A frequent question about Progressive Recovery is either how it works, or how it differs from a more traditional view of the work of the twelve steps. Following is an excerpt from Progressive Recovery through the Twelve Steps: Emotionally Sober for Life that paints a portrait that can answer such questions.
As you read through Jennifer’s inventory, while it may not be your story, consider how you can apply this method to your own recovery practice.
An Example of Progressive Recovery in Practice
Many of us arrived at recovery thinking we were bad, and that if we could just become good our problems would be alleviated, or at least mitigated. So many of our earliest amends involved apologies and behavioral improvement. Of course, with the removal of alcohol and drugs, some improvements are readily attained.
Later we began to understand we have been quite sick, that addiction is a disease, not a matter of morals. This put important context around amends as we began to see our mistakes in a much different light. We still had things that needed to be made right, but increasingly the amends were through our healing. As we left more and more of the sickness of addiction behind, much of the fruit of the healing showed up in our lives, our behavior, and our relationships. Very likely any number of those early “shortcomings” such as dishonesty, stealing and the like begin to fade away.
As our understanding grows still further in a Progressive Recovery, and as we gain awareness that the roots of our maladies are within us in the form of old ideas and decisions based on self, and as those begin to shift with our Step Seven efforts, we will certainly see still more improvement in behaviors and attitudes.
One wise woman reminds us that to amend something is for it to change. First, we see this in behavior and attitudes, but later the change is reflected in our personalities, our lives and our very being. Over time the purpose of the Twelve Steps is to reawaken us and to lead us increasingly toward our potential, to leave behind the damaged, sick and broken person we believed ourselves to be.
Let’s begin by framing the nature of Progressive Amends by considering how things are made right with others, with ourselves, with a Progressive Power, and ultimately with life itself.
Every outer behavior or attitude is a reflection of an inner state. As our inner state is repaired, or amended, through the application of the Steps, the ways we act and present ourselves necessarily change. As we progress, many of us begin to practice living amends.
For example, someone who has a history of stealing money may become very generous, consistently leaving large tips to servers, making anonymous contributions, offering their time and services free to others in the world, or becoming financially charitable. Or someone who came to understand how neglectful they were of others might become quite reliable in showing up for others, or many ways of recognizing others. In short, the way we live our lives becomes the opposite of our failings.
Further still is the notion of living the amended life—where we live in ways that are entirely at odds with our old ideas. For example: someone who believed they were worthless becomes a successful businessman or woman, making economic contributions in their community. Or another who was an atheist becomes a minister. Or yet another who discovered they were in fact mis-gendered, who transitioned from female to male, and then found a career helping others in similar situations.
The point is not that our behavior improves, rather that we become entirely different people, living more truly to ourselves and our souls. Often we find that the intuition the Big Book promises as a result of the Twelve Steps begins to govern our lives in remarkable and unpredictable ways. To thine own self be true becomes the amended life, and through living that amended life, the lives of others are benefited. Service becomes the fruit of our recovery rather than an effort we make to do and be better.
Let’s review Jennifer’s story from the chapter on Steps Four and Five [from the book]. Jennifer is long-time sober but has a troubling and unfulfilling history in her relationships with men, dating all the way back to the unavailable adult men in her life when she was a child. Here is her inventory in this arena:
· Column 1 – Who or what do we have a grievance against, or a problem?
o Jennifer: A man in particular, or men in general.
· Column 2 – What happened, i.e. what’s the story behind it?
o Jennifer: The backstory as described above, i.e. unavailable men and her need to take care of them and their needs.
· Column 3 – How does it affect us? What’s the emotional impact?
o Jennifer: Frustration, discouragement, lack of fulfillment.
· Column 4 – What have we brought to this situation? What old ideas or decisions based on self are involved?
§ A belief that men are unavailable.
§ An old idea that she is unlovable.
§ A decision that she must do something for men in order to gain and hold their attention.
While Jennifer works in her recovery with her therapist, her sponsor and her spiritual advisor to improve her interactions with men, she practices a continuing Step Seven asking her Progressive Power to address her underlying beliefs. At each encounter with a man, she seeks to remember that men can be available, that she is lovable, and that she need not earn their appreciation. At the same time, she refrains from attempts to gain their approval, their attention, or their love. She is practicing behavioral amends, as well as laying down a path of living amends.
In order to be healed in this regard, Jennifer has engaged in some difficult healing work with her therapist. As part of that inner work, she must also return to her mother and step-fathers to learn more and to make those relationships right. As she begins to date men, she must learn to watch for all the signs she formerly ignored.
Eventually her Progressive Recovery and amends work lead her to meet men who are available and nurturing. At this point she must battle her tendencies to try to earn their continued attentions. And she begins a continuing written inventory of all the ways the voices in her head tell her she is unworthy.
At some point, Jennifer finds a man with whom she can engage in a committed and healthy relationship. It becomes a place in which she can practice amended living, including teaching her children what she has learned, working with others in recovery who have similar needs, and even volunteering in domestic violence shelters. All of which reinforces the deep healing of old ideas and decisions based on self. She is increasingly living the amended life.
It is here we realize that in order to give things away, we must learn them for ourselves and come to embody them. Then, we are able to offer them to others. At this point we have been remade by the principles within the Twelve Steps.
And still our inner work is not done. There is always a new layer of healing that will be revealed with our continued practice. Our recovery and the realization of our potential becomes progressive, which allows for a progressive realization of the benefits that come in recovery.
We have moved far beyond improved behavior and attitudes. Literally we have been remade. Power is flowing in remarkable ways because the blockages within us have been addressed with the application of the steps.