After a Relapse: "Re-working" the Twelve Steps
There’s no right or wrong way to do the steps of any 12-step program. It’s simply a matter of what works for the individual and what’s agreed upon between sponsor and sponsee. Some of us rework the steps in pursuit of further healing and spiritual growth. Some simply commit to practicing steps 10, 11, and 12 in our daily lives.
After a Relapse...
For others of us, reworking the steps comes in response to relapse. The pitfall here is that we can see them as instructions we got wrong the first time or as a punishment for going back out.
The steps should always be viewed as opportunities. Making the most of them hinges on our attitude and on our willingness to change.
T.I.M.E. (This I Must Earn)
T.I.M.E. takes time. This adage has multiple interpretations. It’s a call to be increasingly patient and tolerant with ourselves. To do this is to be kind and a great many of us struggle to be kind to ourselves.
This I Must Earn as it applies to the steps:
Steps 1, 2, and 3: We earned/qualified for our seat in a 12 step program through suffering and became eligible for transformation through the gift of desperation. We don’t earn them again; we return to them because we hurt, because we’ve distanced ourselves from a power greater than ourselves, and/or because we lose ourselves in our quest to reinvent ourselves.
Steps 4-9: Nobody ever said that step work is fun, only that it’s worth it! These steps are a lot of work. They involve bringing the skeletons out of the closet, into the light, and working through/releasing/grieving/resolving our past. These steps ought to be done slowly, incrementally, and in the company of supportive and loving people.
Steps 10, 11, and 12: The only way to keep it is to give it away... and when we do, it comes back to us tenfold. These steps allow us to be of service to others. They provide continued discovery and acceptance of self and others.
Finding What We Seek
Reworking the steps is best done with intention. The more clarity we have as to what we’re looking for, the more likely we are to find it.
I ask my Higher Power (HP) for absolutely everything. I do this not with the expectation that it will change what my HP is going to do, but rather based in the belief that my HP is already trying to give me everything I need and (quite often) better than what I think I want. In this light, asking makes me more mindful and receptive.
Breaking Down the Steps This Time Around:
No matter how good a program we’re working and no matter how good our lives become, there will always be times when our lives become unmanageable. We will at times be powerless over things that rob us of serenity.
Returning to step one is as simple as acknowledging powerlessness, sharing our burdens, and seeking support in restoring our lives to manageability.
Steps Two and Three
Many of us have found that there are only two times in which we distance ourselves from our Higher Power: when things are going especially well and when they’re going badly. When we “came to believe” we did not experience a once and for all transformation. We find that at times we take our will back.
Surrendering anew not only restores us, but in reconnecting, countless new possibilities are created.
Steps Four and Five
As an addictions therapist, I’ve often found that what folks omit from steps four and five often contributes to relapse. There are often things we found too painful to explore and admit our first time through. For many of us, these relate to past abuse – especially sexual abuse in our childhood. In the halls of AA and NA, if you’re a survivor, you’re in good company.
Steps four and five ask us to identify our part in things. Too many of us get stuck trying to find something that isn’t there. We didn’t have a part to play in our abuse and we have nothing to be ashamed of. Keep it simple. If there are things you cannot share with a sponsor, consider utilizing outside supports.
Survivor groups, professional counselors, and clergy can be of great service in recovering from past abuse/trauma and integrating the pieces of ourselves.
Steps Six and Seven
These are often referred to as the “silent steps” because they’re personal and ongoing. Character defects are always a work in progress. Instead of telling yourself that you shouldn’t be this way, accept that you are and then work to improve on it.
Make plans and ask for greater accountability in achieving incremental change.
Steps Eight and Nine
One of the less joyous aspects of recovery is that memories continue to surface even after long-term sobriety. We often find that there are further amends to make. Write them down, guard against procrastination, and think about how you’ll feel after you make them.
Relief is great stuff!
Steps Ten, Eleven and Twelve
AA’s book Twelve Steps & Twelve Traditions highlights a particularly poignant struggle regarding taking stock on a daily basis: “The emphasis on inventory is heavy only because a great many of us have never really acquired the habit of accurate self appraisal (pg 89).”
We struggle to judge ourselves in the manner in which we judge others. We are free to apply the “Golden Rule” in reverse. We are free to honor how others in recovery see us, and ultimately, to honor how our HP sees us.
The best people in the world are in recovery from something and you are one of us
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