"What happened to us is our history. The integrity of our response is our future."

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Episode 73 -- December 24, 2020

Trust the Process: Ripple Effect in Everything

Each of the Twelve Steps build on the challenges and gifts of the Steps that precede them. Those of us who've been in recovery for a little while know how important it is to work them in order so we can be ready to explore the wisdom of each new Step. In his book, Drop the Rock: The Ripple Effect, Fred H. helps us explore Step Ten, and how the habits and practices that we build in a program of recovery create positive effects in us that ripple outward into our relationships and beyond. He also invites us to trust that this ripple effect is at work all around us and accept that our efforts to manipulate outcomes are doomed to fail. As we work Step Ten, we come to see that all we can control is the integrity of our response to what happens.

It has been edited for brevity.

The Ripple Feedback Loop
There's an engine that's always on in each of us. This engine creates an ongoing feedback loop of internal ripples that looks like this:

  • The condition of my character shapes my thinking.
  • The condition of my thinking shapes my decisions.
  • The condition of my decisions shapes my actions.
  • The condition of my actions shapes my practices and habits.
  • The condition of my practices and habits shapes my character.

As we work Step Ten, we steadily strengthen our ability to observe all aspects of this internal process. This helps us make conscious and loving choices, rather than impulsive or fearful ones.

The people who founded Alcoholics Anonymous didn't think in terms of this engine, but they were keenly aware of its elements. Steps One and Two cover our thinking. Step Three covers our decisions. Steps Four through Nine cover our actions. Steps Ten and Eleven cover our practices and habits. And Step Twelve covers our character. Twelve Step Programs offer healing and transformation at every point in this loop.

Other programs for addressing addiction intervene at specific spots in the loop, but not throughout the entire loop. For example, rational behavioral therapy intervenes at the points of thinking and action. Reality therapy intervenes at the point of action. These and other helpful interventions help people stay out of trouble in the short term and change their behavior for the better. But they're not spiritual programs that lead to transformed lives.

The Ripple Effect Inside Others
Because we have developed our own internal discernment, we also get better at noticing the subtle cues others give us about what is going on inside them. We notice their posture and the flow of their gestures. We hear the cadences and tone of their voice. We see the look in their eyes and the way they make (or avoid) eye contact. We cannot read minds, but we can learn to feel the energy of other people's bodies as it ripples out and through our own.

When we observe a change in someone else's presence, we are also able to examine it rather than simply react to it. Why does Jackie suddenly sound protective and defensive? Did I say something that bothered her? But all I said was, "How's your brother doing?" in a friendly tone. Part of me wants to get defensive myself and say something snarky. But that will do neither of us any good. I wonder if something else is going on. The only way I'm going to find out is to check it out. Here goes. "Are you okay? I didn't mean to pry."

This discernment also enables us to recognize when we've acted fairly and compassionately and when we haven't. If Jackie responds to our question with "I really don't want to talk about it," we neither defend ourselves nor blame ourselves. We simply say something such as "I understand," and change the subject.

The Ripple Effect of Events
As we practice Step Ten, we also are open to the ripples of unfolding events—to what psychiatrist Carl Jung called synchronicity.

When we were in the throes of our addiction, we tried harder and harder to control events, other people, and ourselves. This proved unsustainable and unmanageable. Eventually we crashed and burned. Now, as our recovery matures, we no longer try to manage and control the world. We know that's impossible. We also know that it can be the road to relapse.

We understand that we simply cannot know what will happen next, no matter what we do. We have seen, many times, events evolve in ways we could never have imagined. We have experienced remarkable, unexpected, and unpredictable turns of events that were perfect for everyone. We have been part of spiritual experiences that we could not possibly have crafted, planned, caused, or controlled on our own.

Eventually we lose any desire to impose our own personal will, because we know that our role in life is to rely on spiritual direction instead of the direction of self (ego) and then to carry those directions out in all our affairs.

What happens to us is important. But as we work Step Ten, we come to see that what's far more important is the integrity of our response to what happens.

What happened to us is our history. The integrity of our response is our future. And, through the Ripple Effect, our response will have an effect on the future of the world.

Back to Earth
All of this may sound terribly cosmic or "woo-woo" to someone who hasn't had a spiritual experience. But it's not woo-woo at all. We realize—not just in our head, but in our body—that the Ripple Effect is as normal as breathing or walking or smiling.

Because of this realization, we're naturally more calm, more loving, more serene, more willing to help, and more present than we used to be. Even people who think that the Ripple Effect is esoteric can't help but notice the quality of our presence.

To show you just how down-to-earth the Ripple Effect is, let's look at our needs.

When we practiced our addiction, whenever we felt a need, we demanded that other people meet it for us. We did this through dominance (such as bullying, manipulation, deal-making), dependence (such as people pleasing, flattery, playing the victim), or both.

Now, as Step Ten becomes a natural part of our life, we have grown out of this self-centered orientation. Instead, when a need arises in us, we examine it rather than spring into mindless action. Then we focus on meeting that need ourselves—either through our own actions, by asking for help from someone, or by asking for spiritual direction from our Higher Power.

For instance, imagine that you want to find the right sponsor. You're aware of the need, but you know that you can't magically make that person appear. So instead, you go to lots of different meetings, where you'll have the opportunity to meet many people. At each meeting, you keep an eye out for folks who might make a good sponsor. If someone impresses you in the right way, you introduce yourself to the person and talk for a bit. If this initial interaction feels right, you invite the person to have coffee or tea with you.

But that's not all you do. You also ask your Higher Power for spiritual guidance.

We keep in mind Steps Six and Seven and remember that it's not always enough for us to do the right things; often we also have to ask for help, so that the things we can't do on our own can come about.

For example, in your search for a sponsor, you might have coffee at a café with Chris, whom you've seen a few times at meetings. It turns out that Chris is moving to New Zealand in three weeks, so she clearly can't be your sponsor. But after a few minutes, Chris's friend Sabrina comes into the café, spots her, and sits down next to you.

As the three of you chat, you learn that Sabrina is also in a Twelve Step group and has three years of solid sobriety. You go to one of that group's meetings and feel very much at home and like the kind of program that Sabrina is working. A month later you ask Sabrina if she will be your sponsor. She accepts.

None of this would have happened if you hadn't introduced yourself to Chris. That was your doing. But also, none of it would have happened if events entirely beyond your control—and your ability to plan—hadn't taken place.

On the one hand, this sequence of events may seem perfectly ordinary. On the other, it is very much a spiritual experience: a remarkable and unexpected turn for the better that turns out to be perfect for everybody involved.

We cannot control life. Often we cannot solve our own problems. But we can show up fully, ask the right questions, and open ourselves to unknown possibilities. When we do this, the universe may reveal to us a much better solution than we could have ever designed or imagined on our own.

About the Author:
Fred H. has worked in the field of addiction and recovery for thirty-seven years and is the director of the retreat center for a leading addiction treatment program. He is a popular international speaker on the Big Book and the principles of the Twelve Steps.

© 2016 by Fred H.
All rights reserved