What it Means to Have a Spiritual Awakening - AA & the Big Book


Sober Recovery Expert Author

The purpose of the 12-step sober recovery programs and the working through of each step is to attain a spiritual awakening. As step 12 states: "Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps..." The entire goal of each step is to bring about a complete change of attitude toward spiritual matters to obtain and maintain a sober life.

Setting the Foundation for Spiritual Awakening

Having a spiritual awakening is accomplished in incremental stages as the newly-sober person progresses through the steps. Spiritual beliefs that may feel uncomfortable and outdated may be discarded along the way. Many people who enroll in 12-step programs look askance at the frequent mentions of God as we understand Him or a Higher Power. Even the idea of spiritual awakening can bring a negative response in the early days of the program. However, as we work through the steps, many of us come to understand that our ego defenses are the only things screaming for escape, the same ego defenses that will have us remain in active addiction.

Are you turned off by the spiritual terminology you encounter in 12-step meetings? Often, newbies don't yet understand the 12-step philosophy of approaching life in a more truthful way as part of the spiritual awakening and recovery process. Veteran addiction counselor Kelly McClanahan demystifies it all for us.

As new 12-step members, we must be willing to admit that we have, in fact, used our addiction as a higher power. Our addiction problems have repeatedly demanded that we do things that go against our instincts, personal beliefs, and even our moral codes. Many people recovering from addiction have stories about the times they stole from loved ones, broke the hearts of those nearest and dearest to them, and behaved in ways that were not following the dictates of their personal ethical views.

Some people have strong feelings about society's rules, the rules of an organized religion that they have spurned, or other rules imposed on them from external sources. These issues can remain outside the realm of what is meant by spiritual principles or a spiritual awakening within the context of 12-step programs.

How to Have a Spiritual Awakening According to AA Principles

A frequently-used phrase in early 12-step meetings is, "Recovery means that I follow the rules that I know are right, even when no one is watching." This phrase refers to the type of spiritual awakening that is involved in 12-step recovery. As people recovering from addiction problems, when we become honest with ourselves, we recognize we have always had an inherent sense of right and wrong; one that was not necessarily imposed on them by someone else.

Making the right decisions on how to be in the world on a day-to-day basis, in accordance with your innate sense of right, is the foundation of a mighty spiritual awakening. The right path for each of us may not make sense to others, but we should cleave to that path because we know it is the right thing.

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.

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