If you hang around the rooms of 12-step programs or treatment centers, you will likely hear many say something like, “I am a grateful recovered alcoholic,” or “every day I thank God that I’m an addict.” To someone outside recovery circles, this may seem like a clashing sentiment. Why would anyone be grateful for all the angst and pain that accompanies an addiction? Nevertheless, what’s really being expressed is a statement of gratitude to have finally found a “new way of life” or “design for living” and all that it encompasses (higher power, fellowship, service, and certain steps).
After years of living in self-pity, doubting purpose, and being controlled by fear, I was finally shown a way of life that instills hope, faith, courage, love, tolerance, and other time-tested spiritual principles into my life—as long as I do a few simple things each day the best I can—things that any person is capable of doing. The steps don’t aim to get us to stop drinking. They are designed to take us on a journey of spiritual awakening, so we no longer have the need to drink. For me, it was like a big “stop and smell the roses” experience. I could look people in the eye again and sleep at night. Things that once seemed impossible to “get through” sober—like concerts, vacations, family holidays, even the routine of daily life—were just as enjoyable or more while being sober. Prior to finding recovery, my lifestyle seemed to check all the boxes from the outside: raised by loving parents, weekly church attendance, Purdue graduate, married to my college sweetheart and had a child, and made good money in IT. Despite all of that, there was always a void in the attics of my life. I never felt a strong sense of purpose and wondered what my purpose was while lying awake among the late dark stars. Those thoughts and the negative self-talk only intensified as I went in and out of treatment centers, building up and crashing down hope with every relapse. The Big Book calls it “pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization” and there are no better words I can think of. Then came the long journey of extended-term treatment and recovery, where all those 250+ promises in the literature began to come true. Life meant something at last!
I look at transformations all around the program and it makes me wonder: What if everyone had a recovery program or version of the steps to incorporate into their lives? Not so we could all be sober, but so everyone needing it could have a simple design for living based on a spiritual program of action. No doubt, I’m preaching to the choir with this particular audience, but think about the people in your life you know or encounter who seem to be struggling, maybe they’re angry or bitterly political, or the person you saw road-raging or just the one who is always critical of others. Perhaps these same steps could apply to other members of society to improve the community at large. No diagnosis is required to benefit from the gifts commonly found when we are open-minded, willing to take simple actions, and look each day for opportunities to be of service, and seek connection to whatever it is we love or believe in. If you ever meet someone curious about a spiritual program of action that promises a spiritual awakening, point them to the first 164 pages of the A.A. book and maybe there’s something there for them. We might all be better off for it!