Archives for posts with tag: working AA’s 12 steps


Photo “God’s Eye” courtesy of K. Farwell


Today I was reminded of the fact that facing our life’s challenges is not a matter of perfection but of progress. Too often I have used “it has to be perfect” to keep from doing what I should.  There are many guidelines for how we should be living our lives given to us by tradition and holy writings, and I think they too agree with the appropriateness of aiming for progress rather than perfection. I understand this basic principle, but I also am aware that I can use accepting myself as I am and calling it progress is not necessarily progress—–and it certainly won’t initiate needed changes. AA’s “big book” also says “half measures availed us nothing.”  There are numerous guidelines in scripture that were never meant to be “worked towards”——they are absolute “do it now’s.”

See how my mind can paint itself into a corner? If I let my intellect rule my heart and my life, I get stuck and miss the gifts inherent in living life in relationship with Creator. So, how does one solve this dilemma? How does one decide whether to adopt an attitude of acceptance or to instead  actively pursue accomplishing a specific goal? For me, I must return to another 12 step saying, and that is from one of our prayers: “….asking only for God’s will for us and the power to carry it out.”  This, for me, is where the solution lies.

This solution became even clearer to me when I considered the words of Miss Eileen Caddy written yesterday and shared on my Facebook feed this afternoon: ” Seek Me, Find Me and Love Me With All Your Heart. Never waste time praying for your material needs, for I know all your needs before you know them yourselves, and I will answer each one when you learn to put first things first. Humankind wastes so much time praying for this, that and the other and fails to do the only thing that really matters and that answers all prayers: to seek Me, find Me and love Me with all your heart, mind, body and soul. That is all you need to do for this is the Source, this is the beginning and the end. This is all that really matters.”

Funny how intellectual quandaries can easily be solved by something simultaneously simple but infinitely wise.  If I put seeking, finding, and loving Creator with all my heart first then everything is as it should be and everything falls into proper perspective. I don’t know Miss Eileen, but wherever she is I want to thank her for giving me this important message today. May God bless and keep you.



Photo courtesy of K. Farwell

Last night at a meeting a friend gave me a card with a few brief words typed on it. These words were originally hand-printed on a piece of paper slipped in between the pages of a book that had been bought second hand at a thrift store—-one that is used at meetings when a  member needs a book so he or she can follow what is being read and discussed.

Somehow the simplicity in these words by an anonymous author spoke volumes to me, so I want to share them with you today:

“My Higher Power/God:

-Wants my highest good

-Wants me to be my best

-Wants me to live to my potential

-Loves me unconditionally

-Is an unending source of love, support, and energy”

These words describe how I perceive God, and I feel a direct kinship with the person who wrote them. I particularly appreciated the words because every 12 step meeting I attended in the past two weeks seemed focused on turning our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand him, and I can’t help but think that perhaps the enlightened soul who wrote these words had sat through similar meetings.  Wherever that person is today, I hope he or she still carries these beliefs in his or her heart.

This unadorned, simple list makes me think of the assignment many sponsors give to those they sponsor when it comes to working this step—–and that is to write a description of the God you want to be you Higher Power. Many members come to 12 step meetings with feelings of unworthiness, shame, and anger at a God who has abandoned them or at least turned his back o them. Many were taught God was stern, punishing, and vindictive when people failed to please him.

I have heard many people who start working the steps  remark that God never left them—-that it was they who left God, and it took involvement in a 12 step program to bring them back to God. A key component of that reunion, I think, is the ability to perceive God as all-loving and always present. When we perceive our Higher Power as loving and as accessible, it is much easier to form a trusting relationship with that source of power. It is possible to form a close relationship that carries us through the challenge of day to day to day living and whatever the future may bring. We become the recipients of a profound gift. Our spirits are renewed and our sense of spirituality blossoms——-much as leafless trees do when spring arrives.

One of the miracles of working AA’s 12 steps is that when one begins to feel loved and accepted by a Higher Power, one can begin to love and value oneself—–and then, and only then, do we have the ability to pass our experience, strength, and hope on to others who need to establish a vital connection with a power greater than themselves if they are to survive the disease of their addiction. It is all pretty much about loving, trusting, and passing it on to others. So, thank you, Mr. or Mrs. Anonymous for leaving your simple yet powerful message in your book for those of us who were to follow in your footsteps.

courage and believe rocks

Image courtesy of  BJWOK ,/

Yesterday, a friend asked me  how to do a 4th step inventory when most of the wrong [in her life] was done by someone else. As far as I know, this was the first time this person had considered applying these steps to her own life. I found myself having real trouble trying to answer that question in a way that made sense and was helpful to someone with little or no exposure to twelve step recovery. Therefore, I am going to try to answer that question more effectively in today’s blog. I obviously need to figure out the answer for myself!

The 4th step involves looking at character defects/shortcomings we recognize in how we relate to ourselves, others, and God.  Then we think about how these got started in our lives, what feelings or emotions seem to be at the root of them, and who or what we resent for the causative incident(s). We try to determine what “drive/defect/feeling” in us was associated with the resented incident/person. We look at the attitudes and behavior patterns that have shaped our lives—–not just our eating, drinking, gambling, etc.

However, when we look at patterns we often realize our own specific addictive behaviors or strongly linked to underlying problematic deep-rooted feelings or needs. We often eat or drink  (etc.) seeking comfort and/or escape from our painful or uncomfortable emotions (fear, anger, distrust, etc.).

A lot of our 4th step inventory is about discovering how we have harmed/hurt ourselves because of all of the above. For many of us, our 5th step “amends” are “living amends” to ourselves accomplished by living according to the guidance of program principles and/or our faith—–the change in our behavior and attitudes demonstrates our transformation/progress in recovery. Sometimes our living amends are the best kind to make to ourselves and others because actions speak louder than words.

It is also important to look at our assets when we take our inventory. Specifically, we can look at the attitudes, emotions, and behaviors that are the opposite of those that are the “defects” we’ve just inventoried. Acknowledging our positive assets—-or our progress towards them—-helps us realize not only the good in our past but the transformation that is taking place in the present as we practice recovery principles.

If we find ourselves wondering, “What do I do when it is others that need to make amends to me?” we are taking someone else’s inventory other than our own. The key is looking at our own lives from a holistic perspective and not just focusing on a specific action like how I hurt someone when I over ate or drank too much. That can be included in our inventory, of course, but hopefully, a holistic, in-depth inventory will explore and acknowledge much more. This is important because the drinking, eating, etc. is often a “symptom” of our underlying problem(s), and doing this type of in-depth inventory does a better job of acknowledging and working through the underlying problems.

By the way, these twelve steps are actually a “recipe for living” that can help anyone transform their lives. That is one of the reasons I talked about them at length in today’s blog. For more help understanding what character defects and program principles actually are, I would refer my readers to the 2nd edition of “Drop the Rock: Removing Character Defects” by  Bill P. Todd W. Sara S. and published in 2005 by Hazelden. God bless and keep you.

Cracked Egg

Image courtesy of digitalart/


I continually find myself in a position of wanting others to have what I have found. I want them instantly to understand the magic and meaning of a twelve step spiritual pathway, and I want them to know how they can restore themselves to a healthy, holistic lifestyle.  When I listen and hear a remark about how unhealthily high someone’s blood sugar is, I want to tell them about a way to eat  I have discovered that got my blood sugars in a normal range so that I was able to both lose weight and stop having to take diabetes medication.  When those newly introduced to the twelve step program speak and give words to  their newly emergent understanding of “the program” and “the steps” and what they mean——I want to interrupt them and teach them beyond their insight.

There are a lot of things “wrong” with my attitude when I let it wander in that direction. First of all, what I’ve learned, what works for me, is my insight, experience, strength, and hope and not necessarily anyone else’s. Beyond that, a spiritual pathway that works cannot be “programmed or fed into” someone;  everyone must find their own way and their own truth.

Secondly, I need to look at my motivation for wanting to “set someone right.” Is it truly to help that person or am I merely trying to impress people so that I can feel important? That kind of self-centered motivation will not help anyone. Perhaps I truly want to save people the agony of having to learn life’s lessons the hard way; perhaps I want to save them from making the same mistakes I made so that their life will be “fully lived” now and they don’t have to wait until they are past fifty years old to begin to get a strong foothold in spirituality and wisdom.

If it were just as simple as telling people what they need to do to be “okay”  followed immediately by those people following the advice they were given then, perhaps, many of us would not need to discover the twelve step process of evolving. People (parents, grandparents, and doctors) were shaking  a finger in my face and telling me how I had to eat if I didn’t want to end up a diabetic like my mother from an early age. After all, they put me on my first diet at age four. I have always resisted authority and tend to want to do the opposite of what someone emphatically advises me to do. Being told or dictated what to do does not heal the spirit, and it does not solve the problem(s) behind whatever unhealthy or addictive symptom  being addressed.  One problematic behavior may be stopped only to be replaced by another. I replaced over-eating with excessive drinking. When I quit drinking, I replaced that with excessive smoking. I have been able to “let go” of those symptoms through the years, some more than once, but I know they and others are always “lurking in the shadows” waiting to bump me off the spiritual pathway of recovery.

So, when I want to “fix” or “speed up” someone else’s recovery, I need to remember recovery can only be given by God——provided one actively seeks it. The “way, how, and what” of each person’s recovery is between that individual and God. I need to be supportive and live my own spiritual program so that the twelve step process I am living is one that “attracts” rather than “promotes” because the twelve step  way of life cannot be sold to anyone, it can only work by attracting others who see what they want and are willing to do what it takes to get it. May God bless and keep you.

Sky View Cross

Photograph courtesy of Joshua Burgard

Today’s quote is very short, and it comes from Carolyn Warner’s  Treasury of Women’s Quotations (p. 243, 1992,Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall). Pearl Bailey is cited as saying ” People see God every day, they just don’t recognize Him.” This one, short, and simple sentence got me to wondering. “Okay, self where did you see God in the last 24 hours?”

I first saw him when I got up in the morning, let my dogs out and said my morning prayers. I saw him again when I read inspiring “posts” on Facebook. Then, when I taught my class, I saw him in the eyes and souls of my students as we role played how to encourage a depressed person to socialize with others.

Then, came one of yesterday’s “Big God Incidents.” This happened when I found a parking ticket on my car after teaching my class.  I immediately went to DPS on the university campus to have it revoked. The officer on duty revoked it,  but when asked if the policy he’d just explained was in writing anywhere he  said “no” and pointed out very authoritatively that the ticket was given because that was the way they’d been doing it for the twenty-six years he’d worked there. The old me would have “gone combative on him.” However, what I did do was not that much better—-I went home and immediately looked up the University’s Emeritus Parking Policy in the Faculty Handbook and found that, indeed, the policy did not read the way it has been enforced all these years. Here is where God comes in….rather than get my ego all involved in proving my interpretation of the written policy was correct and his was wrong, I just decided to let it go. Accept. Let God handle it. Take my “ego” out of it. I will send documentation of the incident to my Department’s Chair and leave it up to her discretion whether or not something should be done about clearing up the conflict between written policy and actual practice.

Then I met God again yesterday evening at Centering Prayer as His light filtered through the stained glass window onto those of seated in a prayer circle quietly consenting to receiving His love. After that meeting ended, I set up my last meeting of the day. It was an open twelve step meeting for beginners. People came from two treatment centers, and we had to pull out extra chairs. Last week there were only four of us, and then in this second “Big God Incident” of the day, God sent all of these people to be introduced to the seeds of recovery. I met God in what some of them said, in how they said it, and in the eyes and hugs of gratitude from the three who asked for a twenty-four hour “chip”—-a medallion that reminds people that God is with them helping them stay sober and clean one day at a time. I was ashamed that ten minutes before the meeting started I had complained to God that  I was tired and wished I could go home instead of setting up and leading a meeting probably  no one would attend. God had a purpose for me, and I thank him for helping me carry that purpose out.

Obviously, God was everywhere yesterday—-I am sure he was in many more places I failed to notice. It has been my “recovery life-time” practice to make a “gratitude list” whenever I feel depressed or sorry for myself. I’ll probably still do that, but I am going to start making my “where I saw God” list instead whenever I feel tired and question the path God has me walking. May God bless and keep you.

Broken Heart

Image courtesy of Idea go/

I finally got up enough nerve to ask a question that has always bothered me in Sunday School class this morning. We were discussing The Lord’s Prayer and the words “debts” and “trespasses.” I asked what these words meant in the context of this prayer because they surely meant more than owing money or trespassing on someone’s property. The consensus of those in the class was that these words meant to forgive those who have wronged us so that our hearts will be open to receive God’s love and forgiveness. The class agreed that holding on to a resentment blocks your heart from receiving God’s healing love. The discussion about the harm done by resentments could have been lifted verbatim from a twelve step meeting.

I cannot believe I have been in recovery over thirty-two years and a Christian longer than that—–and did not begin to understand this important point until this morning. I realized a long time ago that the Lord’s Prayer is talking about creating God’s kingdom here on earth in the here and now by all that we do and by us being a conduit for God’s love, but I had never before realized the full meaning of the “forgive others” part of the prayer. I cannot feel worthy of forgiveness, forgive myself, or be receptive to God’s forgiveness as long as my heart and soul are barricaded by resentments that shut God and God’s love out.  It is not that God doesn’t love or forgive me; the problem is my heart can be closed off and unwilling to let God love and forgive me.True healing cannot occur without allowing God access to my heart, and bearing grudges and holding resentments keeps that from happening. No wonder the 4th and 5th step in twelve step recovery are so important————without forgiveness there cannot be healing, and without recognizing our transgressions and making sincere amends for them wherever possible, healing cannot occur.

Forgiving wrongs done us by others can be an overlooked, unspoken part of working the 4th and 5th step. Working these steps ask us to own our own responsibility for the part we played in the situations that gave birth to our resentments. We must do that first and forgive others their part in the wrongs we’ve experienced before we can be forgiven—–by others, by God, and by ourselves so we can experience the healing embodied in letting go of resentments and/or working the twelve steps.

I hope everyone is having an enjoyable Sunday. May God bless and keep you.

Gus June 7 2013

Well, yesterday turned out to be quite an exciting day. At around 3:30 PM my youngest dog, Gus, started trying to throw up. This is not unusual for a dog. Only nothing came up, and he kept trying to empty his stomach for about 45 minutes. I had a church meeting to go to, but I could not just leave him. So, I called my vet and took him in to be checked. Of course, I was late to my meeting, but everyone understood. Gus was given two shots, and I was given pills to take home and  give him over the next two days. That little excursion cost $82.00. I have to keep telling myself he’s worth it—–and my peace of mind is worth it also.

He had not been fed anything unusual, and I did not find any disintegrated pen or pencil parts lying around. He was still eating and drinking,  and he never acted like he was in any pain. I didn’t figure out what I think happened until hours later. I had shaken some garlic and other spices into some salad dressing I was making for lunch, and I remembered sweeping the excess spices that didn’t land  in the salad bowl off onto the floor. I think Gus may have licked the spices up off the floor and that is what made him sick.

So, what can I learn from this in terms of spirituality? Well, let me see. First of all, a little spice in one’s life can become problematic if one has a bad reaction to the substance. That is what happened to me back in the day when I was practicing my drinking problem.  There were plenty of times I drank until I threw up. Fortunately, God gave me the gift of recovery before I poisoned myself to the point of death. In a way, Gus’ trip to the vet was like myself being introduced to a 12 step meeting.  I never saw anyone put $82.00 in the donation basket that was passed around, but the result of that introduction was priceless. I was given a “prescription” for healthy living, and with God’s help I have been able to follow it. Gus is sleeping in my lap as I type.  Like me, with a little loving help from a Higher Power, he has been able to follow  prescribed directions and is getting better.

I was the one that made the spices accessible to Gus, and, in a way, God  made alcohol and food accessible to me. However, I did not force my dog to lick the spices up off the floor, and God did not forced me to drink alcohol.  I am sure there is one big difference here—-Gus didn’t know what he was licking up could be harmful, and I always knew alcohol had the potential to be harmful. Following the prescription I was given to attain sobriety and stay in recovery is a matter of accepting  my Higher Power’s help and following the directions offered by AA’s twelve steps. This is a choice I have to make on a daily basis —- I have to turn my life and my will over to God on a daily basis  if I want to survive.  To my delight, I have found this turning over process to provide me with much more than mere survival. Following my “recovery prescription” has been given the gift of an evolving spirituality, and for this I will be eternally grateful. Today, I will, by the grace of God, turn things over to him as I go through my day. I will also keep spices that have the potential to be toxic to pets off my kitchen floor—-another lesson in common sense learned the hard way.  God bless and keep you.


Image courtesy of Naypong,/

Everywhere I have gone today I have encountered the word “blessed.” Different meanings of the word blessed were talked about in our Sunday school class; those meanings included “happy,” “wonderful news” or “fortunate.” Then, once I had gotten home and eaten lunch, I read the material that had been electronically sent to those of us who participate in a Sunday afternoon 11th step focused study of Matthew’s “Beatitudes.”  Of course, it was information about the various meanings of the word blessed.

In the Sunday school discussion, the beatitudes were presented as a proclamation Jesus made of how he was starting to create God’s kingdom on earth by turning things “upside down,” and the author of the book we were studying (Wright, N. T.,2002, Matthew for Everyone, Part 1, Louisville, KY: John Knox Press) emphasized that these “blessings” were not something we are rewarded with in heaven after we die for having lived the “right kind of life.” Instead, Wright points out that these blessings are present-tense blessings and suggests we should try living according to these principles in the present moment.  He doesn’t specify how to do so, but I sure he means to live in a manner that helps create God’s kingdom in the present moment. I cannot imagine he means to purposefully become poor, hungry, persecuted,  or look forward to mourning the death of someone you love.

According to Bob Towner (2014), the convener of the 11th Step Beatitudes Study Group, the blessings Jesus was addressing in what is traditionally thought of as the “Sermon on the Mount” were actually an invitation to search one’s inner self in order to find peace and happiness—–even in unhappy situations like those specified in the beatitudes. Towner’s spin on the meaning of the beatitudes suggests Jesus is actually  “offering me [us] the choice of finding worthiness and benefit in attitudes and conditions which the world finds useless or shameful.” This  means I need to apply what I encounter in my inner searching into changing my attitudes and behaviors accordingly.

So, I am faced with considering two different perceptions of the message Jesus was trying to give those who were listening—-as well as to those of us who are reading the account of what he said. They both seem to agree that they are more “here and now” than future focused. They both seem to  agree that the “blessings” are in direct relationship with actions one must take to feel blessed in the present moment.  I have experienced peace and happiness within my inner being when surrounded by the very things mentioned in the beatitudes, and practicing the 12 steps has taught me that much of my inner peace depends on changing my attitudes and actions.

I think I just figured out my take on all this. Blessings are something God gives to me if I am willing to seek them in a spiritual manner. They are not concrete, measurable rewards to be stacked up in heaven or here on earth. I don’t have to do things to make myself miserable in order to receive them. However, I would be the first to admit there have been times in the past when I was only able to find such blessings because I was miserable enough to surrender my will and to actively seek God’s will.  Fortunately, I am learning to work on my “God seeking” skills, and I am much more able to realize and accept blessings now than I have been in the past; I am also fortunate that it doesn’t always take “hitting bottom” to motivate me to seek God and his blessings these days. Although I still work on changing my attitudes and behavior for the better, I still have lots of room for improvement.

So, when I close my blogs with “God bless and keep you,” I am not suggesting you just sit around and wait for God to drop blessings on your head. I am inviting you to actively seek those blessings and hoping you will find and express them in your attitudes and behavior. Although I would like my closing to be some sort of magical spell that guarantees my readers will be blessed and safely held in God’s arms, it is actually expressing my hope that you will actively seek, find, and share God’s love and the peace that “passes all understanding.” God bless and keep you.



Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/

I am not just talking about “personal hygiene” here—-or even “mental hygiene” as the Veterans Administration folks used to call it. I am talking about steps that need to be taken for the miracle of recovery to occur. I cannot count the times I have heard people talk about the importance of completing AA’s 4th step in supporting recovery. This step involves taking a self-inventory. There are a variety of ways to work this step; many old-timers are “big book thumpers”  who insist it has to be done exactly as outlined in the “big book.” Personally, I think each person needs to find a way of working this step that works for him or her, and I tend to think it is as important to look at assets as it is defects.

After this inventory is completed the person working the steps is expected to talk it over with another human being and to eventually “make amends” for the past wrongs that were identified. Sadly, in terms of acknowledging wrongs done and making amends, the person working the steps is the one most often overlooked. I believe it is essential for both the inventory and amends to include both the harm done to oneself and forgiving oneself.

I just finished reading a meditation for the second time today. I want to share part of it with you. It is from John Kirvin’s Where Only Love Can Go: A Journey of the Soul into the Cloud of Unknowing (1996, pp. 122-123, Notre Dame, Indiana: Ave Maria Press). This particular book is a book of meditations based on a book written anonymously in the thirteen hundreds. Text from this ancient book is still used today as one of the basic cornerstones of contemplative prayer.

One of Kirvin’s selections from this ancient text  addresses how we must start our spiritual journey by “cleansing our consciences, and enduring the pain of restoring creation to its proper place in our lives” (p. 122).  It basically says that those of us who have sinned will have a harder job of it, but that “God gives his  grace in a special way to the least of us and to the amazement of the world ” (p. 122).  It points out that many honored in this life will be pushed aside on judgment day while “some who are now despised and considered of no spiritual worth will take their place with the angels and saints.” It ends by admonishing us to “Judge no one in this life, least of all yourself” (p. 123).

Both anonymous works (The Cloud of Unknowing and AA’s big book) stress the importance of self-inventory and conscience cleansing. However, not judging yourself is not emphasized in the big book, and, in my opinion,  doing so is essential for true recovery to begin and to continue. Most of my professional life has focused on two things: teaching mental health nursing and promoting recovery in women who are alcoholics and addicts. Time and time again, one of the major obstacles women often encounter in their recovery journey is the difficulty they have in forgiving themselves. Our culture and most of our religious teachings does not stress the importance of self-forgiveness. But forgiving ourselves is an essential component of being able to begin to love ourselves as God does. After all,  if God through his grace can forgive us, who are we to question his judgment?

Enough said. Just because I am obsessing about a particular topic, it is not fair for me to keep going on and on about it. I hope your spiritual journey includes. self-forgiveness and a growing self-love. I am still working on it  one day at a time myself—–even after over thirty two years of recovery. May God bless and keep you.