3 Pieces of Twelve Step Wisdom for Anyone Seeking Healing

When I started researching the role confession plays on the road to healing, I was intrigued by how Twelve Step addiction recovery programs approach confession.  Every year, millions of recovery seekers in the Twelve Step tradition embark on “a searching and fearless moral inventory” and “admit wrongdoing aloud to God and another human being,” the Fourth and Fifth Steps.  What do these recovery seekers know about confession that millions from religious traditions don’t?  A lot, as it turns out. 

First is that the journey starts with recognizing the limits of our own power.  Consider the difference between a religious seeker who approaches confession believing he had the power to make better choices but chose not to and a Twelve Step seeker who acknowledges that his defects of character took away his power to make better choices.  We cling to a pleasing self-image even when the facts of our lives cease to agree with it.  The discrepancy between image and reality draws us into conflict, igniting disharmony within ourselves, with others and with the world.  Acknowledging this disconnect, or brokenness, is like finding a door labeled “healing.”  Acknowledging that we are powerless to make the reality match the image is like opening the door.  

The second thing Twelve Step recovery seekers know is that only by acknowledging a power outside ourselves and stronger than ourselves can we be reconciled to the self-image we desire.  That higher power can restore us to the image, or conversely, once the higher power is acknowledged, the image we desire might be transformed.   A religious seeker who approaches confession believing she had the power to make better choices in her past runs the risk of walking away from confession unchanged.  She might walk away feeling obligated to make better choices in the future without availing herself of God’s power to help her make them.  Acknowledging that God has this power, that we don’t have to change through sheer force of will alone, is the kernel of hope for healing. 

The third thing recovery seekers know is that we have to create a power vacuum in order to make space for God’s power to enter, and that actually relying on God’s power instead of our own will power is incredibly difficult.  Relying on one’s own will is easy.  I want what I want, after all.  Being demanding or strong-willed about what I want takes little strength of any kind.  Laying down my will, conversely, takes enormous spiritual strength.  Religious seekers might approach God in search of a little auxiliary power without taking the difficult step of creating the power vacuum.  When talking about turning over our own will to make space for God’s power and care, recovery seekers invariably talk of “taking it back” at some point in the journey.  As difficult as creating a power vacuum is, relying on God’s power is more effective than will power.  Despite the immense difficulty of this action, recovery seekers know it’s not enough to think God cares.  They have to trust God’s care. 

These three truths align to the first three of the Twelve Steps.  Like the first three, the remaining nine steps outline a path of spiritual growth and healing that is much more specific and instructive than what most religious doctrine offers.  I’ve been moved by testimony of people who considered themselves religious but could not find the healing they so desperately sought within their faith traditions.  It was the Twelve Steps that got them there. 

Join the conversation.  How does the wisdom in these steps speak to your spiritual journey?

Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit http://www.acrosstraditions.com/.

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Releasing Resentment

The Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book offers guidance for starting the Fourth Step “fearless and searching moral inventory.”  Notably, the guidance does not start with contemplating one’s feelings of guilt or shame.  It starts with resentment.  The Big Book declares, “Resentment is the ‘number one’ offender.  It destroys more alcoholics than anything else.” So how exactly does one release resentment?

The Twelve Step tradition offers some insight and some stumbling blocks.  It guides recovery seekers with resentment “to keep their side of the street clean,” suggesting one might have put oneself in a position where injury or disappointment was possible or likely.  Some recovery seekers strenuously resist this idea.  Unrealistic expectations or a sense of entitlement may have set some up for disappointment, but a startling number of adult recovery seekers were innocent victims of child abuse.  These child victims had no culpability for the crimes committed against them.  Is telling addicted abuse survivors to keep their side of the street clean tantamount to blaming the victims?  Not exactly.  Being wounded sets in motion patterns that, subtly or blatantly, wound others.  Recovery seekers can take responsibility for the part of the wounded-wounding pattern that was in their control, and recovery seekers can forgive the part that was out of their control. 

Naming the offense in forgiveness, or demarcating what is not acceptable, can be a powerful step towards validation, protection and healing.  Conversely, sometimes in the process of naming the offense, we realize that what the “offender” did wasn’t really offensive at all, but that our reaction to it was miscalculated, out of proportion, or reacting to something that was not actually in the content of the offense.  The offender may have made a harmless remark that triggered a harmful memory.  In my family, we try to adhere to the “When you X, I feel Y” formula for naming offenses.  In the process for isolating “X,” I might realize the problem was really “Y.”  Recognition that the mess is on my side of the street allows me to release resentment and has a reconciling effect. 

Being on the receiving end of a behavior or trait that I myself inflict on others can be especially irritating.  It’s a burr under my blanket.  Paradoxically, if I am able to identify, in any small way, with a weakness in the one who hurt me, that is a significant advantage.  It can wedge a foot in the door to compassion for my offender.  Just to be clear, this is not an exercise in victim blaming.  This is an exercise in self-knowledge and claiming responsibility. 

When leading reconciliation workshops, there is one statement I hear repeatedly from people struggling to release resentment.  They don’t want to tell their offenders they’re forgiven.  They don’t want to give their offenders that satisfaction or to signal any of the things that forgiveness is not, e.g. that the offense is acceptable or that accountability for actions has been waived.  Or they just don’t want to let the offender off the hook, which of course, is precisely what releasing resentment and claim to retribution is.  There is no obligation to tell an unremorseful offender that she’s forgiven.  However, once resentment truly has drained out of us, the fact is we stop caring what the offender knows or thinks about forgiveness either way. 

Join the conversation.  What do you do about seriously stubborn resentments?

Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved.  Visit http://www.AcrossTraditions.com.