12 Steps are the well-known ways that Alcoholics Anonymous helps guide people out of their dependence on alcohol, and into a more actuated and self aware and just all around better human being. It teaches people to stop running from who they are and how they feel, and to become a person that they can be more proud of.
I was talking to a friend the other day about the 12 steps of AA. I'd known of them, and sort of what they are... and I've talked to people about the program before. I never had a problem with substance abuse (not an addictive personality)... but hearing of someone going through it, and really going through the steps reminded me of how much of it is applicable to everyone else.
Basically, admitting things that you can’t control, surrendering to that reality that there are higher power/forces, then doing a ton of introspection on YOUR actions, getting to the root causes of why, and trying to at least own them by making amends to those who have harmed: explaining that you were wrong, and seeing what you can do to make it a little better. (Making the effort to make up for your past mistakes). Then a lot of steps to to maintain that self-awareness, humility, and to remain being a better person. Basically, it’s replacing fluff and ego and drive (self) with at least a bit more humility and understanding about how your actions impact those around you (service/others). That seems a whole lot bigger than just substance abusers to me.
In teaching Martial Arts, there was quite bit of overlap around ego, humility, and helping people decide what they want to be (becoming self-aware). Most instructors don’t want to create a bunch of Cobra Kai, puffy egocentric folks looking to prove themselves… a far better goal is having people that want to talk their way out of conflicts, looking at themselves to figure out what to fix/change (instead of being Karen’s trying to make everyone else conform to their beliefs)… and only hurting people when there’s no other choice. Doing that, is much harder (and rewarding) than teaching people to hurt other people. And since they need to get there on their own, getting them to teach it to themselves is the key.
If you come in the biggest bad-ass and cockiest SOB, then you’re going to have to get taken down a peg or three until you can grow. (You need to empty the cup before you can fill it). Not everyone makes it in the ≈3-4 years it takes to black belt… but you’d be surprised at how many do. A lot of it, is learning that when someone else hurts you (through accident or malice), you have to be able to let it go (when you had every ability to hurt them back). Humbling yourself, surrendering to the process, just taking a punch without feeling you have to give 1:1 (or more), and owning your own actions no matter what the other person is doing, are key to being a better martial artist and person. That’s one of the key epiphanies. And it sounded like it's a shared objective.
In teaching Karate, I used to give people an assignment (homework) at their first or second test… to write down what they want to get out of the arts, and why they’re there. Then at brown and black belt to dig that old paper out, review it — and see what the art gave them (and if it aligned). Usually, they were amazed at how much more they got than they had expected, and what they wanted from the future was nothing like what they had wanted when they started the journey. I wished I had been more humble earlier, and read through the 12 step program to see what I could have borrowed. I think there is a lot of wisdom/techniques in there that could have helped quite a few become better artists and people. People that you can both talk to, and ask "why are you here", listen... and can cut through the facades, and say, "that's not it"... until you can get to your truths.
Steps and Opinions
These are my understandings and interpretations of the steps. (I internalize by writing things and putting them in my own words/understanding, so I'm not trying to distort their teachings by summarizing, but to cement it into memory and share it).
- (1) We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.
I think this is that everyone has things that they can't control, and they're going to need help on. The first step is humility.
- (2) We believe in a Power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity.
- (3) Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
I don't know that it has to be "God/Christianity" though that works for most who try. But the higher power is the process, counting on others, getting out of the "you are the center of your universe"... humility.
- (4) Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
- (5) Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
Yeah, introspection. Being willing to spend the time to look at our own flaws, and which we want to improve, and why -- and admit/own them.
- (6) Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
- (7) Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings
To me, this means more dedication to the process. And to start putting in the time to better oneself... one small step at a time. It doesn't matter if you believe in a God or not... if you act like a there's a higher power that knows your thoughts and actions, then you'll try to think/act better. By humbling yourself to something bigger, it’s easier to work on those self flaws — without getting too puffy about what you managed to change. (Since you owe something else for that change). Again, the higher power can be the process, or the group… but if the process didn’t work, then it wouldn’t work for so many. So you either have faith in it, or it isn’t going to work for you. And if you have faith in the process, and that process is founded on faith — then how can you deny there are things bigger than you?
- (8) Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
- (9) Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
Own your mistakes. Take your punishment — which is letting others air their grievances and trying to make it right. To take what others give to you, without having to make it about you. In some ways, this part is about offering the service to them of yourself. Their words/demands may be unfair... but they may not. In the end, are YOU going to make it right or not.
- (10) Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
- (11) Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
- (12) Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
It's not one and done. You can't just do the steps, you have to be a person that lives by the steps. That goes back and keeps re-doing them (or sorts). To create a pattern of a new you, and is someone that doesn't need to hide from yourself or the world, but lives the best life you can.
One thing I don't see called out in the steps, but I imagine is in the wisdom of the sponsors, is you have to forgive yourself you mistakes. In some ways accepting a higher power is accepting that -- some things were beyond your control. You just do what you can to go on from here... and the way to get past wallowing in the past, is to make it right (or as good as you can), and then move on. But not on to repeating the same patterns, but on to being a person that learned from the past, and can go forward.