The 12 Step Program to drug recovery is like taking a plane ride where you think you’re flying alone, but in reality you’ve got company on this journey of growth and change. The first three steps of the program will have a recovering addict admit that he is powerless over his addiction. Through this admission, he accepts that he needs help from people and from a power greater than he is. Learn more of the powerful effects of the first three steps of the 12 Step Program as Paul Noddings and Dave, his friend and former house manager for Responsible Recovery, share their experiences working their way to recovery.
On this episode, I’m going to go through the first three steps of the Twelve Step Program. I’ve got my colleague here, Dave, who’s going to join us in the discussion. I’ll start tonight by going over fairly quickly what the twelve steps of the Twelve Step Program are. This is per the Alcoholics Anonymous literature. Step number one, we admit we are powerless over alcohol or drugs that our lives have become unmanageable. Step two, come to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. Step three, make a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him. Step four, make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. Step five, admit to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. Step six, we are entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character. Step seven, humbly ask him to remove our shortcomings. Step eight, make a list of all persons we have harmed and become willing to make amends to them all. Step nine, make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. Step ten, continue to take personal inventory and when we are wrong, promptly admit it. Step eleven, seek through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understand him, praying only for knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry that out. Step twelve, having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we try to carry this message to other alcoholics and addicts and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
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Personal Thoughts On The First Three Steps Of The 12 Step Program with Paul and Dave
Let me welcome to the show my colleague and good friend, Dave.
How are you doing, Paul?
Good. Thank you for being here. I’ll start with a more in-depth review of step one, then we have some points that I’d like to discuss on it and we’ll take it from there. I have a small passage that I think puts some of this subject matter into perspective, “The twelve steps for us have been steps to a higher level of understanding. By working the steps, we have learned we have faults of our own which are likely to remain unless we learn to do something about them. In practicing the steps, we can gain courage and serenity. Gradually, we leave our old ways behind and learn that growth, though sometimes painful, is worth seeking. Step one is that we admit we are powerless over alcohol or drugs and our lives have become unmanageable. Many of us deliberately close our eyes to excessive drinking of others, deluding ourselves with ideas such as, “When he has a home of his own, he’ll stop or she’ll stop because she loves me.” Despite everything we’ve tried, all we accomplish is to add to the chaos, to the confusion. Our well-meant but ill-advised attempt to stop the drinking only makes matters worse. The net result was defeat for everyone. Life really becomes unmanageable for the whole family.
The first step is bedrock beneath our feet. From it, we can go forward to the peace, comfort and spiritual growth attained from the program. With full acceptance that we are powerless over the disease of alcoholism or drug addiction, there comes a feeling of release and hope returns. We can turn our full attention to managing our own lives and bringing them into some sort of order. When one member is thinking sanely, the whole family situation can improve.” Dave, what do you think when I tell you step one is, “We admit that we are powerless over drugs or alcohol and that our lives have become unmanageable?” What are your thoughts on that?
When you finally admitted that you’re an alcoholic or a drug addict, it’s almost a no-brainer. You’ve already gotten to a stage where you’ve realized that your life has become unmanageable and it’s time to figure out what to do to fix that.
When did you admit to yourself that this was the case?
I would have to say after my marriage failed, you’re losing jobs and can’t seem to hang on to one and it’s getting hard to pay the rent and that kind of thing. To solve that problem, you just crawl into a bottle and forget about it for a little while until the problem comes back again.
I remember clearly going to my first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and it was here at The Rocks’ Church, which is nearby to where I live. There was a room with about 50 men in it and there was a mix of age but it was middle-aged, plenty of older guys. Plenty of people who I thought looked like me. I would say these people were my peers except I didn’t know them. I particularly remember the feelings in the first meeting where I introduced myself as, “Paul, I’m an alcoholic and a drug addict.” For some reason, that had a huge effect on me. It was me admitting. It was cathartic. It was therapeutic. I had gotten it off my chest, even I’d say off my shoulders. That was a big effect for me. That was me admitting right there. I said it in public and I wasn’t just saying the words, I was accepting the mental process of it. I think that when you accept, I don’t know if powerless is the right word. The wording of the step is that we accept that we are powerless over drugs and alcohol. I think that’s a good phrase. I just think there was a surrender for me when I introduced myself in that way. I sat at that meeting, I just felt there was a surrender to the fact that I needed help. I couldn’t do this on my own. I’d tried multiple times at least ten times to stop drinking and smoking weed on my own and I never succeeded. I had three or four days and then back again. I had stopped alcohol but I would smoke a lot of weed.
I would say a similar thing. I tried many, many times myself but it was never effective. It’s surrender and you got relieved. It wasn’t a relief until it was my idea because it was always somebody prompting me to get it under control, “You need to do this, this and this. You have to do it for the family. You have to do it for the job. You have to do it for all these things.” I was never doing it because I wanted to. I never had success until it was my idea.
When I went, it was my idea. I was there because I wanted to be there. At that time, I was still single and I knew that I needed my life of singleness to change. I was bored and confined, even imprisoned in my own singledom and life needed to expand. I needed to get some wings and to broaden my horizons. I just needed to broaden my immediate circle. I had been spiraling inwards for a long time and that my circle was getting very small.
The isolation becomes easier and easier.
I needed to break open the egg somehow. I was inside the egg, something like that. Let’s move on to step two. This is probably going to be a controversial step because when I read all the twelve steps of the Twelve Step Program, the concept of a higher power comes up repeatedly, not just in step two. It comes up for the first time in step two, but it comes up over and over again as almost every other step or even more than that. This is a sticking point for a lot of people in the Twelve Step Program is this concept of God. I have my own concept of God. Here we go with step two, “Come to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” AA or NA or Al-Anon or Overeaters Anonymous or Sex Addicts Anonymous or Gamblers Anonymous all work similarly. “Before we had help from Alcoholics Anonymous, we reached a point where we were no longer responding normally. Once it became clear that we could no longer depend upon ourselves for calm, dispassionate, wise judgment, we looked to something else beyond ourselves. We saw that there were those among us who have been led to acceptance by some form of higher power. If they once had lives as chaotic as ours, and now they have serenity, then we too may attempt to draw upon the source to obtain the same results. We have lived too long with wild fear and insane dread to be in command of ourselves. Panic ruled us. When we asked for help, we found a power greater than ourselves.” In step two, this concept of a power greater than ourselves is introduced in the Twelve Step Program. Later in the steps, they refer to that power greater than ourselves as God. In step two, they don’t actually use the word God but as soon as step three, they are substituting the word God for the term higher power.
I have reflected on this considerably myself. I was brought up Catholic, obviously part of the Christian religion base. I think the church does a lot of good. I’m in favor of all religions, even some of the religions that are currently unpopular today. I’m sorry that it’s been misguided. I’m sorry for everyone involved. It seems like some religions have been misguided in a lot of thinking. I also recognize that the fine detail of each of these religions cannot be correct because they’re at odds with each other, so they can’t all be correct. My own interpretation of a higher power is the concept of collective consciousness. I feel that I’m a conscious being and that if all conscious beings put together, make a collective consciousness, that is the higher power. I would also say that things such as the sun’s rays and the gravitational field of the Earth are also part of the higher power. I think that a living tree, which doesn’t have a consciousness, is also part of the higher power. In my broad definition of collective consciousness, the living tree is part of the collective consciousness of our existence at this point in time. For me, when I think of a higher power being that collective consciousness, it’s very easy for me to surrender to that higher power because it’s clearly much greater than me, a tiny little cog in this seven billion cog wheel or something like that. Dave, what are your thoughts on the higher power?
I was also brought up Christian. I’ve thought about it a lot growing up and I’ve struggled with it as I think most people have, times believing, times not believing. I’ve had circumstances in my life that have confirmed things for me. My higher power is God.
What is your God?
The Christian God, the Bible. I agree with the Bible but I don’t agree with all of it. It’s hard to explain. I think the creative design, I like that idea. I also don’t think there’s an old man with a white beard up there watching and doing everything. I do believe that there is a greater power that is just helping things in motion, helping things to continue and to help us along. I’m not sure if I believe that we’re an experiment. I do believe there’s something bigger than us, than me, that is running the show. I hope it’s what I think it is, but I don’t know.
When you hear me talk about a collective consciousness as a higher power, do you think to yourself, “There’s something more than just collective consciousness. There’s some actual either being or force?”
No. I would incorporate what you say into what I think. I think it is more than collective consciousness. I think it’s probably more than my ability to describe it. It’s a feeling that I have. It’s being sure of what you hope for and believing in what you don’t see. It’s hope, for me. I hope there’s more than this.
I heard a more senior person within an environment give instructions to a junior or a newcomer on this subject and they said something to the effect of, “Pick anything to be your higher power. Just don’t pick a doorknob because that’ll break.”
I heard people say your higher power could be a stone, it can be a rock. I think it’s a little deeper than that. I think it’s if you just believe that there’s something bigger than yourself, is all they’re really after. That it’s not me. It does take it into God later in the steps and whatnot. I think basically the focus is, “It’s not me. It’s bigger than me.”
I think that’s the big point. At least from the Twelve Step Program, it’s recognizing that you are just a drop in the bucket. You’re not the whole bucket.
To think that we are it is pretty arrogant. Look at how big the world is, look how big the universe is. There has to be more.
There absolutely has to be more but the question might still remain. When we eventually make contact with ET and his buddies out there, we’re still going to ask this question, “What’s after ET and his buddies?” It’s one of these questions that won’t be solved in our lifetime. For me, I find it easy to believe in this collective consciousness concept that I described. I can see you’re at peace with your own belief structure. You’ve come up with your concept of God. I don’t want to put words in your mouth but it seems like you’re fine with it and it’s working for you.
I am but I will admit, for a long time I wasn’t. Even to the point where for a long part of my life I considered people that were heavy into Christianity and whatnot, somewhat weak-minded, a little easy to accept just taking it for face value without really looking into it. Just maybe to help with a little background, I’ve lost my leg to cancer and I was supposed to have passed. I’m the only one that made it in an experiment, so I am a miracle. It’s hard not to look at things that way when your circumstances have been so dire and you’ve been pulled out of that. There has to be something that did that for me. I don’t think it was luck. That’s where I made up my mind that I have my beliefs and I’m fine with it and I don’t mind sharing them.
I think now we’re going to move on to step three. Step three of the Twelve Step Program is, “Make a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand him.” That could read also to the care of the higher power that we believe in. It’s the same thing. I think the word God sometimes throws people off. Before we move onto step three, let me just mention that having run a sober living environment and having had several hundred clients come through the sober living environment in the last three years, I can tell you that this concept of God and a higher power has come up many times. It’s a sticking point for many, many people. If you’re listening to this podcast and it’s a sticking point for you, just know that you’re normal, that it’s a big sticking point for a lot of people.
I would say that I hear that at almost every meeting. I go to several meetings a week and it’s odd not to hear that because somebody is always stuck with that, especially the newcomer.
It doesn’t really matter what your higher power is. It’s your higher power. It matters that you have a belief that there is a higher power and that you are not it, and that there is a bigger system and you’re a small part of a bigger system. After that, the detail of your higher power versus my higher power doesn’t really matter. If we use different words to say the same thing, it doesn’t matter who your God is or who my God is. It just matters that you have a god. That’s how I see it. Step three, “Make a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of our God as we understand him.” It is one thing to believe in a power greater than ourselves and quite another to put our lives into the care of that power. Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous and all the other anonymous programs offer us a way. That has been there all the time. As long as we relied on our own will, we could not see it. Following the will of God of our understanding does not mean drifting with the current. It means conscious, wholehearted, bending and merging of all our energies with God’s will. It means directing everything we do in orderly progressions instead of a chaotic confusion.
It would be convenient if we could make this decision once and for all, but it does not work that way. The turning over of our will must be constantly reaffirmed and renewed until it becomes so much part of our nature that the temptation to act impulsively gradually disappears.” What the Twelve Step Program is doing in step three is it’s making a delineation between step two, where we accept that there’s a higher power and step three, where we turn our lives over to the higher power. It doesn’t mean to say that we become some cult member where we’re taking instructions. It just means that we are not just acknowledging that there is a higher power, we’re actually saying that this higher power is going to guide us and we’re going to reflect on the higher power’s input when we make different decisions. What input can you give me, Dave, on this point?
I agree when you say it’s the higher power’s input. For me, turning my will over makes it easier to know that I’m not doing it by myself. It’s knowing that I have somebody in the side seat with me that’s helping me through this. It’s not like I’ve turned it over to him and expect everything to be fine now that he’s going to fix it all. I still have to do my part. It’s more of a comforting companion.
Do you have a running conversation with your God?
Yeah, I just talk to him regular like, “Good morning. It’s Dave.” We’re pretty cool about just chatting.
Some people will pray. For instance, in my experience in the Catholic Church, they’ve got these church ceremonies and you stand up, then you get down on your knees and they have a ritual that they go through and a ceremony. The mass itself is a particular ceremony and then they have other ceremonies for baptism and so on. There are designated times where you get on your knees and you have your conversation with God. In day-to-day life, as I’ve grown older and I have this new concept, my current concept that collective consciousness is God, I can have a running conversation with that concept of God. It’s less formal and I don’t have to get on my knees and put my hands together and pray.
Mine is exactly the same. I don’t formally, “It’s time to pray now. I’m going to do this. God, listen and I’m speaking to you directly now.” My God is actually pretty smart. He knows when I’m talking to him. It happens a lot in the car. I just start and it’s just throughout my day. There’s something out there and I hope he’s listening. I see the need for some people to have that formality because they check things off a list, but that’s just not the way I do it.
Other people might do it that way. It doesn’t matter which way you do it. It’s your God and you connect in your way. The idea here with step three is that you’d be willing to turn your life over to this higher power as we understand him and not be the sole decision maker. You’re not flying on your own. You’re flying with company kind of thing.
It’s a little more specific when I’m screwing up. I’m just like, “God, listen, I need help,” but just generally, no.
On this episode, we’ve talked about the first three steps of the Twelve Step Program. We’re going to be doing some other episodes where we’ll cover the remaining nine steps. The first three steps, just to summarize them, the first step is, “We admit that we’re powerless over drugs or alcohol.” Step two is, “We believe in a higher power greater than ourselves.” Step three is, “We turn our lives over to this higher power.” There’s not a lot of difficulty in getting the concept. It’s basically we recognize that we’re powerless over drugs or alcohol. We believe that there is a higher power greater than ourselves and we have a willingness to turn our lives over to the greater power or have our lives influenced by this greater power. Those first three steps are pretty easy to comprehend and to get under our belt. Tune in again and we will go on to the next steps of the Twelve Step Program. Thanks for listening. Until next time, stay sober.
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