Holey moley! We're at Step Twelve already! The last step! The end, right? Phew, finally I can relax? Well…. no. Our program doesn't work that way. If I really work Step Twelve, it's just the beginning, because Step Twelve says, "Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to compulsive overeaters and to practice these principles in all our affairs."
Somewhere I got the idea that as I progress in my study of things (Spanish, piano) they're supposed to get easier, not more complicated. The Twelve Steps don't work that way. Steps Eleven and Twelve are about the most complicated to talk about - if not the most difficult steps to work - because they are so stuffed full (like me, before I came to program, I guess). But, as always, we'll take it slowly and steadily.
The first part of the step says that I have had a spiritual awakening. What does this mean? For me, it means that, in contrast to how I used to live my life, I am now more awake to the presence of something greater than myself. Not every moment (I wish!), not always happily, but I now recognize that I am not in charge, and that I am not running the show, and that pushing the river doesn't actually achieve anything except to get me wet and cranky. In the AA 12n12 it says that we have been "transformed" (p. 107) because we now have a source of power outside of ourselves. The AABB talks about having a new Director (p. 62). The AABB also points out, in the Appendix called "Spiritual Experience," that there are many different ways to wake up. Some of us, when we awaken, pop out of bed like jack-in-the-boxes; some wake up slowly; some are quiet first thing in the morning; and some sing in the shower. I am a slow awakener. My spiritual awakening has been the same - slow. It's not that I have resisted it - I knew that this was the only thing that would work for me - but I take it slow and need a lot of willingness some days.
The first part of the step also says that we have had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps. Not "a" result: that is, it's not just one among a whole host of results, and it's not maybe-possibly-it-might-be due to these steps - the result of these steps is a spiritual awakening. Listen next time someone reads the steps in your face-to-face meetings; you may be surprised by how many of us misread that line. Then both the AA and OA 12n12 go on to examine in some detail the principles of our program embodied in the previous eleven steps; these are principles which now inform and infuse our daily lives as long as we keep in fit spiritual condition.
The step goes on to say that we tried to carry this message to compulsive overeaters. This is what most people think of when they think of Step Twelve. You'll hear a member say, "I was twelfth stepped by my therapist into OA" (that was me) or "I had a chance to make a twelfth step call today to a newcomer." The AABB devotes an entire chapter to "Working With Others" which contains explicit instructions for how to do so (the AABB at this point resembles a set of directions for assembling a bookcase). The AA 12n12 refers to the latter part (the rear end) of Step Twelve as "the payoff" (p. 109) of the program. "Frequent contact with newcomers and with each other is the bright spot of our lives." (AABB, p. 89). The OA 12n12 states that we can't keep it unless we give it away (p. 101). Clearly, this is a vitally important activity.
There are myriad ways to carry the message. Certainly, talking to a newcomer at a meeting, or reaching out to someone whom you recognize as "one of us" are ways of working this part of Step Twelve. The AABB says that "Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from [eating] as intensive work with other [COEs]. It works when other activities fail." (p. 89). That book also says, "Tell him exactly what happened to you." (p. 93, italics in original). But for me, staying abstinent today is the most valuable form of carrying the message that I can give. Showing up at a meeting, taking a phone call, making a call or sending an email, setting up the chairs for a meeting - these are all ways of working the part of Step Twelve that says we "carry this message." And what message is that? It is the same message referred to in Tradition Five: the message of recovery that we find in the Twelve Steps of OA. As the OA 12n12 writes, the message we carry is "a message of hope" (p. 99). We can do that in words, of course; we can also do it by living the twelve steps (to the best of our ability). As one of my friends says, "I may be the only version of the Big Book some people ever see." I want what they see to be a stellar representation of what OA can do. The OA 12n12 reassures me that "God finds many ways to help people through us as long as we are willing to do what we can, when we can, and keep ourselves on the path of spiritual progress." (p. 103).
The two parts of the second half of Step Twelve really are linked, because in trying to carry the message we are going to be challenged to keep practicing the principles we've learned in the first eleven steps. Our character defects are going to be activated: fear, bossiness, possessiveness, resentment, pride. "When we set out to fix other people, we usually failed" (OA 12n12, p. 103). Did you know that Dr. Bob, AA's cofounder, worked with six struggling drunks before he was able to help someone get sober? If he'd let his character defects get the better of him and had become either so discouraged he gave up or so willful he kept pushing with the first person, he never would have been able to help #6. Our pride can also get activated when we do help someone or we are asked to speak at a meeting (or lead a step study!) and we may think we're all that and a bag of chips. So working Steps 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 10, and 11 are obviously essential to working Step Twelve and keeping on the OA beam.
I think, though, that it's the latter part of Step Twelve that is most important: "… and to practice these principles in all our affairs." According to the OA 12n12, "In step twelve we confirm that we have turned our backs on the old ways forever. We are moving in a direction of spiritual growth." (p. 103). This is what makes clear - if I hadn't already figured it out - that my problem isn't the food. The AABB asserts, "After all, our problems were of our own making. Bottles were only a symbol…” (p. 103, italics in original). Food is the symptom; my problem is me. I have a living problem that manifests itself in eating certain foods to which I am allergic and in eating quantities that are not healthy; these are some of the behaviors I engage in so as to try to manage any emotions which are uncomfortable for me, and to try to manage those behaviors that I feel uneasy about or ashamed or scared of. So to work Step Twelve means that I have to practice "these principles" (i.e., all twelve steps) in all of my affairs, not just when I'm standing in front of the refrigerator or walking past a bakery. The OA 12n12 promises, "Slowly but surely we find that we are establishing the best possible relationship with each person we know." (p. 105). Oh, so it’s about relationships? And here I thought I was just going to lose some weight!
The AA 12n12 tells us that the "joy of living" is the theme of this step (p. 106). It goes on to use the term "emotional sobriety" (p. 106) and describes the "magnificent reality" (p. 109) of practicing these principles in all my affairs. It goes on to note that, "Of course all AA's, even the best, fall far short of such achievements as a consistent thing. Without necessarily taking that first [bite], we often get quite far off the beam." (p. 112). So what do I do? "Our answer is in still more spiritual development." (AA 12n12, p. 114).
And that takes us back to Step One. The most reliable – in fact the only – way that I have found in 30 years of recovery to keep developing spiritually is to work the twelve steps of Overeaters Anonymous. To get emotional sobriety, to experience the joy of living, to be “sober, considerate, and helpful, regardless of what anyone says or does” (AABB, p. 99), what works is the twelve steps. Having come to the end of this particular study of the steps, go back to the beginning and do them again. And again. It’s my hope that through this step study you’ve developed some new habits, such as daily 10th, 11th, and 12th steps. But please don’t get stuck in an OA waltz: 1-2-3, 1-2-3, or 10-11-12, 10-11-12. Another dance to avoid is the OA two-step: 1-12, 1-12. It has been my experience that I must repeat all the steps, in order, so that I can maintain my progress. I am always one bite away from a binge.
I volunteered to lead this intensive study of the 12 steps (I call it the NASCAR version: 12 steps in 12 weeks) because I had been feeling that I wanted to beef up my program and the opportunity presented itself at just the right time (Steps 3 and 11). I have been around these rooms for a lot of 24 hours; even so, my program has benefited immensely from this study. That reminds me that the work is never done. As the AABB says of working with others, "It is important for [him] to realize that your attempt to pass this on to [him] plays a vital part in your own recovery." (p. 94). Thank you for helping me to stay abstinent for another 24 hours. Thank you for sharing recovery with me. I have been honored to read your courageous and self-searching shares, your questions, fears, and delighted discoveries. I hope that I will see many of you as we trudge the Road of Happy Destiny (AABB, p. 164) together.
QUESTIONS FOR STEP TWELVE:
1. What has a spiritual awakening been like for you?
2. There are lots of ways to achieve a spiritual awakening; what is the difference between the one you’ve experienced as the result of these steps, and any other spiritual awakening you’ve had?
3. What is the message you want to carry to other COEs?
4. Can you relate one example of how you have carried the message? What happened? How did you feel during and afterward?
5. Are you more inclined to talk about OA to people who haven't found it may need it, to newcomers to meetings, or to those who are already in the rooms?
6. Where is it hardest for you to practice these principles? Where is it easiest?
7. What might make you think you’re at the end of the journey?
8. How might you remind yourself you’re not at the end?
The Twelve Steps