Episode 47: Step 12 with Benn and John

“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.”

It’s been a while since I’ve recorded a podcast and it’s been way too long since I’ve had a chat with Benn. Life got in the way, and I had to spend a little more time at work, getting things squared away on that front. I suppose it’s to be expected that every so often my priorities need to change, and I’m unable to make the number of meetings that I like to attend and do other things I enjoy, like podcasts. This is all entirely normal, and thankfully today I’m sober, and I live an ordinary, and dare I say “manageable” life.

Without going into a lot of detail, I’ve had a challenge at work, a problem to overcome, and I’ve found myself using all the tools that I’ve acquired through my time in AA to get through this difficulty. This involved taking an honest look at my actions at work. I had to conduct a serious self-appraisal to determine the cause of my bad attitude and my poor work performance. I wasn’t afraid of the word “failure” or admitting that I failed or examining the cause. I understand that just because I experienced a failure that doesn’t mean I am a failure. I also realize that it is only through acknowledging my shortcomings that I can ever hope to overcome them. My experience in Alcoholics Anonymous has taught me that honesty and humility empower change.

Having learned and accepted the truth about myself and how I approach my job, I made a plan to change, and with the help of my manager, I am implementing the new strategy, one day at a time. I’m amazed at how quickly I am noticing positive results. In just a matter of a few short weeks, it seemed that I was suddenly finding myself happier and more confident at work. I’m sleeping better at night, and I am smiling and laughing more often at the office. I believe this is due to my hard work, but more importantly, I credit the 12 Steps for whatever success I’m now experiencing. My sobriety is built upon a solid foundation, and I’m truly “practicing these principles in all my affairs.”

Am I practicing these principles because of a spiritual awakening resulting from these steps? If a spiritual awakening means that I’ve changed in some fundamental way, then yes I have had a spiritual awakening. I have changed, and I continue to change. That in my mind is what these steps bring about: mental, emotional, and psychological change.

For the most part, I tend to avoid the term “spiritual awakening,” and instead I focus on more precise vocabulary to describe what I’m experiencing or what I’m doing. I need to define the term spiritual awakening in language that works for me, and perhaps the best definition that I’ve found comes from a story in the Big Book about Rowland H. and Dr. Carl Jung. What follows is an excerpt from that story:

The doctor said: “You have the mind of a chronic alcoholic. I have never seen one single case recover, where that state of mind existed to the extent that it does in you.” Our friend felt as if the gates of hell had closed on him with a clang.

He said to the doctor: “Is there no exception?”

“Yes”, replied the doctor, “there is. Exceptions to cases such as yours have been occurring since early times. Here and there, once in a while, alcoholics have had what are called vital spiritual experiences. To me these occurrences are phenomena. They appear to be in the nature of huge emotional displacements and rearrangements. Ideas, emotions, and attitudes which were the guiding forces of the lives of these men are suddenly cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate them.”

—”There is a Solution”, Alcoholics Anonymous p. 27

I have indeed cast aside my old ideas and replaced them with what I’ve learned in Alcoholics Anonymous. This keeps me sober, and my life manageable, but also places me in a position to help others, which as far as I’m concerned is the bedrock principle of AA. As a recovered alcoholic, I’m in a unique position to help the still suffering alcoholic. Through sharing my drinking history and recounting my experience with AA, I have a message that carries weight. My experience as an active alcoholic makes it possible to empathize with the person who is still suffering. Empathy builds trust and understanding, a bond is formed, and hopefully a life is saved.  

Though I can certainly complicate things, the AA program as I experience it is quite simple. I like Dr. Bob’s description of the 12 Steps in just two simple words:”love” and “service.” That seems to encompass the entirety of my experience in AA, and I like that they are action words. These are things that I can do. I can love, and I can serve.

I also subscribe to New York Style AA which Ernest Kurtz described in his book Not God as “don’t drink, go to meetings, and help others,” as opposed to the Akron-style AA that emphasizes trusting God. The New York style AA focuses on practical action rather than belief. No external or supernatural force cures me. I take responsibility for my recovery by staying away from the first drink one day at a time, going to meetings, and helping others. That is the simple message I carry to the suffering alcoholic.

I hope you enjoy listening to this episode as much as I enjoyed producing it. Thank you, Benn, as always for your steadfast friendship and for your help with putting this together. 


Podcast Intro Music

I would like to send a special thank you to listener Megan H. who sent some recommendations for new podcast music. One of her suggestions was an old jazz tune that I liked but for copyright reasons was unable to use. I think what we selected matches pretty close to her recommendation. Thank you, Megan. 

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  1. Steve K February 25, 2017 at 1:50 am - Reply

    Great essay John! I really enjoyed reading this article. Thinking about the importance you place on taking an honest look at yourself at the beginning of the essay and my own experience, I would add… “don’t drink, go to meetings, “clean house”, and help others”, to your recipe for recovery.

    Best wishes,

    Steve.

  2. RonB February 15, 2017 at 8:36 pm - Reply

    Good story and well done. I’d suggest you forger humility, tht’s slave mentality, and be proud of your achievements in sobriety and personal reflection. As an employer, I know that the worst employee is one that does not accept their mistakes/failings, because only by accepting them can you learn and develop, businesses need people who strive to improve. The 12 steps is religious nonesense to me but if anyone succeeds with them, well done. I believe in myself and my power to overcome adversity, it is not always easy to find that power although I am still often tempted to drink in times of trauma. The AA fellowship is a great help and AA worthwhile for that fellowship alone. One last issue to think about is ‘helping others’, a noble and good thing unless it turns into interference, but one needs to be aware that the prime motive is ‘self’. I, like most others, get great joy in giving and helping others. The other person wins, but I get the most out of it. Giving to others is perhaps the greatest joy a person can experience. Do it and feel proud of who you are, what you have accomplished and how you have developed. Only christianity promotes humility and being meek.

    • John S February 15, 2017 at 10:18 pm Reply

      Thank you, Ron. The concept of humility was something that I got from AA. The group that I went to for 25 years stressed it and I have to say that it’s one of those things that I think about a lot. I hate it when my ego gets out of control as so often happens. My concept of humility though has more to do with self-honesty than it does with diminishing my own value as a person.

  3. Thomas B. February 15, 2017 at 11:58 am - Reply

    Thanks so much, John and Benn. Your wisdom about the steps and the secular process of working or using the steps is excellent and needs to be shared widely throughout our growing secular AA community.

    In other words, I suggest the two of you could package these podcasts along with the essays that accompany them in a format, so that you could become a 21st Century version of the Joe and Charlie step workshops tapes from the last millennium.

    • John S February 15, 2017 at 10:19 pm Reply

      Thanks Thomas, that’s very kind of you.

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