The Twelve Steps for Everyone: Step Three

By Edward-Yemil Rosario

¡Hola! Everybody…

I was watching some clips of Charlie Sheen the other night and I have to say that if you want to see a meltdown, then watch these clips.

I will say Mr. Sheen has major cojones, but I would have to qualify that by noting that he seems to be extraordinarily defended. Mr. Sheen’s bravado seems to be a defense mechanism against a glaringly obvious insecurity. In other words, he appears to me like an egomaniac with low self-esteem.
Actually, he reminds me of me when I was an active addict. In fact, if I had had the fame and money Mr. Sheen has when I was active, I would most likely be dead. And while I wasn’t fucking Denise Richards-caliber starlets, I was just as recklessly promiscuous. In fact, I get kinda turned on thinking about what Mr. Sheen did with Ms. Richards… never mind!

Seriously, I’m not here to pass judgment on Sheen, nor do I think what he’s going through is in any way humorous. In fact, I’m not even calling him an addict. I can’t do that. I do find the clips difficult to watch. However, he’s correct in at least one thing: 12 step fellowships aren’t for everybody. However, if you were to ask me how I got clean, I would have to tell you that the fellowship of Narcotics Anonymous saved my life. My experience also tells me that working the 12 Steps could be beneficial for anyone with a desire to change, regardless of whether they identify as an addict.
* * *
Turning it Over
Step Three: We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

The first time I came to the fellowship of Narcotics Anonymous, by the time I reached this step, I had quit. This is bullshit! I told myself. Fuck that God shit.

I wasn’t ready for recovery and I spent the next five years, the worst of my life, chasing a bag, a piece of ass — anything that could get me outside of myself. In a very real way, my addiction was my Higher Power, and at some level I knew this, but I would not kneel before a God I didn’t believe, or religious principles that I saw as intolerant and juvenile.

I didn’t sit still long enough to read the part of the step that says: … as we understood Him. The second time around, I was desperate to learn and to live more effectively, more wisely. I was more open, but I also knew that I couldn’t pretend to submit to religious dogma and not go back out.
My First Step work forced me confront the contradiction of my addictive process: that I felt powerful when in fact, I was powerless and needed help. The First Step gave me hope… However, having internalized and accepted my powerlessness (not to be confused with hopelessness), I was left open and vulnerable, and while I understood my powerlessness, I needed something to latch onto, some form of support.

My Second Step work helped me come to terms with trust — at least a little bit and it challenged my feelings of grandiosity, bringing me to the realization that I am a human being, and as such, I am not all-powerful — the “Great I Am.” It taught me the value of surrendering my small self in favor of my Higher Self. The Second Step helped me take a good look at faith and it helped me begin my spiritual search anew with fresh eyes. In fact, I see my entire history of active addiction as a spiritual search gone wrong. Recovery was a matter of turning that mad search into something sane and good.
In the beginning, I was able to accept the collective consciousness of the fellowship of NA as my Higher Power, but as I continued to work the steps in my life, I came upon the teachings of Buddhism (The Dharma) and I accepted them as my Higher Power. In Buddhism, I found a Higher Power that could restore me to sanity.

In NA, there are no “shalts,” nothing is forced down our throats and everyone works the steps to the best of their abilities and at their own pace. The first three steps serve as a foundation, a bridge, back to life. It’s not about belief, but about practice. Believing is not enough; it is through living and applying the steps that we recover our Original Self. I think what’s most important for anyone, is maintaining a frame of mind described by Zen masters as “beginner’s mind.” In the mind of an expert, it is said, there are few possibilities. But in the mind of a beginner, everything is possible.
Let me add that I as I have progressed spiritually, I have come to realize that bridge back to life was made from the bones of those who came before me. many of whom never got clean, never tasted spiritual freedom…

Truly, change and recovery are about coming back to a state where we’re open to suggestions and looking at life with fresh eyes. It’s about dropping the mess and listening to the message. If you’re like me and many others, there are issues that have tested you sorely. Whether it is drugs, sex, relationships, your emotions, food, or other people, we all have found ourselves at our wit’s end at one time or another. The Third Step is about letting be, as the Taoists put it.

One thing I was painfully aware of was that whenever I imposed my will, things got messed up quick. If I was in a relationship, my will meant lots of insanity. Imposing my will on my addiction meant that it made it worse because my will was warped. So recovery (and the Third Step) is a lot about letting go of the impulsive need to control. It’s about allowing a Higher Principle, Higher Power, or God — or whatever you choose to call it — guide your actions.

For me, that Higher Power as I understand it, is The Dharma. In other words, instead of exerting my will on my addictive behaviors, I was letting go in favor of a set of spiritual principles that emphasized ethical behavior, contemplation, and cognitive restructuring. Rather than chasing a bag, or the delusional grasp for happiness through destructive behavior, I was instead flowing into a spiritual practice that guided me toward a saner way of life. For my purposes, I do not believe in an Abrahamic God, but I am an addict in recovery.

My experience teaches me that when I’m less reactive and defensive, life becomes less stressful and simpler. The truth of the matter is that I’m constantly taking my will back. I become a backseat driver to my life and demand to make a left turn, when my Higher Power (as I understand It) is telling me to make a right. There are times I’m downright nasty about it and I take the wheel and “all of sudden” there I am, ass out on Broadway. In my early recovery I would take my will back on an hourly basis. I had the good fortune to have someone explain to me that recovery (and life) is really about practice not perfection. The point is if we’re to evolve, then letting go becomes a way of life. These principles are guidelines to progress. The issue isn’t spiritual perfection, but spiritual practice. No one, my guide told me, gets this perfectly.

Whatever your understanding of your Higher Power, it is suggested that it be a loving and understanding. For me this means living a life of non-harming, of skillful speech and action. If I can turn my life over to that Higher Power, then I’m released from the bondage of my smaller, ego-driven self. For some this can mean throwing away the concept of an angry and jealous God for one that is loving, accepting, and compassionate. It could mean an understanding of God that resides within, instead of the concept of a God-in-the-sky. Perhaps the Universal Principle is a stream flowing through all of us. Maybe my Higher Power, rather than being an old white guy with a beard can look like Halle Berry, instead. Who’s to say? LOL! What’s important, in this spirituality, is that your Higher Power be loving and trustworthy.
Most importantly, this step is all about coming to terms with trust. It is really about learning acceptance, of letting go the compulsive need for control. In my active addiction, I was more concerned with control than about relationships. Lack of trust, my friends, is really about control. If you don’t trust someone, then you’re trying to control that person. In other words, lack of trust is the impulse to control because if you can’t trust another, you want to do everything yourself. And how has that worked so far?

Let go…

This is for you, whoever you are. Take what is useful. But this is mostly for all those out there who may be suffering needlessly, all alone believing there’s no way out, or defending a madness slowly engulfing them.
My name is Eddie and I am an addict in recovery…

7 Comments on “The Twelve Steps for Everyone: Step Three”

  1. Bueno. I believe we’re pretty much on the same terms here. For there to be an ideal to struggle for, there must be the visualization of an ideal. The remarkable part of any religious concept is not whether or not the prophet for it actually existed, but that somebody; perhaps a group of somebodies; visualized an ideal. The ideal struck a spontaneous chord of agreement as something worth the struggle. Religion in and of its own, is nothing more than another opiate. A response of agreement and desire to follow the ideal within the religion is the road map into the person’s spirituality. A response of desire to attain control over the behavior of others through the dictates of religion undermines free will, thus thwarting the evolution of true spirituality.

    While letting go of our need to control others, we are still in the driver’s seat of our own vehicles. It’s our choice to drive recklessly, heedlessly and with road rage, but we still have to pay the consequences of our actions. It’s our choice to choose the six-lane highway or the turn off into a country road. Our destination is our choice, although we don’t know what will happen along the way to it. Our addictions are our choice, and whether or not we control them or let them take the driver’s seat. When we drive safely, observing others who also follow the rules of safe conduct, we learn to trust more, to accept that there are others on the road with the same desires, the same goals and the willingness to arrive at the same destination.

  2. An interesting read. As an Australian I can vouch for the fact that the “Twelve Step” type programs don’t get much traction here and I think it has a lot to do with the “God” factor. We were a penal colony founded by petty thieves, whores and ne’er-do-wells rather than puritans, after all. *grin*

    I’ve also been an addict, although even as I type that I’m in denial. A part of me still wants to believe I was “in control”. The fact is that I was living a lifestyle which enabled my substance abuse and I dived in literally nose first. It didn’t change because I found solace or strength in a “higher power”, but because by the time I’d reached 30 I’d buried four of my closest friends… including my husband. There’s nothing more sobering than death.

    My own personal experience lends itself very much to Karlsies analysis, although I’m aware that it’s not the same for everyone. For me it came down to a matter of choice. Do I continue like this and face loosing tenure? Face loosing the respect of my family? Face loosing everything I’ve worked so hard to achieve? Face the fact that a vain creature like myself was aging before her time? Face the inevitable “Big Sleep” before I’d achieved all my goals? Or do I get my priorities straight? The choice was made easy when I finally realised that what defined the “me” I wanted to be wasn’t the powder I was hoovering up my nose.

    I’m no saint. Far from it. And I still indulge in the occasional snort. The difference now is that I actually AM in control. While coke and ecstasy can, and DO, enhance my social experience… that’s all they are now. A “social lubricant”, like alcohol, rather than a full-blown dependence because I made that choice for ME… not for some higher power.

  3. kARLSIE AND mALICE: Speaking for myself I had no choice. That’s what it came down to. Death, incarceration, stealing from my family, abandoning my son — those weren’t the result of a sane cjhopice mechanism. Essentuially, addiction is defined by LACK of choices and a form of thinking that has gone off the rails. IN FACT, modern science shows that the addict’s neurological reward center is changed — some scientists saying irrevocbaly.

    I tried just having a snort now and then, or drinking instead of doing heroin, or snoritn heroin (as I did towards the end of my active addiction) instead of shooting it up, or just drinking on the weekends, or just snorting coke while fucking blah blah blah…. NONE of it worked for me. I ALWAYS ended up in the same place.

    i SEE IT THIS WAY: THERE’S LOTS OF TINGS WE HAVE NO CONTROL OVER. THE WEATHER, for example. If it rains, it rains. No amount of willpower, or delusions of grandeur will make it stop raining. some times we don’t even have control over our own emotions. In fact, if you were to attempt vipassana mediation, you would quickly discover, you have no control over the content of your thought stream.

    I see my recovery path, the Dharma, and my spiritual practice (which us NOT the same as religion, BTW) as my compass. It is what guides me. when “I” — as defined by this static story I tell myself and which I choose to call Eddie — when “I” take control, it’s at the expense of my higher self — the “I” that has no “I” and is marked by a higher consciousness and an awareness of the interconnectedness of everything. When I use drugs, or people, or things and go off on a tangent thinking I’m driving this “vehicle,” I create wreckage.

    But that’s just for me.

  4. Charlie reminds me of his Dad’s character in Apocalypse Now, the first few scenes. I am sure Martin is trying to intervene somehow, but it can be difficult. I hope Charlie, if he has a therapist, has one who sees that right now the issue is the addiction and nothing else will help if The Addiction is not addressed.

    In my own life, mercifully free of substance addiction, I have found that letting go, when my life once depended on being in control (or thinking I was), is a continuing practice.

  5. @Eddie

    Essentuially, addiction is defined by LACK of choices and a form of thinking that has gone off the rails. IN FACT, modern science shows that the addict’s neurological reward center is changed — some scientists saying irrevocbaly.

    In which case it would appear I wasn’t an addict. I may just have been a greedy little piglet looking for a good time fuelled by copious amounts of whatever I could get my hands on… and it simply ceased being a “good time” when so many of my friends were dying.

    I take your point about “control”. No doubt I was far more in control than I thought.

    I also take your point about the “ego”… or at least that’s what I think you’re referring to when you talk about the “I” in your life. I’ve been thinking about trying some form of meditation myself for the same reason. I have a problem with “ego”, as I think you’ve probably already work out. (I am working on it though. *grin*)

  6. Malice: That’s why I give Charlie his due: it’s up to the individual to make the determination. the paradox is that sometimes denial creates such a huge blind-spot.

    I was married to a woman who could apparently drink “sociably.” I’m not being facetious when I say that I have no clue, no concept of “drinking (or using) sociably.” I drank to get drunk. I don’t understand the part where you stop, I see no rhyme or reason ion that. LOL

    Ego isn’t the “bad guy” in this drama, but over identification with it can be a problem. Sometimes simply watching the highlight movie roll I call Eddie, helps to dissolve it a little. LOL

  7. Benni: I happen to hold Martin Sheen in high estimation, not just for his acting chops (which are considerable), but also because of his commitment to progressive values. Takes a lot of cojones to do all that and still preserve something of a Hollywood career (see what happened to the great Lou Grant, as a contrast).

    In terms of control, I once had a friend tell me that she could never be an addict because she needed to control too much. IOW, she saw addiction as a loss of control. She became confused when I responded by telling her that addicts are the ULTIMATE control freaks. LOL

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