Bill Wilson, a salesman, settles his vision of the benefits of sobriety in the Promises, we shall realize only if we “painstakingly” work the steps. They follow the narrative on the 9th step in the “Into Action” Chapter Four of Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book (pp 88-89).
“If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are halfway through.
We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.
We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.
We will comprehend the word serenity, and we will know peace.
No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others.
That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear.
We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows.
Self-seeking will slip away.
Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change.
Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us.
We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.
We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.”1
These promises lyrically describe “what we have”, mapping prospects that contrast vividly with our addictive psyches and circumstances, our litanies of disappointment, guilt, fear and shame, our mutual pain. Wilson makes them conditional; we must be willing to go to any lengths to attain them. Attain what, exactly, in a word? Self-Respect as Children of God.
Christ, who came to share our plight, our fight, our night2, made one promise to the Samaritan woman at the well: living water that “will become… a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” She replies, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”3 Christ understands her relentless thirst and offers more, a “living water” that quenches every human craving.
Recovery strives to ultimately resolve the spiritual thirst that ignites our addictions. Our life in recovery and our life in faith are as progressive as our disease. Together, we employ the steps and our religious practices to refresh ourselves and one another. We may arrive late in the day, drained by spiritual aridity, clumsy and wasteful, tripping on resentments, spilling this lifegiving treasure. Living water is God’s gift to us, who are His creation. The notion of self-respect acknowledges that we are sparked into being by God’s unconditional love. Our SOUL: Source Of Unconditional Love.
We progress in recovery, working the steps, engaging our faith through scripture, tradition and reason to encounter God, regardless the chinks in our “understanding”. Christ also told his parched friend, “God is spirit, and worshipers must worship in spirit and truth.”
We probe for truth, the “rigorous honesty” AA invokes as we work through the steps. Step Four’s heavy duty inventory creates a baseline of sorts, but each and every step entails honest examination of our behaviors, motives, aspirations. We seek progress, not perfection.
Destined for perfect union with God, we seek to return where we began as Children of God, and “know the place for the first time.”4 Our daily tenth step reckons our progress in returning to a God who calls us to come to him as His Children. That is the “Self” to whom we must be true, the words imprinted on every AA anniversary token. That is the “Self” we come to respect, the Self that is the measure of our days and ways, our responsibilities in a complex society:
HEALTH: sleep, diet, exercise, teeth, check-ups, grooming
RELATIONSHIPS*+: principled, capable, honest, generous, attractive/positive
FINANCES: priorities, ledger, reserves, credit, foresight, restraint
WORK: competency, capacity, relationships, productivity, rewards
CIVIC: politically informed & engaged, duty, community service, social advocacy
GROWTH: intellect, culture, technology, aptitudes, interests
SPIRIT: recovery, resources, practices, discipline, and the expression of our faith
*spouse, family, intimates, colleagues, clients, acquaintances
+give and receive
Bill Wilson’s attractive promises inspire us, and the Steps are the gears and levers we engage to recover and grow as Children of God. Menus for self-improvement in recovery abound, yet the central question remains, what do we want so dearly that we will direct our sober selves to any lengths to possess it? God invested each Self with singular gifts and graces that we may serve Him, as we are, where we are, with the resources He places before us. Each day we examine our Self in a mirror, asking:
- § What duties have I met?
- § What joys have I shared?
- § What fears have I faced?
- § What wounds have I healed?
- § What prayers have I raised?
God made us as children who develop and mature into whole men and women, fully alive in grace, at peace among others, and at peace with our Selves. This is His promise to us, and ours to Him. Our recovery covenant.
1 Alcoholics Anonymous (Big Book), AA World Services, Fourth Edition, 2002
2 “Incarnation”, Michael E. Moynahan, S.J., Hearts on Fire – Praying with Jesuits, Loyola Press, Michael Harter, S.J., Editor, 2005
3 John 4:1-42, New International Version, Zondervan, 2017
4 “Little Gidding”, Four Quartets, Thomas Stearns Eliot, Faber and Faber, 1942