Step Twelve: “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.”
It was not my ambition to explain the Step here. My only goal was to illustrate one word from it, using whatever was current in Webster’s Dictionary when Step Twelve was written. I could have picked any word, but the one that stood out for me was “spiritual”. That word is used by a lot of people with very majestic and mystical meanings attached to it. So, I was curious how the dictionary would define it.
“Spiritual – adj. Of, pertaining to, or consisting of the breath of life.”
Wait…. Huh?…. Whaaaaaaaaat?!?!
I read it again: “The breath of life?” Does that mean plain old breathing? Like anybody’s breath of life? Like my breath of life? Like an animal’s breath of life? Like a dog, giraffe, hippo, monkey, pelican’s breath of life? Or maybe even an insect’s breath of life? That breath of life?
Surely the word “spiritual” meant something much more high and mighty. You know….The mountaintop wind? Lives changed forever? That kind of “spiritual” experience. But “the breath of life”? Shoot, I use the breath of life to blow up balloons!
I looked into the history of the word and discovered ancient Latin definitions referring to soul, courage, and vigor. But even in Latin, “breath” was always included as a fundamental definition. So it was no accident that the 1934 Webster’s defined spiritual as “Of, pertaining to, or consisting of the breath of life”.
I should stop and put my emphasis on the Webster’s Dictionary into perspective.
Picture a little, Depression-era town. Consider the very first person in that town to order the Big Book. The package arrived from New York City. That first person had no local Meeting, no sponsor, and certainly no other Twelve Step books available. Their only local resource material was a common dictionary. Bill W knew this and I suspect—and this is only my conjecture—that he chose the words he wrote with that in mind.
Sure enough, people in those remote locations got sober. Before there was access to television, rehab, the internet, local meetings, or even sponsorship, people in the late 1930s got sober. In fact, their success rate back then was reportedly much higher than ours today.
What was their secret? Was there some hidden mysterious truth that only people in the late 1930s knew about. BALONEY! It is nonsense to believe any alcoholic farmer would have time to fool around with lofty mystical truths. But there is one truth that he (and every other living person) knows instinctively:
• If you stop breathing today—you will die today.
• Breaths you took yesterday don’t help.
I suddenly found myself looking at the word “spiritual” from a very practical perspective. The Big Book tells me I must make Twelve Step work as much a part of my day as breathing.
• If I want sobriety today, I must work The Steps today.
• Steps I worked yesterday won’t change that.
This concept was very different from what I was expecting when I first looked up the word “spiritual”. It was a stunning twist, and I had to pray and meditate about it before I felt satisfied it was true.
This was a definition that made sense to me and would have made sense to that alcoholic farmer in 1939 when the Big Book was published. A spiritual path of recovery required—at the VERY LEAST—making recovery work a part of my daily life. The Big Book says, “What we really have here is a daily reprieve…” (p. 85). No exceptions. No vacations. No excuses. Every day. Just like breathing.
If “spirit” really did mean the breath of life, my drawing of it would need to call attention to the importance of something we usually cannot even see: our breath. I drew a man swimming safely underwater. I say “safely” because many, many, people drown underwater. But this man is safe because he drew a breath into his lungs before diving in. The proof is seen in the bubbles seen emerging from his lips.
He is surrounded by air in the form of thousands of bubbles. But the air in these bubbles are as useless to him as yesterday or tomorrow’s breath. He must survive on the breath he took before plunging in.
My day is like that now. I must…Must…MUST remember to draw my Higher Power into me each day. Yesterday or tomorrow don’t count. I can survive on the Divine help I receive each day, if I will but ask for it.
I don’t supply myself with air; I can simply choose to breathe or not. Likewise, I cannot create my Higher Power; I can only choose whether to seek Him or not. Like my breathing, my daily acts of recovery can extend my recovery indefinitely.
I do my part and my Higher Power does the rest.