The entire purpose of the 12 step programs and the working of each step is to attain a spiritual awakening. As step 12 states: “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps…” Therefore, it is important to note that the entire goal of these steps is to bring about a complete change of attitude toward spiritual matters in order to obtain and maintain a sober life.
Fortunately, this is accomplished in incremental pieces as one progresses through the steps. Spiritual beliefs that may be uncomfortable and outdated may be discarded along the way. Many addicts are looking askance at the frequent mentions of God as we understand Him, Higher Power, and even the idea of spiritual awakening can bring a negative response in the early days. As they go into the steps, however, they begin to understand that their ego defenses are the only things screaming for escape; the same ego defenses that will have them remain in their active addiction, destroying themselves in order to remain “in control.”
As they begin the process of recovery, many addicts must be willing to admit that they have, in fact, used their addiction as a Higher Power. It has repeatedly demanded of them that they do things that are quite against their instincts and personal beliefs in wrong and right. Many have stories about the times they stole from loved ones, broke the hearts of those who were closest and dearest to them, and behaved in ways that were not in accordance with the dictates of their personal ethical views. Others will be quite aware of how they feel about society’s rules, the rules of an organized religion that they have spurned, or other rules imposed on them from outside their own beliefs. These can remain outside the realm of what is meant by spiritual principles or a spiritual awakening.
A phrase that was heard in an early 12-Ssep meeting was something to the effect that: “Recovery means that I follow the rules that I know are right, even when no one is watching.” This speaks of a spiritual awakening. If a recovering addict can be honest with themselves, they will recognize that they have always had an ingrained sense of right and wrong; one that was not imposed on them from someone else’s point of view. Following this credo in making decisions on how to be in the world on a day-to-day basis is the foundation of a very powerful spiritual awakening. What is the right path for most of us may not make sense to others, but we know it is the right thing in our hearts.
It is easy to begin to recognize the stirrings of our first spiritual awakenings; the times when we tell the truth when we would have previously lied, when we correct someone who has given us too much change at the store, when we return something that we borrowed in a timely fashion, and when we show up because we said we would, even though it was a more difficult task than we thought it would be. These are steps we take to develop relationships with others that are based on trust and integrity. Our word becomes valid and honorable, as does our behavior. We know that this is something that we did not previously know how to do, but the Spirit of the 12 steps has shown us the way.
Kelly McClanahan has an MSW in clinical social work, with a specialization in substance abuse treatment. Having worked in this field for over 20 years, she is currently working on her certification as an addictions’ counselor.