Skip to content

The Third Clause of Step Twelve.

25 February 2014

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.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. 25 February 2014 13:01

    I liked what you had to say about ‘in all our affairs’. About your earlier part, about atheists– Me (al-anon member) and my husband (AA member) have been uncomfortable with Christian-specific aspects of meetings before. I said in a meeting that it made me uncomfortable to hear a church announcement read at the beginning of the meeting with other announcements. Also, I think this varies by region, but every single meeting here ends with the Lord’s Prayer which we are both not comfortable with (I have not shared this with the entire group but with some members). So I do think there are ways that groups can be more welcoming to other spiritualities.
    Btw, I found you through a scientist twitter-sphere and was surprised to see your other sphere of recovery (you are the first person I have ‘met’ who overlaps with these worlds, as do I)!

    • 25 February 2014 13:51

      So glad you’re around here! I don’t mind the prayers. But I also just don’t engage with them.

    • DrLizzyMoore permalink
      11 March 2014 22:20

      Yikes! We say ‘The Serenity Prayer’ at the end of our meetings–which I interpret as less religious and more practical than anything else. Something that I struggle with a bit is the ‘higher power’ stuff in Al-anon, BUT I found a great book, ‘Having had a spiritual awakening’. It is Al-anon lit, but it broadens the meaning of ‘higher power’, well outside the confines of organized religion…….

      What I find most interesting about the 12th step is the “in all our affairs” part. I’m finding (thankfully and happily) that these issues we try to tie up so neatly around the alcohol/alcoholic pervade EVERYTHING. So it’s really nice to have tools so that I don’t feel compelled to carry those burdens anymore… least I’m learning about these tools 😉

  2. 25 February 2014 13:29

    There is one guy in my online group – which is not limited to AA but to all who are on a program of sobriety – who says he cannot be part of AA because he doesn’t have a higher power, and he believes it is actually his own will that keeps him sober. He has heard all the positions about a higher power being anything bigger than oneself, not “god” but he doesn’t buy any of it. He is his own. I can’t argue with him, because he’s twenty-some years sober and a very thoughtful guy. He seems to practice the same principles we all do, just by his own will and not by surrendering to anything. Wouldn’t work for me, but good for him.

    • 25 February 2014 13:58

      Anyone who is sober and happy has my blessing, however they do it. If, however, they want me to help them, I can only really do so according to the program, which means accepting that they are not the source of the solution. I don’t say it’s the only way. But it’s the way I know, and that I know how to share.

  3. 26 February 2014 08:09

    Lot about numbing ourselves on the blogs I’m reading at the moment… I so relate to that one.
    I cancelled an insurance that was due this week on Monday – I no longer need it. Look at my credit card statement online today – guess what? They still charged me! I’m livid but don’t have the details to hand – I can only call them tomorrow. But hey – this isn’t going to kill me is it? But remaining angry will if I take to drink to rectify that feeling.
    Practice these principles in ALL our affairs – what a tough call. Luckily just after this it states that spiritual progress not perfection is what the programme is about.

  4. Syd permalink
    1 March 2014 15:09

    It’s pretty easy to practice the principles in the program among program people, but the real test is what happens out in the world. I have to say that it can be a challenge sometimes to keep my mouth shut and just listen to what goes on “out there”.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: