2013 Prime Time Men’s Retreat: A Newcomer’s Experience, Part 2

Presentations: Steps 1 to 6 of the 12 Steps

NOTE: This is part two of a series of blog posts detailing some of the experiences and highlights of the author, a newcomer, at the 3rd annual 2013 Prime Time Men's Retreat taking place Friday, Oct. 18 to Sunday, Oct. 20 at Nashville's Camp Widjiwagan. This account covers the presentations of Step One through Step Six of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Again, this is not an attempt to create official summaries of the presentations or the steps, but rather, some of the highlights and take-aways from the talks from the perspective of a newcomer and first-time attendee of a Prime Time retreat.

Step One (Steve J.)

          We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable.

The delusion that I can drink or drug like other people has to be smashed... completely and without reservation. Ultimately, I must come to this conclusion on my own. Is the cake really done, and is it finally time to take it out of the oven?

Steve told a story to illustrate a recovering alcoholic's reaction to alcohol, no matter how long it has been since the last drink. While enjoying a neighbor's cookout, Steve got a bit choked on a heaping helping of barbecue. A well-meaning fellow quickly handed Steve a glass of what the gentleman said was iced tea; however, the instant the liquid touched Steve's lips, there was an immediate & powerful reaction, both physically and mentally. The strength of the reaction serves as a compelling reminder to this day about how quickly he (or any other alcoholic or addict, for that matter) could be off to the races again if delusional thinking were to take over and thoughts of drinking or drugging successfully were to revisit us.

Frank, brutal self-honesty ought to be applied to our work in Step One; after all, this will serve as the bedrock upon which the other eleven steps will be built. Indeed, honesty is the primary principle behind Step One. To thine own self be true, it says on our coins and medallions. If I am not truthful with myself, then I can’t really be forthright and truthful in my dealings with others. The lack of inner honesty will eventually manifest itself in the outer realm in our interactions at home, work, and elsewhere.

Because an effective solution exists, accepting our powerlessness over substances as well as the unmanageability of our lives ultimately becomes a genuine relief. I trust this is true because many men who (1) have quality sobriety and (2) work the program to the best of their ability tell me this is so.

Step Two (Todd S.)

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

Do I believe -- or am I even willing to believe -- that there is a power greater than myself? We’ve already come to realize that we are powerless over substances and that we cannot manage our own lives. What we need now is some fresh hope; we must begin to experience something new. The word "could" in Step Two implies hope: the spiritual principle behind this step.

The obvious implication of being restored to sanity is that our old behavior in many respects represented insanity. What is sanity? According to the last page of Step Two in the Twelve & Twelve, sanity is defined as "soundness of mind." For us, a sound mind is a mind that is not constantly preoccupied with oneself. But how am I supposed to end my continuous obsession with myself? Todd's excellent suggestion was this: Stop talking to yourself all the time and start talking to God, or your concept of a Higher Power.

Before I can make such a change in my inner dialogue, I need a tool to help me catch myself at some point during those seemingly incessant mental conversations. Fortunately for us -- and indeed for all of mankind -- at least one age-old spiritual practice seems a suitable antidote for that constant, mindless mental chatter: mindfulness of the present moment. The literature is quite clear on the benefits of meditation and prayer, two tools that greatly assist us in mindfulness or present moment awareness.

Many of us have found the following three points to be central, particularly in early recovery:

          First, Alcoholics Anonymous does not demand that you believe anything. All of its Twelve Steps are but suggestions. Second, to get sober and to stay sober, you don’t have to swallow all of Step Two right now. Looking back, I find that I took it piecemeal myself. Third, all you really need is a truly open mind. Just resign from the debating society and quit bothering yourself with such deep questions as whether it was the hen or the egg that came first. Again I say, all you need is the open mind.
-- Twelve & Twelve, p. 26

What are my initial thoughts upon awakening? The disease of alcoholism/addiction wakes up about ten minutes before I do, so I must pay close attention to the content of my first thoughts each morning. It is absolutely necessary for me to be mindful of the present moment when I begin to stir in order to catch any negative mental chatter, see it for what it is, then proceed to remove the ego from the conversations taking place in my head (to the best of my ability, at least).

We can take part in the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous for years on end and still not really know what is wrong with ourselves. Furthermore, we can not even know we don't know. It is important to see that there are, in effect, two AAs: (1) the fellowship or social aspect of AA, which changes over time; and the program itself (as outlined in the Big Book via the Twelve Steps), which remains unchanged as the decades pass. The AA member who participates heartily in the fellowship of AA in place of the actual program of recovery is particularly vulnerable to not even knowing that he doesn't know what's really wrong with himself.

The importance of regularly reviewing and practicing the suggestions on pages 86 to 88 of the Big Book cannot be overstated, as these pages describe the practical application of the program. At Discovery Place, we regularly instruct the guests to read pages 86 through 88 and to practice the suggestions therein on a daily basis in the form of reading and meditation in the mornings and a "wrap-up" before bedtime.

          The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous is an owner's manual for how to run an alcoholic.

Step Three (Andy J.)

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

After we remove the alcohol and the drugs, we make it possible to see what really prevents us from attaining a desirable level of inner peace. We come to understand that we have problems that go well beyond mere substances: an absolutely pivotal discovery in our process of recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction. The act of turning it over or surrendering is an act of faith: the principle behind Step Three.

While motives are certainly important, we can still make a real mess of things despite having pure intentions. For this reason, actually doing the next right thing is more important than the underlying motive, whatever it may be.

          The Walmart parking lot is the most dangerous place I go because I am there. -- Andy J.

God's voice can sound a lot like our own sometimes, so we have to be careful; playing God is ultimately a tough job, after all.

Steps Four & Five (Bob O.)

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

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

Steps Four and Five help me get right with me. A great deal of courage (the spiritual principle behind Step Four) is required in order to take honest stock of ourselves, and we must own up to what we find in our Step Four work and become accountable for it. While it's true that only we can take the actions required by Steps Four and Five, it's equally true that we cannot do it alone.

Integrity -- behaving consistently regardless of who we're with or where we are -- is the spiritual principle behind Step Five. We begin to demonstrate genuine integrity as we continue to practice mindfulness of the present moment and keep on doing the next right thing to the best of our ability.

A good litmus test for Step Five: Find someone who likes what he's got.

It was suggested that we read the first part of "Freedom from Bondage," the story on page 544 of the Big Book, and replace the personal pronouns with our own name. For instance...

          The mental twists that led up to my [John Doe's] drinking began many years before I [John Doe] ever took a drink, for I am [John Doe is] one of those whose history proves conclusively that my [John Doe's] drinking was "a symptom of a deeper trouble." Through my [John Doe's] efforts to get down to causes and conditions, I stand [John Doe stands] convinced that my (you get the idea!) emotional illness has been present from my earliest recollection.
-- Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 544 (4th ed.)

Q: What is the exact nature of our wrongs?
A: The exact nature of our wrongs has to do with our self-centeredness/self-centered fear, our ego/preoccupation with self, and our other ISMs. (Bob had an excellent & accurate acronym for the ISM in alcoholism: Internal Spiritual Maladjustment.)

          My best thinking almost kept me from getting here. -- Bob O.

Q: How do we make direct amends to ourselves?
A: We effectively make amends to ourselves by making thorough amends to others.

          When I got to Alcoholics Anonymous, I was a floor person, not an eye person. -- Bob O.

Step Six (Paul M.)

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

To the newcomer, Steps Six and Seven often seem to be relatively insubstantial in that little action or work seems required of us:

          Returning home we find a place where we can be quiet for an hour, carefully reviewing what we have done. We thank God from the bottom of our heart that we know Him better. Taking this book down from our shelf we turn to the page which contains the twelve steps. Carefully reading the first five proposals we ask if we have omitted anything, for we are build­ing an arch through which we shall walk a free man at last. Is our work solid so far? Are the stones prop­erly in place? Have we skimped on the cement put into the foundation? Have we tried to make mortar without sand?

If we can answer to our satisfaction, we then look at Step Six. We have emphasized willingness as being in­ dispensable. Are we now ready to let God remove from us all the things which we have admitted are ob­jectionable? Can He now take them all—every one? If we still cling to something we will not let go, we ask God to help us be willing. When ready, we say something like this: "My Cre­ator, I am now willing that you should have all of me, good and bad. I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows. Grant me strength, as I go out from here, to do your bidding. Amen." We have then completed Step Seven.
-- Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, p.75-76

However, page 63 of Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions tells us, "This is the Step that separates the men from the boys," implying that Step Six is far more substantial that it may appear to be at first glance. Paul suggests taking Step Six every day, which can be accomplished by expressing a genuine willingness to have our character defects removed on a daily basis.

Our character defects tend to originate with our instincts. One can get a good start on nailing down one's own particularly troublesome character defects with a review of the seven deadly sins: pride, greed, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth (12 & 12, p.48)

Am I willing to grow today? Am I ready to give up ____ (fill in the blank with a troublesome character defect)? If so, all you have to do is ask. Willingness is the principle behind Step Six.

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