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Metaphors: The Man Without Legs

 The Man Without Legs


On page 30 of the Big Book of AA, Bill W made a statement that has always haunted me. He wrote "We are like men who have lost their legs; they never grow new ones." Here was a sentence that left no room for escape. Bill had to leave no loopholes here. He already stated elsewhere that every newly arriving addict and alcoholic is obsessed with getting back the pleasures they recall from earlier days. The user clearly remembers enjoying a harmless little indulgence and the next thing, they were pitifully and hopelessly hooked. All they want is to rewind that memory like a movie and replay that early good part over and over. 

It was Bill W's goal to invite as many alcoholics into recovery as possible. Yet he stubbornly included the very statement that none of his recruits would ever want to hear. He used this single-sentence metaphor to squash the greatest hope and comfort of every person in recovery.....the wish to go back, back, back.  It is an astonishingly blunt and brutal statement, considering the temporary pain it caused people like me.

Today, I have to give Bill W. a lot of credit for writing those words. He had the guts to confront me....or ask me to confront myself. I'll admit it. I WANTED to go back badly. I wanted the happy times. Just like when a good marriage turns bitter, or a beloved job is lost, I yearned for those wonderful, carefree, joyful, and innocent days. Those fun-filled days never appeared more glowing and lustrously perfect as when viewed from first-time visit to a recovery meeting room. It took a lot of courage for Bill to tell all who enter recovery that they must fully close the door of illusion behind them.

I made drawings of twelve of the many metaphors that appear in the Big Book. It should not surprise me that this one was especially bittersweet to draw. It shows a man of good standing, financially, emotionally, socially. And only after a moment does the viewer realize that he is a greatly diminished man. He has lost his legs by unknown means and is reduced to putting his own shoes up for sale. There is a dismal and yet elegant grief to this picture. He has resigned himself to his situation—maybe quickly and maybe slowly—but he has arrived at acceptance.

Where do his thoughts wander as he waits for these belongings to find new owners? Where did mine go? I had started so many ventures with great excitement. I had expanded my circle of friends tremendously. I had become admired for talents I didn't know I had until I became addicted. The world had seemed larger, the air clearer, the future brighter. And now it was all piled in a heap of memory. Gone but still able to torment me with its absence.

I cannot tell you more about the man without legs than you yourself can see. There is no more "backstory" to my drawing than there was to Bill W's simple sentence. What once was, is no more. What will be, is yet unseen. It is a lonely place to start anything, which I suppose is why recovery people seek meetings. We are tasked with facing the world without all the fascinating trappings of our addiction. That probably doesn't sound that so tough to others. But I can tell you that I almost died resisting it, before my Higher Power showed me how I could be happy, joyous and free again.

Metaphors: The Flimsy Reed

 The Flimsy Reed


Bill W. wrote the Big Book in a way that reminds me of everyday conversation, plus formal academic writing, plus grandfatherly advice, plus poetic prose. That poetic streak showed up in an obscure but (for me) powerful sentence on page 28. It reads as follows:

"What seemed at first a fllmsy reed, has proven to be the loving and powerful hand of God."

He was comparing the desperation felt by alcoholics (and later by addicts) to the panicked struggles of a drowning person who might literally grasp at straws. As often happens with Bill's writing, I got the feeling I had heard it before. While much of his writing did draw upon literature and familiar sayings of his day, I could not find any clear origin for a "flimsy reed". It sounded vaguely Biblical to me, but I was unable to find the term in those pages. Maybe he had another source or maybe he just made it up.

In creating my Twelve Metaphors, I skimmed the Big Book looking for word-based images that Bill probably made up himself. I can't know for sure, but I did my best. I myself use a lot of metaphors when I talk and most of them appear out of thin air ("out of thin air" is an example). Some are borrowed, some are vaguely remembered, and some come from... who knows where. After searching for Bill's source for a time, I gave up and decided to go ahead and illlustrate this image.

This turned out to be one of the most technically challenging of any of my drawings. I won't go into great detail, but I struggled to show one instant when a flimsy reed might actually make a huge, HUGE difference to a drowning  person. One such moment would be when a person is drifting towards the edge of a great waterfall. That would surely work. I began sketching with all my heart and was frankly surprised when a reasonably clear picture emerged.

The drawing shows a hand rising from rushing water as that water is about to plunge over a steep waterfall. Floating on the surface is a long and limp piece of reed. The hand is in a good position to grab one of the reeds, but at this point the situation looks hopeless. I somehow doubt that anything less than a steel cable and a powerful machine could rescue the person shown here.

Still, working the Twelve Steps often involves seeing things at first rather casually, then seeing them again in a much deeper and serious way. In fact, that's what this metaphor did for me. Towards the end of my addictive days, I was out of answers and feeling desperate. I was all alone inside my head and there appeared to be no solutions left. Suicide was starting to sound smart (how asburd!). I wasn't swimming anymore. I was DROWNING.

What happened next isn't very clear in my mind. I know I latched onto a lot of things towards the very last. I kept lying, hiding, explaining, and pretending. But I also considered getting help. I remember picking up a phone and dialing a number and telling whoever answered that I was in trouble. Bad trouble. 

The guy who answered that first Twelve Step call was a great person. He still is. But by any measure, he was nobody special....not a president, priest, psychologist, or prophet. To me he was just some voice in a Twelve Step program who was taking calls that day. In short, he was a very wet and flimsy reed, but I grabbed onto him with every ounce of strength I had left.

Somehow, my grasp on his voice kept me from slipping over the edge. That ordinary guy's presence became like a steel cable for me. And through his simple words and actions, the most powerful Force in the universe began to steadily pull me away from the brink of death. Literally.

I could type on this keyboard all day and never fully express my amazement at being alive today. That phone call led to some meetings. Which led to a sponsor. Which led to the First Step. Which led me to a God I could understand. Which led me to a spiritual experience. Which led me to be alive today.

When Bill W. wrote that a flimsy reed could be the loving and powerful hand of God, I frankly did not believe it. As defeated as I was, I still didn't want to admit that anyone else was right except me. How wrong I could be. How glad I am that Bill could help me hold on and keep coming back until my loving and powerful Higher Power got me firmly in His grasp. 


Metaphors: Passengers



The sinking ocean liner has remained an enduring image since the Titanic was lost. Until recently, a movie named after that ship was the most popular film in history. Bill W. used that tragic episode as a metaphor on page 17 of the Big Book. Various people may interpret it differently, but I think Bill was asking us to notice that alcoholism (and perhaps addiction in general) does not respect economic or social classes. He prepared me for exactly who I found in Meetings: workers, preachers, teachers, business people, single moms, doctors, etc. all thrown together by their common problem.

I tend to over-analyze everything, but I notice that Bill devoted a lot of attention to this metaphor, compared to ones like the "flimsy reed", "root and branch",  and "corroding thread". Perhaps he thought it was complicated and needed explaining. Maybe he thought is was extra important and gave it more emphasis. Or maybe, in light of the Titanic sinking, he thought it was a particularly gripping image.

As I considered ways to illustrate the "Passengers" metaphor, I wanted to stick closely to the facts. I didn't want to rely on paintings or other artistic depictions of lifeboats, preferring to do research on actual events. I was expecting to find very dramatic images since the subject involves real life and death moments. 

To my surprise, almost all of the photos of genuine lifeboat rescues that I found were rather dull. In a vessel full of survivors, very few passengers showed any reaction to being rescued. No cheering. No leaping up and down. That seemed odd. Then I realized most of those people had suffered long and often icy ordeals prior to being rescued. I wouldn't be surprised if the subdued figures were all hunched down trying to stay out of the frigid wind.

It made me think back to my reaction after going to my first Meeting. The next day, I ate breakfast, went to work, watched TV, etc. etc. etc. No special reaction at all—outwardly. Inwardly, I was on fire with the hope that I had found a solution to my problem. But it probably didn't show. Just like those people in the lifeboat photos. Bill had probably seen the same photos, since ship sinkings were usually heavily reported in the newspapers.

The predictions made by Bill W. were right. I did sit in Meetings alongside architects, ministers, construction workers, and computer experts. And when I sometimes ran into these same people by accident away from the Meetings, I did feel a special bond that was blind to economic and social class. 

When I made my drawing, I drew one person on the lifeboat making a triumphant gesture: raising his arms above his head. Other than that, the people in the lifeboat are in various positions of disbelief, distraction, numbness, unconsciousness, and near death.

I felt all of those reactions at the moment I first stepped into a Twelve Step Meeting. I had given up hope of rescue. I was exhausted. I was whipped by my addiction. I didn't see how anyone in my dismal situation could cheer about anything at all. 

To this day, it irritates my fellows in recovery when I am often light-hearted as a newcomer tells their miserable story. I know they have come alongside a Solution that works and that they need do no more than climb aboard. But they don't know that. I suppose that's why, in the illustration, I added the guys cheering from the deck of the rescuing ship. They KNOW the ordeal is over. They are not numb or scared or dying. They can offer life and hope and warmth.

Why shouldn't they—or we—smile at this most remarkable rescue from deep and pitiful despair?

Metaphors: The Mountaintop

 The Mountaintop


The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous was written by a severe alcoholic named Bill Wilson. In it, Bill reported several close scrapes with death. Because alcoholism is a progressive condition, he recognized that each low was getting lower. One day, he got an unexpected call from an old drinking buddy named Ebby Thatcher. Ebby had gotten sober by working with a local religious group—this was before A.A. was formed—and he was there to invite Bill to join. Bill was not interested. His health continued to decline.

It was when Bill was alone and dying in a hospital bed that he began to have what I would describe as a spiritual epiphany. He saw a glowing light and then, "I felt lifted up, as though the great clean wind of a mountain top blew through and through. God comes to most men gradually, but His impact on me was sudden and profound."

His description was both poetic and gripping. The dramatic wording almost sounds like something from holy writings. (I say that because mountaintops are sacred settings in several religions.) His grandfather had told Bill about a similar spiritual moment that he himself once had experienced on a hometown mountain top in Vermont.

Regardless, the mountain image came at a pivotal moment in the Big Book, separating Bill from a terrible problem and marking the beginning of a new solution. So hyper-dramatic was his description that in the Second Edition of the Big Book, Bill felt it necessary to urge later readers not to expect such a melodramatic vision in their own recovery. For most, recovery would happen through a gradual "spiritual experience" and not like his almost Hollywood-movie type of "spiritual awakening".

As an artist, I wanted to draw the dramatic mountaintop moment in Bill's inner journey. I had previously promised myself never to resort to mythical or symbolic devices, but Bill's description itself was highly symbolic. Certainly, I could draw Bill standing on a mountaintop, but he admitted that the only mountaintop was in this mind. How was I to put this mythical moment on paper without resorting to imaginary symbols?

I couldn't.

While I finally did draw a mountaintop, I used a bird as a stand-in for Bill's visionary self. I suppose I could have used a sheep, mountain lion, goat, or even butterfly. But after prayer and meditation, it was a lowly bird that came to mind for me. I drew the bird at the instant that it surrendered to that mountaintop wind. With this as my own vision, I was able to finish my drawing fairly quickly.

Shortly after completing the drawing, I started to experience a strangely disappointed feeling. What was the reason? It felt like I had let myself down. Or maybe I felt I had let Bill down. After all, I had turned him into a BIRD and shown him flying away from his mountaintop...not standing fast on it. As I examined the drawing, I knew it did not yet capture the true essence of Bill's spiritual moment—a moment that has inspired so many since that day.

Then I pictured something new in my mind's eye. I imagined that same bird still clinging to a broken branch from that mountaintop tree, even as he was being swept away by the powerful wind. That stubborn bird wasn't letting go after all. Like me, that bird was determined to hang on to self-will until the bitter end. There it was; the telling detail that my original drawing was missing. Few of us take the necessary spiritual leap out of true courage—at least I did not. I held tight to my addiction until it was lifted from me by a power much higher than mine.

Look at Bill's own situation. He had drank himself into a hospital bed even after a doctor had clearly warned him he would DIE if he kept drinking. He absolutely refused to let go of his old ideas until he was forced to. I suspect Bill held on tightly until the wind of the spirit broke off the branch he clung to until ... SNAP!

I don't know what was really in Bill's mind that day, other than what he shared in his writing. But it seems clear to me he ignored many earlier chances to let go and change himself. The same was true for me. Many of us do cling too long to ideas that do not work. That's why I added several other birds to the tree in the drawing. They represent the still-suffering addicts who cling stubbornly to old ideas and keep getting the same results. Bill's branch simply snapped first, and the mystical transformation which followed has inspired generations of alcoholics and addicts who seek that same personality change.

If you are not an addict, the drawing may make you yawn or shrug. That's okay. The birds are still kinda fun to look at.

But if you are an addict or alcoholic, note that the tree they cling to has been there for a long, long time—its shape is permanently bent by the relentless wind. It is the tree of denial, excuses, resistance, self-will, or whatever we use to fight the overwhelming winds of truth that blow at us each day. We cling as tightly as we can for as long as we can. The unlucky ones cling until they reach a bitter dead-end. The lucky few let go out of incredible courage or wisdom. And for the Blessed (which comprise the majority of us), the branch mercifully snaps and we plummet in whatever direction the Divine wind seeks to carry us.

I apologize for breaking my promise to avoid using symbols in my drawings. For ages, such things have been the tools of those who think they have glimpsed a world that is unreachable by plain words. If I could say precisely what made Bill Wilson fall or fly or flee from that tree of denial, I wouldn't be writing this blog. I would be out saving you or someone you love from the invisible suffering of addiction. Instead, I recognize that addicts must illogically struggle to hold onto what does not work. And we who love them must pray to hear that SNAP before those all-too-mortal addicts lose their last chance at recovery.

Metaphors: Quicksand




Quicksand needs no explanation, right? Everyone has seen it in the movies. In the typical scenario, a group is walking on a jungle path when WHOOPS the first person suddenly disappears up to their waist in a pit. The fallen victim realizes with horror that they are rapidly sinking. "Help! I have fallen into quicksand!" A dramatic scene unfolds as a frantic rescue is attempted by others in the party or by the sinking person themselves. The drama is intense: a sudden life and death struggle with a merciless force. 

Did Bill Wilson have a Hollywood movie in mind when he mentioned quicksand on page 8 in the Big Book of AA? It is possible, but I don't know. I do know he used that word to describe how he felt when, as a dying alcoholic, he overheard the doctor tell his wife that the last hope for his recovery was gone. I don't know of him ever sinking lower than that point. It sounds like Bill Wilson hit "rock bottom".

Bill did not use the phrase "rock bottom" to describe that moment. Instead, he wrote: "No words can tell of the loneliness and despair I found in the bitter morass of self-pity." He was describing how he felt, but it doesn't sound like he had Hollywood on his mind. Sounds like a guy realizing that his boozing, conning, lying, evading, joking, excusing, blustering, denying had finally led him to the deadest of all dead ends. He described it as feeling like "Quicksand stretched around me in all directions" (BB p. 8).

As an artist, I was secretly delighted that Bill W. mentioned quicksand. I thought it would be interesting to draw quicksand and show all the drama that goes with it. For accuracy, I began searching for images of real quicksand. I found multiple images but most appeared to be staged photos from movies. The more authentic pictures of quicksand looked nothing like the movies. Most of the authentic photos showed a beach or massive area of sand in which the one area of quicksand was readily apparent. Further investigation confirmed this. The only pictures showing any real person sinking into real quicksand appear to be people clowning around—like when you mug for a friend's camera. The rest showed curiousity seekers walking long distances to reach the very visible quicksand area. Once there, they had to make an effort to sink in to their knees and they could easily get back out again.

Once again, the Big Book had surprised me with its canny details. Bill W. said he felt he was surrounded by quicksand. But he never claimed that he was on a firm footing one minute and suddenly fell in up to his neck the next. If Bill Wilson was familiar with real quicksand (not just the Hollywood type), then he was admitting he had worked VERY hard to reach a point of such hopelessness. He had not merely taken one wrong step; he had taken hundreds and THOUSANDS of wrong steps to get there. 

So, my drawing reflects that idea. The lone figure is mired in a circle of quicksand which measures just a few feet across. His predicament is real and he may die there. But what did it take to get him there? The footsteps tell the story. He had acres of safe ground he could have chosen to walk on. He could easily see the patch of quicksand that lay ahead. He had every opportunity to turn back or head in a new direction, but he didn't do that. He did whatever it took to find the small patch of quicksand and "accidentally" fall face down in it.

That person in the picture has exhausted himself struggling to escape from his self-created trap. It appears his efforts to escape will be futile. Bill W.'s choice of the "quicksand" metaphor accurately describes my own tireless and desperate effort to make matters worse; to snatch defeat from a life full of victories. I wasn't a victim of anything but my own addiction. And in the end, my addiction became a search for a bleak and numb end, lying face down in a pit of despair.

Fortunately, my Higher Power doesn't like waste. He let me play out my hand and He saw I was ready to embrace the death that addiction was beckoning me towards. He asked if I had any more "moves" that I would like to try. He asked if I would let Him help me. He asked if I was willing to follow His instructions from now on and take a few simple Steps. . . . No. Yes. Yes. Yes.

I am alive today thanks to putting myself in that despair. When I reread Bill Wilson's metaphor of quicksand, I am immediately transported back to that moment. I am grateful that Bill found the words to remind me of that place and for finding the Steps to help me get out.


TRIVIA: I have personally experienced real quicksand only once in my life. I was walking on an oridinary beach in South Carolina when I noticed an odd, shimmering puddle ahead. There was some sort of water bubbling up through the sand, evidently fed by an underground spring. The entire puddle was no more than three feet across and a few inches deep. A mixture of sand and water was continuously churning just an inch or so below the clear surface. Feeling adventurous, I waded timidly into the small pool and was surprised to feel the watery sand giving way underfoot. There was a tense moment. But by the time my ankle sank just below the watery surface, I felt the the sand become solid under my foot. It kind of tickled, so I put my other foot in. The sensation was odd because the water kept liquifying the sand, then the sand would quickly solidify. Now abandoning all fear, I deliberately burrowed down into the slurry as far as I could go. Slowly, the quicksand did draw me down, but no farther in than mid-calf. Below that level, the sand was too tightly packed to be liquified and I sank no further (even when I tried hard). I was able to pull my feet back out with ease. For my illustration of quicksand, I relied on outside research. But what I found in my research matched my quicksand experience very closely. Could it be that the movies have been wrong all these decades? Maybe a little Hollywood creative license was used? Doesn't matter. I got a personal message from Bill's writing. I myself never did get instantly sucked into trouble. I went looking for it, found it, wallowed in it, stayed there, and if I ever did get out, I would quickly head right back into it. Others learn quickly. I learn slowly. I'm glad Bill put it all in writing so the information would have time to soak in.

The Steps: Spiritual





I wanted to create an original drawing for each of the Twelve Steps. I never intended to share these illustrations; they were drawn exclusively for myself and for my Higher Power. I share them now only as I might stand up in a meeting and share a spoken message.

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 that Step 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."


I read it again: "The breath of life?" Does that mean like 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 high and untouchable. 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 change that.

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. 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. 

The Steps: Conscious/Contact




I like to look up definitions of key words found in the Twelve Steps. I use an old 1934 Webster’s Dictionary that was current when the Big Book was being written. My habit of studying these old definitions somehow turned into a pastime of making drawings based on them.

Step Eleven has lots and lots of words. It reads: 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 it out.

I could see a lot of important words in there, but the most important word for me was really two words: “conscious contact”. When I first read Step Eleven, the phrase “our conscious contact with God” sounded highly religious and difficult for me to relate to. Whenever the word “God” was mentioned in the Steps or at meetings, I wanted to skip ahead to another the subject. I associated God with the ideas and practices of highly religious people and that made me feel uneasy.

At some point, I believe my sponsor detected that I was faking it when I mentioned my Higher Power. One day, he asked whether I believed in God. I reluctantly shook my head no. After a pause, he asked if I could ever remember a time when I believed in God. I was about to shake my head again, but stopped. I suddenly recalled that when I was in Elementary School, I felt an invisible and loving presence always near me. Whatever it was, it was pleased when I did the right thing, and disappointed when I did wrong.

I found myself smiling at that distant memory. When he saw my smile, my sponsor asked, “Can you make contact with that presence again right now?” For some reason, I felt irritated that he would waste time talking about my distant past when I was losing my life to addiction in the present. I almost snarled at him, saying “Well of COURSE I can.” My sponsor didn’t miss a beat. He said “Okay. Then use that as your Higher Power, for now.”

It is difficult to describe how much his statement shook me. That old memory had been dead and buried in my childhood. How could my sponsor suggest that I accept such a childish impression as my Higher Power? I suppose it is because he had read the literature. He concluded that regardless of what others may believe, that this conception of God was both real and natural to me (as opposed to addiction which made me a slave to the unreal and the unnatural).

When I decided to create a drawing for Step Eleven, I knew I needed to show a real-world example of “conscious contact”. I turned to the dictionary definitions for guidance. Conscious means “Sharing knowledge”… knowledge is what goes on in my mind.  Contact means “A union or junction of bodies”….my body is my physical existence. So Step Eleven seemed to suggest that I keep my mind and my body close to my Creator. I wasn’t certain what that meant, but it sounded like a good idea.

While at the drawing board, a memory came back to me. Whenever my mother would babysit my young children, she would sit them on her lap and read books to them. The usually squirmy, noisy kids would become very quiet while perched in her lap. To them, there was something magical about her physical presence and the knowledge she wanted to give them through the books. Here was a very personal example of sharing bodyand mind. Today, if I can maintain this much closeness to my Higher Power in body and mind, maybe I can stay sober one more day.

Today, I feel grateful to my sponsor for helping discover that my Higher Power had been with me all along. I am humbled that my family was supportive as I trudged my way back to sobriety. But during this twenty-four hours of sobriety, I am glad to be in a fellowship that is built upon improving our conscious contact with God as we understand Him.




The Steps: Continue



Step 10 - Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

I knew from the beginning that an illustration on the word "continue" would come easily. Some of my other drawings may seem complex, but I honestly try to keep things simple. There are plenty of examples of things that continue. There are things like a train on a track, a spinning wheel, a roaring river, etc. All are good examples of continuation.

As part of my illustration project, I looked up the meaning of that key word in a Webster's 1930s dictionary. Bill Wilson wrote the steps around 1939 so I thought that the definitions would be helpful, and I was right:

"Continue - v. to remain in a given place or condition."

No real surprise there, but I did notice that all of my examples of "continue" were things in motion: train, wheel, river, etc. Yet the definition included things which remain still. One can indeed continue a stare, musical note, a pose, standing guard, etc. without moving.

Since both aspects were included in the same definition (I confine myself to the first numbered definition in the dictionary), I thought I should include both in my drawing. Plus, I wanted all of it to somehow relate to my recovery. Now my self-assigned task was looking more challenging. 

It sounded like a riddle. What's something that continues by remaining in motion and in place? You can probably think of something but I cannot. So, I tried to think of something about recovery that was difficult to continue doing. Now, that was easy. I had trouble remaining calm while those around me acted insane. It felt impossible to ignore all that commotion.

That's when the two meanings of continue emerged from my mind in the form of a dog and a cat. The dog is me as I would like to be: calm, steady, peaceful, serene. The cat is more like my unguarded emotions: angry, scared, crazy, loud, and/or energetic. Like the dog, I wish I could just ignore everything and be at peace. Like the cat, I see a thousand and one reasons to run away, get into trouble, break something, hide somewhere, then attack suddenly. Over and over again.

There you have it. A drawing of a dog and cat which reminds me I can "continue" by taking action OR by remaining still. God can work with me either way, but He probably knows I pay better attention when I am peaceful. Step Ten itself suggests that is true: "Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it." I suppose that Step could trigger some people to go raving mad, but for me it is a way to know Peace and to fully comprehend the word Serenity.

The Steps: Amends




I have an old Webster’s Dictionary that was new when the Big Book was being written. I like to look up definitions of key words found in the Twelve Steps. What I found by studying these old definitions and reflecting on my own personal recovery has inspired me to make some drawings based on the definitions.

It is no exaggeration to say that my addiction cost me my business, my reputation, and my home. While addiction devastated me, my family inevitably suffered. I was sure things had gone so far down, that I could never make things right again. I thought that the only remedy for my guilt would come through punishment and suffering.

When I started the Twelve Steps, that’s what I expected recovery to consist of. Like anyone, I normally avoid pain at all costs. But if the program had to hurt me to heal me, I was prepared to endure it. Doesn’t medicine have to taste bad to do good?

I remember the first time I read the Twelve Steps. I actually skimmed them, because I was jumping ahead to find the expected painful parts. My eye was drawn to the Ninth Step which reads: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

Surely, this was the punishment step I had feared. That seems like a strange idea to me now, but back then I was convinced that those words described something painful and very dangerous. My addiction had driven away loved ones and business associates who had once placed their full trust in me. The suggestion of going back and speaking to any of those people sounded unbearably painful.

I was afraid of the Ninth Steps. Back then, I was afraid of everything—including the very thing that would save me.

Fortunately, when the time came for me to actually work the Ninth Step, I had become a devotee of the Big Book. I no longer believed the Twelve Steps contained any punishments or “bitter medicine”. Fear is a liar, and fear lied to me about how the Steps work. Fear alone had told me the Steps had to hurt to work. But that wasn’t true, which I learned by working Steps One through Eight.

I started Step Nine with my sponsor’s help. Using the literature, I pieced together my plan for how to make my amends. I cannot lie; I had a huge lump in my throat the first time I made an amends. But that was mostly first-time nervousness—like you’d expect on a first job interview or asking someone out on a date. And like those past “firsts”, I now wonder why it ever seemed so impossible to me.

I must have done something right, because I felt a genuine shift in my spirit as I worked Step Nine. I didn’t recognize it at first, but I was experiencing the Promises. It’s hard to believe that even today, because I did nothing to deserve the gift of the Ninth Step. It really was a gift. A priceless one.

When I decided to create a drawing for “Amends”, I didn’t know where to begin. My old 1934 dictionary described “amends” this way: “Compensation for loss or injury.”

Bill Wilson didn’t need a dictionary to tell him that definition. It’s commonly known that Bill went through law school, where legal principles such as “injury”, "harm", and “amends” are taught. In legal terms, a loss relates to money or property. An injury relates to health or reputation. It seems interesting that a program devoted to spiritual awakening would use language straight from a stuffy old law course.

I wanted to draw something that was familiar to most people. How could I depicts something as abstract as “compensating”? Putting a cast on someone’s broken leg? No, that’s a job for a doctor. Handing someone money because you dented their car? No, auto insurance does that for us now. I might show someone simply saying “I’m sorry” but that’s an apology, and the book suggested something more must come from an amends.

I thought back. When I was a kid, I remember accidentally breaking a wooden railing in our home. I felt terrible about it, but that didn’t fix the railing. My father got angry, but he never told me how I could fix it. He stayed angry and that railing stayed broken for many years, and I felt guilty about it every time I walked past it. Finally, just before we moved out of that house, my father repaired the railing. It took only part of a day, yet it relieved years of guilt for me. I now wish I had asked him how to fix it right away.

That’s what I learned to do in Step Nine. When I cause damage, I ask those I have harmed, “How can I make amends to you?” I then follow their directions, so long as no one is injured by it. There is more to making an amends than that, but that is the key ingredient as I understand it.

The past is unchangeable. Everyone has an opinion about the past, but I have never seen a factual report of anyone changing it—not in any history books or even in books about religious faith. If no one else has ever changed the past, why would I spend so much time thinking about doing so?

The past may still feel real to me. If I so choose, I can obsess about a past word or action I would change if I could only go back in time. But, real change only happens in the present. Before I got into recovery, I didn’t know that. I wasted so many years wanting to change a past that could never be changed, while ignoring present opportunities to compensate those I harmed.

When I spot a loss or injury that I caused in the past, I promptly offer to correct it in the present. Thanks to the Ninth Step, I have become very fond of the present. I see that every minute spent idly worrying about the past is one minute of the precious present I have wasted. With the help of my Higher Power as found through working the Steps, I can fully live in the present, one day at a time. 

The Steps: Harm



I once decided to make one drawing based on a single word from each of the Twelve Steps. I armed myself with a Webster's dictionary that dated to the 1930s, the same decade when the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous were written. The idea was helpful to me and wherever you are reading these words, you can probably see examples of how I combined other Steps, words, and drawings.

Eventually, I reached Step Eight: "Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all". The word "harm" was a strong choice for the Step Eight drawing. Unfortunately, I found myself running in the following circle:

•   My old Webster's dictionary offered this basic definition: "harm v. -  to hurt"

•   Frustrated, I flipped over to "hurt" and found that it means "to physically injure". 

•   Frustrated again, I went on to find that "injure" means "to harm".

A dead-end had been reached. I found an etymology dictionary which confirmed the above, but helpfully adding that the injury could be "to the body, feelings, reputation, etc." I am no scholar, but everything pointed to "harm" as meaning "to injure the body, feelings, reputation, or finances."

Thus, whenever I make a list of people I have harmed, I try to identify which type of harm. I know some people might recoil from my conclusion like it was a hot stove*. Others might say that harm can take almost any form and should not be restricted to these few choices. But I know my insanity stems from "a lack of proportions, of the ability to think straight" (Big Book p. 37). I personally need proportion and straight guidelines or I literally go insane. 

I found this simple definition especially helpful in combating stinkin' thinkin'. I had been literally tormented by the memory of my children going to high school prom without a dime of support from me. I am almost certain they bought their clothes at second-hand stores and drove our old junker car to the big events. I felt my insides ignite with molten, raging regret whenever I pictured them standing in humiliation in front of their friends. 

Reality check.

• Did I injure their bodies? No. They had good food, water, a roof, and parental care.

• Did I injure their feelings? I don't honestly know because I never asked them.

• Did I injure their reputations? In no way I can see, all these years later.

• Did I injure their finances? This is the hard one. Did I INJURE their finances? As in reach into their pocket and remove money? No. But my guilt would rush in and observe that I FAILED to fill their pockets with money. True statement. I failed to fill their pockets with money. Would an objective third person call that an injury? Neglect maybe, but not injury. 

My jaw dropped. The guilt that had allowed me to rip my insides apart vanished. Objectively and spiritually speaking, I had not injured them. I failed to give them what I wanted to give. But God was taking care of them just as He takes care of all his children. I am not Him.

"I am not God." Those are the words I have heard people in recovery blurt out as if it were news. And now it was my turn. I didn't destroy my children, as years of bitter guilt would have me believe. My kids are doing okay; better than most of their friends in terms of bodies, feelings, reputations, and finances. Not because of me. Because of their walk in life and their dance with a Higher Power.

My drawing is pretty simple. It shows a flower that lies fallen on the ground. It may take a few moments to realize that the flower did not break, but was cut by something sharp. Not by the loving hand of the gardener, who would likely never leave it laying thus. It was cut by a malicious hand, and left as a sign of vindictive cruelty for the gardener to find too late. A sign of victory by the harmer over the harmed.

It is a petty thing, I grant you. But it was the example that leapt to my mind as I drew. I believe it fits because a flower's stem and roots do not DIE from having the flower itself clipped off. The injury was not a fatal one. The plant still lives and will grow another blossom if kept healthy.

Injury is like that. Those people who I believe I devastated? Most of them have moved one to find better friends, lovers, or loved ones than I was. But in Step Eight, I must step up and name them all. Remember the unkind cut...the injury I inflicted, and put it on paper for my sponsor to review.

These Twelve Steps healed my own body, mind, and spirit by such small steps. Piece by piece. Cut by cut. In making a list of my inhumanities for Step Eight, I was reestablishing my own humanity, really. And that is not a bad step along the way to becoming sane.



* NOTE: I have been in recovery for years, not days. In that time, I have met many solidly sober alcoholics and addicts who drew very different conclusions about the best path to Twelve Step recovery. Some swear by daily affirmations, inventories of positive assets, particular eating guidelines, rigid routines, sobriety partners, and many more. They swear by these things, yet I never use them. Do I see controversy brewing in these differences? Not especially. I believe recovery is a sacred space between a person and their Higher Power. I call it a sacred space because I believe it is above the human plane (thus the phrase "Higher than human power"). How I get there includes aspects that are as personal to me as my own fingerprints. But get there I must. Whatever gets me there must surely be part of my correct path.

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