Thursday, February 3, 2011

The 12 Steps for Everyone [Step 2]

¡Hola! Everybody...
Yeah, yeah, yeah... the weather here in the Land of the Snow at The Center of the Known Universe, is frightful. And Yeah (yeah, yeah)... it’s really nice where you live. But riddle me this: who the hell wants to live in that armpit you call a city? LOL!

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-=[ Faith and our Deepest Experience ]=-

We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
-- The Second Step, Narcotics Anonymous

As most who read these pages know, I am an addict in recovery. I’ve been clean, one day at a time (sometimes one breath at a time), for 20 years. What follows is a narrative of my journey toward wholeness. I don’t know if this will work for you, but if you were to ask me, this is how I recovered my life. My story is extreme and you might find it hard to identify with some of its elements. All I ask is that you try to identify with and not compare my story. Listen to the message and not the mess.

I believe all people, regardless of whether they are addicts or not, can benefit from a rigorous application of the 12 Steps.

So take a thorough First Step and what happens? We’re stuck in a bad place! I mean, c’mon now, coming to the full and painful realization that my way of doing things was fundamentally fucked up isn’t a nice space. Furthermore, my bottom had me staring at some very harsh consequences.

Talk about despair.

The first time I read this step, I literally walked away from Narcotics Anonymous. My understanding of the core principle of this step, faith, at that time caused me a lot of discomfort. I am not a religious person, nor do I believe in a patriarchal, God-in-the-sky. To make matters worse, as I continued reading down the steps, I kept seeing the “God” word and the phrase “Higher Power” and I decided then that it was bullshit.

Consequently, I went through the five worst years of my life. The second issue I had with this step was the implication that I was insane -- restore us to sanity. When I came back to NA, I did so with a more open mind. But still…

My sponsor at the time suggested that I simply commit to keeping an open mind and to make this process a personal search. The beauty of Narcotics Anonymous is that the fellowship doesn’t demand you do anything. There are no “thou shalts,” no “shoulds.” As part of taking this step, my sponsor suggested I take a close reading and learn the terms. One of the first things I liked about the step the second time around was how it starts, “came… ” and then, “came to… ,” then, “came to believe… ” In a very real way I was finally coming to my senses -- I was awakening. The opposite of despair is hope and hope is what the Second Step offered me.

Faith was a hard score to settle, but there are enough agnostics and even atheists who are recovering addicts because the Twelve Steps allow for a kind of spiritual democracy. You do not have to believe in anything, or join any religion. You do not even have to apply the steps. They are simply suggestions and since whenever I followed my own suggestions, I usually experienced tremendous suffering, I figured it was time for me to listen to some alternative suggestions.

There are many different meanings of faith. At one extreme, there is the more common understanding of faith as blind faith, but that’s just one way of looking at faith. There are degrees of faith. In fact, we all have daily moments of faith and belief. We have faith, for example, that when we turn on the spigot, water will flow. We have faith that our car will start, or that a toaster will work. We also have many beliefs. We believe, for example, that we have a personality. Actually, many of us believe we are our personality, but there’s no brain center that organizes personality. Your personality is a set of beliefs and quirks that you constructed in order to operate in the everyday world. Scientists have faith in reason and logic to solve problems.

Shit, some of us believe that if we shove money inside of hole in the wall, a bag of dope will materialize. LOL! I’m not kidding. Back in the day, the way you copped drugs was that you’d stick your hand with your money in a hole and a hand with bag would come out. I had complete faith in that transaction! LOL

Early on, faith for me had to mean a temporary suspension of disbelief. What that means is that I made an agreement with myself to keep an open mind. Sometimes faith can mean trust. I came to believe that the spiritual principles of hope, freedom and willingness would restore me to sanity. And believe me, by the second time around, I knew I was insane. I have been studying human behavior for over a decade now, and the best definition of insanity I have come across is doing the same actions and expecting different results.

Even an infant knows better not to stick his hand in the socket after the first go-round. But yet we as adults oftentimes commit the same behaviors -- especially in the area of relationships -- expecting different results.

Sometimes faith can mean trust in a teaching, or self-confidence. As a Buddhist, my Higher Power is the Dharma (The Law), a clearly defined set of ethical and cognitive principles. In sports, a group can develop faith in their ability as a team to overcome everybody’s expectations. In that same way, I came to believe that the fellowship and principles of Narcotics Anonymous could restore me to sanity. Why? Because people all around me were taking back their lives. People were helping heal themselves and one another. I have been to NA meetings where a particular individual cried because she couldn’t pay her rent, then see her cry once again several months later because she was able to pay her rent.

Initially, my Higher Power was the group -- that what I couldn’t do alone we could do together. Eventually, my spirituality would evolve and I would come to embrace Buddhism as my path. The historical Buddha didn’t make any claims to divinity and his last words, as he lay dying (of all things, food poisoning) were, “… be a lamp unto yourself.” What that means to me is that ultimately, you must walk your path. It means that sayings, scriptures, or instructions alone will not save you. Ultimately, if you want to awaken, to come to your full realization as a human being, you must walk your path -- whatever that path entails.

And that’s what the second step helped me begin. It helped begin to walk the walk, trusting in my experience that I could be restored to sanity by a power greater than myself. the Second Step helped me come to a different understanding of faith, one that wasn’t associated with dogma or religion. I wanted a faith that encouraged and emphasized love and respect for ourselves as a foundation. A faith that uncovers our connection to others, rather than designating anyone as separate and apart. The faith I came to know as part of my recovery process and that I describe in this post does not require a belief system, is not necessarily connected to a God, though it doesn’t deny one. This faith I speak of is not a commodity we either have or don't have -- it is an inner quality that unfolds as we learn to trust our own deepest experience.

My name is Eddie and I’m recovery from civilization...


  1. Somehow I found you on FB and if I all ever read from here on out was your blog I think that I would be able to start to realease my own inner demons.  Ones that are locked up so tightly (or so I think).  I have struggled with the 12 step program even though I really tried hard to stick with it.  Buddhism, however, helped me to figure out some stuff; especially since my sensei works a 12 step program himself. 

    I love this part (I definitely found this through meditation):  " I wanted a faith that encouraged and emphasized love and respect for ourselves as a foundation. A faith that uncovers our connection to others, rather than designating anyone as separate and apart."

  2. LOL@ the tag "keep poking! 

    I'm happy you were able to get something useful out of this. My own Higher Power has evolved, and today I see The Dharma as my Higher Power. 


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