1. FREEDOM - You don't need to tell me. I know the drawings shows a fly on a window screen. I know. I drew it. But I know of no other way to tell you about my escape to freedom, unless you yourself have already experienced it for yourself. Let's forget about the fly for a moment and come back to it later. I hope you have never lost a loved one to addiction. But I am willing to wager that you have. Whether a father, sister, cousin, pastor, actor, teacher, lover, or spouse, I bet they were someone very unique. Alcoholics and addicts are like that. The last of the genuine "real characters". Maybe you knew someone who had a problem for a long time. Good old Uncle Charlie. Or that wonderful teacher. Or your parent. Or worse, your child. I bet you started to say something to them a thousand times, but when the moment came, you lost your nerve. Or maybe you started delivering your planned talk, but as the words reached your lips, they suddenly didn't make a damn bit of sense. Maybe you found yourself apologizing to them for bringing it up. Maybe you gave up, feeling like a miserable failure. I know I did. Don't feel bad. I have read that the vast majority of alcoholics and addicts die without even realizing they have a problem. Plenty of people warn them, but the truth never gets through. They just keep on going and going until they reach the End. People who do make it into AA and other Twelve Step meetings are a small, small minority compared to those who go to the bitter end believing they have no problem. How could they not see it? I do no know, even though I have been one of them. I too was trapped but insisted I was totally free. It didn't bother me one bit to be dying in that way. Every time I crashed into reality, I thought surely that reality was wrong. Every time I banged into someone, I thought they should have stayed out of my way. My life was full of emotional collisions. Crash. Boom. Bang. But I never could figure out why. I was like a fly. Trapped inside a window screen. I could see the whole wide world right in front of me and energetically flew straight at it. But I kept crashing into something. It was something my mind could not comprehend. I was doing everything right....according to every instinct I had. So I ignored it and tried again. Crash. Boom. Bang. Few of us realize that whatever this incomprehensible thing we are trapped by will never yield. We can fight against it, but we will not win by doing that. And so slowly or quickly, we die. By the dozen, the hundred, the thousand, the millions. (Did you notice the dead flies littering the bottom of the drawing?) Dying for what? Because we continue to believe we are free when we are trapped. Our false belief drives us again and again to try what doesn't work. Addiction—like that simple wire window screen—will not yield to our most brilliant and energetic efforts. Many of us die in the bottom of that window, eyes filled with visions of freedom just outside our reach. Why do some reach freedom when so many others don't? The 1930s Webster's dictionary says freedom is "Not being subject to an arbitrary external power." The window screen is an arbitrary external power. The fly didn't create it any more than addicts create addiction. But the screen does not care whether it keeps flies out—which is its intended purpose—or traps them inside. Like addiction, the inanimate screen doesn't care about anything. My Twelve Step work involved abandoning the arbitrary power of addiction. Instead, I placed my trust in the loving power of a Higher Power. It took a while, but I finally found that one escape from an enormous and baffling window screen. That Higher Power was not arbitrary. It wanted me to be out of trouble. It cared whether I lived or died. My Higher Power wanted me to be free. Today, that Promise has come true for me.
2. PAST - "We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it." I enjoyed creating this drawing, but I find myself having very little to say say about it. My image of a new clock hanging where a grand old clock resided for many years illustrates the rather unremarkable definition of the word "past". A silhouette that has aged itself into wallpaper is a sight I have seen sometimes in the homes of elders who were in no hurry to part with the past. My own impulse is to apply a coat of fresh paint, but wiser souls preserve these reminders of memories that now dance only in their hearts. I have always had a strong respect for the past, but my recollection of it is often tinged with some regret. As I write this, my thoughts are taking an unexpected turn. If you will indulge a temporary change of subject here, I will share some healing thoughts about the word "regret". The phrase "shame, guilt and remorse" appears repeatedly in Twelve Step literature. I personally sum up these three feelings with the word "regret". Addicts do struggle with various foms of regret triggered by their own lying, cheating, and stealing. Sober people assume that MORE regret is needed—that if the addict would just feel MORE sorry then their behavior would quickly correct itself. It came as a surprise to me that I could not get sober until I rid myself of toxic regrets. Put another way, I should surrender all of my disturbed FEELINGS of regret to my Higher Power and focus my actions on correcting the root causes of those regrets. Since the Big Book clumps the words "shame, guilt, and remorse' together, I assumed that they all meant roughly the same thing. Then I looked up those three words. Their meanings were surprisingly different. Working from memory, I believe the differences were these: Guilt - Wrongs which violate a civil law (i.e., stealing) Shame - Wrongs which violate socially accepted behavior, but do not break a law. (i.e., being rude) Remorse - Wrongs which are socially acceptable and legal, but violate a personal value (i.e., buying something you did not really want or need) The three words mean three different things. Their definitions helped me see a painful mistake I was making. I often feeling "guilty" about everything I did wrong. Feeling GUILTY about everything I do is dishonest. True guilt should be reserved for violations of the law—for actual crimes I may commit. If I am merely rude to a friend, but do not break the law, then what I feel is actually SHAME. Ordering a fattening dessert is perfectly legal and socially acceptable—it hurts no one but me and so my emotion would be called REMORSE. I can almost see a reader rolling their eyes. What difference do these labels make? The Big Book says that all alcoholics suffer "a lack of proportion". That means that big things seem small, and small things seem big (i.e., driving while intoxicated seems small, but spilling a drink seems big). To make progress in recovery, my blindness to proportions eventually had to be replaced with an ability to see the true proportion of things. To the non-addict, this may sound like a simple feat but for alcoholics and addicts, it requires Divine assistance. What does this have to do with the Second Promise? I'm getting to that. As part of the Twelve Steps, I inventoried things in my past that I regret. As part of that inventory, I had to carefully consider the true proportion of the things I regretted. Finally and most importantly, I had to consider whether I had truly HARMED that person—damaging them in some real way. I always used prayer and a good sponsor to do that part. If I did not harm the person, then it is incorrect to say I feel GUILTY. Sure, I can still feel SHAME or REMORSE, but I never need to feel GUILTY about that again. My old habit of blowing my regrets wildly out of proportion created unnecessary pain and increased my craving for painkilling addiction. As I went through the Steps, I did sense my unbearable feelings about the past slowly dissolving. I could more easily see who I had harmed without exaggerating it. I never realized that exaggerating a wrong is as dishonest as ignoring it. I soon learned that facts were my friends in recovery. I no longer feared the honest facts about anything coming to light. I knew how to see each fact into its correct proportion and—IF I actually harmed someone—to channel my guilty feelings towards making amends for that harm. Sounds so easy; yet it nearly killed me trying to learn that simple lesson. For me, the Second Promise came true when I no longer feared running into old acquaintances. If I was GUILTY of harming them, I knew I owed them an amends and I would promptly make it. If I felt ASHAMED for something I had done to them, I would deeply apologize. But sometimes (and this part is amazing) I could see I had not harmed them at all. Whatever lingering and harmless REMORSE I felt was something private between me and my Higher Power. No further action was required. I no longer shut the door on the past. If someone asks me, "Weren't you the guy who screwed up that day?" I no longer feel irrational guilt. I think about it for a moment, decide what the honest answer is, and give it. In my case, I didn't need MORE regret to get better. I needed my regrets to be in true proportion to whatever I had or had not done wrong. That way, I no longer have to shut any door (or use any form of painkilling) to avoid painful regrets. Like my drawing of the clock on faded wallpaper, our memories linger for a long time. New ideas, attitudes, and beliefs can take their place but the past remains. When I see people shuffling in and out of a Twelve Step meeting at a local church or rehab center, I feel a lot of respect for them. They are on a long journey to recover some simple truths that everyone else takes for granted. With the help of the Twelve Steps, a sponsor, and a Higher Power, we can make that journey in light of—not despite of—our past. •••••••••••• TRIVIA: How many people use the word "guilt" in the exact way I described above? Not many. Who hasn't sometimes said things like: • "I feel so guilty for ordering dessert" • "Watching TV is my guilty pleasure." • "I feel guilty about not spending more time with my kids" • "You should feel guilty about living so well when so many people in the world are suffering." I have said all of those things. I knew what I meant, and I'm sure you know too. But people in recovery are on a 24-hour watch to prevent what we affectionately call "stinkin' thinkin'". That happens when I lose my inner sense of proportion and straight thinking. It's more than a slip of the tongue or a poor choice of words; it is a slip into addictive thinking. All hell can break loose if we don't quickly realize it is happening. I see strong evidence that Bill W., the writer of the AA Big Book, carefully chose his words to prevent "stinkin' thinkin'" among his readers. I try to follow his example by using correct words to the best of my abilities. So, I try not to use the word "guilty" unless I am referring to legal matters. It is never accurate to say, "I am breaking the law by eating this dessert" because that is simply not true. Instead, I say exactly what I mean: "I am going to REGRET ordering dessert when I step on the scales tomorrow." Guilty as charged.
3. COMPREHEND - "We will comprehend the word serenity" You are looking at a failed drawing. In my experience, every drawing starts as a failed drawing. I once heard a painter say that if he knew right away that a picture was going to succeed, he threw it away and started a different one. He wanted to learn something new or not even bother, and I agree with that. So when this drawings started as a failure, I wasn't immediately concerned. But it ended as a failure, in my eyes, and this is a story of that failure. The first-ever TwelveDrawing illustration was the word "serenity" from the Serenity Prayer (you can find it on this website). It shows a lone tree sitting picturesquely in the bend of a small river. There is more to it than that, but that's the only part which relates to this Promise 3 drawing. My 1934 Webster's Dictionary offers this definition: "Comprehend v. To take into the mind". I pray and meditate before drawing. That doesn't make my drawings special. If you are in recovery, you're wise to pray and meditate before many everyday tasks. This drawing frustrated all of my attempts to begin it. What happens inside the mind is unseen and, without symbolic devices, the mind is beyond my ability to illustrate. I remembered that peaceful tree from the "Serenity" drawing and wondered how a person could take that into their mind. You can see the result. A figure in the foreground is surrounded by the reflection of that same tree of Serenity. She has paused to gaze at the mesmerizing pattern caused by of the waves and the expanding ripples spreading out before her. Who she is, where she is from, and what she is thinking remains unknown. She cannot see how the image of the spreading tree and she herself have become mingled together, but the viewer can. She cannot see us, but we see her as she lingers in a moment of solitary reflection (pun intended). Determined not to indulge in careless or lazy symbolism, I worked very hard to create an effect which—sadly—fails to materialize. Just behind the woman's head are a series of gradually expanding ovals. They happen to visually line up almost exactly with the brim of her summer hat. My goal was to deliberately confuse the viewer about about where the woman's head ended and where the concentric circles in the water began. I wanted you to do a "double-take", trying figure out what was in her mind vs. in reality. Now that I have described it, you can probably see what I was attempting. It fails for two reasons. First, to connect this drawing to the word "serenity", the viewer must have already seen the "Serenity" drawings. That makes this image like a movie sequel—one that first-time viewers would have no chance of comprehending. Second, the visual special effect didn't work. From the start, I sensed I was fighting a losing battle and I kept struggling to save the drawing—trying to somehow lighten it by making it darker and darker. As a result, the woman appeared rather sinister and the looming tree appeared more ominous than serene. Neither the spiritual concept nor the artistic execution is what it should have been. I could have started over from scratch. In fact I have done so on a couple of other drawings when the final result was entirely worthless and confusing. In this one, some good qualities do remain but the overall effect is weak. Still, one of the principles of recovery encourages a focus on "progress not perfection". If I attempted again with a less ambitious concept, it would only be out of a desire for a safe but vain sort of perfectionism. Thanks, but no thanks. The job of true perfection is now occupied by my Higher Power. I no longer try to mimic His utter mastery in the area of fixing mistakes, nor could I if I tried. He can turn my miserable mistakes into intricate and wonderful miracles. All I can do is post my mistakes on this website, and humbly ask you yourself to draw whatever fractured lessons you can from them.
4. PEACE - We will know peace. The phrase "We will know peace" seems as simple as it can be. There are no complex words that might cause us to reach for a dictionary. Surely words have not changed in meaning very much since the Promise was written back in the 1930s. Or have they? I looked up the definition of "peace" in Webster's 1934 dictionary, I fully expected a definition along the same lines as the words "tranquility" or "serenity". That's the meaning I usually have in mind when I say something like "I had a peaceful afternoon yesterday". However, I discovered something unexpected in my old dictionary: "Peace n. A pact or agreement to end hostilities or to come together in amity." Peace is an AGREEMENT? Yes, peace is an agreement to end hostilities. By this definition—peace cannot exist unless there were hostilities and they have ENDED. I was reluctant to believe that "peace" is ALWAYS a byproduct of something negative like hostilities. Don't people have peaceful days or peaceful moods? I reread the definition but it definitely tied "peace" to an END of hostilities. I soon recalled that the Big Book of AA says, "We had ceased fighting anything or anyone." (on p. 84—right after Step Ten). That sounded like a deliberate decision to END of hostilities instead of seeking a victory. But why would anyone do that? Isn't a conflict supposed to produce a winner? If we cease fighting our addiction, won't we immediately become some sort of "loser"? Trying to apply the definition in the dictionary to my recovery was confusing stuff. So, I prayed and meditated. Ideas swam in my mind of surrendering to God as I understand Him. That didn't make immediate sense, because I wasn't actually at war with God. Maybe I was supposed to negotiate a surrender with my addiction? That's what I was already doing...negotiating by totally giving in to the demands of my addiction. These ideas made little sense. Then I realized a very important thing about my conflicts. Most of the brutal hostilities that I needed to cease were entirely inside my head. My anger battled my guilt, which battled my fear, which battled my self-hatred. The more fiercely I fought with myself, the more victories my addiction won. If I wanted to know peace, I needed to cease hostilities within myself. There would be no "winner" and certainly no "loser". My unwinnable war would simply end. ENDING HOSTILITIES. That was the key to peace. My thoughts turned to creating a drawing for this type of "peace". In making drawings, I try to choose images that are exactly what they appear to be. None of them are intended to be a riddle for viewers to solve. What, then, would be a sensible way to show a pact to end hostilities? I knew that history offers one very dramatic example. Surrendering generals often formally handed their ceremonial swords over to their conquerors, thereby completely disarming themselves. In my drawing, I needed to go even further and depict a total withdrawal from ALL forms of conflict—not just one side surrendering to another. Then the idea struck me. Utter and complete surrender would include grasping your unsheathed sword by the razor-sharp edge and then presenting the sword's handle for your opponent to grip. That, I thought, would be the ultimate and unconditional sign of surrender. Were your conqueror either sadistic or evil, they could yank the handle and viciously wound you even as were offering your total surrender. A truly mutual surrender would include BOTH sides making that same abject gesture. Thus, I invented the rather unorthodox subject matter of my drawing. Why would anyone in real life exchange swords in such a way? Would anyone ever really agree to a MUTUAL surrender? Yes, but only if both warring sides simultaneously recognized that the cost of fighting had become too high. Perhaps a hoped-for "fair fight" had degenerated into an inhuman exchange of brutalities. Perhaps the combat which was supposed to keep children/families/country safe had ended up destroying those very things. Perhaps the march to victory had become a march to mutual self-destruction. My own fight to "win" my sanity back reached exactly such a hopeless condition. I was losing everything by continuing to fight. And I mean everything. Home. Family. Job. Community. Self-respect. Hope. Belief. Every one of the things I treasured was being damaged or demolished. My fighting was causing me to LOSE the war. And so I finally gave UP. I mean to say that I surrendered everything in an UP direction. I stopped fighting myself and everyone around me. I finally found a phone number and called a local Twelve Step meeting. I went to the Meeting and admitted my total defeat. I placed my troubles onto shoulders much broader than mine. I would no longer do battle with myself. Too many innocent people had suffered already. That explains the flaming and war-torn community seen in my drawing. If you don't know it already, Twelve Step recovery occurs one day at a time—not weekly, monthly, or yearly. My inner conflicts are fully capable of flaring up again within each new day. (I believe this is why many people in Twelve Step programs make a point of saying "I am recoverING rather than recoverED.") If I react to any flare-up by fighting it, I will guarantee my own defeat. But if I can surrender flare-ups of anger, fear, and regrets to a greater Power than myself, I can once again come to know peace. ••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••• TRIVIA: The sword on the left is fictional, based loosely on an Italian fencing saber I once owned. The implement on the right is a Japanese bayonet. There is no significance to their nationalities. Nor is there a symbolic meaning behind the missing ring finger on the hand seen at left. Its healed condition does, however, suggest how long this conflict has lasted.
5. SCALE - During my years in Twelve Step recovery, I have been a sponsor and I have been a sponsee (someone who receives sponsorship). This drawing is about both of those experiences, each from a different point of view. First, I was a sponsee. I often felt I was drowning. Literally. My dreams and thoughts were filled with large bodies of water or rising water. My sponsor didn't exactly rescue me. It's more accurate to say he kept calmly repeating, "Just work the Steps." When I listened, that kept my head above the imagined water. Later, I became a sponsor. I was often dismayed to realize my sponsees were drowning before my eyes. My words and actions seemed ineffective in the face of the crisis I saw looming inside them. I could never save them using any thought or word or deed that sprang to my mind. It took a long time for me to realize why my sponsor was so helpful to me. It wasn't because he had the answer I needed. To the contrary, he would sometimes look at my situation and say, "Damn, that looks like an awful situation to be in." This man—someone I hardly knew— was not there to fix my situation. But he was willing to remain with me throughout my struggles. As a sponsor myself, I found that simply being present was the most helpful thing I could do for my sponsees. I could listen to their situation, point out any applicable literature, and share my own experience. They seldom said, "Wow, that fixed it!". They would instead say, "Thanks for being there." That is an act I cannot define beyond answering some phone calls and meeting to talk about recovery. Whatever it is, it seems very important to recovery. The promise that started with the words "No matter how far down the scale we have gone..." was a welcomed one. I knew I had gone far down the scale and was relieved to hear that my awful experience might have some redeeming value. Most people would never ever want to go as far down as I went. Never. Not ever. And yet when a sponsee described an immeasurable moral abyss that they had fallen into, I found myself leaning toward them rather than leaning back. I would just let them talk, knowing it is very hard for them to admit how low they had sunk. I can be there with them; "Being there". Able to listen with surprising ease because this low place is very familiar ground for me. I cannot really measure how far down the scale they have gone. It is a scale that has no units of measure. But I go there with them—"Being there"—until they touch the bottom. In this way, the Promise has came true for me many times. No matter how far down the scale I have gone, I see how my experience benefits others. So who is that guy on the ladder in my drawing? The one with the torn shirt and drooping hair, trying so hard to win an apparently unwinnable battle for the man who is sinking? That everyman is every sponsor I have ever had. He is doing more for me than I deserve—perhaps paying back his debt to a sponsor before him. He is not able to reach me, but he is able to "Be there" with me even at that depth of despair. When the drawing was finished, I showed it with some pride to my father. He looked at the drawing for a long time, then candidly said, "I find this situation terribly hopeless." I asked him why. "Because they're not going to make it. The drowning guy is going to drown." I looked again at the drawing and saw what he didn't. It's not really sponsors who save sponsees. It is that certain Higher Power who we find at that bottom rung of the scale. The sponsor is there to share their hope, even when we think no one has been that far down the scale before us. "I see it differently," I said to my father, "That sponsor still has not quite reached the bottom of his scale yet." •••••••••••• I dedicate this drawing to my sponsors over the years, and to the Higher Power who I met through them.
6. DISAPPEAR - Every person in recovery is different; every person in recovery is the same. That is my conclusion after meeting, listening to, and reading about alcoholics and addicts in all stages of recovery. As a sponsor, it is satisfying to know exactly what my sponsees need—they need to work the Twelve Steps and have a spiritual experience. Imagine my frustration when I discovered that no two sponsees ever worked the Steps exactly as I suggested, nor did they have a spiritual experience when I thought they SHOULD. When I first came to the Twelve Steps, I was no different. My first sponsor told me exactly what I needed to do, but I simply avoided doing them. I heard, "Work the Steps", but I paid little attention to the Steps for weeks or months at a time. I heard, "Half measures availed us nothing", yet I tried half-measures for years. I heard that I would obsessively think about recapturing the good parts of addiction and avoiding the bad parts. I heard I should regularly call my sponsor. I heard I should describe where I really was that day, every day. Did I listen? Nope. I wanted to be sober but I avoided doing anything I was told. I put on an act to appear as if I was doing everything my sponsor said, but addiction was still my master. After years (yes, years) of coming to meetings and NOT following the program, I became convinced that the Twelve Steps were useless. I felt sorry for myself: "After allllllll the time and effort I have put into recovery, I have nothing to show for it!" Poor pitiful me! At that low spot, I accepted two suggestions from other people. A relative sent me Joe and Charlie's "The Big Book Comes Alive" recordings which included a discussion of how the Twelve Steps were worked back in the 1930s and 40s. Also, my sponsor asked me to stop praying to a "God" that I had no understanding of or personal connection to. He urged me to search my childhood for any time I had ever felt the presence of a Higher Power. To my surprise, I reopened a long-forgotten connection to a God I personally could understand. Finally, I began to work the Steps fully and without reservation. I cannot honestly say I worked HARDER after that—slipping every few days for years is brutally, brutally hard. I cannot say I worked SMARTER after that—lying, evading, cheating, denying, and manipulating required greater mental work than telling the simple truth. But something definitely did change in me. I know, because those tired old "bumper sticker" sayings that AA is well known for suddenly came to life for me in very personal ways: EASY DOES IT replaced my attitude of: "I must not be working HARD enough on recovery yet." KEEP IT SIMPLE replaced: "The Twelve Steps are a COMPLEX set of psychological theories." FIRST THINGS FIRST replaced: "Tackling EVERYTHING at once proves I am productive." ONE DAY AT A TIME replaced: "I MUST earn a 10 year sobriety chip IMMEDIATELY!" The change did not happen overnight, but in time, my emotional numbness began to thaw. I experienced a great moment of grief when I realized how much of my life had been lost to addiction. But then almost immediately, the grief was replaced by a tidal wave of happiness that the rest of my life was still mine to enjoy. I was already attending church—unsuccessfully trying to "bleach" away the moral stains of my addiction—but I began to let my friends there see my real brokenness. I no longer built relationships on secrets. I stopped judging other people. I started to relax about tomorrow. I took better care of the people who my Higher Power placed in my life. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity disappeared. Promise 6 came true for me as the result of working the Steps. And when I stay active with my recovery, that Promise continues to come true with each new Today. THE DEFINITION I turned to a 1934 dictionary to better understand what Bill W. may have meant when he wrote Promise Six. For me, the key word in the promise was "disappear". Webster's Dictionary offered this definition: "Disappear v. - To cease to come or be in sight." I mulled over this definition. When something disappears, you can no longer SEE it. That made sense. I could imagine standing on a beach and watching a ship sail into the distance until it vanishes over the horizon. The ship still exists, but because it is no longer visible to me, it has disappeared. The other part of the definition mentions "cease to come in sight". I wondered why that part was included. I pictured myself on a beach when there is no ship in sight. Then I imagine spotting one just as it appears on the horizon. I wait and watch, assuming the ship will come closer, but it never does. In fact, that distant vessel vanishes again. I rub my eyes. Was it ever really there? Of course it was! But it ceased coming into sight—thus fulfilling the second aspect of "disappearing". So maybe Bill W. meant that my feelings of uselessness and self-pity would go away and whenever they started to come towards me, they would vanish again. I certainly welcome BOTH parts of that Promise. THE DRAWING To create a drawing for the word "disappear", I considered depicting ships on the horizon but without the element of movement, that image would not work. After some pondering, I realized that snow on the ground provides a traces of whatever has passed by, even after the person or thing has disappeared. I drew a city street that was empty: no cars, no people, no activity. But the tracks in the snow clearly showed that cars had passed through but were now gone. But what about that business of "cease to come into sight"? For reasons that are still not clear to me, I drew footsteps passing along the sidewalk and terminating at an open manhole. I paused to consider what I had just drawn. "Whoever that person was," I thought, "they have certainly ceased coming into sight." I could see that there was a slapstick humor to the idea—cartoon characters and movie comedians fall into open manholes all the time. Wasn't that funny? For some vague reason, I felt uneasy about the image. Recovery is about real people, not cartoon characters or comedians. I was drawing for my Higher Power and humor was not my intention here. Then, an idea occurred to me. Who says the footprints lead INTO the manhole? Might the impressions be a record of someone who has climbed out of the sewer and walked safely away? I looked again. I liked that idea. It did not make perfect and total sense, but it just FELT right. I sighed. I want my drawings to depict something real without a lot of symbolic meaning. But simply I liked this drawing no matter how it was interpreted: A. My uselessness and self-pity will disappear as if into a manhole OR B. Once free of my feelings of uselessness and self-pity, I can climb out of that sewer and walk into the world as a free person. This has become one of my favorite drawings. I suspect that is partly because it contains a touch of mystery for me, even today. Just because I have a "God of my understanding" does not mean that I completely understand God. A little mystery seems to be a good thing.
7. INTEREST - Interest in Our Fellows Attending meetings involves spending time with one's "fellows"....fellow alcoholics, fellow drug addicts, fellow behavioral addicts, etc. I have heard some claim sitting in a Twelve Step meeting (without working the Steps) will produce lasting sobriety. Personally, I doubt it will. After all, simply sitting in a bar does not produce an alcoholic; it is the drinking done while there that produces the results. I suspect the same is true for recovery. The only formal requirement for joining a Twelve Step meeting is "the desire to stop..." (drinking, drugging, or acting out on a behavioral addiction) "...and to help others to recover." Once you start attending a meeting, your personal level of interest may vary. Some people linger after the meeting is over, while others depart without delay. During the meeting itself, everyone shares an equal interest in the fellowship. Webster's Dictionary defines "interest" this way: "Interest n. - a right, title, share, or participation in a thing." In my experience, that definition is correct. The Twelve Step newcomer enjoys the same rights as the old-timers. The fact that long-sober people don't demand a higher status may puzzle the newcomers at first. These old-timers are not saints—they have learned that healthy interest among ANY members is helpful to all. Isolated and self-absorbed behavior seems to fuel addiction, and so recovering addicts instinctively encourage each other to become less isolated. Addicts and alcoholics who do not gain interest in their fellows can slip back into isolation where their addiction lies waiting. When I decided to draw this Promise, I felt a little lost. All of the depictions I envisioned seemed silly. As I often do, I prayed about it. Once again, a vision slowly formed. It was exactly what you see in the drawing. Several kids perched on the edge of a swimming pool. They are not swimming. They don't even appear to be talking. They are just BEING there. Their differences are quite visible. They probably come from different families. They appear to be different ages. They arrived by different means. Yet there they sit together, instead of being alone. Maybe recovery is complicated. But at moments like this, it seems fairly simple. We attend meetings. We work the Steps. We use sponsorship. We find that when we do these things, the Twelve Promises are realized. I cannot say much more about my drawing than this: The way those kids look in that drawing matches the way I feel in a busy Twelve Step meeting. I am not in my old home, all alone. I am in a new home, surrounded by people who know me and care. Even if it is just one or two people, they are enough. Our Higher Power does the rest.
8. SELF-SEEKING - No text
9. OUTLOOK - 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 years of Twelve Steps meetings without getting sober. The 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 even 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 suprised 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. Soon after that, I came across an interview with a crime novelist*. 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 forever 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 epiphany he experienced. (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. •••••••••••• *TRIVIA: I am not sure it is honest to swipe a drawing idea from a radio interview, but that is what I did. I heard a Public Radio show in which a writer was being asked about his craft. In making one of his points, he described an imaginary scenario very similar to the one I used in this drawing. I have searched the web and cannot yet locate the interview. I apologize for not being able to properly credit even this paraphrase. If you recognize him or you ARE him, please send me a link to the interview at firstname.lastname@example.org. I want to ask your permission to use the exact quote and give you credit for your remarkable insight.
10. FEAR - What is there to say about fear? Bill W. wrote on page 67 of the AA Big Book: "This short word somehow tourches about every aspect of our lives. It was an evil and corroding thread; the fabric of our existence was shot through with it. It set in motion trains of circumstances which brought us misfortune we felt we didn't deserve. But didn't we, ourselves, set the ball rolling?" He concludes the paragraph with this sentence: "Sometimes we think fear ought to be classed with stealing. It seems to cause more trouble." In two swift strokes, Bill suggests that fear 1) brings trouble upon us in ways we cannot see, and 2) can never be justified. That second part is based upon the comparison to stealing—something that can never be justified. In 1934, Webster's Dictionary offered this definition: Fear n. - Painful emotion marked by alarm, extreme awe, or anticipation of danger. I had to agree with all of those extreme terms. But a second reading revealed something. Do you notice that it does not mention fear being caused by FACTS? This painful emotion is caused by other emotions (alarm and extreme awe) or by a thought (anticipation of danger). Emotions and thoughts get triggered by various things. I have seen someone stand up to an elephant's charge without flinching—probably saving his life. But I have seen a courageous friend burst into thrashing sobs of genuine terror because an abandoned cobweb brushed her cheek. Fear grows or shrinks to fill whatever space we let it have. My drawing depicts nothing threatening. It shows a hand reacting in terror for unseen reasons. The charms on the bracelet suggest some possible causes....home....money....family....food....prestige. But regardless of its causes, fear can block out everything else in our lives if we let it. The text says fears "will leave us." That is true for me. But it is also true that fears can and does return. I can successfully rid my life of fears today by working the Twelve Steps. But I see nothing in any of the literature that promises more than 24 hours of sobriety. Which means I will face tomorrow with the same vulnerability to....and successful tools for avoiding...Fear itself. ••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••• A THOUGHT: I find that most people who are new to recovery are reluctant to say the words, "I feel fear". Perhaps that word seems to strong...as if they equate it with more severe words like "panic" or "terror". I sometimes suggest newcomers use the word "anxious" instead. This usually helps them see the subtler forms of this powerful emotion. As they become familiar with Twelve Step recovery, most people become comfortable calling fear by its rightful name.
11. NO TEXT
12. REALIZE - Sometimes, the definitions I find in my 1934 Websters Dictionary come as a complete surprise. I love it when that happens because it opens a new door into understanding exactly what Bill W may have meant when he used that specific word. (It is worth noting that Bill was no slouch at writing—having grown up attending Vermont private schools and later studying law in Brooklyn, NY.) However, the Webster definition for the word "realize" is not particularly surprising. Realize v. To convert from the imaginary or fictitious into the actual. Before I attended any Twelve Step meetings, my understanding of recovery was based on what others said or on whatever I imagined. For example, I always heard recovery meetings were a perfect example of a "self-help group", where people could work on improving themselves. I also heard Twelve Step groups were a classic type of "support group" where people with a similar problem could find sympathy and understanding from others. Those were my impressions. Now that I have been attending weekly meetings for more than a decade, I question the truth of my early assumptions. (A reminder here that I am sharing my own point of view, and others would describe their experiences differently.) I no longer believe that I got much "self-help" from the Twelve Steps. While addicted, I spent most of my time helping myself to everything, but that just made matters worse. I was exhausted from helping myself and I still was not sober. For me, "self-help" was a fictitious phrase—my help would need to come from outside of myself. I personally do not think I got sober because of a "support group". The group did offer important sympathy and understanding—in fact they did so for several years but it produced no results. I never did get lasting sobriety until I worked the Twelve Steps and had a spiritual awakening. In the end, I needed help that no one—no human—could provide. Old timers in the program have wisecracked, "You can attend PTA meetings for years, but that won't make you a parent. You must take other steps." If I imagined that I could get sober by simply surrounding myself with supportive people, I was wrong. The Twelfth Promise is: "We will suddenly REALIZE that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves." Realizing something requires that I convert my imaginary and fictitious expectations into something actual. The sooner I gave up on finding "self-help", the sooner I could begin to earnestly seeking help from a Higher Power—I myself could not do both. That Higher Power needed to be something more than a "support group" of other humans like myself. Until I opened myself up to that possibility, I could never find it. I notice that this Twelfth Promise is the final promise....hinting that it may come true later than the others. We all work the Steps at our own speed, for our own motives, and with our own understanding (or misunderstandings). I know that was true for me. But only much later did I come to realize just how much God had done for me that I had been powerless to do. I am not against "self-help" or "support groups". But I am grateful for what happened once I stopped relying solely on them and worked the Twelve Steps exactly as I saw them in the literature. I entered the program with a mind full of imaginary and fictitious expectations. Once I let them go and let God work, sobriety came within reach one day at a time. •••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••• My illustration for this Promise is both childish and serious. In it, a boy is about to throw a paper airplane. The folded paper bears elaborate diagrams and images depicting fanciful flying machines. In the background is an open book resting on a picnic table. What is left unspoken is that the boy has grown tired of reading about imaginary flying machines and has torn out a page and folded it into an actual flying device. I can identify with his decision to move from the unreal to the real. It took me years and years to make that same decision...some call it "hitting rock bottom". But once I stopped living in an imaginary and fictitious world, I was able to enjoy my real life again.