When I was a newcomer, I couldn’t get my head around any of the steps, least of all Step 12. I didn’t come to AA looking for a spiritual awakening, and I really couldn’t imagine ever recovering from my alcoholism, let alone passing on the message of how I did it to another alcoholic. Luckily, I had Step 1: I knew my life was going to get worse unless I put in some actions that I did not yet believe in. And I knew that in order to put in these actions, I needed to get a sponsor, because I kept hearing it at meetings, and I could see it working for others.
The spiritual awakening I had was of the “educational variety”, as it is described in Appendix II of the Big Book, by the psychologist William James. In other words, it occurred over time, and other people noticed that I was different before I did. I didn’t experience lightning, nor did the earth move. But I had a changed of thought and attitude, which was enough to bring about recovery from my alcoholism. I no longer think about alcohol today, which is a miracle by itself. I also have peace of mind, which was never there before. I wake up in the morning and look forward to the day ahead, instead of dreading it and being full of fear. This change has progressed and become better over time, but only because I continue to be sponsored. I need to keep putting in the actions of Alcoholics Anonymous, in order to remain recovered. If I can do this, my life will get better, regardless of my life circumstances.
This means that I must continue to carry the message of recovery to other alcoholics, as is suggested in Step 12. There are many different ways I can do this, including sharing in an AA meeting, meeting up for coffee with newcomers and also regular phone-calls. I have also carried out 12 Step Calls, which require visiting an alcoholic who has just rung the AA Helpline for the first time. All service in Alcoholics Anonymous strengthens my recovery, and I always feel the benefit, but the one from which I always feel the most profound and immediate effect is the 12 Step Call.
One example I often share about is a time I did a 12 Step Call, whilst trying to finish off my degree (which I wouldn’t have even started without AA). I had a lot of writing to do, and I seemed to be going round and round in circles, conscious of the fact that I did not have a lot of time left to hand in the piece of work. Then the telephone rang: it was the AA Helpline, asking me if I would go and visit an alcoholic in distress. Without even thinking about it, I said “yes”, and within minutes I was at the man’s house, together with a newer member of my Home Group, who had been enjoying sobriety for a few months. The man we visited felt hopeless, and both his job and marriage were hanging by a thread. I told him exactly how I had recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body, and arranged to pick him up the following day to take him to a meeting. I left the still-suffering alcoholic’s house knowing that I had done everything I possibly could to give him hope, and had offered him a way out of his misery. When I got home I felt infinitely more relaxed, and was able to put a lot more into my written work, which was previously going nowhere.
Seeing alcoholics recovering and building their lives is the most wonderful thing, and it is a real blessing to be able to give hope to someone who was once as hopeless as me.
But the benefit I get from passing on the message of recovery does not depend on whether or not the still-suffering alcoholic follows it up. I just need to put in the action, and to make the help available. If I do this, I will feel better for it. This has been proved to me time and time again, particularly in times when I have not been feeling as great and full of gratitude as I should be. Alcoholism is an illness that thrives on self-centredness: the more I think about my own problems, the worse and more real they seem. The minute I do something for someone else, and think about how I may be of use to them, the problem that had me in its grips is drastically reduced, and quite often it feels quite trivial.
Another time when I carried out a 12 Step call, the man I visited and spoke to was in tears. I told him my story, gave him the AA solution and assured him that if he took the same actions as me, he too would recover. He said that he was willing to try anything, because he felt so bad and his life was such a mess. However, when I rang him the next day, he wasn’t interested in coming to a meeting. His attitude was “there’s nothing wrong with me, mate” and he was quick to put the telephone down. His ego had recovered, like mine had a thousand times when I was still drinking. That same insane thinking that always made me pick up alcohol again, despite the overwhelming evidence that it would destroy me, had convinced the man (who was in tears the day before) that there was nothing the matter at all. Still, I reaped the benefit of doing the 12 Step Call, because I knew that I had done the responsible thing, and had tried my best to offer him a solution. He didn’t want it, but that’s fine. It’s a shame, but each time I see this, I get grateful for having Step 1, because was once also that same man in denial, I’d rather have died than to admit that I had a problem with alcohol, least of all do anything about it.
If I want to enjoy my sobriety, I must continue to work with other alcoholics. It is our 12th suggestion. By doing so, I get to keep what I have got from AA, I take myself out of my own self-centred problems and I also get to enjoy watching a defeated alcoholic build his life, and pass on the message of recovery to more still-suffering alcoholics.