Promise 9 – Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change.
[NOTE: Please read the footnote. It gives important information about the inspiration for this drawing.*]
I attended Twelve Steps meetings for years without getting sober. We’re being honest here, right? That length of time was largely my fault; I was only halfway trying and frankly didn’t have much faith the Twelve Steps would work. But, like many people who arrive at a Twelve Step meeting, I did not have one single other option.
I finally got solid help in working the Twelve Steps in the “old fashioned” way originally practiced in the 1930s. Somewhere around Step Nine, I experienced something remarkable. My whole attitude and outlook upon life really did change—precisely as described in the Ninth Promise. That should not have surprised me because the Twelve Promises (which are read at nearly every meeting) are said to come true during the Ninth Step. I experienced those Promises exactly when the Big Book said I would and still I experience them today when I work the Twelve Steps.
The changes described in the Promises are difficult for me to describe, because a spiritual epiphany was involved and those are typically difficult for anyone to describe in understandable terms. I will confine my comments to one single aspect of my experience, in hopes of making my point.
Before my Ninth Step experience, I read the literature like I would read any book. There were characters, descriptions of events, and discussions of various ideas. Blah blah blah. It was only after my spiritual experience that I came to view the book as being remarkable in any way. Every page had a new resonance in its language. Simple sentences suddenly seemed very profound. Tired old phrases like: “We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it” (p.83) or “God is, or He isn’t.” (p.53) suddenly cast long shafts of light into my dark tomb of despair.
I am glad I experienced the Ninth Promise of a new outlook, for the obvious reason that I then experienced sobriety for the first time in the program. Beyond that, I felt an urgent desire to help other people see what I saw and feel what I experienced.
My urge to make these drawings reminded me of an infamous period in Bill Ws sobriety when he raced from saloon to saloon, feverishly trying to share this “hot flash” enlightenment experience with others. His biographers say that Bill W had no luck carrying his Message this way, and I had no luck either. The more breathlessly I described my vivid experience, the more deadpan was the reaction I saw in others. My family members listened for as long as they could tolerate, but eventually even they had to gently but firmly notify me that I must find something else to talk about.
How could they not see what I saw? I felt alone with my epiphany and depressed that I could not express it adequately.
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* I came across an interview with a crime novelist (I cannot recall his name). To learn more about crime, the writer spent a day in a police car on routine patrol. The writer wasn’t at all nervous because the patrol was in a nice neighborhood that the writer already knew well. But this day was to be very different for him.
The experienced policemen pointed out little details that he had never noticed before. Things like unhurried people who always happened to saunter into the same alley whenever the patrol car drove past. Or a woman who never left her perch in a certain upper window. Or a door that was always left propped open by a different piece of cardboard each time they drove past throughout the day. Or a parking space that, despite a shortage of other available parking, was always mysteriously left empty.
The police officers pointed out the everyday criminal activities that most people—including the writer—would normally overlook. Once they were pointed it out, the writer gained the ability to spot the drug dealers hovering near the alleys, the lookouts posted in their windows, the money pickup points, and the parking space which notoriously violent criminals kept reserved for their own personal use. It opened his eyes to a neighborhood he only thought he knew. He had passed these same scenes every day in the past, but he had never really noticed them before.
Being a professional writer, he found his own way to describe the realization that came over him. (I can only paraphrase the words he used to describe his new awareness):
“Imagine you are in a helicopter flying above the ocean. The blue water stretches uniformly in all directions and pretty soon, the view becomes very boring to you. Then imagine the helicopter hovers down to the water’s surface and safely drops you into the water so you can go snorkeling. Imagine the moment you dip your facemask under that monotonous blue water and WHOOM!!!….you suddenly see ten thousand colors and shapes and coral and fish that were invisible to you just a moment ago. You look around and realize there are different species and landscapes in every direction. Imagine how that would change everything that you THOUGHT you knew before. Before you went under water, you thought the entire ocean was the same no matter where you looked. Now you realize that no two square INCHES of the ocean are the same when viewed more deeply.”*
That writer put into words how the Ninth Promise had affected me. At some level of my mind, body, or spirit, I was given a way to see below the surface of my monotonous life. My earlier Fourth Step inventory had allowed me to see and label every species of resentment, fear, shame, guilt, and remorse that I had been overlooking before. By taking the actions found in later steps, I could exchange despair for now hope. My Twelve Step work resulted in a wonderful view of things, but one that I could not easily share with others until they had walked the same path as me.
I try to make drawings that reflect my insights into the Twelve Steps. My Ninth Promise illustration is inspired by the idea expressed in that radio interview. I made use of an imaginary woman to dramatize the moment when I first realized I was surrounded by Grace in otherwise hopeless-looking situation. In the illustration, the woman has landed a plane on a desert shore and is seen as she wades or swims into the nearby surf. Leaving the vast sand dunes behind her, she tentatively dips her face mask into the rippling water. The featureless surface of the waves is stripped away from view, revealing luminous aquatic plants and a teeming world of darting silvery fish. The world has not been changed at all in that moment, but her insights into the world are forever expanded.
My real life experience wasn’t as dramatic as THAT. But you get the idea. After I worked the Twelve Steps of recovery EVERY DAY for as long as it took, I began to look at my home, work, neighborhood, and world very differently. I don’t expect you to believe me just because I have written it here. I do hope you find your own special pathway into the world you already inhabit. Even if my world all goes away tomorrow, I am immensely grateful for having glimpsed its spiritual truths even once.