NA), people with eating disorders (OA), people with codependency issues (CODA), people who are chronically in debt (DA), etc. for some background, history and the inevitable controversies, check out this wikipedia article.

a lot of people, me including, feel that the 12 steps can be guidelines for anyone who wants to live a better life. therefore, i’d like to start a series here discussing them, one step a month.

open-mindedness is something that the steps encourage. so Continue reading