The Third Clause of Step Twelve.
In the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, steps ten, eleven, and twelve are often called the “maintenance steps”. They encompass all of the previous nine, essentially. Step twelve is often invoked when we talk about working with other alcoholics. When we’re talking to active drinkers, and describing the program to them, or to newcomers, we say we’re doing “twelfth step work”. But the twelfth step actually has three clauses. In its entirety:
“Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry the message to other alcoholics, and practice these principles in all our affairs.”
I know that many people think that the spiritual nature of AA means that it’s not welcoming to atheists. And while I obviously can’t speak for every meeting, I have never heard anyone say they were uncomfortable in the rooms because they were an atheist. I’ve heard many, many people discuss their atheism in the rooms with no dissent. I use spiritual language sometimes, but I don’t pray. I don’t identify as atheist. But I don’t identify as anything. I generally reject labels for myself, and I generally accept whatever label anyone chooses for themselves.
The second clause is that we try to make sobriety available to anyone and everyone who needs it. Anyone with a desire to stop drinking is welcome at AA. Of course, my own opinion is that not everyone who has a desire to stop drinking necessarily needs AA. When people say “AA doesn’t work for [Some Person or Group]!”, I tend to think they’re right. Because AA doesn’t make people sober. AA provides a framework that, if engaged with willingly, allows us to address the facts of and reasons for our drinking. And a program for living life freely and happily, in whatever circumstances we find ourselves.
Which brings me to the third clause: we practice these principles in all our affairs. The principles of sobriety. I am not likely to relapse because I really want to get drunk. Because, frankly, I don’t want to get drunk. I’m over being drunk. I am not likely to relapse because I want to try a particular type of alcohol. It’s not worth it to me. If I’m going to relapse, it will be most likely, I think, over something like what happened Saturday afternoon.
Saturday afternoon, I got a piece of mail. It was addressed in my handwriting. But my address was the return address. It was my property tax bill, which I had mailed to my mortgage company to pay. To the address they gave me. It was returned-to-sender, unopened. I’m furious about it. I hate paperwork and administrative processes. I am utterly bad at them. The first thought that popped into my head was, “Fuck them, with a bottle of vodka, straight down my throat.”
I know that that won’t make a lot of sense to the non-drinkers in my audience. But we alcoholics, I’m guessing, are pretty much all on a similar wavelength here. I couldn’t fix the problem until Monday. Which meant I had like 36 hours to fret and rage and stomp uselessly. I stormed about ECC and tweeted relentlessly about alcohol and my process in dealing with triggers. I ate really hot Thai food and sweated it all out.
At some point, it occurred to me that the reason that drinking occurs to me in those moments is the anesthesia, and temporal distortion. Getting drunk would numb me, and get me to Monday faster so I could deal with it. At least, that’s what my diseased brain would like me to believe in those moments. It’s a trick. A trap I set for myself to derail everything I’ve accomplished and all the things I’ve achieved and the sobriety I rely on to do it. I have a disease that wants me miserable and then dead. I am powerless over it. Because I know that, I can shrug its weight.
But if I practice the principles of recovery in all my affairs, it becomes much easier. I cannot solve this problem until Monday. I know that come Monday, if I’m sober, I will be able to solve it. I’m powerless until then. Do the things I can do when I can do them. Let go of the rest. And Monday came, and I fixed it when I could, by relying on people who know more than I do.
Then, Monday evening, I noticed that my master bathroom is leaking into my spare bedroom. That’s not ok. I have a plumber coming out today. There’s nothing I can do about the facts. All my stomping and frustration and anger won’t solve it, and just makes my chest contract. My old solution – drink and ignore – won’t fix it either. I have a problem and I know how to fix it. It’s a hassle. But that’s all. I don’t want to spend money on a plumber, but if I have to, I have to. Let go.
I don’t stay sober because I fight my drinking. I have stayed sober because I relentlessly pursue serenity, through a program of action and accountability. Resentment, frustration, control; these are the triggers for my relapse. Surrender, meditation, release; these are the antidotes. Pause and think. Rest and consider. Give up and move on. Do what I can with what I have to make my life better today. And go to bed sober.