As non-alcoholic mates and families see the AA program…
How One AA Wife Lives the 12 Steps
Lois W., AA’s “first lady” as the non-alcoholic wife of Bill, the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, tells the story of her own adventure in growth applying AA principles to her own life.
Copyright © AA Grapevine, Inc, August 1953
We have often heard it said that the Twelve Steps of AA are a way of life for anyone, if you substitute for the word “alcohol” any particular problem of life. For a close relative of an AA, a wife or husband, even the word alcohol does not need to be changed in the First Step; simply leave out “alcoholic” in the last, thus: “carry the message to others, etc.”
We wives and husbands of AA in our Family Group try to live by the Twelve Steps, and the following is how one wife applies the Twelve Steps to herself:
Step 1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol…that our lives had become unmanageable.
I was just as powerless over my husband’s alcoholism as he. I tried in every way I knew to control his drinking. My own life was indeed unmanageable. I was forced into doing and being that which I did not want to do or be. And I tried to manage Bill’s life as well as my own. I wanted to get inside his brain and turn the screws in what I thought was the right direction. But I finally saw how mistaken I was. I, too, was powerless over alcohol.
Step 2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
My thinking was distorted, my nerves over-wrought. I held fears and attitudes that certainly were not sane. I finally realized that I had to be restored to sanity also and that only by having faith in God, in AA, in my husband and myself, could this come about.
Step 3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
Self-sufficiency and the habit of acting as mother, nurse, caretaker, and breadwinner, added to the fact of always being considered on the credit side of the ledger with my husband on the debit side, caused me to have a smug feeling of rightness. At the same time, illogically, I felt a failure at my life’s job. All this made me blind for a long time to the fact that I needed to turn my will and my life over to the care of God. Smugness is the very worst sin of all, I do believe. No shaft of light can pierce the armour of self-righteousness.
Step 4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
Here is where, when I tried to be really honest, I received a tremendous shock. Many of the things that I thought I did unselfishly were, when I tracked them down, pure rationalizations - rationalizations to get my own way about something. This disclosure doubled my need to live by the 12 Steps as completely as I could
Step 5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
I found this was just as necessary for me to do as it was for an alcoholic, even more so perhaps, because of my former “mother-and-bad-boy” attitude toward Bill. Admitting my wrongs helped so much to balance our relationship, to bring it closer to the ideal of partnership in marriage.
Step 6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
I came to realize there were selfish thoughts, feelings and actions that I had felt justified in keeping because of what Bill or someone else had done to me. I had to try very hard to want God to remove these. There was, for instance, my self-pity at losing Bill’s companionship, now that the house was full of drunks, and we saw each other alone so seldom. At that time I didn’t realize the importance of his working with other alcoholics. In order to banish his alcoholic obsession he needed to be equally obsessed by AA.
In the early days there was also my deep and unconscious resentment because someone else had done in a few minutes what I had tried my whole married life to do. Now I realize that a wife can rarely if ever do this job. The sick alcoholic feels his wife’s account has been written on the credit page of life’s ledger. But he knows his own has been on the debit side; therefore she cannot possibly understand. Another alcoholic, with similar debit entry, immediately identifies himself as a non-alcoholic really cannot.
This important fact took me a long time to recognize. I could find no peace of mind until I did so.
Step 7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
“Humbly” was a word I never fully understood. Today it means “in proportion,” an honest relationship between myself and my fellow man, and myself and God. While striving for humility myself, it was encouraging to see my husband’s growth in humility. While he was drinking he was the most inferiority-ridden person in the world. After AA, from a doormat he bounced way up to superiority over everyone else, including me. This was pretty hard to take “after all the good I done him.” Of course few wives at first can see how natural it is for the alcoholic to feel that the most wonderful people in the world are AAs living the only true principles. Since I, too, was trying to live the AA program, this was the very point where I had to look to my own humility, regardless of my husband’s progress or lack of it.
Step 8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
At first I couldn’t think of anyone I had harmed. But when I broke through my own smugness even a little, I saw many relatives and friends whom I had resented; I had given short, irritated answers and had even imperiled long standing friendships. In fact, I remember one friend that I threw a book at when, after a nerve-racking day, he annoyed me. (Throwing seems to have been my pet temper outlet.) I try to keep this list up to date. And I also try to shorten it.
Step 9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
This is just as important for me as for the alcoholic. To have serenity and joy in living and doing, to be able to withstand the hard knocks that come along, and to help others do the same, I found I had to make specific amends for each harm done. I couldn’t help others while emotionally sick myself.
Step 10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
It is astounding how each time I take an inventory I find some new rationalization, some new way I have been fooling myself that I hadn’t recognized before. It is so easy to fool oneself about motives. And admitting it is so hard, but so beneficial.
Step 11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
I am just beginning to understand how to pray. Bargaining with God is not real prayer and asking him for what I want, even good things, I’ve had to learn is not the highest form of prayer. I used to think I knew what was good for me and I, the captain, would give my instructions to my Lieutenant, God, to carry out. That is very different from praying only for the knowledge of God’s will and the power for me to carry it out.
Time for meditation is hard to find, I imagine, for most of us. Today’s living is so involved. But I’ve set aside a few minutes night and morning. I am filled with gratitude to God these days. It is one of my principal subjects for meditation; gratitude for all the love and beauty and friends around me; gratitude even for the hard days of long ago that taught me so much. At least I’ve made a start and have improved to some small degree my conscious contact with God.
Step 12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
I am like many AAs who do not realize when their spiritual awakening occurred. Mine was a slow developing experience. Even following a sudden spiritual awakening, no one can stand still. One either moves forward, or slips backward. In retrospect I can see a change for the better between my old and new self, and I hope that tomorrow, next month, next year I shall continue to see a better new self.
And nothing has done more to move me forward than carrying the AA message to those non-alcoholics who do not yet comprehend and are still in need of the understanding and help of those who have gone before.
The Al-Anon Family Groups now number about 400. Queries and comments are welcomed at the Family Group Clearinghouse, whose mailing address is: P.O. Box 1475, Grand Central Annex, New York 17, N.Y.
Copyright © The A.A. Grapevine, Inc., August 1953
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