To Step Eleven
My name is Lawrie, and Iím a compulsive overeater. This is the eleventh week of the Third Quarter 2005 Step Study from a Big Book perspective. Today weíll be discussing Steps Ten and Eleven.
Once again, a reminder to go to:
in order to download forms that will be of assistance in our discussion of the steps in general, including an outline of the Big Bookís approach to the steps, a checklist of promises for each step, and forms relating to Steps Four, Eight and Nine, and Eleven.
We ended our discussion of Step Nine with the Hidden Promises of pages 84 and 85. The Big Book ends those promises with a very clear warning: "That is how we react so long as we keep in fit spiritual condition."
If we do not keep in fit spiritual condition, we will relapse. Our mental obsession will return. We will become insane again.
How do we keep in fit spiritual condition? You might recall Dr. Bobís summary of the Twelve Steps: "Clean House, Trust God, Help Others." We will find that once we have recovered, that summary means Step Ten (Clean House), Step Eleven (Trust God), Step Twelve (Help Others).
For my first six years in program, I went through a cycle of recovery and relapse, recovery and relapse. This happened until I was finally introduced to the Big Bookís approach to recovery. As I began to recover using the Big Book approach, I analyzed what had gone wrong in my first six years. I discovered two things that were the main cause of my relapses.
The first was that I had refused to accept that there were certain foods and eating behaviors that caused me uncontrollable cravings -- the notion of the "allergy of the body" that I discussed at length in our discussion of Step One. I had fallen prey to the notion that all the diets I had ever been on, and all the "experts" I read, told me, which was that after I lost my weight I could eat ANYTHING in moderation; so I "took back" foods that I had eliminated during my weight-loss time, and tried to eat them in moderation; and soon found that I was gorging on them.
The second, though, was far more serious; there had been a number of times when I was trying to stay away from my trigger foods, but I still found rationalizations to return to them -- the "mental obsession" that I also discussed at length in Step One. Why was this mental obsession returning? Why were my "best" efforts not to eat these foods being undermined by my complete lack of will?
I discovered the reason by looking back on how I felt right after I had completed Step Nine each time I went through the steps after my relapses. Right after Step Nine I felt absolutely great. Food wasnít a problem for me. The "hidden promises" were true; I was placed in a position of complete neutrality. Yet that feeling of neutrality, of power over food, dissipated quickly and I went back to it after a few months.
Why was this? I was meditating -- had five meditation books and said my prayers. I was sponsoring and giving service galore. So Steps Eleven and Twelve were covered. But how was I doing Step Ten?
Well, I was reading it "on the wall" -- "Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it." So as life went on, and I yelled at my kids or began to feel bad about something, I admitted it. I apologized. Thatís all I did. Thatís all I thought I should do.
As I began to study the Big Bookís approach and learned, with the help of great teaching tapes, to look beyond the steps "on the wall" and read the Big Bookís actual instructions, I realized the mistake I had made.
Here are the Big Bookís instructions for Step Ten:
"Continue to watch for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, and fear. When these crop up, we ask God at once to remove them. We discuss them with someone immediately and make amends quickly if we have harmed anyone. Then we resolutely turn our thoughts to someone we can help."
If you look at those instructions, you will see pretty clearly that they are really the equivalent of doing Steps Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, and Nine. Hereís the annotated version of the same instructions:
"Continue to watch for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, and fear. [STEP FOUR -- In Step Four we encountered the concepts of "selfishness, dishonest, resentment, and fear". Clearly thatís what the Big Book is talking about!] When these crop up, we ask God at once to remove them. [STEPS SIX AND SEVEN] We discuss them with someone immediately [STEP FIVE] and make amends quickly if we have harmed anyone. [STEPS EIGHT AND NINE] Then we resolutely turn our thoughts to someone we can help."
So Step Ten is Steps Four through Nine done in the context of recovery. We do exactly what we did in Steps Four through Nine, except weíve recovered and weíre trying to keep that recovery. When I finished Step Nine, I had dealt with my past, and had no fears for the future.
But each minute and day and week AFTER I finished my Step Nine means a little bit, and then a lot more, PAST that I have to deal with, and the only way I can deal with it is to do what I did successfully before -- write it out, share it with another human being, realize my character defects, ask my higher power to remove them, and make amends for any mistakes I have made.
As weíll see in the discussion of Step Eleven immediately following, the nighttime meditation also has the equivalent of Steps Four through Nine, so I had to consider what the difference is between a nighttime Step Eleven meditation doing Steps Four through Nine, and a Step Ten doing Steps Four through Nine. Theyíre both done in the context of recovery. Weíve already had the miracle. How do we keep it?
Hereís what Iíve come down to.
The Step Eleven evening meditation is done at night to review the day youíve had. Iíll talk more about that in a little while. Step Ten, however, is designed to deal with the resentments, fears, and sex conduct issues that have accumulated since you last did a Step Four through Nine or a Step Ten. In other words, itís for the big things that you havenít been able to capture during your evening meditations.
I have a simple (ahem!) Twelve Step checklist for when I do a Step Ten. I look at The Doctorís Opinion and find the words "They are restless, irritable and discontented until they can again experience the sense of ease and comfort which comes at once by taking a few drinks." I look at page 52 in We Agnostics and find the words: "We were having trouble with personal relationships, we couldn't control our emotional natures, we were a prey to misery and depression, we couldn't make a living, we had a feeling of uselessness, we were full of fear, we were unhappy, we couldn't seem to be of real help to other people". I also look at my food issues.
So my Twelve Step checklist for when I do a Step Ten is:
1. Am I restless?
2. Am I irritable?
3. Am I discontented?
4. Am I having trouble with personal relationships?
5. Can I not control my emotional natures?
6. Am I a prey to misery and depression?
7. Can I not make a living?
8. Do I have a feeling of uselessness?
9. Am I full of fear?
10. Am I unhappy?
11. Am I not of real help to other people?
12. Is my food or quantities of food getting sloppy
If the answer to any one or more of these questions is YES, then itís time for me to clean house again.
So I take out my Step Four forms and I fill them out; I do a Step Five, and then a Six and a Seven, and I figure out and then do my amends. What I usually find is that my amends turn out to be living amends, for the most part. I usually find that something has been going on in my life that is bugging me and I havenít really noticed it or given it much thought. And I get clean again and the answers to all the above twelve questions is a resounding NO and I get the promises again!
I also find, by the way, that when I finish the Step Four part of the Step Ten Iíve already got most of my insights into whatís been bugging me. Step Five provides less insights, because Iíve already become clear about what my defects of character are. But I still do Step Five and Six and Seven and then make amends quickly. (Often I will just grab the last recovered person leaving my regular meeting, and just ask for ten minutes of his or her time to do the Step Five part of my Step Ten.) My amends are usually living amends. So Step Ten isnít as dramatic as Steps Four through Nine, when Iím learning so much about myself and where Iím really cleaning out the past respecting actions Iíve taken in the past. But Step Ten becomes essential to keep my house clean!
Itís because of this approach to Step Ten that I havenít had a relapse for over twelve years! When I look at the journeys of people I have sponsored, it is precisely those who have not done Step Ten on a regular basis who have relapsed, unfortunately following the path I led for my first six years in program! I urge you -- whenever you feel stressed out or kind of icky or food begins to become attractive -- do a Step Ten by repeating Steps Four through Nine!
(Note that I call it a Step Ten! It is NOT Steps Four through Nine, because those are the steps that BRING us to recovery by allowing our higher power to remove our defects of character and give us sanity. Now that we have recovered, we keep our sanity and our closeness to our higher power by doing Step Ten.)
And now Step Eleven. If you have downloaded the Step Eleven form to be found at the URL above, you will see how that form provides all specific instructions from pages 86 to 88 (plus a few others), so Iím not going to go over those specific instructions. I just want to point out a few things.
The Big Bookís warning about needing to keep in fit spiritual condition begins its discussion of Step Eleven. On page 84: "It is easy to let up on the spiritual program of action and rest on our laurels. We are headed for trouble if we do, for alcohol is a subtle foe. We are not cured of alcoholism. What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition. Every day is a day when we must carry the vision of God's will into all of our activities. ĎHow can I best serve Thee - Thy will (not mine) be done.í These are thoughts which must go with us constantly. We can exercise our will power along this line all we wish. It is the proper use of the will."
The Big Book then talks about "receiving strength, inspiration, and direction" from our higher power. The whole concept is to develop a "vital sixth sense" that gives us a direct connection to the power which is greater than we are. We are trying to learn to act intuitively -- directly from our hearts with the purest of motives. We have lived (at least!) a double life. Now we have to live according to the dictates of our higher power.
The Big Book contains specific directions. "It would be easy to be vague about this matter. Yet, we believe we can make some definite and valuable suggestions." (page 86) These suggestions are, in effect, the MINIMUM we should be doing. I know many people who spend an hour or two meditation in the morning, using any number of powerful meditation techniques. They are very spiritual people, and I respect them tremendously. But at the minimum they also do what the Big Book suggests!
The Big Book has three kinds of prayers and meditations. The first is what we do on going to sleep, as discussed in the first full paragraph on page 86. The second is what we do on awakening, as discussed in the last two paragraphs on page 86, and the first three paragraphs on page 87. The third is what we do during the daytime, discussed in the last paragraph on page 87, going on to page 88.
Why is the sleep-time prayer and meditation discussed first? (Interestingly enough, the original manuscript had us review the day before when we woke up in the morning, and someone must have pointed out to Bill that it would be far wiser to review the day just when weíre going to sleep.) But clearly the intent, whether done before we go to sleep or when we wake up, is to be clear about how we spent the day just passed.
The sleep-time prayer and meditation is really a Step Four through Nine inventory, isnít it? Hereís the annotated version:
"Were we resentful, selfish, dishonest or afraid? [STEP FOUR] Do we owe an apology? [STEPS EIGHT AND NINE] Have we kept something to ourselves which should be discussed with another person at once? [STEP FIVE] Were we kind and loving toward all? What could we have done better? Were we thinking of ourselves most of the time? Or were we thinking of what we could do for others, of what we could pack into the stream of life? But we must be careful not to drift into worry, remorse or morbid reflection, for that would diminish our usefulness to others. After making our review we ask God's forgiveness and inquire what corrective measures should be taken. [STEPS SIX AND SEVEN]"
Sure, itís not in the same order, but the actions are very similar. As I said in the discussion of Step Ten, I think this Steps Four through Nine is done informally, maybe even in bed, but certainly not necessarily with pen and paper. This is what we do just before we go to sleep. The more carefully we do this, remembering every little thing that happened to us that day and analyzing it, we will probably deal with most of the difficult things in our lives on a day-to-day basis. But I find that doing that doesnít give me the kind of overview I need to look at all the biggest things in my life. I might be irritated day to day by my children and deal with those irritations in my Step Eleven sleep-time prayer and meditation. But ultimately my big issues with my children will almost certainly be dealt with in a Step Ten.
Thatís at least how I do it. I know that many people who work the steps the Big Book way do their Steps Four through Nine every night by writing and analyzing their day and phoning their sponsors. They have decided that Step Ten is to be done every night, and that the sleep-time prayer and meditation includes a full Step Ten. And it certainly works for them, and those of them I know are really more spiritual than I am, so they probably know more than I do. I just find it more convenient to work it this way. I work what I would call a "good enough" program. :)
Planning our day ahead on awakening is pretty clear. Weíre given wonderful instructions for clearing our mind and thinking through things with the best of motives. The most wonderful and freeing thing is the instruction that if we donít know what we should be doing, if we "face indecision", we pray for "inspiration, an intuitive thought or a decision" and then "we relax and take it easy. We donít struggle." (Page 86) It is truly remarkable what happens when we do it this way. At least thatís been my experience, and the experience of countless hundreds of people Iíve talked to over the years. In effect, at least from a psychological point of view, weíre letting our subconscious take over, and if our subconscious is filled with good motives, then it will do a great job for us! And for those who are more religious, they find that they hear their Godís directions very very clearly!
And the daytime prayers! There are times when I have to repeat "Thy will not mine be done. Thy will not mine be done. Thy will not mine be done." over and over and over again until I calm down and get some sense of direction. But it works!
Here are some questions:
- If youíre not up to Step Ten yet, do you see the correlation between Steps Four through Nine and Step Ten?
- If youíve relapsed in the past, is it possible that you failed to continue to clean house by doing Step Ten? For the benefit of others, please give examples.
- Do you see a distinction between Step Ten and the sleep-time prayer and meditation?
- How do you feel about the notion of praying for the right thought or action or decision, and then just letting go?
- The Big Book suggests at page 87 that for our awakening prayers "we sometimes select and memorize a few set prayers which emphasize the principles we have been discussing." Aside from the Step Three and Seven prayers, the Serenity Prayer, and the St. Francis Prayer (from Step Eleven in the AA 12 & 12), can you suggest some short prayers "which emphasize the principles we have been discussing"?
- How do you feel about the concept that once you have recovered at Step Nine, you simply maintain your fit spiritual condition through Steps Ten, Eleven, and Twelve. In other words, how do you feel about the notion that, in effect, you donít go through the steps again?
You can see that the Big Book leaves us plenty of time for action. If we do what the Big Book suggestions, our Step Tens are done when we begin not to feel so spiritually, and doing them the Big Book way is pretty fast. The three kinds of prayer and meditation are really pretty quick too. We can do the sleep-time one in five minutes in bed, the awakening one in five minutes, and the day-time ones in seconds, really. Keeping recovered doesnít seem to take much time!
Thatís true in only one way, of course -- our internal thinking is not something that the Big Book wants us to spend a lot of time on.
No, our main job, as the Big Book makes very clear, is to help others.
The Big Book warns us at the end of the chapter on page 88: "But this is not all. There is action and more action. ĎFaith without works is dead.í The next chapter is entirely devoted to Step Twelve."
We will discuss Step Twelve for at least two weeks. I want to discuss the specific instructions in Chapter Seven -- Working With Others. I also want to discuss the implications of those instructions for OA. My observations over the years have lead me to the conclusion, agreed to by hundreds of people Iíve spoken to in OA, that we in OA have become much too soft and are actually killing people with what we think is love.
With that rather provocative comment, Iíll leave you this week!
All my best,