We all experience awakenings.
We are born, and that is quite a shock—our real first awakening. Then we gradually learn about the world around us and the people in it. We become aware of food, our body, our senses, pleasure, and pain. We meet other children and adults, learn about them, and develop expectations about them. We probably learn to read (and possibly how to use the Internet). We travel. We explore our own interests, likes, dislikes, and abilities. We become aware of erotic feelings and sexual desires. At some point we become aware of having some kind of personal identity—not the same as everyone else. We may set goals for ourselves. We learn about our own competencies. We may fall in love. We may become parents and have children, and experience new awakenings through them. Maybe at some point we go to a counselor or a psychologist, who tries to help us take more steps in “awakening.” We ponder the meaning of pain, suffering, and death—our own or someone else’s. We grow old. All of these experiences may involve various stages of growing awareness and awakening.
It was suggested to me that I talk a little about my experience with the program of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), and I decided to relate that to the “process of awakening.”
I have been sober in AA for over 39 years, ever since I attended my first AA meeting in February 1978. I consider this to be a “miracle,” that a “Power greater than myself”—through AA—restored me to spiritual life and health after my being nearly dead spiritually. I am immensely grateful to my “Higher Power” (HP) and the program of AA for this.
AA is a program of spiritual growth. This occurs gradually over time. But there are also some special moments when I have felt enlightenment or increased awareness.
A few examples of those moments are below. There have been many others.
- In February 1978, some friends (people who lived with me in my house) staged an intervention on me. I listened to them and was open enough to hear that my life was having negative impacts upon them, and that they cared about me. While I didn’t care about myself at that time, I realized that I cared about them, and that they cared about me. So I agreed to go to my first AA meeting, and went a few days later.
- At my first AA meeting, I had a marvelous feeling that I was “home,” in a safe place with other people who shared the experience of alcoholism, and that the AA program could help me. At last. I heard stories about bad things that had been happening in a lot of people’s lives, but I also heard a lot of laughter—laughter!!—because people felt a common sense of relief that they didn’t have to live that way any more!!
- I learned that I didn’t have to feel ashamed and guilty about my alcoholism—that it could be considered a form of disease or allergy—an allergy to alcohol which resulted in my not being able to stop, once I started drinking. It wasn’t helpful to call it a moral issue.
- I learned—to my utter amazement—that if I never picked up that first drink, I would never be drunk again. Could it possibly be that simple? Here I thought I was a very complicated person whose personality would require long, complicated analysis. They told me to just keep my mouth shut and listen for the first several months, and that “inside your own head is the most dangerous place you can be right now.” In other words, at the beginning, just don’t drink and everything else will follow.
- At first, I didn’t want to read the literature. I didn’t want anyone to exercise authority over me or boss me around. I had that typical alcoholic characteristic: DEFIANCE. But I learned by listening to other people’s stories, as they talked about their experience, strength, and hope. They said, “let us love you until you learn to love yourself.”
- By repeating the steps, reading the literature, attending meetings, listening to my sponsor, and trying to help others, over a period of nearly 40 years now, I gradually began to get a sense of my own feelings, of who I am, and of what I can do with my life that is meaningful and fulfilling. Out of that, I began to gain a sense of happiness, which is not a self-centered goal, but arises out of “doing the right thing.” I am trying to put more weight on “being engaged” with the world, and upon doing things (making connections, showing love and compassion to others). One of the things that attracted me most to Still Water was when I heard that it practiced “engaged Buddhism.”
- About 10 years ago, I got my first serious sponsor, and have since met with him fairly regularly to hear his suggestions and guidance. It’s good to “see ourselves as others see us.”
- Also about 10 years ago, I started coming to Still Water sittings. I thought these sittings might be a way of deepening my experience with AA’s Step 11—prayer and meditation. I never realized how deep that was going to get—taking me into a whole new level of awareness (mindfulness). But that is another story. Maybe some other time.
This Thursday evening, after our meditation period, we will focus our discussion on the process of awakening. What does “awakening” mean to you? Can you give examples of how awakening has occurred in your own life? Has your awakening been a smooth, gradual process, or have there been some especially deep or abrupt awakenings, or perhaps some of each? A little bit more about my experience of Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12 Steps is below.
Peace and joy to you as we travel this journey together,
P.S. There is a very important tradition of anonymity in AA. While members of AA are encouraged to talk to others at the personal level about their experiences with alcoholism and AA, at the level of public appearances, press, and other media (including publicly accessible internet sites), the guidance is that it be done anonymously, without full names and/or full-face photos. It is also always understood that every member of AA speaks only for themselves, not the organization.
Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12 Steps
To clarify a frequent misconception: AA is not a “self-help” program for people who decided to make a few small tweaks in their lives. Most people come to AA as a result of some serious crisis, which was related to excessive drinking. AA’s foundational step—or “Step 1”—is to admit that we are powerless over alcohol and our lives had become unmanageable. We admit complete defeat. Surprisingly, this admission of personal powerlessness becomes the firm bedrock upon which the whole rest of our program (and lives) is built. Next, we come to believe that we cannot stop drinking through our own unaided willpower alone, so we turn to a Higher Power (HP) to help us stay sober and restore us to sanity (Step 2). AA is a spiritual program of recovery. Then we turn our lives and wills over to the hands of that HP (Step 3). After that, we try to do some major housecleaning, to begin the process of clearing away the wreckage of the past. We inventory our own character defects (Step 4) and tell these things to someone else (Step 5). We become willing to change (Step 6) and ask our Higher Power to remove those character defects that stand in the way of our usefulness to HP and our fellows (Step 7). In Steps 8 and 9, we try to do our best to make amends to others whom we have harmed. In Step 10, we decide to do a “mini” personal inventory, do a clean-up, make amends, and try to change, on a daily basis. Step 11 is prayer and meditation. When I came to Step 11, I thought this would be the easy part, and that I was home clear. I have prayed in some form or another for my whole life. But instead this is where it gets really deep. In Step 12, we try to put these spiritual principles into practice in all of our affairs, and carry a message of healing to others—first to other alcoholics, and later to everyone we meet.
In a group I attend we read one step every Tuesday night, then go on to the next the next week. When we have progressed from Step 1 to Step 12, we start over again with Step 1 the next week. This goes on and on. I have been attending “Step Meetings” for nearly 40 years, and while I am very familiar with the steps by now, each time I read them I discover something new and deeper, and there is more “awakening.”