What about prayer?
It took me but a short time in early recovery to begin questioning the efficacy of prayer, the distinctly religious activity I had been taught as a young child, and its functional role in the 12 Step process as I know it today. To begin with, I was pretty confident that no one was listening other than (perhaps) the person or persons doing the asking and others within earshot. Furthermore, I saw no evidence of anything or anyone outside doing anything to resolve the thoughts, hopes, wishes, aspirations and needs expressed.
However, I was also quick to recognize that the sincere wishes, desires and hopes expressed in the Serenity Prayer and other prayer thoughts have been essential in helping me turn my own life around. At the same time, I kept asking myself just what others expect when they pray, and who, if anyone, they think is going to “answer.”
Well, here’s what I found, the action that produces the hoped for results:
1) The actual and continuing practice of what is outlined on pages 58 through 88, Chapters 5 and 6 in the Big Book, “How it Works” and “Into Action” (“precise directions” and “a prescription for living” they are called) can give me the wisdom or clear insight into what can and cannot be changed BY ME. However, the continuous and persistent application of the thinking and doing (“the work”) therein outlined are essential to progress. (ACCEPT, BEGIN, CONTINUE, I was taught by the old-timers.)
2) Reflecting on my own life with alcohol, it continues to be clear that I was seemingly powerless to say “No” to the next or first drink, that I was losing control of my life. So, it was a simple decision, Step 3, to see what would happen if I turned my will and life over to the discipline (teaching), care and direction of the A.A. recovery process.
3) The “self-examination, self-disclosure and leveling of my pride” of Steps 4 and 5 continue to provide a clear, honest (moral) picture of ideas, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors that have stood in the way of my personal freedom, progress, and happiness, things that still can if I don’t continue to watch for them. This simple, though sometimes frightening process, helps me to shift from blaming others and society for the messes and disappointments I have found myself in to the reality that in many, if not most, cases “somehow in the past [I] have made decisions based on self which placed [me] in a position to be hurt.” It was and still is empowering to see that I am not always the victim I thought I was. Rather, I was by choice or my own lack of responsibility a volunteer. I’m the one who made choices, although sometimes by default in not doing what I knew I could or should do differently. Although it takes most of us some time to reach this point, it is one of the greatest rewards of Steps 4 and 5 as suggested courses of action (the best definition of “principles”). The Big Book calls it “a fact-finding process.”
4) The power of Steps 6 and 7 in renouncing, letting go of, pushing away, saying “No” to old defenses, knee-jerk reactions and ideas in exchange for the new, “unsuspected” hidden power to change the way I see myself and manage my life, raises powerful expectations of further rewards for staying on the new path. And, “Nothing changes if nothing changes!”
5) The experience of cleaning up past and current wreckage through Steps 8 and 9 continues to build a sense of self-efficacy, and the realization that I can be truly accountable to myself and others for past wrongs and mistakes, as well as future choices and actions, results in a renewal or birth of honest self-esteem, self-valuing and self respect.
6) Learning in Step 10 (where “…we commence to put our A.A. way of living to practical use, day by day, in fair weather or foul.”) the importance of paying attention to what I am thinking, feeling and doing, looking especially for opportunity to promptly admit when I am wrong to both myself and others, again proves that I can do all sorts of things I never thought possible. “Then comes the acid test: can we stay sober, keep in emotional balance, and live to good purpose under all conditions? “
7) Step 11 is the constant reminder to seek and follow the guidance of my true, authentic self, not the false, frightened self I lived with for so many years, the persona or mask I wore for myself and others. Essentially, this Step teaches me the benefit of using my newfound ability to meditate, thinking things through before taking action, speaking or writing. “To thine own self be true.”
8) Finally, I am reminded of the need to continue this practice, this way of thinking things through and planning for success rather than failure in my daily life, as an example to all those I would help. “We alcoholics are undisciplined. Therefore will allow [a new consciousness, our experience] to discipline us in the simple way just outlined.” And, “We say to OURSELVES throughout the day, “Thy will be done,” reminding ourselves that the old, dysfunctional self is no longer running the show.
9) Think, think, think! “After all, [evolution] gave us brains to use!”
So, “May we find serenity to accept things we cannot change, courage to change things we can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
Copyright ©2014, 2015 by James E. Barrett. All rights reserved.
For many, these daily disciplines help keep us on track.
A Daily Third Step Practice: “Higher consciousness (great reality, true self, authentic self), I now surrender my life to the twelve step process of recovery, to build with me and to do with me as it will. I look to it for relief from the bondage of self-defeating and self-limiting old ideas, thoughts, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors, that I might better do what is best—that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of the power, the love, and the way of life available to all who are willing to do this work. May I accept, begin and continue this new way of living!”
A Daily Seventh Step Practice: “Higher consciousness (great reality, true self, authentic self), I am now willing that you have all of me, good and bad. I ask that you now remove from me every character weakness which stands in the way of my usefulness, happiness and freedom. As I go out from here, may I find the strength I need to stay on this path.”