by JD M.
Early in my sobriety I saw the steps much like a ladder that I had to climb. Step Twelve was the last rung where I would get to ring the bell of recovery. Once I got there, my alcohol and drug problems would be behind me and life would be smooth sailing.
At early meetings, what I heard was that Step Twelve meant “service” and that I was expected to volunteer to do menial tasks like making coffee and setting up chairs. Later, I could graduate to administrative work like being group secretary. My pre-recovery experience told me that this was just another hazing process, a way for those who had been around for a while to take advantage of me while laughing behind my back. I felt indignant. Don’t you know who I am?
Well, I was desperate enough to stay clean and sober and to be accepted in the only place I felt somewhat safe, so I played along with my home group’s regime. My first “volun-told” job was setting up chairs with two other guys – Darien who was a newcomer like me and Greg, who had about a year of sobriety and acted like he was our boss.
Darien and I had a laugh while we set up, telling jokes and swapping stories about odd people we had seen at meetings. We put up with Greg but didn’t really include him in our conversations, because he was “management.”
One week when Greg hadn’t shown up on time, Darien and I decided to change the seating pattern from straight to curved rows, so all the seats were facing the podium. We were very proud of our initiative. However, when Greg arrived he blew a gasket and told us we had to put everything back the usual way. You can imagine how that made us feel about this service nonsense.
However, as time went on Darien and I started to get a sense of it being OUR meeting, OUR group. Since we were always there early, we started to meet people – even some who thanked us for setting up! And we started to recognize who was even newer than us, people we could welcome to our home group. We were able to tell them how the meetings worked and what to expect. I could see the relief in their faces, realizing they had come to a safe place. What a good feeling.
After about a year, I had worked through the steps with my sponsor as well as at several weekend step studies, so I had a better knowledge of the program and felt I could pass on my experience, strength and hope to newcomers. I had developed a faith that the program worked for me. I kept thinking of that first line in Chapter 7 of the AA Big Book: “Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics.”
So, with my sponsor’s support, two significant things happened. First, I volunteered to answer the phones at the Intergroup office. Then, I got my first sponsee. I took my Step Twelve responsibilities seriously and found that doing this work gave me a deeper and more practical meaning to both the fellowship and the steps.
I was reminded to keep it simple. As a newcomer (and even now!) I was turned off by people giving me instructions, telling me what to do. My sponsor pointed out that the key is to offer friendship and fellowship (BB p.95) and that it is my deportment (the way I conduct myself) and not what I say that is most convincing (BB p.18).
As time went on I found that my understanding of the steps continued to change. Rather than a linear conception like a ladder with a bell at the top, I started to see it more like a pyramid with Step One as the foundation and the other steps built on top. I came to see that Step One was really an understanding of who I was. I started to see the full extent of the unmanageability of life and my powerlessness over most of it. I started to see my sobriety as not just abstinence from my drug of choice (or no choice!) but as a place of emotional and mental sanity.
And, in the same way, I started to see Step Twelve not so much as the final tasks in my road to recovery, but rather as an expression of who I become as the result of the steps. My responsibility was not only to pass the program on to others in the fellowship but to practice the principles of the program (honesty, open-mindedness, willingness, etc.) in ALL my affairs. By practicing Steps One to Eleven, I become Step Twelve. And my effectiveness at that can wax and wane, dependent on my maintaining a fit spiritual condition.