Saturday, 28 May 2016

Freeing the Spirit - AA Grapevine February 1984 #essentialsofrec



Step Eleven


ONE OF THE key ideas, it seems to me, in the successful practice of the Twelve Steps as a recovery program is contained in the words "conscious contact." The only way I could arrive at any degree of consciousness regarding the physical and the mental/emotional aspects of my recovery, and of my alcoholism itself, was through application of the first ten Steps. Also very helpful was jumping over the fence and making excursions into the Twelfth.

Approaching the Eleventh, then, I already had a good working knowledge of the limitations imposed on me by my threefold disease. That degree of awareness provided a comfortable lead-in to an understanding of the third aspect of alcoholism, the spiritual. Time was, whenever I'd be called on at an AA meeting to share on this Step, I'd become a guru and soar into guru-land. I didn't share my experience; I taught a lesson on spirituality, a how-you-too-can-become-spiritual lesson. (In my early AA years, it was called "pontificating"--but only if someone else did it!)

I see my drinking years, for the most part, as a prolonged effort to improve my conscious contact with reality and with a Power greater than reality. Occasional insight told me that drinking was not the best way. Yet I could cite bands of men and women down through the ages who had practiced severe mortification of the flesh in their pursuit of contact with something beyond ordinary attainment. That was their way, I told myself, and drinking was mine. Alcohol seemed to open doors to a high spiritual life that remained beyond my mortal reach.

Before coming to AA, I spent upwards of two years in psychoanalysis, a therapy that helped a great deal with many of my problems. With my one major problem, however--alcoholism--it offered no practical help whatsoever. My analyst once made an observation that was beyond my understanding at the time but stayed with me, perhaps because of the mystery it posed. In response to my frequent complaints about a fire in my innards, she asked me whether I had ever poured kerosene into a lighted stove. The result, she said, would be similar to pouring spirits on a spiritual fire--conflagration!

What was the source, or cause, of that spiritual fire? I don't really know. Down through my sober years thus far, I have been satisfied to think of it as a manifestation of longing for reunion with something--in AA, we call it a Power greater than ourselves. Some of us call it God.

Once, at a Step meeting, a woman told of her return to church in the belief that it was the only way her prayers would be heard. On her first visit, she was quite surprised to find people there. She had long ago concluded that nobody went to church anymore. Now, she had become a regular churchgoer. For her, church was the most comfortable place for praying.

I was unable to accept churchgoing in my early AA years; so I sought other kinds of help in working this Step. There are certain books promoting peace of mind that I enjoy reading. Perhaps the most attractive book as an aid to meditation is our own Conference-approved reader As Bill Sees It.

Recently, I spent a ten-month period eleventh-stepping myself. My objective was to find out whether I was working at the right job, or whether I should be using my God-given talents in another capacity. I felt I knew what I wanted to do, but because I had been trapped in one job for a very long time, I was no longer sure I could distinguish between wishful thinking and intuition.

During the day or as I lay in bed at night, I'd repeat the words of the Step, each time emphasizing and dwelling on different ones.

What came of that eleventh-stepping adventure? From an unexpected source, I was summoned to a job interview. No, I didn't get the job; but that interview led to another, and this time I did get the job. It was the kind of work I had long believed I wanted to do, with the very organization I most wanted to work with. Happy ending, with the Eleventh Step to thank? No. I was fired. How come? I wasn't equal to the job. Apparently, I had misread God's will for me. Then, it became a matter of praying for the power to accept what I've heard some AAs refer to as not a spiritual awakening but a rude awakening!

Just as the earlier Steps had granted me physical freedom from alcohol and mental/emotional freedom from the stigma of alcoholism, so did my introduction to Step Eleven represent an unprecedented experiment in freedom of the spirit. No longer would I have to say, "Get me out of this mess, and I'll never do such and such again." No more bargaining, no more dictating, no more all-or-nothing! Thy will, not mine, be done!

Incidentally, there are ways other than prayer and meditation by which I can continue to improve my conscious contact with a Power greater than myself--for example, sharing in the maiden talk of a newcomer, rejoicing at the return of a member who had relapsed, and (not to be underestimated) the continuing wonder of waking up each morning sober.

"Quiet times" are of huge value to me. As recounted in Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers, AA's co-founder practiced a quiet time of from thirty minutes to an hour every morning, when he read from inspirational books and meditated, a practice he continued into his later years.

In a piece that our other co-founder, Bill W., wrote for the Grapevine (June 1958), he said, "I've just finished rereading the chapter on Step Eleven in our book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. This was written almost five years ago. I was astonished when I realized how little time I had actually been giving to my own elementary advice on meditation, prayer, and guidance--practices that I had so earnestly recommended to everybody else!"

It still amazes me that those two men who bore the burden of our pioneer years continued to believe and to work at improving their conscious contact with a Power greater than themselves. And all the other early members who carried the AA message the length and breadth of the land--before the Eleventh Step was written, they, too, relied on a Power greater than themselves. They, too, prayed for knowledge of his will and for the power to follow through.

The Step worked for them in those days, and it works for me today. There is not the slightest doubt in my mind that it will work for all those alcoholics yet to come through our doors. But as always, "First Things First." Before we can release the spirit from its imprisonment, we must first imprison the spirits in the bottle. We place the bottle on the shelf, place ourselves in the hands of AA as we understand it, and prepare for the adventure of sobriety. For me, it's an adventure un-thought of and undreamed of in all the years of my drinking life.


W. H.
Manhattan, New York

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