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Last three steps help ensure spiritual growth

Bill W., cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous, described the Twelve Steps as a "simple
set of spiritual tools laid at our feet." Their simplicity, however, does nothing to detract
from their power. As a result of working Steps One to Nine, "we have found much of heaven and we have been rocketed into a fourth dimension of existence of which we had not even dreamed," write the authors of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA General Services), also know as "The Big Book."

In short, people who thoroughly work Steps One to Nine of AA usually report that the urge to drink or use drugs no longer holds them captive. But if such a transformation results from the first nine steps, then why do we have a Twelve Step program?

The answer is that the last three steps are about staying spiritually healthy for a lifetime. "By working Steps One to Nine you've succeeded in transforming your life," note the authors of A Program for You: A Guide to the Big Book's Design for Living (Hazelden). "But if you try to stay where you are without growing anymore, you'll start dying -- not physically, but emotionally and spiritually."

Indeed, without continuing to apply the Steps on a daily basis for a lifetime, people recovering from addiction can fool themselves. After some initial success with the Steps, they can cave in to some old ways of thinking.

Enter Step Ten. Here we continue to take a personal inventory each day, and to promptly admit when we're wrong. In Step Ten, we recap the work we did in Steps Four through Nine: reviewing our resentments, fears and harms done to others; admitting these to our Higher Power to remove our shortcomings, and making amends.

Step Eleven adds to our growth by laying two more spiritual tools at our feet: prayer and meditation. Through them, we tap into the daily direction of our Higher Power, however we choose to define that term. Through prayer and meditation we are simply asking and listening -- asking for that Power's guidance and listening for a response.

Humanity's spiritual traditions present us with countless techniques for praying and meditating. Which ones do we use? Basically, any that work for us.

To get us started, the Big Book offers some simple suggestions: Before you go to bed at night, review the day and take a quick inventory. As you begin the next day, invite your Higher Power into your life and ask for direction. And when you face indecision, admit it. Then relax. Take it easy. Let go of the problem for now, then wait for an answer to come.

Another path to spiritual growth is service -- that is, carrying the message of recovery to other addicts. In carrying the message, it's essential to remember one thing: The Twelve Steps are a program of attraction, not promotion. When speaking with another alcoholic or drug addict, our message is simple, "I was like you. Then I took these Steps. As a result, I no longer drink or use drugs." Simply put, we attract others to the Steps by setting an example of recovery, and by sharing a story they can identify with.

Step Twelve closes with the suggestion to "practice these principles in all our affairs." Those principles are: admit powerlessness, open up to a source of power outside yourself, take inventory, and grow spiritually. Practicing Twelve Step principles not only helps transform our lives, but gives us the ability to help others as well.

All this amounts to a spiritual awakening. This is the ability to know, feel, and do things that previously seemed impossible -- to live openly and honestly with other human beings, without fear, hatred or remorse.

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