Roughly halfway through my first experience working the steps, I wanted to write down a few things that have helped me get into and on with it. I'm on step 6, trying to become willing to relinquish character defects. I may not have much more time left to indulge one of them: giving unsolicited advice, which follows.
WORK THEM. If nothing else, you can feel superior to everyone who hasn't … at least until you get around to giving up those character defects.
DON'T GET HUNG UP ON GOD. Whether you come into the program as an atheist, an agnostic, or trying to reconcile the God you grew up with a God that will help you stay clean, open-mindedness works for everybody. Twelve-step programs stipulate only a single attribute for a higher power: loving. In my own confusion and recurring doubt, I've found it helpful to keep coming back to the L-word. Putting aside what seemed like a futile mission to “understand” God, I made a decision to turn my will and my life over to the 12-step program of action. That “flimsy reed” has become stronger and more resilient as I notice more and more moments when I feel an elusive sense of presence and connectedness, impulses toward kindness, an expanding open-heartedness, growing trust for my instincts.
ACCEPT YOUR SPONSOR'S GUIDANCE. And try to be gracious about and grateful for it. We're often told to seek a sponsor who has what we want (or, perhaps better, has what he or she wants) so that, with his or her guidance we can get what we want. Assume that your sponsor is not just trying to jerk you around or run your life for the fun of it. (Assume that doing so isn't much fun.) Every time I've followed advice I balked at, my life has gotten unexpectedly and markedly better. The advice I least want to follow seems to do me the most good.
BREATHE, PRAY, WRITE. Every word and every sentence moves you forward. If all you can do is write just one sentence, answer one question, analyze one relationship at a time, do it. Keep the notebook or whatever you're using handy: it's a great pastime during traffic jams (when you're not moving), in waiting rooms, on the bus, until the pasta water boils, whatever. Or try the opposite if you can: spend a weekend at a spa, with a step to work on. (I answered most of the questions associated with step 5 while my friend drove us through the Central Valley last spring; vistas of rolling hills and fields, a dozen shades of green, will forever be associated with what I came to understand as I wrote: the remorse I felt about “the wreckage of my past” was grandiose; I'm a mess, but I'm not the worst person in the world).
PERFECTIONISM IS THE ENEMY OF PROGRESS. Those who could do the steps perfectly don't need the steps in the first place. I thought I had to come up with “the right answers” in order to move forward, instead of the honest answer which was sometimes “I'm not sure” or “I don't know” or “I don't understand the question.” Those uncertainties led to some of the most enlightening conversations with my sponsor. Reluctance to ask for help is one of my character defects and stepwork has shown me how much better life becomes when I relinquish that shortcoming. It's not about doing it “right” but doing it honestly. You don’t start with clarity, you gain clarity.
WHEN YOU'RE FEELING STUCK, RUN TOWARD – NOT AWAY FROM – YOUR SPONSOR. You ask for their help and depend upon their compassion and understanding about everything else, why not this? That, after all, is the main reason you have a sponsor: to guide you through the steps. And remember, it’s a two-way street. Your sponsor isn’t just helping you: as he works with you he's retracing his own steps and reinforcing his recovery.
TALK ABOUT IT. Nowhere is it written that your sponsor is the only one you work with. If you're feeling stuck, try “telling on yourself” at meetings. The truth will set you free – maybe even free to resume writing. And it may encourage others to come clean about their roadblocks.
DON'T PEEK (not that you can help it, since the steps get read at every meeting). If you're worried, while inventory-taking (step 4), that you're also identifying many of the people to whom you owe amends (step 9), it will be tempting to skip over some people or situations. (Apologize to Rick Warren? No f*#king way!) Do what you can to pretend that Step 9 never comes. Stay in the now and trust the process: each step will pave the way for the next one. Focus on the next indicated action: it's good practice.
THE GOAL IS NOT TO FINISH THE STEPS, BUT TO LIVE THEM. Of course you want the “awakening” Step 12 promises. But there are many precious epiphanies along the way. So work all the steps, but don't think of it as a race to the finish line. “Easy does it” is a good way to silence the inner drill sargeant – but keep doing it. Every day offers an opportunity to work all of the steps, even as you're trudging through the paperwork. “We practice these principles in all our affairs” isn’t just a slogan, it’s a design for living.
LAUGH. Taking yourself too seriously is not a requirement for taking the work seriously.