Conscious Contact: Insight Into the 11th Step
In a word, the most important part of my recovery today is practicing the 11th Step. This step says “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understand Him, praying only for the knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.” I’ve been in a 12 Step recovery program for over 35 years and have seen my journey progress from physical recovery to mental recovery to what I call today emotional recovery or emotional sobriety. In my opinion, the 11th Step is the most powerful tool to help me continue to make progress toward emotional sobriety which I believe is a life long journey. And I have to say from the very beginning that no matter how important emotional sobriety and the practice of the 11th Step is to me today, I can only do this if I remember that I must maintain my physical sobriety. In other words, the 11th Step is out of my reach unless I remember to practice the 1st step and keep in mind that I’m powerless over my addictions today.
That said, I have come to a place in my recovery where a daily, consistent, 11th Step practice is mandatory for me. If I want to have any kind of peace or serenity within myself, and if I want to build better relationships with everyone in my life, starting with my family, the practice of the 11th Step at the beginning of my day is required.
The truth is, I’ve become thirsty for the results of this practice. I look forward to my morning routine of reading from a spiritual book (in my particular case, the Bible), sitting in the silence, and then praying, making sure that I turn my will and my life over to my Creator for the day that is in front of me. I pray for my family and friends, or whatever I’m led to pray about, during this time as well. Typically, I end my practice with two prayers that are known as the 3rd Step Prayer and the 7th Step Prayer:
3rd Step Prayer:
God, I offer myself to Thee – to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of Life. May I do Thy will always!
7th Step Prayer:
My Creator, I am now willing that you should have all of me, good and bad. I pray that you remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows. Grant me strength, as I go out from here, to do your bidding. Amen.
My experience with meditation began towards the end of my second year in recovery. I know the exact time because it was also the period in my life when I was going through the most emotionally traumatic situation I had ever faced. I had been in recovery for almost two years when I came to the conclusion that the only way I could stay in my marriage was to go back to drinking and using. I didn’t want to do that because the life I’d come to know in recovery showed so much more hope and possibility than the life I had before. Plus, I had a three-year-old daughter I loved more than anything else in this world.
The anxiety I was experiencing, the rage and the feelings of loss, were overwhelming and I couldn’t stop talking about them in meetings. I used to run a lot during those days to relieve the physical stress but my mind was still a horrible place for me to be by myself. A close friend, Beth, suggested I try meditation, to relieve the mental anxiety. I had a little bit of an issue with meditation since I’d grown up in a very conservative Christian religion (Southern Baptist) that frowned upon experimentation with one’s religion. At this point though, I’d try anything for relief. I was amazed that the meditation worked almost immediately. It was just like my initial introduction to 12 Step recovery: It was so attractive, so intriguing, and showed so much possibility, that I took to it right away. I had the exact same reaction with my initial meditation experiences.
I had always prayed. Being raised Southern Baptist, I had learned to pray at a very young age and the older I got, the more verbose and eloquent I got at it. At least until I gave up my religion because of my guilt. As I meditated, my prayers got simpler. I’m sure that my regular exposure to the Twelve Steps at study meetings helped with this, along with my routine conversations with my Mentors like Big Tom, Dave, and Cherie.
So, I continued to meditate daily as much as I could and started praying more than I had in many years. I now realize that the first two years of my recovery I had stumbled through the process, taking almost any suggestion that was offered to me because I was so attracted to the fellowship and could see that the steps were working for those who really tried them. Then, once I knew I couldn’t stay in that marriage and separated from my wife, I had to learn how to live by myself and probably for the first time in my adult life, face myself without my addictions that had helped me escape all those years.
About this same time, I met some people who had a Sunday afternoon meeting. They called themselves the Beachcomber’s Spiritual Progress Group and were open to anyone willing to live a spiritual life using the 12 Steps as a guide. I was immediately and completely attracted to their ideas and the way they practiced their recovery. God was first in everything they did and even though I never got to meet Flobird, the first Beachcomber and the founder of the group, I got to learn about the things she had taught and shared through her daughter Cherie and Cherie’s husband, Jim. Meditation was very important to many of the Beachcombers and it was here that I first met Tom Catton. Interestingly enough, Tom is ten years older than me, has ten years longer in recovery, and has, over the years, become a long distance mentor for my 11th Step practice. I’ve met him in person a couple of times when the Beachcombers came to my home for a reunion meeting and once when we had a reunion at his home on the Big Island of Hawaii.
I got married for the second (and last) time after I had been in recovery for more than seven years. The story of how my wife and I met is one worth telling some other time. I truly believe my God intended for this relationship to happen even though it had a significant impact on my meditation practice in the beginning. My wife Sue and I dated for almost three years before we got married and she had four children between the ages of four and nine when we first met. Imagine trying to meditate in a house before dinner with four small children running around!
Eventually, I returned to my daily meditation and a more involved practice of the 11th Step after our children were grown and left the house. I don’t know exactly how long ago but it has been more than ten years that I’ve been making a concerted effort to practice prayer and meditation every day, to seek a conscious relationship with my Higher Power. Through this period, I have had two bouts with cancer (thyroid) and have used my Friend Tom Catton, again, as an able example of how to live joyously through life’s challenges. I’ve read both of his books and when I was going through some especially troubling times, I would email him on a daily basis just to feel his support. It was amazing to me that that simple act of emailing would provide me with the faith and courage I needed to accept whatever came throughout those experiences. I made sure to start my days with my 11th Step practice and was able to go through both of my surgeries, the radiation after the second one, and all the recovery processes with a full and grateful heart, only because I was willing to continue the practice. I am forever grateful for all the Able Examples my God has put in my life just as I needed them.
I realize today that there is nothing different or unique about routinely practicing the 11th Step. Like all the other steps in the 12 Step recovery process, it is suggested as something that must be practiced over and over again until it becomes a way of life “if we want what they have”. What is different is the results. I still actively participate in the 12 Step Program I came into in the beginning and still do the things I did back then. I make coffee for my home group, I offer to work steps with other men, and to introduce them to this way of life. I’m afraid my excitement and energy about the rewards and the gifts embedded in these spiritual principles is sometimes overwhelming to some of the men I work with. I tell them at our very first meeting I’m not satisfied with simple sobriety, with just living without the drink today. I want everything that the 12 Step process and the spiritual principles embedded in them can provide me. I want all of recovery.
And that attitude is what I believe is different about my practice from “traditional recovery practices”. I don’t want to just go to meetings, call my sponsor, and stay away from that first drink. My 11th Step Practice has opened up a whole new world for me that begins in my own center, even though I’m not completely sure where that is. I am growing as a person in ways I never knew possible and the end is nowhere in sight. All because I was willing to put down the drink and try whatever I was told to try. I just keep coming back and pay attention to my breath. Who knew the joy I would find?
Finally, for the record, I want to say that this type of recovery, this sense of purpose and fulfillment, is available to anyone willing to try. I’m not special or gifted in any way. I feel some times that people ‘in the rooms’ get tired of hearing my positive attitude, my joy in recovery, and my belief that all of what is happening in my life is for a reason and has a purpose. Then I realize I have what I do because I consistently apply these principles in my life over and over again. I’ve never worked the 12 Steps perfectly. In fact, I believe I’ve worked every single one of them wrong at least once. But I never stopped trying and never gave up. Willingness is all I’ve given consistently. And anyone who can do that can experience their joy in their own way just like I do.