There is No Step Zero

Gettysburg, USA, at sunset. Copyright Michael Hargiss.

I had an important realization last night while I was cycling around the outskirts of Gettysburg and listening to Russell Brand’s book on the 12 steps.

I’ve been feeling a growing desire and faith to work the 12 steps again. I’ve also felt discouraged by my acting out. I’ve also realized I don’t feel ready to stop my addiction. I know it’s bad for me, I know it’s caused me nothing but pain and heartache, I know another relapse isn’t going to make me feel better, I know one more “wank” as Brand puts it isn’t going to solve a damn thing. But it sure is an effective distraction “from now, for now.” And I am afraid of going through this divorce without it. I am afraid of not having this powerful distraction. How weird is that? I mean I think it’s understandable and yet it makes zero sense. I am literally afraid to stop doing the crap that got me here. But I need those distractions (or so I think). Truthfully, I need them as long as I’m not working toward resolving the pain from which I need to distract myself. What a terribly destructive catch-22.

So lately as I’ve wanted to work the 12 steps again, I think to myself, “How can I work the 12 steps if I’m not even willing to abstain?” The idea seems dishonest to me. Disingenuous. I am a lot of things but I am also honest, and I feel like a hypocrite at the thought of working the 12 steps to addiction recovery while not being willing to let go of my addiction.

I was pondering all this while cycling along a small paved road outside Gettysburg last night, stone monuments passing by to my right and the sun setting to my left, the orange light warming the skin on my arms. (Yes, I’m a rather romantic exerciser.) In that moment the Holy Spirit whispered a new idea to my mind and heart. “You can work the steps anyway, and working the steps will help you find the willingness and faith to abstain.”

It was so simple and reassuring. I couldn’t help but smile! I can work the steps and I should work the steps. I will never get better until I work the steps.

It’s as though I’m in a deep hole (my addiction) and the Lord has given me a supernatural shovel (the 12 steps) to dig out, and He’s even offering to dig with me! So, what should I do? Start digging, right? No? I should plop down in my muddy pit and despair that I’m still hesitant to let go of my carnal desires and favorite sins? “I want to dig but I also don’t want to, so I shouldn’t dig until I fully want to.” ???

And what is faith if not a hesitant but trusting leap into the unknown? What is trust without doubt? Trust without a reason to doubt isn’t trust. A step of faith without a reason to hesitate isn’t faith. A step of faith with reason to hesitate but stepping forward anyway is faith! Trusting someone while I have a gnawing fear of disappointment but choosing to trust anyway is trust!

I can effectively work the 12 steps while being willing to be willing to forsake my addiction. What a liberating concept! I can exercise faith in my God’s ability to save me in the midst of my fear that I’m not going to function without my addiction.

And you know what really excites me about this? As I was pondering this new truth (new to me), I felt the Lord saying to me, “I will give you a new heart and a new spirit as you work these steps and repent. That’s why I gave them to Bill—not as a reward for abstaining but as a means to abstain.”  (Bill is the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous and the first to publish the 12 steps to addiction recovery.)

Isn’t that the point of the 12 steps to addiction recovery? To work through all the heaping, smelly piles of crap I’ve accumulated during and before this addiction? To give me a fighting chance at recovery instead of sitting in a rowboat throwing marbles at a battleship

There is no “Step 0: Abstain from your addiction for three weeks and worthily partake of the sacrament.”  (!!!)  There is no prerequisite to the 12 Steps. There is no prerequisite to faith in Jesus Christ (or whatever name you give your Higher Power) and repentance. Faith in my Higher Power and repentance are the prerequisites to peace. Working the 12 steps are the prerequisites to addiction recovery.

Keeping things simple feels good, and it feels good because it’s empowering to me. As my mission president and his wife frequently testified, “The gospel of Jesus Christ is true because it works.” I’ve worked the 12 steps before and when I did I enjoyed the longest period of sobriety and active recovery I’ve ever had. And I can do this honestly. I can honestly acknowledge the dichotomy inside me. I can honestly be willing to be willing, and I believe my God will change my heart to be willing inasmuch as I thoroughly trust Him.

Step 1 …

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