Step 9

We take action by making amends to the individuals we have harmed in our past during this step.  We do this by overcoming the barriers of embarrassment, pride, fear, and procrastination and becoming ready to accept the reactions of those people we have harmed.  By doing this, we will begin to overcome the guilt we experience and assist the people we have harmed in overcoming any anger or resentment they hold toward us.  This is a tremendous opportunity for continued growth and is extremely necessary for our quest to restored sanity. 

However, it is important to remember that there is a reason that the steps are to be carried out in the order they are listed.  Without the spiritual preparation we experienced in the previous steps, we would not be prepared to make these amends properly.  If we had not developed a relationship with our Higher Power, we would likely lack the trust and faith required to carry this step out.  If we had not done our fourth and fifth steps, we might be confused about our personal responsibility or what it is we are making amends for.  If we didn’t develop the all-important humility that steps six and seven entail, we would probably approach our amends in a self-righteous or angry way and end up doing more damage.  The willingness we gained through the acceptance of personal responsibility provided us with the ability to make our eighth step list.  And that list was our practical preparation for working this step. 

It will also be important to remain mindful of how we approach and carry out our amends.  For instance, we must be cautious that having completed our eighth step list, we don’t approach it like we would a shopping list, crossing off completed items as soon as we can.  Some of our amends may never be completely finished, and we will continue to work on them throughout our journey of recovery.  Although it is best to make direct amends wherever possible, some of our amends may need to be made indirectly.  In these instances, we need to consider what good purpose we will be serving by making our amends.  Will the information we share with the person we harmed cause damage?  Ultimately, we need to accept the consequences of our behaviors, bearing in mind the part of the step that says, “except when to do so would injure them or others.” 

In such cases that we cannot make direct amends, the way in which we make indirect amends will only be limited by our imagination and level of willingness.  In the process of making our direct and indirect amends, we will be working on the spiritual principles of humility, love, and forgiveness.  Today you can practice these spiritual principles.  Today you can begin the process of overcoming the guilt you have carried around with you for so long.  Today you can choose continued growth in the process of recovery! 

(Photo by Felix Koutchinski on Unsplash)

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Step 7

We have experienced humility in previous steps.  In fact, the humility it takes to admit to powerlessness in the first step is often where we begin to experience humility as a necessity.  However, this is only a beginning.  To gain a vision of humility as the avenue of true freedom of the spirit takes most of us a long time.  After all, a whole life geared toward self-centeredness cannot be overcome all at once.  To be truly humble is to accept and honestly try to be ourselves.  It is as much a part of remaining clean and sober as water is to staying alive.  Ultimately, step seven is our opportunity to willingly try humility in seeking the removal of our other shortcomings, just as we did when we admitted that we were powerless over our addiction. 

Since we humbly admitted to our powerlessness in step one, the following steps have served to sow the seeds of humility in our spirits that will begin to grow in this step.  Specifically, in the first six steps, we began to learn our part in things.  Where we used to believe situations happened to us, we now see how we often created those situations.  We stop blaming others for our lot in life and begin to realize that where we have ended up has been determined mostly by the choices we have made.  But, humility is a sense of our own humanness.  By grasping it properly, we are better able to realize that we and others are truly human and make decisions both good and bad, with the hope that things turn out well. 

In previous steps, we also worked to form a relationship with the God of our understanding.  In step two, we first began to think about a Higher Power that could help us find recovery.  In step three, we made a decision to trust our Higher Power with the care of our will and our lives.  In step four, we leaned on our Higher Power to get us through and then shared with our Higher Power the most intimate details of our lives in step five.  During step six, we realized that our Higher Power can do more for us than simply help us to remain clean and sober. 

That work we did to build our relationship with the God of our understanding in the previous steps will pay off as we proceed with step seven.  During this step, we are encouraged to humbly ask the God of our understanding to remove our shortcomings.  This involves honest communication with our Higher Power in whatever way we deem acceptable (prayer, for example).  During this step, we are also encouraged to take action in the form of inviting our Higher Power to work in our lives.  We cannot keep a distant relationship with our Higher Power and expect to experience change through their presence.  This action will take the spiritual principles of trust, faith, patience, and of course, humility.  Today you can remain patient during the process and incorporate humility into your everyday life.  Today you can trust that your Higher Power will work in your life and have faith that you will experience change. 

(Photo by Ben White on Unsplash)

Step 6

During this step, we are encouraged to come to terms with our character defects and take action toward their removal. Specifically, we examine our fourth step inventory and get a good look at the profound effect these defects have on our lives, and through a willingness to change, start to overcome them.  Willingness is the spiritual principle of step six.  How sincerely we work this step will be directly correlated with our desire to change.   

It is important to recognize that becoming entirely ready does not happen instantly.  It is a process that sometimes develops over an entire lifetime.  Being entirely ready involves many things: being aware of our defects, being tired of them, and being confident that the God of our understanding will remove them.  While working this step we will consider our fears related to the step, what removal of our character defects consists of, and what our responsibility is in this process. 

Fears related to this step can come in various forms, but almost everyone will experience some level of fear concerning change.  We have all had our defects that we are about to let go of for a very long time, and stepping into the unknown is terrifying.  What will life be like without these defects?!  By working this step, will we be transformed into dull conformists?  Am I capable of living successfully without these defects?  During this time, we need to remain willing and maintain a sense of hope and trust that the process of recovery works even on our most coveted defects.  

So what is this process, and what is our responsibility throughout it?  Well, the first thing most of us do about our character defects is to decide not to have them.  However, this is quite futile because,  much like our attempts to control our using, we may have some success for a time, but the behavior eventually resurfaces.  So, what we need to do in the sixth step is much like what we need to do in the first two steps.  We need to admit that we have been influenced by an internal force that has brought mostly pain and degradation into our lives.  Then we need to admit that we need help in dealing with that force. 

At this point in the step working process, we are typically aware of our shortcomings.  But, it takes an extraordinary amount of energy to monitor our behavior every second of every day and curb every impulse to act out.  Thus, it can sometimes be a discouraging task.  But, we do not give up.  Instead, we make a commitment to our recovery.  We maintain our newly emerging principles despite our setbacks.  We keep taking steps forward despite the step or two we have taken backward.  Ultimately, we are looking for gradual improvement, not instant perfection.  Today you can make a commitment to your recovery.  Today you can decide to keep moving forward no matter how many setbacks you have experienced.  Today you can commit to a gradual improvement in your life!

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Step 5

During step four the work of creating a searching and fearless inventory was the goal.  In Step five, we clean house.  We do this by admitting to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.  Specifically, we are dealing with the contents of our inventory.  During the inventory process we examined our wrongs and behavior patterns, which revealed deeper aspects of our disease.  Much of the time, these revelations are not pleasant; however, acknowledging them and bringing them to the surface makes it possible for us to deal with them constructively.  After we share the shameful aspects of our past, we can be free of them.  In so doing, we can live a life of freedom in general. 

During the fifth step, many of us have and will face many fears.  The fear of being judged, the fear of taking up another person’s time, and fears related to trust.  But, it is essential that we know what our fears are and move forward despite them so that we are able to continue with our recovery.  Thus, courage and a sense of trust in the process of recovery are essential.  If we have both of these things, we will be able to work through our specific fears and handle the admissions that need to be made during this step. 

Admitting to each entity involved in this step is important.  True recovery involves a life where the spiritual meets the everyday and the ordinary meet the extraordinary.  When we admit the exact nature of our wrongs to the God of our understanding, our admissions become more meaningful.  However this admission takes place is fine, as long as we are aware that we are making an admission to our Higher Power.  The admission to ourselves is important as well.  This is important because change will not occur until we admit to our innermost selves the exact nature of our wrongs.  Once this admission is made we are more willing and better able to choose a different way of living.  Finally, admitting to another human being, no matter how uncomfortable, is important.  This is important for many reasons.  First, the therapeutic value of one addict helping another has been proven to be unparalleled within twelve-step programs.  Second, in the past, it may have been hard for us to decipher between what we are responsible for and what others in our lives are responsible for.  Hearing another person’s point of view related to such situations often proves to be helpful in this domain.  Third, by sharing our inventories with another person, we are demonstrating the trust it takes to make healthy relationships thrive.  Ultimately, this helps us in terms of developing honest relationships.  We tell the truth about who we are, then we listen to the response. 

By working step five, we will recognize patterns of behavior that have lead to negative consequences. During this step, we focus on the spiritual principles of trust, courage, self-honesty, and commitment.  We begin to learn to trust ourselves and others.  We develop the courage to acknowledge our character defects, admit to them, and remain committed to overcoming them.  By doing these things in step five, we begin to experience spiritual freedom and overcome the shame and guilt of our past!  Today you can begin your quest for spiritual freedom! 

(Photo by Basil James on Unsplash)

Step 4

The purpose of a searching and fearless moral inventory is to sort through the confusion and contradiction that we have experienced in our lives.  We have begun a new way of life and need to rid ourselves of the burdens and traps that controlled us and prevented us from growing.  Through step four, we will begin our journey of finding out who we really are.  Up to this point, we have been experts at self-deception and rationalization.  By writing an inventory, we can overcome these obstacles.  Honest self-assessment is one of the keys to our new lives.

The fourth step is the beginning of a new era in our recovery.  Working steps 4-9 can be thought of as a process within a process, where we use the information we learned from the previous step to help us get through the next.  This method of learning about ourselves is as much about learning our character assets as it is about learning the nature of our wrongs.  It will help us to highlight the unresolved pain and conflicts of our past so that we are no longer at their mercy.  It provides us with a choice and a measure of freedom. 

So you might wonder what it means to take “searching and fearless” “moral” inventory.  Within this step, the word “moral” has nothing to do with specific codes of behavior, societal norms, or the judgment of an authority figure.  A moral inventory is something we can use to discover ourselves morally, our own morals, principles, and values.  They don’t have to relate in any way to the principles, morals, or values of others.  A searching and fearless inventory involves continuing with the inventory despite our fears.  It means having the courage to be honest, no matter how we feel about it, even if it makes us cringe inside.  It requires determination to be thorough, even when it seems as though we have written enough.  Finally, it means having enough faith to trust the process and trust our Higher Power to give us the ability to make it through.   

Ultimately, an inventory becomes a sort of relief, because, as you will learn, the pain of doing it is less than the pain of not doing it.  Through step four, we learn that pain can be a motivating force in recovery.  It can motivate us to remain sober so that we no longer feel the need to isolate or let the things that are bothering us build up.  When issues surface, we acknowledge them.  We begin to really enjoy our recovery because we have discovered a way to resolve shame, guilt, and resentment.  By acknowledging them, we have released the stress that was once trapped inside of us.  We have developed an ability to survive our emotions!  Today you can have relief from the stress you have been carrying around.  Today you can become or remain motivated to overcome your past.  Today you can remain sober!

(Photo by Fuu J on Unsplash)

Step 3

In the first two steps, we engaged in reflection.  We realized that we were powerless over addiction, but also realized that faith is possible.  Although they required our acceptance, these conclusions did not require any action.  Starting with step three, the remaining steps require affirmative action.  Faith is certainly necessary, however, it will not be sufficient to achieve a successful recovery on its own.  In step three we are asked to make a decision.  This decision is based on faith.  Specifically, a decision to believe that there is a force for spiritual growth that can help us in obtaining and maintaining a successful recovery.  A decision to change direction, to stop rebelling at the natural and logical flow of events in our lives.  A decision to stop wearing ourselves out trying to make everything happen as if we were in charge of the world.  Ultimately, we are accepting that a Power greater than ourselves will do a better job of caring for our will and our lives than we have. 

Prior to becoming sober, our will and our lives were often times controlled by our addiction.  We were trapped by our need for instant gratification that alcohol gave us.  At first, this may have been a pleasurable experience, but after some time, the euphoria wore off and we saw the ugly side of our addiction.  We discovered that the better alcohol made us feel when we were consuming it, the worse it made us feel when we weren’t.  It is at this point that we have to make a decision.  Either we can suffer through the pain of withdrawal or drink more; or we can look for another way.  In step three it is suggested that “another way” can be obtained by turning our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand him.  At this point you might wonder what will happen to you if you continually turn your will over to something/someone else.  It is this kind of thinking that takes no account of the facts.  The facts, in this instance, seem to be that the more we are willing to depend on a Higher Power, the more independent we will be.  

We might wonder at this time who our Higher Power is and what our Higher Power’s will is for us.  Our Higher Power’s will for us will manifest as we work the steps, however, it is suggested that we choose an understanding of a Higher Power that is loving, caring, and greater than ourselves.  This could be a variety of things.  Some examples include God, nature, the twelve-step group, the spiritual principles of the twelve-step group, or any personal power or being in which we can communicate.  Once we begin to have an understanding of what/who our Higher Power is, it is important that we begin to form a relationship with that Higher power.  This will include being able to communicate with our Higher Power, being open to communication from our Higher Power, and having feelings about our Higher Power.  As we mature in our recovery, we will begin to form an understanding of our Higher Power that gives us peace and serenity.  At this point, if we are willing to surrender and be open-minded, our fear starts to lessen and faith starts to grow.  We no longer have to fight fear, anger, guilt, self-pity, or depression.  We are slowly beginning to lose the paralyzing fear of hopelessness.   Today you can turn your life and your will over to the God of your understanding.  Today you can shed the weight that self-will carries with it.  Today you can overcome hopelessness! 

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Complete a Twelve Step Program

I thought it would be a good time to introduce one of the core foundations of sobriety in twelve step programs… the twelve steps.  Because my drug of choice is alcohol, I am going to use Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) as an example, but any other 12 step programs can be inserted throughout this demonstration.  Alcoholics Anonymous is an international fellowship of men and women who have had a drinking problem.  It is nonprofessional, self-supporting, multiracial, apolitical, and available almost everywhere.  There are no age or education requirements.  Membership is open to anyone who wants to do something about his or her drinking problem.  Since it began in 1935, AA has helped millions of men and women recover from alcoholism. 

The twelve steps of AA are a group of principles, spiritual in their nature, which, if practiced as a way of life, can expel the obsession to drink and enable the sufferer to become happily and usefully whole.  The purpose of the twelve steps is to recover from compulsive behaviors and restore manageability to our lives.  It works by encouraging us to incorporate honesty, humility, acceptance, courage, compassion, forgiveness, and self-discipline into our lives and in so doing, open up pathways to positive behavioral change, emotional well-being, and spiritual growth .  The twelve steps are as follows:

Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.

Step 2: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Step 3: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

Step 4: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Step 5: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

Step 6: Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

Step 7: Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

Step 8: Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

Step 9: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

Step 10: Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

Step 11: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

Step 12: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

There is no way to complete the twelve steps in one day.  In fact, it can take a year or more to complete the steps successfully.  With that being said, I would like to give a summary of each of the steps because I know that they can help, and so that we are familiar with them going forward.  Over the few blog posts we will take a look at each of the steps. By remaining sober, today you can begin to complete a twelve step program!

(Photo by John T on Unsplash)

Maintain Integrity

Throughout my journey with alcohol, the decisions I have made, and the consequences that have manifested due to those decisions, have affected me tremendously.  They have also affected a variety of individuals in my life.  For that reason, I believe it is important for them and me that I do what I said I was going to do and remain sober. 

My integrity is also at stake in this instance.  The Merriam-Webster dictionary provides three definitions for the word integrity; they are a firm adherence to a code of especially moral values, an unimpaired condition, and the quality or state of being complete or undivided.  From a psychological perspective, Erikson’s theory of adulthood asserts that a person achieves integrity when they have established a complete sense or feeling that their life has been meaningful and worthwhile and includes the ability to look back on their life and not dwell on mistakes, or feelings of regret.  The alternative to this, according to Erikson’s theory, is despair.  Despair is defined as an utter loss of hope.

Strictly from reading the definitions, I am confident that a life of integrity would be more fulfilling than a life of despair.  With that being said, I am also confident that it would be tremendously difficult to maintain integrity in active addiction.  In active addiction, we are already starting off with a disadvantage because we will often times be impaired, and at this point, many of our decisions will be far from unimpaired.  These decisions will likely lead to divisions in our ability to make morally sound decisions as well.  In the end, it is hard to imagine that we will look back at life without dwelling on any feelings of regret.  In fact, it is much easier to imagine despair and a loss of hope. 

By remaining sober, you can keep your word and, in so doing, build a life of integrity.  You can one day look back on life without having to dwell on mistakes or feelings of regret.  Today you can avoid despair!  In conclusion, for the day I would like to leave you with a poem I have entitled Intrigued by Integrity:

You want it?  Go get it!  I’m not finished!  Still things left to prove, and not to you!  I didn’t leave it all out there; now I will; no matter what, I don’t care!  After all the hard work I put in, not to try would be a sin!  Many think I will not succeed, and to my anguish, it will lead.  To them, I say this:  I will never quit, no matter what the obstacle, I will push through it!  I’ve faced ambiguity before, through that, I soar!  I thrive on people’s doubt of me, any other way I would not have it be!  I know the odds are against me, but I don’t care, can’t you see?!  If not, then you will, in me there lingers a destiny to fill!  I won’t let myself down; not this time…  Just wait, victory will be mine!

(Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash)

Decrease Symptoms of Anxiety

Today, I would like to begin with a poem I have entitled Anxiety:

Anxiety?  Yeah, she has a hold of me!  No matter what I do, she won’t set me free…  She has a grip on my heart; it’s like some kind of sick art.  The theme is always changing; my thoughts are always rearranging.  I try to push her away, but to no avail, she is persistent and wants to stay.  She will keep me awake without fail.  She’s been weighing on me forever.  I am learning to contain her; however, Step by step, day by day, I know I will find a way!  I won’t let her hinder my growth!  Go ahead, take that as an oath!  My word is true; I know what she can do!  She’s accompanied me to the bottom and made me feel just rotten!  She paints a bleak picture and always keeps it with her.  Although she is with me, that picture I don’t always see.  I push it away every minute of every day.  Sometimes I see a glimpse, and yes, it makes me wince.  I don’t let it overcome me, though.  My persistence to her I want to show!  With my life, I am painting my own picture; it is slowly getting bigger.  As it grows, so do I, and her picture looks more and more like a lie.  Hopefully, one day she will disappear, and with her, take her fear!  Until she does, I will keep painting.  For when she is vulnerable, I will be waiting.

I am sure we have all experienced different symptoms or aspects of anxiety.  If you are unsure of this; however, I will list the symptoms a person suffering from anxiety might experience.  The symptoms include: restlessness, feeling keyed up or on edge, being easily fatigued, difficulty concentrating or having your mind go blank, irritability, muscle tension, difficulty falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, restless sleep, and unsatisfying sleep ).  These are the general symptoms of anxiety; your symptoms may vary depending on the specific source of your anxiety.  This list will suffice for our purposes, however.     

A certain amount of anxiety is actually healthy for us.  It often keeps us motivated to complete tasks.  It becomes an issue when the anxiety is inhibiting our quality of life and/or our ability to function properly on a daily basis.  Although many people think drinking alcohol calms our nerves, it actually increases symptoms of anxiety, especially heavy and long-term drinking.  Alcohol changes the levels of serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain, which frequently makes anxiety worse.  This is why you may feel even more anxious once the alcohol wears off.  This alcohol-induced anxiety can last hours or even an entire day after consuming alcohol.  Some individuals can drink one or two drinks and experience the euphoric symptoms associated with alcohol, which is fine if they can keep it to a few drinks.  Problems with anxiety related to alcohol use typically involve more than moderate drinking.  If you are like me and have alcohol dependency issues, moderate drinking will not be in your vocabulary very often. 

If you are familiar with anxiety, I am sure you would be happy to decrease the symptoms you experience.  Anxiety will not disappear overnight, but there are strategies we will discuss later on that you can utilize to manage your symptoms and at least keep them from getting worse.  For now, however, by remaining sober,  Today you can decrease your symptoms of anxiety!

(Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash)