If you want to meet some of the most spiritually adept, humble, honest, wise people on the planet, make your way to an open 12-Step meeting. You’ll be amazed by the camaraderie you’ll witness among people at every stage of recovery from addiction. And they’ll make you feel welcome too. This closing was read at the end of a meeting I recently visited:
“A few special words to those of you who haven’t been with us long: Whatever your problems, there are those among us who have had them, too. If you try to keep an open mind, you will find help. You will come to realize that there is no situation too difficult to be bettered and no unhappiness too great to be lessened. We aren’t perfect. The welcome we give you may not show the warmth we have in our hearts for you. After a while, you’ll discover that though you may not like all of us, you’ll love us in a very special way – the same way we already love you.”
No wonder so many people are writing about how the 12 Steps are changing the world, one person at a time.
When the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous came together in Akron, Ohio back in the mid-1930s, they weren’t looking to start a spiritual revolution. They were simply desperate to find a way to mitigate the destructive effects of alcoholism in their lives and in the lives of countless otherwise reasonable people. Four score down the road, we have a full-blown revolution in our midst. We’ve seen millions of people freed from addiction’s grip through AA and the alphabet soup of other programs that have spun off the original. But there are no shortcuts on the spiritual path, and recovery is never a given. As Jane Galloway has brought to light in her book The Gateways: The Wisdom of 12-Step Spirituality, even people who are fully committed to their recovery can find themselves stuck in a rut or, worse, falling into relapse seemingly without warning.
Galloway has observed that although the 12 Steps have been called “bridge back to life” by people who have been held captive by addiction, many people on the 12-Step journey “bring along their sleeping bags and camp out on the bridge, never crossing over into the fullness of life that awaits them in recovery.” She was disturbed to learn that even the founders of AA were, at the end of their lives, unable to fully experience the spiritual fruits of their own labors. “People need to read the whole story,” she says, with the fierce commitment to truth that is one of the bulwarks of AA.
Could it be that there’s more work to be done in developing these miraculous steps? The many books we’re seeing these days about the 12 Steps makes me think this might be afoot. The Gateways recently debuted at the top of the Amazon charts in several categories. Intrigued by this book’s success, I picked it up and found it highly practical and applicable to pretty much anybody. It has a revolutionary tone to it, but it doesn’t replace or supplant the 12 Steps. “Quite the contrary,” the author insists. Galloway’s first few chapters offer a clear and concise introduction to 12-Step Recovery, followed by a beautifully displayed menu of spiritual practices from all of the world’s religions by which people can build their own personal practices. She says, “Play with it. Make it your own. Mix and match and see how these tools allow you to expand your spiritual life.”
The spiritual awakening associated with the 12 Steps may be a matter of life and death for some people, but it’s also available to anyone who sees brokenness as a spiritual gateway.
If you’re interested in learning more about this new spin on the 12 Steps, listen in on this conversation I recently had with Jane Galloway: