Step 12 of 12: Pass it On

Compassion is not a relationship between healer and wounded. It's a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.

--Pema Chödrön

Step 12: Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

A spiritual awakening is not a concept, it's a living reality. While some people can approach God through theology, the sure way to approach God is to let the Holy Spirit touch our lives from the inside out. There are many ways to achieve a spiritual awakening, but Alcoholics Anonymous has proven over the last 82 years that "it works if you work it."

It works because it exposes with tough love our basic egocentricity. For example, in the Big Book of AA we find, "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 it kills us." For alcoholism, we could substitute a long list of fear-based manifestations of spiritual sickness like drugs, pride, people pleasing, control, food, sex, perfectionism, anger, and body image. The list is endless, but the common hope for all these is a spiritual awakening.

Perhaps Carl Jung's most compelling contribution to human understanding was the the idea of "individuation," that is, the lifelong project of becoming more nearly the whole person we were meant to be--what God intended, not our parents, our spouse, our tribe, or especially our easily intimidated or inflated ego. Once we realize, often later in life, this process is possible, we want and need to share it with others. This is particularly true once we realize that the most important aspect of individuation is understanding that our own suffering and pain, our own darkness, doesn't have to be hidden.

If we can muster the courage not to run from the darkness, we find that God was right there with us and can help us be vulnerable enough to allow our suffering and pain to be a catalyst for our own healing and to help others who are struggling. That is ultimately the purpose of recovery.

The genius of AA is that it happens within a community, not of healers, but of broken equals. As others have shared the message of hope, so do we. The message is that we're all broken, but we don't have to stay broken. It is the message of recovery taught by all religions; the message that got lost for me when I pretended that all was OK when it definitely wasn't.