The Silence

The Hidden Purpose of the Dark Night of the Soul

How Recovery Found Me“The dark night is a profoundly good thing. It is an ongoing spiritual process in which we are liberated from attachments and compulsions and empowered to live and love more freely.”
Gerald G. MayThe Dark Night of the Soul

Stories of salvation, it's a strong word yet clearly, those who return from the deadly grip of alcoholism or drug addiction, believe in resurrection.  From despair to surrender, survivors of alcoholism and drug addiction acknowledge being graced with a new life.

As a recovered alcoholic and a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, I've been privileged to hear the stories of personal redemption. In the meetings I attend, many share how it happened to them, in spite of deep denial.  They share poignantly of their journey and how mysteriously they were carried along by an unseen influence to finally admit a "need for help".

There are others, whose lives suddenly change as the result of an irreversible life event, such as the loss of an important relationship, a criminal arrest, a death of a loved one, or a critical illness. Suddenly they awaken from a deep sleep to discover the willingness to change.

And some simply die...

The purpose of "Stories From The Silence" is to share the experience of renewal found in recovery.  The purpose of sharing a recovery message is to support others who still suffer, to reassure them it is okay to ask for help.  As many of us know, when we asked for help, an immediate change was realized within us, we were no longer alone.  May this shared offering of recovery experience, shine a light on the truth, you too can recover.

Please scroll down to begin at Step One with additional commentary by Richard Rohr on his interpretation of the Twelve Steps.  Step Eleven and Twelve are in the works...

Thank you for visiting Inward Grace!


Living in the Solution

Now we arrive at Step Twelve and begin to live in the solution.  We have been given a life full of promise, as Step Twelve states, "Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and we practiced these principles in all our affairs."  This is the gift of recovering from a hopeless state of body and mind and in my personal experience, is a challenging step to maintain.  Why, because ongoing rigorous honesty, is required and is the basic principle found when doing the Fourth Step inventory.  Yes, in writing the Fourth Step, we learn only deep and thorough honesty will lead us out of our dilemma.  To recognize the selfish things we have done in our lives, while never considering the consequences of those actions and to recall how we may have known better but did it anyway and then to "turn it around", is not an easy task.

Step Twelve could be thought of as the step where the "rubber meets the road".  To live a spiritual life; a life where we know and do the next right thing.  This is particularly challenging when the next right thing does not fulfill the ego's desire to run the show.  This said, when we fail to practice Steps Ten and Eleven on a daily basis, the ego arises and slowly but surely will undermine our best intentions.

Without pretending to know everything about alcoholism and addiction, though I have personal and professional experience in both; I experienced the Fourth Step inventory uncovered fear as the main generator of a life lived on self-will. This fear, along with the overwhelming desire to seek relief from the numbing affect of alcohol is the root cause of addiction in its myriad of forms.  When we are uncomfortable within, we seek externally whatever is necessary to alleviate this sense of inner unrest.  This said, we now understand the role trauma plays in alcoholism and addiction.  We also know within trauma, fear finds a home.

This said, when Steps Ten and Eleven are practiced on a daily basis, the impervious ego rests. Thankfully, when a personal inventory is complete and amends are made in Steps Eight and Nine, we are ready to live and grow in steps Ten, Eleven, and Twelve.  With a consistent practice of reviewing our day, as presented in Step Ten, along with prayer and meditation in Step Eleven, we build a defense against the ego's desire to run the show.  Thus, prayer and meditation calms the ego and we are able to maintain spiritual equilibrium.

Now full disclosure, like many others I've struggled with a daily adherence to a practice of meditation.  Gratefully, I continue to seek the spiritual path and have found without a daily meditation practice, spiritual progress is slow and  compromised.  Also, while this is true and uncomfortable to admit, the lessons I've needed return and will continue to do so, until I give enough time, energy, and effort to Steps Ten and Eleven daily, which brings me to something I've never forgotten.  When I was thirteen or so, my mother clearly upset with me, said,

"Patsi, why do you always learn the hard way?"  And this question is resolved when Steps Ten, Eleven, and Twelve are a daily practice.  We have free will and may choose to strike out on own without the guidance of Something Greater than we, however we are likely to slide back to where we started, afraid and bewildered, not knowing who we are or what we came here to do.

Gratefully, the solution is found in the clear-cut directions on the first 164 pages of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.  On those pages we find a clear-cut pathway into the Source of Love.  Now, my focus is to share this wisdom journey with those who are ready to find their misplaced heart.  I'd offer without a sincere plea for help to the Divine and the amazing Grace given freely, I'd still be trying to escape into the abyss, instead of embracing this life with all I've got.  I'm humbled by the pain I've needed to bring me where I am today, finally willing instead of willful, at least most of the time.  An ongoing prayer chant, "Please, please, show me the way to you."

Inward Grace maintains a clear distinction between spirituality and religion

The Inward Grace disclaimer:

“The word ‘spiritual’ does not refer to religious matters.  All activity which drives the human being towards some form of development-physical, emotional, mental, intuitional, social–if it is in advance of her/his present state, is essentially spiritual in nature and is indicative of the livingness of an inner divine entity.”

Step Twelve

Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of the steps. we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and practice these principles in all our affairs.

Below is an excerpt from Richard Rohr’s writing on Step Twelve from his book, “Breathing Under Water, Spirituality and the Twelve Steps”.

Until people's basic egocentricity is radically exposed, revealed for what it is, and foundationally redirected, much religion becomes occupied with rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, cruising with isolated passengers, each maintaining his or her personal program for happiness, while the whole ship is sinking.   I'm afraid Bill Plotkin, psychologist and agent of change is truthful and fair when he says we live in a "patho-adolescent" culture.  One of the few groups that name that phenomenon unapologetically is Alcoholics Anonymous.  Read, for example, page 62 of the Big Book: "So, our troubles are basically of our own making.  They arise out of ourselves; and the alcoholic is an extreme example of self-will run riot, though he or she does not think so.  Above everything, we alcoholics must be rid of this selfishness.  We must or is kills us!"  What courage it to him to talk this way.

Why can't we all be that honest--and therefore truly helpful.  Well, Step Twelve found a way to expose and transform the pathological adolescence by telling us early on we must serve others.  It is not an option, not something we might eventually be "called" to after thirty-five religious retreats and fifty years of church service; it is not something we do when we get our act together.  No, we do not truly comprehend any spiritual thing until we ourselves give it away.  Spiritual gifts increase only by "using" them whereas material gifts normally decrease by usage . . .

. . .  Again and again, you must choose to fall into a love that is greater with both friends and children.  It is all training for The Love that is the Greatest.  All loves are a school of love, and their own kind of vital spiritual experience--until a lasting Relationship with the Real finally takes over. You learn how to "fall in love' by falling many times, and you learn from many fallings how also to recover from the falling.  How else would you?  But best of all, you only know what love is by falling into it, almost against your will, because it is too scary and too big to be searched out, manufactured or even imagines ahead of time.  Love,  like God, "is a harsh and dreadful thing' according to Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky.  I wonder if that is why we both want but also avoid a vital spiritual experience?


Photo of Belfast Harbor, April 2024

Prayer and Practice

The labyrinth at the Alcyon Center at Seal Cove, Maine

The long hiatus is over. Since January 2018, this recovery blog has remained unpublished.  The reason is simple, I knew my Step Eleven experience was limited at best and so I waited.  Basically I’ve been an Step Eleven dabbler.  The simple truth, my surrender is about “fits and starts”.  Then, this past week, as I attended the first of three intensives, in the Contemplative Spiritual Direction Program, at the Alcyon Center at Seal Cove, Maine something shifted.  This change of heart was emotional, painful, and necessary.  So this morning, when I awoke at 3:00 am, the thought came quickly, I knew the time had arrived to consider the infamous Step Eleven. The Step left on the shelf, the one I’ll get ’round to but never quite do, not in any daily practice sort of way.

In my recovery, I’ve learned the current of life can be swift and treacherous and yet over the past five years, life reveals a new way of being, perhaps getting older has slowed me down enough to finally listen more than speak.  Even within the often fast-moving current of life, I sense my humanity is not something to overcome but more a place to swim, dive, and even float. I understand the learned cultural adversity I had to my human condition, was cast aside even as I pushed God out of my life.  I recall vividly, in the midst of lonely and indescribable heartache over the sudden loss of my mother, how I railed at God, and firmly decided to cease caring about anything or anyone (myself included) from that day forward and it “seemed” to work.

Until….the alcohol. And with slow, deliberation, to silence the growing war within, I drank, I drank a lot. The battle of good and evil within lasted several decades and with no defense, no plan for life, no belief in God, evil had its way. My drinking increased, my emotional growth ceased, my ability to navigate life stalled, and every relationship in my life suffered, still suffers, reverberating even now. And the obsession to drink gave chase. It called to me from morning until night. Occasionally, my substantial willfulness was used to control the obsession, when necessary to impress someone or to satisfy my employment but there “it” simmered on the back burner patiently waiting.

Now, as I enter my twenty eighth year in recovery, something calls again; a turbulence, building up within these past five years after cessation of antidepressants, prescribed in my sixteenth year of recovery, to quell my unhealed trauma, dislocation from my family, and an insidious willfulness to control life. Then, neatly medicated, I moved on buffered from my humanity, from the needs of others, and from God.

For the next six years, with a daily dose of SSRI, followed by a year and a half of an SNRI, peppered throughout with Ambien, a benzodiazepine derivative, I was set adrift, a dummied down human, in a warm fuzziness, carrying out my responsibilities. Then it happened, somehow in this stupor, I began to awaken. My long sleep was over. I began researching how to taper off the medication, although my doctor advised against it and as the medication left my system, a challenging detox that included “brain zaps” and unrelenting anxious depression arrived full force.  And in this tunnel of darkness, a mysterious inner Source sustained me, provided the inner strength I needed.

Last month, February 21st, marked five years medication free, back in the stream of unadulterated life, this place of uncertainty, my humanity beckons to God…and God answers.  I finally get it, life includes suffering.  I know this human suffering to be the very thing I hoped to avoid through alcohol and pharmaceuticals.  

Most days are good, I’d like to say every day however that would be dishonest. Two times daily, I do my best to sit for twenty minutes in centering prayer. A biblical verse fits here: I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate, I do.” (Romans 7:15). Still in this place of growth the horizon grows wider, more welcoming and although a practicing Christian, I understand God as more than any religion.  Finally, it appears God is within everything, even me, always has been, right from the start.  I just never knew.

 Inward Grace maintains a clear distinction between spirituality and religion

The Inward Grace disclaimer:

“The word ‘spiritual’ does not refer to religious matters.  All activity which drives the human being towards some form of development-physical, emotional, mental, intuitional, social–if it is in advance of her/his present state, is essentially spiritual in nature and is indicative of the livingness of an inner divine entity.”

Now to share Richard Rohr’s writing on Step Eleven from his book, “Breathing Under Water, Spirituality and the Twelve Steps”:

Step Eleven

We Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood “God”, praying only for knowledge of “God’s” will for us and the power to carry that out.

I have heard that Step Eleven is the least taught and followed of the Twelve Steps. This is probably why the Twelve Step Program often became a program for sustaining sobriety and never moved many toward the “vital spiritual experience” that Bill Wilson deemed absolutely foundational for full recovery. If we can speak of the traditional Christian stages of the spiritual journey as “one” purgation, “two” illumination and “three” union, too many addicts never to get to the second stage-to any real spiritual illumination of the self-and even fewer get to the rich life of experienced union with God. In that, I am sad to say, they mirror many Christians.

The prayer of quiet and self-surrender (“contemplation”) best allows us to follow Step Eleven, which Bill Wilson must have recognized by using the word meditation at a time when the word was not common in Christian circles. And he was right, because only contemplative prayer or meditation invades, touches, and heals the unconscious! This is where all the garbage lies-but also where God hides and reveals “in that secret place” (see Matthew 6:6). Do you not know, “Jesus says, “the kingdom of God is within you!” (see Luke 17:21). Contemplation opens us to the absolute union and love between God and the soul.

Prayer is not about changing God (to do what we want), but a willingness to let God change us, or, as Step Eleven states, “praying only for knowledge of (God’s) will for us and for the power to carry it out” (that is, actual inner empowerment and new motivation from a deeper Source). People’s willingness to find God in their own struggle with life-and allow that struggle to change them-is their deepest and truest obedience to God’s eternal plan for them.

Remember, always remember, that the heartfelt desire to do the will of God is, in fact, the truest will of God. At that point, God has won, the ego has lost, and your prayer has already been answered.


Staying Awake And Aware

In the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, members often refer to steps ten, eleven, and twelve as the growth steps.  Many in the program believe if one falters in this area of the twelve steps, they will slide down the slippery slope back into the "bondage of self".   This entry will examine step ten and the importance of the daily appraisal recommended in the Big Book, there are some specifics.  On page 84 of the Big book we find the following suggestions, "We continue to take personal inventory and continue to set right any new mistakes as we go along.  We vigorously commence this way of living as we cleaned up the past.  We have entered the world of the Spirit.  Our next function is to grow in understanding and effectiveness.  This is not an overnight matter.  It should continue for our lifetime.  Continue to watch for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, and fear.  When these crop up, we ask God at once to remove them.  We discuss them with someone immediately and make amends quickly if we have harmed anyone. Then we resolutely turn our thoughts to someone we can help.  Love and tolerance of others is our code."

This plan for living, as presented in the Big Book, when used daily, in earnest, keeps us on track.  We live intuitively guided by the Spirit of the Universe, knowing the next right thing to do, most of the time.  We practice being awake and aware of people and the world around us.  We consider how we may be helpful to others and we are prepared to admit when we drift toward being reactionary, judgmental or unforgiving.  Although we are now aware of our shortcomings, we may still drift to self pity and emotionalism when we fall out of practice with steps ten, eleven and twevle.

Step Ten reduces the risk of building resentment and falling prey to the "bondage of self" as identified in the Third Step Prayer.  With an honest effort, Step Ten can prevent us falling into the ego mind, by at once admitting our wrong-doing.  The unexpected gift of the twelve steps of recovery is simply knowing the "truth" and the truth we now know is "I am my own problem."  When this revelation is on board, it does not mean we are always at fault however it does mean we are not to blame others for our problems.  We now begin to recognize we must live from our heart/spirit and move out of the ego/thinking.  When we lose our way, which we will do, we can at once ask God to remove that which blocks us and proceed to right our wrongdoing.  We now have a plan for living which really works!

Please note, Inward Grace maintains a clear distinction between spirituality and religion.  The Inward Grace disclaimer:

"The word 'spiritual' does not refer to religious matters.  All activity which drives the human being towards some form of development-physical, emotional, mental, intuitional, social--if it is in advance of her/his present state, is essentially spiritual in nature and is indicative of the livingness of an inner divine entity."

Richard RohrFrom Breathing Under Water writes:

Step Ten

We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

I come from a religious-life practice where we learned from the Jesuits about a daily and personal “examination of conscience.” But I found that people with a mature conscience did this naturally anyway, and some way too much. Now of many of the Jesuits recommend instead an “examination of consciousness” which to me feels much more fruitful. That is what I would recommend if I were teaching Step Ten.

You must step back from your compulsive identification and unquestioned attachment to yourself in order to be truly conscious. Pure consciousness cannot be “just me” but instead is able to watch “me” from a distance. It is where of me seeing, knowing, and feeling. Most people do not understand this awareness, because they are totally identified with their own thoughts, feelings, and compulsive patterns of perception. They have no proper distance from themselves, which is what we mean be egocentricity.

You see why so many of our mystics and saints emphasize detachment. Without it, people could not move to any deep level of consciousness, much less to the level of soul. Meister Eckhart said detachment was almost the whole spiritual path, and the early Franciscans seemed to talk about nothing else, although they called it “poverty.”

We do not live in a culture that much appreciates detachment or such poverty. We are consumers and capitalists by training and habit, which is exactly why we have such problems with addiction to begin with. We always think more is better, for some sad reason. For properly attached (that is, “non-addicted”) persons, deeper consciousness comes rather naturally. They discover their own soul, which is their deepest self, and thus have access to a Larger Knowing beyond themselves.

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

Cleaning Up The Past

Just as my sponsor had predicted, I possessed a new understanding and resolve to make amends to those I had harmed.  As I completed the Seventh Step Prayer a readiness stirred within.  The truth about my character defects now uncovered in the first seven steps prepared me to now take Steps Eight and Nine.  Step Eight stated we "Make a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amend to them all followed by Step Nine, "Made direct amends whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others."  My sponsor was direct, she said I must follow quickly in the program of action.  That same day, I began Steps Eight and Nine, with my new found honesty.  She noted the book was clear, that I must "sweep away the debris which had accumulated out of our effort to live on self-will and run the show ourselves", (Big Book of Alcoholic Anonymous, 76:3).  And with her steadfast, and loving guidance, I prayed to God who had clearly carried me through the rigorous months of Fourth Step writing.  A clarity appeared.  Where I had once held stubbornly to anger and judgement of others, a softness of spirit began to emerge.  My thinking had changed, instead of those who had wronged me, a new list appeared of those I had wronged.  Still, even with this new found clarity, I struggled to know what amend I needed to make to my once abusive and alcoholic father.  My sponsor advised me to seek God's help until the answer was revealed and so I persevered.  Within a week's time, a revelation, I had been also abusive to my father, I was disrespectful to him and rejected him regularly.  I began to understand, it was my side of the street which needed to be cleaned.  I realized that my bitter anger, judgment, disappointment, and yes, my adolescent cruelty had affected my father deeply.

My list complete, I arranged to meet with my sponsor who reviewed the list, asked me for clarification, and helped me to eliminate several unnecessary amends.  My sponsor reminded me to read the Big Book instructions and to remember, "our real purpose is to fit ourselves to be of maximum service to God and the people about us."  With prayer and God's mercy, I proceeded on my way to right, my wrongs.  I will share the details of my personal amends, to any reader of this personal journey who seeks recovery.  Let it be said, my life has never been the same since completion of my Ninth Step amends.  When my father died several years after he received my overdue amends; our relationship had been healed, we were the father and daughter I had always hoped we could be.  I finally understood, that to be loved, one must give love.

Please note, Inward Grace maintains a clear distinction between spirituality and religion.  The Inward Grace disclaimer:

"The word 'spiritual' does not refer to religious matters.  All activity which drives the human being forward towards some form of development-physical, emotional, mental, intuitional, social--if it is in advance of her/his present state, is essentially spiritual in nature and is indicative of the livingness of an inner divine entity."

Step Eight

We made a list of all the persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amend to them all.

From Breathing Under Water by Richard Rohr

Rohr writes:

God fully forgives us, but the "karma" of our mistakes remains, and we must still go back and repair the bonds we have broken.  Otherwise, others will not be able to forgive us but will remain stuck, and they and we will both still be wounded.  We usually must make amends to forgive ourselves.  "Amazing Grace" is not a way to avoid honest human relationships, but to transform them--now gracefully--for the liberation of both sides.  Nothing just goes away in the spiritual world; we must reconcile and account for it all.

All healers are "wounded healers," as Henri Nouwen said so well.  In fact, you are often more gifted to heal others precisely where you yourself were wounded, or perhaps have wounded others.  You learn to salve the wounds of others be knowing and remembering how much it hurts to hurt.  Often this memory comes from the realization of your past smallness and immaturity, your selfishness, your false victimhood, and your cruel victimization of others.  It is often painful to recall or admit, yet this is also the grace of lamenting and grieving over how we have hurt others.  Fortunately, God reveals our sins to us gradually so we can absorb what we have done over time.  "Oh God, little by little you correct those who have offended you, so that they can abstain from evil, and learn to trust in you," we learn in the Book of Wisdom (see 12:2).

It might take a long time, even years, to "become willing" to make amends.  People working on Step Eight learn to make lists--but not of what others have done to them, which is the normal ego style, and a pattern, once practiced, that is very hard to stop.  Instead, they have been given some new software, a program called "grace".  A totally new pattern, "a new mind" (see Ephesians 4;23; Colossians 3:10-11; I Corinthians 2:16).  Rather than making lists of who hurt me, I now make lists of people have perhaps hurt, failed, or mistreated.  Making such lists will change your foundational consciousness from one of feeding resentments to a mind that is both grateful and humble.

Step Nine

We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

Step Nine is an example of the wisdom implicit in the Twelve Steps.  Eastern religions often called such wisdom "skillful means."  Wisdom is not a mere motto or scripture quote in the head, but a practical and effective way to actually get the job done!

Jesus was a master of teaching skillful means, especially in his Sermon on the Mount and in many of his parables and one--liners.  He was constantly teaching us and showing us how to be fully human, which somehow is to be Divine!  To "follow him" is first of all to imitate him in his combining of humanity and divinity in his own person.

Step nine is telling us how to use skillful means to both protect our own humanity and liberate the humanity of others.  It says that our amends to others should be "direct," that is, specific, personal, and concrete.  Jesus invariably physically touched people when he healed them.  It is a face-to-face encounter, although usually difficult, that does the most good in the long run.

Insightfully, Step nine includes "except when to do so would injure them or others."  One often needs time, discernment, and good advice from others before one knows how to apologize or make amends in a proper way.  If  not done skillfully, an apology can actually make the problem and the hurt worse.  You need to pray and discern about what the other needs to hear, has the right to hear, and can handle responsibly.  Even sincere people can do a lot of damage if they are not prepared to handle the information they convey to others.

Thanks to the spirituality of the Twelve Steps, people are hopefully more prepared to handle an addict's efforts to make amends.  Now we can see addiction as spiritual illness, rather than a moral failure or lack of willpower.  What we call addiction is what the new testament called "possession."  Following the example of Jesus the healer, the captive sufferer, or "demon-possessed" person, should be met with empathy and love (albeit sometimes "tough love"), rather than blame, shame, and punishment.  Then they will feel safer to open the only real cure for any kind of "demonic possession": re-possession by the Infinite Love who alone can meet our deepest desires!

Readiness To Let Go…

With the final words of my fourth step read aloud to my sponsor Step Five was completed and it was time to consider Step Six and Step Seven.  As I finished reading, I fell into silence.  The deep shame and the secrets I planned to take to my grave were relieved, I sat unburdened.  The unresolved resentment, which once created my selfish, self-seeking, dishonest, and fear-based reaction to life had been brought to the Light.  Now I understood how I told myself lies and I had believed those lies...about God, about others, and about myself.  As I finished my reading, my sponsor handed me the Big Book and said, "Read the paragraph which precedes Step Six and Step Seven."  I opened the book and read, "We pocket our pride and go for it. Illuminating every twist of character, every dark cranny of the past. Once we have taken this step, withholding nothing, we are delighted. We can look the world in the eye. We can be alone at perfect peace and ease.  Our fears fall from us. We begin to feel the nearness of our Creator. We may have had certain spiritual beliefs but now we begin to have a spiritual experience. The feeling that the drink problem has disappeared will often come strongly.  We feel we are on a Broad Highway walking hand and hand with the Spirit of the Universe."

As she prepared to leave, my sponsor paused at the door and said, "Ask God to be with you".  In the moments after she left, a sense of peace and calm settled within me and I felt relieved from, the "bondage of self".  The pain and suffering that once resided within me was gone.  And I knew, for this trust to continue, I needed to ask myself was I ready, really ready, to turn my life over to the care of God?  Was I now willing to call on God for all things?  Did I finally understand without God, inner peace would allude me?  Quietly, and yet firmly, I said aloud,

" My Creator, I am now willing that you should have all of me, good and bad. I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character which stand in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows.  Grant me strength as I go out from here to your bidding." Amen.

Please note, Inward Grace maintains a clear distinction between spirituality and religion.  The Inward Grace disclaimer:

"The word 'spiritual' does not refer to religious matters.  All activity which drives the human being forward towards some form of development-physical, emotional, mental, intuitional, social--if it is in advance of her/his present state, is essentially spiritual in nature and is indicative of the livingness of an inner divine entity."

Step Six 

Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character  

From Breathing Under Water by Richard Rohr

Rohr writes:

Step Six, although  not commonly followed, is throughly biblical.  It struggles with--and resolves--the old paradox of which comes first, the chicken or the egg.  It first recognizes that we have to work to see our many resistance, excuses, and blockages; but then we have to fully acknowledge that God alone can do the removing!  Should grace or responsibility come first?  The answer is that both comes first.

All we can do is get out of the way and then the soul takes its natural course.  Grace is inherent to creation from the beginning (see Genesis 1:2), just like springtime; but it is a lot of work to get out of the way and allow that grace to fully operate and liberate.

Step Six paradoxically says that we must fully own and admit that we have "defects of character," but then, equally, we must step back and do nothing about it, as it were, until we are "entirely ready" to let God do the job! This really shows high-level spiritual consciousness.  The waiting, the preparing of the mind for grace, the softening of the heart, the deepening of expectation and desire, the "readiness" to really let go, the recognition that I really do not want to let go, the actual willingness to change is the work of weeks, months, and years.

But the recognition that is finally "done unto me" is the supreme insight of the gospels, which is taught practically in Step Six. It is the same prayer of Mary at the beginning of her journey (see Luke 1:38) and of Jesus at the end of his life (see Luke 22:42): "Let it be done unto me!" We named our whole work after this dilemma: "The Center for Action and Contemplation."  It seems we must both take responsibility (action) and surrender (contemplation).

Step Seven

Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings

Rohr continues with Step Seven...

Gerald May, a dear and now--deceased friend of mine, wrote in his very wise book, Addiction and Grace that addiction uses up our spiritual desire.  It drains away our deepest and truest desire, that inner flow and life force which makes us "long and pant for running streams" (see Psalm 42:1).  Spiritual desire is the drive that God put in us from the beginning for total satisfaction, for home, for heaven, for Divine Union.  It has been a frequent experience of mine to find that many people in recovery have a unique and very acute spiritual sense, often more than others.  It just got frustrated early and aimed in a wrong direction.  Wild need, meaninglessness, and unfettered desire took off before boundaries, strong identity, impulse control, and deep Good expereince were in place.

The addict lives in a sate of alienation, with a "God--shaped hole" inside that it always yearning to be filled. Addicts attempt to fill it with alcohol, drugs, food, non-intimate sex, shopping--anything they feel will give them a sense of control over their moods and relief from the sense of meaninglessness and emptiness.  All of us, of course, have our own false programs for happiness, which we keep using more and more to fill that God--shaped hole.  I suspect this is the real meaning of "sin."

God's positive and lasting way of removing our shortcomings is to fill the hole with something much better, more luminous, and more satisfying.  God satisfies us at our deepest levels rather than punishing us at superficial levels, which so much of organized religion seems to teach.  The our old short comings are not driven away or pushed underground, as much as they are exposed for the false programs for happiness that they are.  Our sins fall away as unneeded and unhelpful because we have found a new and much better vitality.  This is the wondrous discover of our True Self "hidden with Christ in God" (see Colossians 3:3), and the gradual deterioration of our faults and constructed self.




Spiritual Draino

Apprehensive, yet ready, I looked at the past in a new way.  As I arrived at Step Five, I was ready to leave behind that within me which has kept me from the Sunlight of the Spirit. To humble myself was not easy, especially for the "real alcoholic", who know little of healthy introspection. It was unimaginable to tell another our whole life story, when I began this life-changing process. Still, without a solitary self-appraisal, I was doomed. I learned without a Power greater than ourselves, this self-revealing process might never happen. If I had attempted to go it alone, it would be unlikely I would arrive at Step Five. Why, because without faith in a Power greater than myself, Step Four would never reach completion, left to my own devices, an honest and thorough Step Four inventory would be impossible.

Early on in my Twelve Step journey, I suspected my alcoholism was more than drinking alcohol. In the first 164 pages of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, and through attendance at Big Book Step Study meetings, I understood my unresolved inner conflict as the real issue of my alcoholism. Clearly, this maladjustment to life made it difficult to recognize and accept my responsibility yet a new found willingness somehow carried me along.  As stated in the Big Book, several life-long conceptions needed to be thrown out to recover from alcoholism. If I were to live and be free, something in me had to change.

My sponsor presented the twelve step directions straight from the Big Book.  She told me to list the people, institutions, and principles with which I was angry. In this inventory, it was soon clear that fear/anger (emotionalism) fueled my resentment.  Next, she spoke of the "turn-a-round" process.  Now I was to ask myself, where had I been selfish, dishonest, self-seeking, and fearful?  This was counterintuitive to my nature. Still, with the support of my sponsor and spiritual perseverance, I recognized my problem was willfulness; the mistaken idea life and its people were wrong. I saw fear, sadness, and anger ruled my life. In this belief, I convinced myself it's best "not to care" about anything, including God. This belief was a set-up for disaster, not only for myself but for those around me.

In the fifth step, I understood how a willingness to believe in God made a difference. Through this heart healing experience, I asked the Creator to release me from resentment, I listened to those who had walked the path before me, and I received the gift of inward grace. And as they say, "the work has just begun..."

Please note, Inward Grace maintains a clear distinction between spirituality and religion.  The Inward Grace disclaimer:

"The word 'spiritual' does not refer to religious matters.  All activity which drives the human being forward towards some form of development-physical, emotional, mental, intuitional, social--if it is in advance of her/his present state, is essentially spiritual in nature and is indicative of the livingness of an inner divine entity."

Step Five

We admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs

From Breathing Under Water by Richard Rohr:

As any good therapist will tell you, you cannot heal what you do not acknowledge, and what you do not consciously acknowledge will remain in control of you from within, festering and destroying you and those around you.

Step Five fits the biblical notion of "restorative justice" -- to restore relationships themselves, to restore integrity with oneself, and to restore a sense of communion with God.  Humanity needs such an honest exposure of the truth, and true accountability and responsibility for what has happened.  Only then can human beings move ahead with dignity.

Only mutual apology, healing, and forgiveness offer a sustainable future for humanity.  Otherwise, we are controlled by the past, individually and corporately.  We all need to apologize, and we all need to forgive or this human project will surely self-destruct.  No wonder that almost two-thirds of Jesus teaching is directly or indirectly about forgiveness.  Otherwise, history winds down into the taking of sides, deep bitterness, and remembered hurts, plus the violence that inevitably follows.  As others have said, "forgiveness is to let go of our hope for a different past."  It is what it is, and such acceptance leads to great freedom, as long as there is accountability and healing in the process.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference 

Uncharted Territory

Although the journey of recovery began in Step One, when "We admitted powerlessness over alcohol and that life had become unmanageable", for many Step Four is where the rubber meets the road.  Sadly, many real alcoholics never move beyond Step One.  For me, the illusion I could manage life (control life) is a strong force and without forward movement, the necessary desperation recedes and resentment (emotionality) once again regains control.  This happened many times before I was ready to face my "self".

To continue, immediate action is required.  In Step Two, I believed in the possibility of a "Power greater than ourselves could return us to sanity".  Tragically, there are many desperately ill people, who are unable to release imagined control (as I had been for years) and move on to the second step of recovery.  Yet, when a simple belief in "something" is considered possible and even a partial surrender is made, the sufferer is somehow carried forward.

As I moved on to Step Three, I sensed this unfamiliar Source, carried me forward. I also began to recognize the return of uncomfortable and long-forgotten feelings.  With a fragile acceptance of my pain, a portal of grace opened.  When I spoke the Third Step prayer aloud, a change within moved me and an experience of newfound hope and a strange momentum propelled me onward.

In the Fourth Step, a solitary self-appraisal of the causes and conditions, which underlie the malady are searched out.  As mentioned in previous entries, the Twelve Steps are effective in the recovery from any addiction symptoms, i.e., alcohol, drugs, food, etc.  In our ongoing recovery journey, support from an experienced traveler "sponsor" is helpful. Still, even on one's own, the plan of recovery, located on the first (164) pages of the Big Book, aka the Twelve Steps, are a proven remedy "from a hopeless state of body and mind".  Certainly, a Twelve Step sponsor may share their experience, strength, and hope to ease the passage however the Twelve Steps offer an individual journey with God and can and have been taken with God alone. Entrance into this uncharted territory, takes blind faith and with this faith, one soon finds all things are possible...

Please note, Inward Grace maintains a clear distinction between spirituality and religion.  The Inward Grace disclaimer:

"The word 'spiritual' does not refer to religious matters.  All activity which drives the human being forward towards some form of development-physical, emotional, mental, intuitional, social--if it is in advance of her/his present state, is essentially spiritual in nature and is indicative of the livingness of an inner divine entity."

Step Four

We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves

From Breathing Under Water by Richard Rohr

Rohr on Step Four

Jesus seems to have preceded modern depth psychology and Step Four by two thousand years.  He says, "Why do you observe the splinter in your brother's eye and never notice the plank in your own?  How dare you say to your sister, 'Let me take the splinter out of your eye,' when all the time there is a log in your own? Tale the log out of your own eye first, and then you will see clearly enough to take the splinter of you brother's or sister's eye" (see Matthew 7:4-5).

Step Four is about seeing your own log first, so you can stop blaming, accusing, and denying, and thus displacing the problem.  It is about seeing truthfully and fully.  Note that Jesus does not just praise good moral behavior or criticize immoral behavior, as you might expect from a lesser teacher, but instead he talks about something caught in the eye.  He knows that if you see rightly, the actions and behavior will eventually take care of themselves.

Jesus also says, "The lamp of the body is the eye.  If your eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light." (see Matthew 6:22).  Step Four is about creating a good and trustworthy lamp inside of us that reveals what is really there, knowing that "anything exposed to the light will itself become light" (see Ephesians 5:13).  God brings us-through failure-from unconsciousness to ever deeper consciousness and conscience.  Full consciousness always includes the dark side; it somehow allows it, forgives it, and thus makes use of it for good.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.


The Strength To Surrender

There is paradox throughout recovery such as "surrender takes strength".  In Step Three, my willingness to surrender was put to the test.  I struggled with the thought there must be another way, while an inner knowing whispered, something must change.

Many linger between these two worlds and unfortunately this uncertainty can last for years.  Like many real alcoholics before me, I hoped it was not me but the world and its people that must change.  I minimized the evidence; the loss of relationships, the loss of employment, the loss of self.  If I continued in my spiritual illness, destruction of everything I cared about would be gone...without help, I was doomed.

In the Twelve Step journey, we begin at Step One with an admission of our powerlessness.  In Step Two, we become willing to believe "something" will carry us to recovery and in this willingness, we trust a hidden path, a path we see others walking ahead of us.

In Step Three, I learned self surrender which seemed impossible.  To "Let Go and Let God" (who is this God after all?) and yet without this continued willingness, the  notion I could save myself reappeared.  At this juncture, I blindly entered the unknown.  This life-changing decision, to take action, to change, to allow a God I did not know or understand, to take care of me, filled me with tremendous fear.  It's scary stuff to trust an unfamiliar God and yet to recover from the grip of resentment holding my heart captive was imperative.

On my knees with my sponsor, I recited the Third Step prayer.  I felt carried along, it had been many years since I had prayed to God.  That day, without really knowing, I made a covenant to stay on the spiritual path when I mumbled: "God, I offer myself to Thee, to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt.  Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life. May I do Thy will always."

Please note, Inward Grace maintains a clear distinction between spirituality and religion.  The Inward Grace disclaimer:

"The word 'spiritual' does not refer to religious matters.  All activity which drives the human being forward towards some form of development-physical, emotional, mental, intuitional, social--if it is in advance of her/his present state, is essentially spiritual in nature and is indicative of the livingness of an inner divine entity."

Step Three

 Made a decision to turn our will over to the care of God as we understood God

Now from Breathing Under Water by Richard Rohr:

Rohr writes:

Jesus version of Step 3 is, "If anyone wants to follow me, let him renounce himself (or herself)" (see Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23; Matthew 16:24).  I'm pretty sure that Jesus and Bill Wilson meant the same thing--a radical surrendering of our will to another whom we trust more than ourselves.

The common way of renouncing the self, while not really renouncing the self at all is being sacrificial!  It looks so generous ad loving and sometimes it is.  But usually it is still about me.  You see there is love that sincerely seeks the spiritual good of others, and there is a kind of heroic love that is seeking superiority, admiration, and control for itself, even and most especially by doing "good" and admirable things.

The absolute genius of the Twelve Steps is that it refuses to bless and reward any moral worthiness game or heroic willpower.  With Gospel brilliance and insight, Alcoholics Anonymous says that the starting point and in fact, the continuing point, is not any kind of worthiness at all but in fact, unworthiness!  ("Hi I'm Joe, and I'm an alcoholic.")

When the churches forget their own Gospel message, the Holy Spirit sneaks in through the ducts and air vents.  AA meetings have been very good ductwork, allowing the fresh air both in and out of many musty and mildewed churches.

We have been graced for a truly sweet surrender, if we can radically accept being radically accepted--for nothing!"  "Or grace would not be grace at all" (see Romans ll:6).  As my father, St. Francis, put it, when the heart is pure, "Love responds to Love alone" and has little to do with duty, obligation, requirement, or heroic anything.  It is easy to surrender when you know that nothing but Love and Mercy are on the other side.

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


The Sanity of Willingness

This week we consider Step Two of the Twelve Steps of recovery as presented in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.  Since its publication in 1939, the Twelve Steps has guided many from the depths of alcoholism and addiction.  Over twelve weeks, Inward Grace will post the reflections of Richard Rohr, a Franciscan Priest, and the author of Breathing Under Water.  Rohr's book is recognized as a spiritually, insightful interpretation of the Twelve Steps.

For this recovered alcoholic, the Twelve Steps presented a way out of the "bondage of self" best described as insane thinking followed by egoistic and unhealthy behaviors which halted my spiritual growth.  Before I was guided to Alcoholics Anonymous, it was near impossible to move beyond my own needs and wants which were fueled by an unremitting sadness and deep resentment.  My life was mess and yet deep in the midst of this never-ending, self-imposed hell, I somehow recalled some Source from which I could "ask for help".

In Step Two, a "willingness" appeared.  In this willingness, I admitted my need for help.  With this admission, a shift in consciousness from self-loathing to hopefulness came into my awareness.  It's important to note, this willingness appeared when all was lost, when the emptiness was so real, it could no longer be ignored.  This was a moment of Grace.  It is likely this unmerited gift had presented "Itself" many times however for some unknown reason finally, finally, I surrendered to Something Greater.

Please note, Inward Grace maintains a clear distinction between spirituality and religion.  The Inward Grace disclaimer:

"The word 'spiritual' does not refer to religious matters.  All activity which drives the human being forward towards some form of development-physical, emotional, mental, intuitional, social--if it is in advance of her/his present state, is essentially spiritual in nature and is indicative of the livingness of an inner divine entity."

Step Two

We came to believe in a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Rohr writes: If we are to believe that a Power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity, then we will have to come to that belief by developing the capacity for a simple, clear and uncluttered presence.  Those who can be present with head, heart, and body, at the same time, will always encounter The Presence, whether they call it God or not.  For the most part, those skills are learned by letting life come to us on its own terms, and not resisting the wonderful underlying Mystery that is everywhere, all the time, and offered to us too.

All we can do is keep out of the way, note and weep over our defensive behaviors, and keep our various centers from closing down--and the Presence that is surely the Highest Power is then obvious, all embracing, and effective.  The immediate embrace is from God's side; the ineffectiveness is whatever time it takes for us to "come to believe", which is the slow and gradual healing and reconnecting of head, heart and body so they can operate as one.

Both movements are crucial: the healing of ourselves and the healing of our always-limited and even toxic images of God.  This, of itself, will often reconnect all three parts of our humanity into a marvelous receiving station.  A true God experience really does save us, because it is always better than we thought we could expect or earn.

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


The Twelve Steps, a Journey of Letting Go

For the next twelve weeks, we will consider reflections of the Twelve Steps as interpreted by Richard Rohr, author of Breathing Under Water.  Rohr, a Franciscan priest and author, believes in a non-dual reality, that "All Is One”.  In these writings, I will offer my personal experience of "working the steps" interspersed with Rohr's spiritual understanding of the Twelve Steps of Recovery.  Rohr honors all religions and spiritual practices.  In his interpretation of the Twelve Steps, Breathing Under Water, he proposes the Twelves Steps, as a divinely inspired gift to sufferers of alcoholism.  As many know, these same Twelve Steps are equally effective with any and all addictive behavior, as we understand addictive behaviors are the symptom of a deeper, spiritual malady.  For those familiar with the Twelve Step process of "letting go', Rohr’s words will support their expereince; for those who may want to know more about the Twelve Steps, Rohr offers a spiritual explanation of how the change from spiritual isolation to spiritual integration happens as a result of the Twelve Step process.

My only comment here is to say I did the reading required of Step One as directed by my sponsor.  I would offer I was pretty much going through the motions, fairly new to sobriety and yet knowing something within me had to change.  I read The Doctor's Opinion and More About Alcoholism like a first grader just learning how to comprehend.  That said, I did have the good sense but more a desperation for something to change; what that was, I was not sure.  The only thing I remember I clearly understood was as the book states, I had an allergy to alcohol, that I had what the book called the phenomenon of craving , simply put if I drank any alcohol at all I wanted more, it was not a casual relationship, it was deliberate.   So, as though somehow carried along, I trusted a woman I knew only a short time to show what she had done to be free of the malady.

Please note, Inward Grace maintains a clear distinction between spirituality and religion.  The Inward Grace disclaimer:

"The word 'spiritual' does not refer to religious matters.  All activity which drives the human being forward towards some form of development-physical, emotional, mental, intuitional, social--if it is in advance of her/his present state, is essentially spiritual in nature and is indicative of the livingness of an inner divine entity."

Step One: 

We admitted we were powerless over alcohol~that our live had become unmanageable.

Rohr writes: I am convinced that the spirituality of Alcoholics Anonymous, as it was first called, is going to go down as the significant and authentic American contribution to the history of spirituality.  With inspiration from the Holy Spirit, Bill Wilson and all the other founders, rediscovered the core teachings of Jesus and formed them into a program that could really change lives.  It is the spirituality of imperfection, in contrast to Western Christianity's emphasis on perfection, performance and willpower.  Like Jesus and the Spirit (both of whom "descended"), it tells us to go downward to find God and ourselves, whereas for centuries we have been told to fly upward toward a God who had reversed direction.  I believe Jesus and the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous are saying the same thing but with a different vocabulary:

We suffer to get well.  We surrender to win.  We die to live.  We give it away to keep it.

This counterintuitive wisdom will forever be avoided, until it is forced upon us by some reality over which we are powerless--and, if we are honest, we are all powerless in the presence of full Reality.

Both the gospel and the Twelve Step Program insist that the experience of powerlessness is the absolute necessary starting point for transformational healing.  This is perennial wisdom.  Jesus called it the Way of the Cross, and he told us to follow him on the downward journey into powerlessness.  It is where we will find what is real, what lasts, and what matters.  Through the crucifixion, Jesus showed us that powerlessness is the way through.  It is not the end but truly the beginning.

Please feel free to reflect and share your thoughts as moved by Love.  Thank you.