“Practice these principles in all our affairs.”

Alcoholics Anonymous has been described as the most significant spiritual movement of the 20th century. The use of the phrase “12 Step Program” has become so ubiquitous that it does not register as something strange when encountered. Most people have heard of The 12 Steps, but most who have heard of them have never actually heard them. I’m not going to relate them here, but I would like to draw your attention to the concluding phrase of The 12 Steps: “…practice these principles in all our affairs.”

The use of the word “principles” reminds me that the power of the A. A. program is not in the specific words. It is in practicing the principles which The 12 Steps embody that brings about the spiritual transformation that has released so many from addiction. The little phrase “…in all our affairs” reminds me that addiction cannot be treated as a singular problem. It is part and parcel of a malignant cluster of mental, emotional, spiritual, social, and physical dysfunctions that entrap and ensnare the lives of so many. Release from addiction requires revamping a person’s whole life. It just starts with release from the addicting agent.

When I use the word “addiction,” I’m not simply referring to a state described as chemical dependency. Addictions permeate our culture. Many who do not have a problem with alcohol or other drugs are nevertheless trapped in an addiction cycle centered on possessions, money, status, image, popularity, power, relationships, sex, food, gambling…and the list goes on. In an addiction cycle, the release triggered by an activity and/or substance is followed by shame, a resolution to stop, and increasing build up of psychic pain until another incident of acting out is triggered and the cycle repeats.
So, what are the principles that, if practiced in all aspects of life, break the grip of addictions? I think there are five.

Acceptance/Surrender. We must come to grips with who we are rather than the grandiose facade of who we wish we were that we have constructed to show the world. Another word for acceptance is surrender. Interestingly, surrender is not defeat, but rather liberation from being held captive by the pretense of who we’d like to be. We can never become who we are meant to be until we let loose of trying to be someone else. Acceptance or surrender is what it looks like from inside my skin. Those outside my skin look at my acceptance or surrender and call it humility.

Honesty. It would be one thing if acceptance or surrender only involved me and my internal psychological processes. Unfortunately for our egos—our prideful sense of self—that is not possible. Honesty lives in three dimensions. When I’m honest with myself it’s the aforementioned acceptance. When I’m honest before God it’s called confession. When I’m honest before others it’s called admission. I’ve got to live in honesty in all three dimensions if I’m to be free of the false self that continues to indulge my addiction. Honesty in the present is imperative. But so too is retroactive honesty to others we have harmed as we acted the poseur of who we were not.

Restitution. We must endeavor to set right the wrongs we perpetrated while our false self was in control. Sometimes that means material restitution, but most often it is a matter of recanting self-serving assessments of others. Sincere and deep apologies are often in order. It is the sad truth that those closest to us are usually the ones we’ve hurt most deeply. They have incurred wounds that take the longest to heal.
Service. To break free from our addictions we must become people who genuinely seek the wellbeing of others when opportunity presents itself. Doing unto others that which we wish would be done for us if we were in a similar situation must become our rule.

Communion. No one becomes free in isolation. We each have a place in various communities. We must acknowledge our humanity by being “part of” rather than standing “apart from.” To be in communion requires that we renounce both the lie that we are inherently superior as well as the lie that we are worthless. Communion could be defined as our recognition of mutuality. It comes about as we each recognize we have a part to play in relationships. We refuse to debate who’s part is more important and simply accept that missing any one of us would diminish the whole.  

Until next time, Shalom.

© 2010, Ed Cook

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