The 12th Step of Alcoholics Anonymous says, “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps…” So, what is this “spiritual awakening” and why is it so crucial to long-term recovery?
The clues to the answer to this question can first be found in the Doctor’s Opinion on Roman numeral page xxvii (27) of the book Alcoholics Anonymous (aka Big Book). There we find the phrase “psychic change” no less than three times. The doctor (Dr. Silkworth aka Silky) explains that for full recovery from alcoholism to take place there must be a “psychic change” or there is little hope of recovery.
Throughout the Big Book we read multiple stories describing how a person’s whole outlook on life changed. Moreover, not only was there an attitudinal change, but perhaps more importantly there was a behavioral change. Not only did a person stop drinking, but they became more tolerant, kinder, more compassionate, less selfish, more giving and more “other” centered. They truly experienced a profound psychic change.
Toward the end of the Big Book, we come across an appendix entitled “Spiritual Experience.” In here it further clarifies this idea of a psychic change or spiritual awakening, but it also introduces a new concept – the idea of a spiritual awakening of the “educational variety.”
What is this spiritual awakening of the “educational variety?” They are insights, attitudinal shifts and behavioral changes that take place slowly over time. Here are a few of the educational, spiritual awakenings that I have experienced while practicing a program of recovery.
- Almost twenty years ago, I received a phone call from an A.A. friend asking me to reach out to a newcomer that had just moved into my area. I assured the person that I would, but I procrastinated on the assignment. When I finally got around to making that simple phone call, the person had moved. I felt terrible about it for weeks afterward and finally I admitted my fault to my friend. I decided that my living amends would be to respond immediately whenever there was another call or request for help. This experience changed my outlook and my behavior.
- I lived overseas for a good portion of my professional career. I went to recovery meetings in foreign lands, but I wasn’t actively involved in “service.” I returned home in the late nineties and shortly after my arrival I was having coffee with a long-time recovery friend. She asked what service work I was involved in and how many guys I was sponsoring. I explained that after two decades of recovery I didn’t really do that anymore. She said, “You selfish jerk. You have over 20 years of sobriety and you have a moral obligation to give back freely that which was given to you.” Her comments hit me like a two-by-four upside the head. She was right. I had been resting on my laurels and complacency and selfish had found a home in my service-soul. My outlook and behavior changed immediately, and I have been active in service ever since.
- Shortly after the jarring conversation I had with my recovery friend, I had a heart-to-heart talk with my sponsor. I was active in service now, but I was complaining about a meeting I was going to. I said I didn’t like how the meeting was conducted and I thought they could do things differently and… He suddenly cut me off and said, “JD, when are you going to stop going to meetings for yourself and start going to meetings for others?” Just when I thought the blow from the last two-by-four upside my head had healed, I had another welt protruding from my moral conscience. He was right. I was thinking about me and not thinking about what I could add to the meeting. From that moment on my behavior and outlook changed. I now go to meetings looking for ways that I can add to it. Sometimes that might be making coffee or helping a newcomer or putting something extra in the basket. I ask not what the meeting can do for me, but rather what can I do for the meeting?
- Toward the end of my last deployment to Iraq, I had been recommended for a meritorious service award. Instead of reacting with elation and pride, I was overwhelmed by disappointment. I thought I was deserving of a higher award. I sought out the counsel of a Chaplain who was an ally of people in recovery. I was venting in his office and when I was done, he asked me a simple question. “JD, were you abused by your father when you were growing up?” I nodded that I had been, but asked what that had to do with my award? He said, “When are you going to stop looking for earthly validation and realize that your Heavenly Father has already validated you?” It was like a shot to the solar plexus. I couldn’t breathe for a moment. I had been searching for someone to tell me I was OK, when all the while my Higher Power was looking lovingly down on me. And if my Higher Power had validated me, what other validation did I need? I left his office with a new outlook and a dramatic change in my behavior. I realized that service is its own reward and the goal of service, whether it is service in the program or service to my community or country, the goal of that service is to do my part well for therein lies all the honor.
These are but a few of the profound psychic changes, spiritual awakenings, that I have had because of these steps. With the application of this program, surrounding yourself with a strong recovery community and faith in your Higher Power, you will come to have your own spiritual awakenings too.