Changes in Altitude, Changes in Attitude

In Columns, Features, Pieces to Peter's Puzzling World by Peter Webster

Back when it was time to stop drinking and doping myself into oblivion or worse I started attending 12-step meetings. No one ever said people with disabilities couldn’t have these problems.

The little town where I lived had three weekly meetings: Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous, and Al-Anon. I went to all three group meetings. I would have gone to more if there had been more. The town had a population of only one thousand or so and in those meetings I saw people I knew, people I’d gotten drunk with, smoked dope with—but who had dropped away from that scene.

Some of them had been big-time jerks, but now they were different, empathetic and interested in others. I realized they had made some deep and positive changes.

If they could do it, I could, too. I started working the steps.

The 12-steps are well enough known that almost everybody has heard them at one time or another. A Google search turned up 47,700,000 pages. That’s more than enough.

Movies and TV have characters going through the various programs that use these steps. Celebrities’ autobiographies are almost predictable about revealing how they experienced massive and positive
change through the various programs.

There are scores of versions of the steps. They are tools that can be applied in areas ranging from alcohol abuse to relationships to weight loss. In many cases, the problems take more than just the steps. They did for me.

I still use the techniques on a daily basis—but not the original 12-steps as practiced by AA.

Alcoholics Anonymous started back in the 1930s. It was begun by two middle-class white guys, known ever since as Bill W. and Doctor Bob who were chronic drunks. Between the two of them, and much help from their friends, they created a remarkable program. It’s almost sanctified by enthusiastic believers.

The text is known as “The Big Book.” The program is so sanctified, it has changed less over the years than the average glacier. New research into the causes of alcoholism, as well as cultural changes, have rendered many of the original writings irrelevant, dated, and culturally biased, however.

The various forms of the steps are attempts to overcome the shortcomings of the original version.

The steps are about admission of a problem, surrender, self-acceptance and forgiveness. That’s quite a bit to pack into so few words. There’s plenty of content in the short Sermon on the Mount, as well. Brevity doesn’t imply lack of content.

Here’s a synopsis:
Admission of a problem; Surrender: admitted I am powerless over the particular problem and that something greater than myself could make things better. Practice self-acceptance and self-forgiveness, which requires a close look inward; leading to a commitment to life long change

That’s it in a nutshell. The following is a version of the steps—16 instead of 12—that I found to be clearer and more comprehensive than the original. It goes without saying that the term “Great Spirit” in the 2nd step can be replaced by “God,” “Higher Power,” or whatever feels relevant.

I seriously suggest these are life changing tools. Give them a try if you want. I list them and then follow it with my own spin on it.

Here’s the URL where I found them:

1. We affirm we have the power to take charge of our lives and stop being dependent on substances or other people for our self-esteem and security.

Husbands, wives, boy friends, drugs, possessions, and such are not what make us who we are nor measure how valuable we are.

2. We come to believe the Great Spirit awakens the healing wisdom within us when we open ourselves to that power.

The power to make changes is right there, waiting for us to come and ask for help.

3. We make a decision to become our authentic selves and trust in the healing power of the truth.

The truth will make us free, and we will find that truth, even though it’s going to hurt!

4. We examine our beliefs, addictions, and dependent behavior in the context of living in a hierarchical, patriarchal culture.

A lot of the negative things we go through, but not all of course, are a result of our particular society and its values.

5. We share with another person and the universe (or Higher Power, God, Who- or Whatever) all those things inside of us for which we feel shame and guilt.

“Confession is good for the soul.” You bet!

6. We affirm and enjoy our strengths, talents, and creativity, striving not to hide these qualities to protect others’ egos.

If other people feel shut down or hurt because of our own positive experiences or outlook, there is something wrong…but it isn’t wrong with us because being authentic.

7. We become willing to let go of shame, guilt, and any behavior that keeps us from loving ourselves and others.

“Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

8. We make a list of people we have harmed and people who have harmed us and take steps to clear out negative energy by making amends and sharing our grievances in a respectful way.

The original version said and still says nothing about the people who have harmed us, yet so much of where we are today, how we see ourselves, is a result of what we’ve been told about ourselves in the past.

9. We express love and gratitude to others, and increasingly appreciate the wonder of life and the blessings we do have.

Positive affirmations, yes. The annoying thing about them is they work. They don’t do everything. They’re just another tool in the tool kit and a very useful tool.

10. We continue to trust our reality and daily affirm that we see what we see, we know what we know, and we feel what we feel.

Watch a presidential news conference and compare the reality you have with the reality he has. Think about the implications of the commercials you see on TV. Are they about real life?

11. We promptly acknowledge our mistakes and make amends when appropriate, but we do not say we are sorry for things we have not done, and we do not cover up, analyze, or take responsibility for the shortcomings of others.

We sweep “our side of the street” and let others take care of their side.

12. We seek out situations, jobs, and people that affirm our intelligence, perceptions, and self-worth to avoid situations or people who are hurtful, harmful, or demeaning to us.

This one can help us make real changes in our lives: it can be very scary, as I found out. It can be painful. But, in a way it’s like going to the dentist for serious work: it’s going to hurt but then it’s going to be much better. We don’t have to do it all at once; it can’t all be done at once. There are no magic bullets, darn it.

13. We take steps to heal our physical bodies, organize our lives, reduce stress, and have fun.

This is one of my favorites, because while I’m doing these things I feel good about myself. I can give myself justified pats on the back. I don’t mind having fun, either.

14. We seek to find our inward calling and develop the will and wisdom to follow it.

This is another step that can take a very long time. I’m sixty-seven, and I think I’m starting to get the hang of it.

15. We accept the ups and downs of life as natural events that can be used as lessons for our growth.

Remember the Serenity Prayer: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

16. We grow an awareness that we are inter-related with all living things and we contribute to restoring peace and balance on Mother Earth.

The Lakota Sioux have a saying: “Mitakuye oyasin” “All my relations,” or, “we’re all related.” An English poet, John Donne, said, “No man is an island.”