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To keep the program, we must give it away

In essence, the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous are about giving and receiving.
Reflecting on this can give people in recovery from alcoholism and other drug addiction
a new perspective on the steps -- one that returns holiday ideals to a spiritual basis.

What recovering people receive through working the steps is a far- reaching gift, something Step Twelve describes as a "spiritual awakening." This does not imply a religious conversion. Rather, it means being able to believe, feel and do things that addicts never could before. It is a transformation that makes all things new.

Consider the mental and emotional life of someone who is addicted to alcohol or other drugs and still using. That person is dominated by resentment and free-floating hostility, fear of admitting the truth, and the shame over harms done to others. Love easily gets confused with feeding an addiction: "She must love me. She gave me her last line of cocaine."

Compare that to the fruits of a spiritual awakening. "You'll be able to live and get along with your fellow human beings," note the authors of "A Program for You," a Hazelden guide to the basic text "Alcoholics Anonymous." "You'll be able to deal with them openly and honestly as equals without resentment, fear, guilt or remorse. You'll be able to live your life with serenity and peace of mind, instead of restlessness, irritation or discontent. Most of all, you'll be able to stay sober."

Once people receive this gift, most of them naturally want to share it. As Step Twelve says, "Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs." But any effort to "convert" others to the steps can backfire unless the messengers carry the message with real skill. AA tradition offers some practical guidelines:

Understand the message you carry. Any recovering person has only one real message for the addicted person who still uses: "I once was like you. Then I had a spiritual awakening as the result of the first 11 steps. I have not gotten drunk or used since then." It's really that simple.

Most of all, we don't brand anyone else as an alcoholic or addict. Nor do we evangelize. We merely tell our stories, letting other people judge if our description rings true for them. We share our experience, strength and hope.

Talk to people when they are ready. You "Twelve Step" someone not just because they need it, but because they're motivated because they want it.

The Twelve Steps are a program of attraction, not promotion. We draw people into the Twelve Steps by our own example. When the message is clear and people are ready, they'll ask: "How can I find the same thing?" Avoid "two-stepping." Another classic text, "Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions," talks about "two-stepping." This takes place when people go directly from Step One -- admitting powerlessness over alcohol and other drugs -- to Step Twelve. In their newfound zest for the program, they gloss over the middle steps. Their enthusiasm eventually wanes, putting them at great risk for relapse. The solution is returning to steps two through 11 before doing Step 12.

Find your own way. People have different personalities and different temperaments. Some are suited to the classic sort of Twelfth Step visits, where they seek out new people. Others aren't cut out for this work. For them, Twelve Stepping might be making coffee or cleaning up after an AA meeting. One of the most important ways of working Step Twelve is just showing up, offering our presence and support.

Early AA members sought out newcomers by asking priests, ministers, doctors and hospitals for referrals. We can, however, work with people closer to home -- family members, friends and people at work.

Savor the results. It's been said that the best way to learn something is to teach it. When recovering people do Step Twelve, they help themselves stay alive and free from drink. They realize a precious paradox: "In order to keep the program, we must give it away."

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