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The Steps: Remove



Yes, that is a gigantic rubber drain plug and I know it is a pretty ridiculous thing to draw. Please hear me out before judging my sanity (or total lack of it).

My sponsor encouraged me to look up Twelve Step words in my home dictionary. He was trying to keep me busy between meetings. I wasn't very pleased by the "assignment", but it eventually led to a deep respect for the words used in the original Twelve Step literature.

Modern dictionaries were useful, but when I happened upon a 1934 Webster's Dictionary, it connected me even more directly with the words used in the Steps. It revealed the exact meanings of the words back when Bill W first wrote the Big Book of AA. Take the word “remove” as found in Step Seven: “We humbly asked God to remove our defects of character.”

Before checking the 1934 dictionary, I thought the word “remove” meant to make something vanish. You know—such as erasing a written word or washing away a stain. Once it's gone, it is permanently gone. Therefore, when I worked Step Seven, I expected my Higher Power to permanently make my dishonesty, fear, selfishness, and inconsideration disappear.

But I noticed that my defects kept creeping back in. Whatever defects (i.e., dishonesty) He removed on Monday, I found returning on Tuesday. After this happened several times, I started to sincerely doubt God’s ability to remove any of my defects of character permanently. Sadly, I began to resent my Higher Power. If my God really could remove my defects completely—like removing a stain from cloth—why didn’t He?

I turned to the 1934 dictionary and found this definition: “Remove: To change or shift the location, position, station, or residence of;" Hmmm. I read it again carefully. The definition did not describe making anything disappear permanently; it just said, “shift the position”.

This insight hit me hard.

The definition helped me see that my defects will always remain nearby in case I get the insane urge to invite them back. I suddenly had to let go of my old—and illogical—assumption that God wanted to make me permanently “perfect”. That made sense; there is only One perfect being and that is definitely not me! Thanks to my old dictionary, I reached a greater understanding of Step Seven.

This and other examples of 1934 definitions redoubled my interest in the Steps. What could I do with my newfound enthusiasm? If I went to my local meeting and started reading from my musty old dictionaries, they would label me as insane. Or they would declare, "Conference approved literature only, please!" If I typed up the definitions and handed them out, it seemed unlikely anyone would ever read them.

I am an illustrator, which eventually led me to realize I could turn to my sketch pad as a form of sharing. I reflected on the newly discovered definition of “Remove” and began sketching some possible images. I’d never heard of anyone turning their meditations into drawings before, so I wasn’t sure how to proceed. I felt a little foolish at first, but I prayed for serenity and courage as I worked.

I asked myself “What’s something that we remove but never stays removed?”  Eventually, an image slowly started to emerge from my memory. I remembered my grandparents’ old 1930s bathtub. When the drain stopper was removed, that black rubber plug would float aimlessly around in the bathwater for a time. Left to drift, the plug would follow water currents and eventually make its way back onto the drain hole. The round plug might block the hole completely, or else turn sideways and slow the water flow.

As quirky as the memory seemed, I had to admit it fit the definition perfectly. When God removes a defect from me, the defect never goes completely away. Sometimes it drifts harmlessly around, and at other times it returns to either partially or completely block me off from God. I busied myself at the drawing table and soon had a finished drawing. It was an enormous rubber bathtub drain plug. You heard me right. 

“People are going to think I am absolutely insane!” I thought. One day, I gingerly showed it to someone, then another, then another. Their reactions were surprising: “Could I have a copy of that?” I had other drawings that were not related to recovery, but those received a ho-hum response, even from me.

The drawings based on the 1934 dictionary resonated with people… both in and out of recovery. I don’t try to understand it. The drawings are the result of prayer and meditation, so I cannot fully understand their source.

All I know is, I no longer harbor the notion that my Higher Power wants to make me perfect. He doesn't want my defects to permanently disappear. All I am expected to do is make daily progress. If I want my defects cleared away in the next twenty-four hours, all I must do is ask Him to remove them now.


TRIVIA: Most plumbing is stamped with the name of the manufacturer. In case you cannot read it, the drain hole is enscribed with one word: "OHIO". This is a nod to Akron, OH, which was a key location in the founding of AA.

The Steps: Ready




Poor Step Six. The short, short step. I sometimes see it and Step Seven clumped together in certain literature. It is as if taken alone, the Step is not worth much so it settles for an undignified "Buy One Get One Free" deal. Step Six reads as follows:

"We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character."

To those outside the program, it may sound like a fairly substantial undertaking. Removing all of someone's defects of character certainly sounds like a big job. Strangely, to my recovery-minded ears, the Step sounded like a no-brainer piece of fluff. Of COURSE I was ready to have God remove my defects. That's what I had been waiting for ever since I walked into my first meeting.

At the time, I breathed a sigh of relief and breezed right past Step Six. I didn't slow down for Step Seven either—more on that later. I thought perhaps the Fourth Step was like a big hill on a roller-coaster and the following Steps were much smaller, easier ones. Surely another REAL Step would come into sight soon.

I cannot recall what turned my thinking around on this. But today, I would call Step Six the most important of all the steps. What.... say again? Yes. I consider Step Six the MOST IMPORANT Step of all.

How so? I will do my best to answer.

Until that Step, I had been "talking the talk" and was beginning to "walk the walk". In the first three Steps, I had admitted, believed, and decided....all activities of the mind. In Step Four, I had created a factual record of past actions and unearthed my blame in many of them. In Step Five, I had dared to confess the whole truth outside of myself.

So, now what? Now would I FINALLY take some real action? Would I be given access to secret Recovery meetings where the most potent secrets of the program would be revealed at last? I imagined I might finally be asked to drink some sort of potion or submit myself to a painful initiation rite. 

None of this was true. Instead, Step Six was a chance to ask: "Am I ready to change my entire attitude? Am I ready to stop expecting God to do MY will? Am I ready to face the world without an imaginary shield of imaginary perfection? Am I ready to face my entire life (including loved ones, co-workers, strangers, enemies, family, etc.) without hiding behind my regrets of the past or my fears about the future?"

These questions mystified me. But what was truly painful was whether I would allow God as I understood Him to do these things for me. When I was tempted to resume fear, was I ready to let God (not me) prevent that? When I felt the urge to be dishonest, inconsiderate, or selfish, was I ready to let God (not me) guide my next action? Steps Six was asking me a tough, tough, question: "Was I READY to let go of my will and plunge into the unknown that was God's Will?"

I wanted to express this difficult challenge in a drawing titled "Ready", but my mind was blank. Showing the shift from my failed will to a greater Will was beyond me. I doodled and sketched, without much luck. It turned out that inspiration waited just outside my window.

Where I live, there are many squirrels. They routinely take daredevil leaps from one tree to another, despite various lurking cats waiting to take advantage of any accidental falls. I assumed the squirrels had identified a few safe routes and were sticking to those. Perhaps they faced very litte risk in their adventurous plunges. But when I looked more closely, I realized their leaps often involved a large measure of....well....faith. A squirrel would crouch on one trembling branch before rocketing itself across an abyss into the vicinity of a nearby tree. Since tree limbs soften or thicken or stiffen or even disappear with the seasons, I realized that no surefire routes were possible. As I examined the critters in their spectacular mid-air moments, they looked wildly frantic as if they were questioning whether their leap had been well-aimed.

Such moments of uncertainty reminded me of my own emotions. By Step Six, I was an experienced Step-worker. I had admitted, decided, etc, but I didn't truly know where all of this was heading. I was leaping (with good guidance from literature and sponsors), but each action was still was a very private and even modest leap.

My attitude at this altitude was expressed well by my drawing. It shows a squirrel at the very moment of release from a familiar tree. Before him stretches a large and forbidding expanse of empty space. The distances involved seem immense and his attitude appears completely courageous or entirely foolish, depending on an outcome he cannot fully control.

He has left behind the old; he is hoping for the new. But in this singular moment, he has few choices other than being ready or to blindly panic. Given the choices, it just makes sense to become entirely ready. What's the point in panicking? If the next tree branch comes within reach but the squirrel has clenched himself shut out of panic, he will miss his safe landing crash to the ground. So, why NOT be ready? Why not have all claws out and eyes wide open? Why not have your body tense and you tail whipping around like an improvised rudder?

Why NOT be ready to have a new Power? Why not believe a Greater Power can help me? Why NOT turn my will and my life over to Him? 


I finally saw it! I really saw it! This was the Step where I finally had a chance to change. Not merely in my actions, but in my every attitude. All along, that was where the real need for change had been hiding; at the very center of me—where I was clinging fearfully to control, yet hopelessly running out of power.

Be ENTIRELY ready!

I really I got it! I really GOT it! The next 24 hours is my next big, incredible, uncontrolled, and thrilling next leap into faith. Half-measures could be fatal. My readiness had to expand out to its fullest possible size! Ironically, the "smallest" of all the Steps was really my biggest leap in the entire Twelve Step program.

It still makes the hair stand up on my neck.

The Steps: Admit




Every Step puzzled me at first. I might think I understood a given Step, then my sponsor or the literature would offer an important insight and I realized I didn't understand it very well at all. The same was true when I looked up words in the Webster's Dictionary that was published back when Bill wrote the Twelve Steps. I was working to illustrate one word from each of the Steps and came across this Step:

"Step 5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs."

It is a sentence with multiple parts, but all of them turn upon the word "admit". So I looked up that word in the 1934 dictionary and found a very short definition: 

"Admit v. To suffer to enter."

I believe in this case, the word "suffer" meant "go to the trouble", rather than to endure some type of physical pain. If I am correct, then "admit" means "to go to the trouble to enter". This was not good news for me, since I wanted to turn each definition into an illustration. When woven directly into Step 5, it didn't make much sense:

"Went to the trouble to enter to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs."

The fit appeared rather awkward. I wanted every detail to fit. I was tempted to go searching for alternate definitions. But I stood by my earlier decision to always use the first definition in the dictionary. Maybe I am eccentric that way. I had it on good authority (Joe and Charlie's "The Big Book Comes Alive") that Bill Wilson was extremely careful in choosing his words. I doubted Bill would choose a word when the first definition of that word did not contain his intended meaning. Maybe I'm wrong, but for my little project, I stood by my decision. Now, I could see my decision had painted me into a corner.

Prayer and meditation followed. In abundance.

Then, a story (by Franz Kafka?) came floating into my mind. Since I ask God to guide my thinking, intuition, and decisions, I gave the story considerable attention. In that fable, a traveler had sat outside a great door waiting to be admitted by a guard. Each time he asked permission to enter, the guard firmly refused. Time passed, but the guard's answer never changed. More time and requests passed, but the guard never varied in his absolute refusals. The man waited for permission until he became deathly weak. Eventually the physical ordeal drove him irreversibly toward death. Too weak to argue or stand anymore, he feebly asked the guard why he was never permitted to enter through the door. The guard said something like, "Oh, I would have allowed you to enter freely at any time. But it is my job to reply to any spoken REQUEST for permission with the word 'no'." In this fable about futility, the man died in bitter sorrow.

Somehow, that story melded with my story of recovery. After taking a long time to finish my Step 4 inventory, I made dozens of excuses for not beginning Step 5. The primary reason was because I didn't see the point. So what if I read my inventory to my sponsor? Reading these painful facts would not change them. And as for admitting to God and myself, well, I thought that both parties were already aware of the contents of my Step 4 inventory. Every time I wanted to bring it up with my sponsor, a voice inside me would refuse permission. "Don't waste his time. He has other sponsees who have REAL problems" was my inner guard's insistent reply.

It startled me one day when my sponsor nearly barked out, "So are you going to do the Fifth Step or NOT?". That was the prodding I needed. We promptly set up a time and place. It took two sessions, but we went through every nook and cranny of my shortcomings. It was a very different experience than I expected. It was an inner journey of some kind; one that brought me to a new place I had never been before.

When I took up my drawing pen, the image you see now leapt into mind. It had ingredients of the Kafka story. There was an important entrance. There was a seat just outside that door where applicants for admission could wait. But there was something else; I added a fairly small door that is historically called a "man door". It was a person-sized door built into large city gates. It allowed individual pedestrians to slip in and out of the city without the necessity of opening the heavy defensive gates.

All of the above ideas came together in my mind. The "suffering" (trouble) that prevented me from admitting the truth had came in the form of my dread, procrastination, inertia, bad habits, and general fear. My sponsor's gruff demand that I take Step 5 allowed me to overcome all of these. Somehow he gave me the courage to push past the negative guardian and step quietly through the man-door.

And what a gate it turned out to be. I had expected that act of admitting my shortcoming would be huge, terrible, melodramatic, and earth-shaking... as if pushing open those enormous and infinitely heavy fortress gates. What nonsense! The actual act of doing a Fifth Step was simple and humble and gentle and sensible meeting with my sponsor. Everything my internal guard had threatened me with completely vanished.

I am glad I went to the trouble to tell God, myself, and another human being the exact nature of my wrongs. And now that I have done it, I look forward to Meetings where I can share my wrong with others. I never did have to battle my way past a fearsome guard or a fortified castle gate. Instead, it took the simple courage to admit in a small and true way, what I had done that separated me from God. And almost that quickly, I found myself once again admitted to the presence of my Higher Power.

It is amazing. Simply amazing. I still cannot find the words for it. So, the picture must speak for me.





The Steps: Inventory



Step Four consists of a short sentence, but it sounded like a big deal to me when I first read it:

Made a searching and moral inventory of ourselves.

I did not know exactly what this meant, but as a still-suffering addict, I did not like the sound of it. I was in the habit of hiding my true nature. Step Four sounded like a step I could not hide from. But remaining an addict was, for me, a death sentence. So even though the inventory sounded interesting, scary, mysterious, and impossible to do, I sensed that something powerful might happen if I tried it.

A GOOD START, UNFORTUNATELY FOLLOWED BY HALF-MEASURES - My sponsor gave me simple instructions for doing my inventory. I went home that night and did what he suggested. It felt good to be taking real action. I wrote a few pages of my inventory that first night. But then I skipped the exercise the next night and, before long had quit working on it entirely. My inventory was still incomplete nine months later. (By comparison, an extremely willing person might be able to work their entire Fourth Step within days or weeks.)

My sponsor was a live-and-let-live person. He never hurried me. He knew my willingness HAD to come from me and NOT from him. I occasionally worked my inventory, but I only halfway followed my sponsor's instructions. When I finally finished and I was ready to do my Fifth Step with my sponsor, my sponsor had moved away. At a crucial moment in my step work, I became derailed.

I kept coming back to meetings, but there was little sobriety for me or others. Lacking any other resource, I started listening to recordings of “The Big Book Comes Alive” series by AA members Joe and Charlie. They described the Twelve Step recovery as they believe it was originally practiced in the 1930s. Joe and Charlie's description of the Fourth Step inventory was fascinating, and I had to admit that it very closely matched what I had read in the Big Book of AA.

STARTING OVER AGAIN - Armed with this new insight into "old school" Twelve Step work, I proceeded to work steps Four through Twelve exactly as described in the Big Book. As the result of working these steps, I was astonished to find myself staying sober one day at a time.

When I decided to illustrate Step Four, my attention was drawn to the word “Inventory”. It is a fairly common word and I predicted that its definition would be unremarkable, even in my 1934 Webster’s Dictionary. As usual, that old book surprised me.

Inventory - n. An account catalog or schedule made by the executor of all the goods and chattels and sometimes the real estate, of a deceased person.

The phrase “deceased person” shook me. Was my Fourth Step inventory really the account of a DECEASED person? Certainly not literally! Still, the words gnawed at me. I had to admit that when I walked into my first recovery meeting, I felt dead. Every joyful part of my life was gone: my livelihood, my home, my marriage, my children. I know I was near death because the idea of suicide seemed totally acceptable. Fortunately, I was taught to work the inventory as it was described in the Big Book of AA. I used the tone of an objective third party, briefly recording the relevant facts of my life without adding any unnecessary commentary.

HOW WOULD BILL KNOW ABOUT THIS LEGAL MEANING? - Not everone realizes that Bill W. completed nearly three years of classes at Brooklyn Law School. Law students were taught how to take the "personal inventory" of a deceased person's property. Such inventories describe absolutely EVERYTHING... from real estate to farm animals (called "chattels" back then) to shovels, to buckets, to bars of soap. Any county courthousein America contain thousands of these detailed inventories. When I examined some historically accurate inventory forms, the rows and columns looked very similar to what the AA Big Book shows on page 65.

My Twelve Step drawings are intended to call attention to the definitions of key recovery words. But no drawing I could think of could improve on the precise definition found in the dictionary. So for my drawing, I did the only thing I could; I produced an sample of what a typical legal personal inventory would have looked like in the 1930s.

MY DRAWING IS NOT SOMEONE'S REAL INVENTORY: I copied a real inventory form, but I changed it to obscure the real name and details. I note with some amusement that whoever filled out the original form followed the written categories correctly—but only for the first several lines. After that, they ignored the column headings and began writing a numbered list of belongings. If you ever help someone else work their Fourth Step Inventory, don't be surprised if they, too, veer away from the written instructions. It is my experience that addicts always try to complicate simple things. That's why year after year, signs are posted in Twelve Step meeting rooms that say: "Keep It Simple".

My old 1934 Webster’s Dictionary hints at how grave my condition was before I got into recovery. And it reminds me that my Higher Power, the Twelve Steps, and my fellow addicts are all that stand between me and my real, legal personal inventory....taken by someone else after my death.



TRIVIA: If Personal Inventories were so common in the 1930s, why don't we still commonly hear about them today? I asked an attorney, who informed me that many states only require these forms only if the deceased owned a particularly valuable collection of something, such as guns, coins, jewlery, etc. In those cases, the executor creates a detailed inventory so family members cannot dispute which belongings were in the home at the time of death. Any incidents of relatives "helping themselves" to valuables would be quickly detected and thoroughly documented. In short, a lawyer took a thorough inventory to reduce anyone's temptation to fudge the facts. If you wish, you may ask a lawyer you know whether they have ever used a legal personal inventory. Please share what you discover at [email protected]

ADDENDUM: When someone in my family passed away in 2012, I was surprised to learn that their executor was required to file a written personal inventory for all of their personal assets and possessions. What had been true in 1934 remained true many decades later.

The Steps: Decision



Back in the 1930s, the definitions of common words were sometimes difficult to understand. My best evidence of that is found in a 1934 Webster's Dictionary. One example is the word "Decision". I myself might have defined that word as something like, "Making up your mind" or "Coming to a conclusion". But back in the 1930s, when the Big Book was being drafted, the official definition was this:

Decision - n. the act of terminating by giving judgment on

That definition stumped me for a while. It wasn't shocking or unexpected. I simply could not understand exactly what it meant. And what did it have to do with my 12-Step recovery? That word plays an important role in Step Three, which reads, "Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood Him."

Step Three is a pivotal one. In the earliest draft of the Big Book, Bill Wilson wrote that if the reader cannot comprehend and accept Steps One, Two, and Three, they might as well throw the Big Book away! 

According to Joe & Charlie's "The Big Book Comes Alive" lecture series, Step Three gives many in recovery a brief scare. The step seems to be making an ominous demand that the follower instantly surrender their entire will and their lives to God. On the surface it sounds like way too much, way too suddenly.

Fortunately, Joe & Charlie (and most 12-Step sponsors I know) point out the big difference between "decision" and "action". For example, I can decide to learn to the French language but I will never speak it unless I take the actions necessary to learn that language. Likewise, I can decide to turn my will and my life over to the care of God as I understand him, but that will only happen if I follow that decision with action.

I now recognize that the decision I made in Step Three was impossible to put into action without the important things I gained from working later Steps. So Step Three is a decision to change, which will (and MUST) be followed by the later action.

Since I was creating original drawings based on those 1934 dictionary definitions, I began thinking about how to illustrate the word "Decision". The dictionary mentioned TERMINATING something by giving JUDGMENT. In my own words, "Terminate" means "end". "Judgment" means drawing a conclusion. So, Step Three involved ending things by drawing a conclusion.

I stopped and considered my past in light of this definition of "Decision". I had previously JUDGED that I should lose weight. Or get a better job. Or improve my house. Or be nicer to my wife. And with each judgment, I had made a dramatic vow that things were about to change based on my new decision.

Just one problem. I failed to follow those decisions with action. None of the things I decided on happened in exactly the way I intended. Like me, the person in my illustration was full of bold gestures but was needing to take prompt and decisive action.

Having understood the terms used in the dictionary, my drawing idea formed fairly quickly. I envisioned a figure standing on a railroad track who had clearly drawn a conclusion. By dramatically pointing their hand toward a side track, this person was indicating a clear JUDGMENT about what should happen next.

It is a fact that railroad trains go in the the direction that the tracks take them. A person's decision, judgment, or finger-pointing doesn't mean a thing to an oncoming train. That person needs to follow their DECISION with immediate ACTION if they want the train to change directions. They need to scramble forward to the nearby switch and change it to a new position. (An expert on trains assured me that the person in the drawing will surely be run over if they do not change the position of that switch.)

So, in Step Three I need to stop the endless debate in my mind (i.e., terminate through judgment) and take action. I already know where my previous will and my life led me—into addiction. I had to decide to change first, and then later take the actions of change. Based on that decision and action, my will and my life were carried to a completely new place.

The Step wasn't so difficult once I understood what it was asking. And yes, I did vigorously work the steps which follow Step Three. And yes, I did wind up in a marvelously better place.

The Steps: Powerless




When I started working the Twelve Step program, I really didn’t know anything about the Twelve Steps. I was relieved to find that Step One appeared to be so self-explanatory. It asked me to admit that I was powerless, and that was not hard for me. I had already lost my marriage, my business, my house, and the care of my children. Even after that, things kept getting worse, so of course I could admit I was powerless.

Almost as soon as I started working Step One, I began seeking excuses for not fully working it. Don’t ask me why. I thought I should do what Step One said, but only halfway. I started thinking that half-measures might work, so I looked for loopholes in the Steps.

I questioned whether I was truly “powerless". I knew I still had the power to drive a car, write a check, or play a musical instrument. I can remember marveling at how logical my argument sounded. With this as my faulty justification, I worked the program while mentally holding myself back from it. Any sober person could have told me that such half-measures would avail me nothing.

With the help of a devoted sponsor, I eventually got my thinking straightened out. Much later, I looked up the word “powerless” in my 1934 Webster’s and found this:

“Powerless - n. Destitute of the ability (whether physical, mental, or moral) to act.”

This definition seemed to speak directly to my recovery. When I take Step One, I am admitting I lack the power to act. Some actions I wanted to take were to 1) stay sober, 2) stay married, 3) support my family, 4) be a good parent, or 5) keep my business. I wanted to take all of those things but could not. As a direct result of my addiction, I lost them.

Had I faced the facts from the start, I would have easily admitted I was powerless. I would never have used any other forms of power as a diversion. Step One never asked if I was powerless over writing checks, driving a car, paying music, etc. Step One simply says “we were powerless”.

In my days before recovery, I had used every available resource to defeat addiction. I used intense willpower, but it failed. I spent years in individual counseling, but had no luck. I went regularly to church, without becoming sober. I exhausted every power, "physical, mental, or moral” but could not defeat it. At last, I had to agree with the Big Book of AA and Websters Dictionary; that I was truly powerless over my addiction.

When I decided to illustrate one word from each of the Twelve Steps, the word “powerless” stumped me. I sketched a leaf in a stream, because it is powerless over the water. I showed a person stretching to grab something they could not reach. These images were okay, but they really did not convey my message of recovery.

I asked myself, “What is powerful enough to lift any object, but is powerless to lift itself?” Quickly, I sketched an enormous and powerful crane straining to lift itself. At its original small size, the crane looked too slapstick—nothing more than a childish cartoon, So, I set it aside. Later, fed by prayer and meditation, I returned to it and made a larger drawing. Far from looking comical, the drawing nearly stopped my heart. Looking into that drawing was like looking into a mirror. It carried my Message: “I can do much, but I cannot save myself.”

The saying “A picture is worth a thousand words” probably applies here. The drawing explains itself. An incredibly powerful-looking crane flails helplessly in the futile goal of picking itself off the ground. Not only has it exerted every available force, but the tracks in the snow reveal a common attempt to fix the problem my moving to a new place. All for nothing.

I chose this machine because it looked so mighty, but other machines (like trains or ships) wield much more mechanical power than this one. Still, the message of powerlessness remains the same, even if the strength of the machine is multiplied a thousand times.  It, like me, needs a Higher Power than itself.

Serenity Prayer: Difference



"And the wisdom to know the DIFFERENCE."

The definition: "Difference n. the quality of being partly or totally unlike in nature, form, or quality"

In this instance, the imagery became my central focus, since the text held no surprises for me. I carefully crafted an illustration that you cannot see here. It consisted of a majestic mountain on the distant horizon and, in the foreground, a small hill. In fact it was a molehill. The kind that moles live under. It was a literal interpretation of "Making a mountain out of a molehill" <groan>. It would make sense if you saw it because the mountain (looking rather small in the distance)  and the molehill (looking quite large in the near foreground) actually bore a remarkable resemblance to each other.

The idea was a perfect fit. The Big Book of AA defines insanity as "a lack of proportion" (p. 37). Simply put, big things seem small and little things seem big. This is particularly true in relationships. Those who suffer this insanity are likely to spend precious paychecks on gambling, drinking, sex, or drugs. This, while the much greater need for the money exists at home with the family. Thus, the opportunity for a "good time" becomes disproportionately large while the enormous needs of the family are dismissed as trivial.

The mountain and molehill was a perfect idea. But it was not a perfect picture. Almost no one who saw it made a connection between the visual image and the word "molehill". All of my drawings are inspired by prayer and meditation. I wasn't about to reject it because of the reactions of a few. 

When I had finished all twelve drawings, I set them aside because I had no particular plans for them. When I would pass by and leaf through them, the "Difference" drawing felt flat and uninspired. I had never made a replacement drawing before and was concerned this might start a habit of second-guessing myself.

Then I read a book about Nagasaki and the atomic bomb. The imagery worked its way into my mind. I had a relative who was known for behaving badly in restaurants whenever she found anything imperfect about her meal. She would call the waiter over and begin a prolonged episode of scolding and irritated correcting which unintentionally cast a dark cloud over the mood of everyone within earshot. In other words, she would "go nuclear". One thing in my mind led to another...leading to the drawing you see here.

To some, the resulting new drawing looks somewhat like a broccoli bunch and a CAULIFLOWER stalk. It is not. The lower image is a rendering of the mushroom cloud from an atomic bomb. In the Nagasaki book and the restaurant ravings of my relative, I had found two disproportionate "equals". Where anyone else saw an overcooked piece of broccoli, my relative saw mass catastrophe on an unimaginable scale. I myself have similar blind spots. I can get fighting mad when someone beats me to a choice parking spot. I sometimes think that watching a rerun on TV is more important than going to a recovery meeting. Plus, I sometimes forget Who got me sober and take credit for that myself. Talk about "a lack of proportion". 

Serenity Prayer: Know



"And the wisdom to KNOW the difference."

As I have mentioned repeatedly here, the words of the Serenity Prayer were familiar and simple ones. I instinctively knew (or thought I knew) what each word meant. I prayed the prayer thousands of times, perfectly content that I understood what I was saying. But the 1934 Webster's Dictionary changed all of that.

Definition: "Know v. to perceive directly"

If I thought this short word had a simple definition, I had guessed wrong. I thought of "knowledge" as information which I keep inside my head and retrieve when I need it. Thus, to "know" something meant to already have it in my mind. For example, in fifth grade, I was expected to know the capitals of all the states—which meant I had to memorize them.

The dictionary that was printed the same year as the Serenity prayer provoked me. It said "to know" meant "to perceive directly." In the context of the prayer, I am asking God to help me perceive the difference between things which I... 1) can change and 2) cannot change.

The old dictionary suggested to me that the facts inside my head won't help me. I would even go farther and say that I cannot memorize the various things I can change and cannot change. Life is simply too complex and its situations too variable for me to lazily rely on my old definition of knowing.

The drawing for the word "Know" came seemingly out of nowhere. I had sketched an old man tuning a piano shortly before reading the definition. Something about that wizened old figure spoke to years and years and years of experience at piano tuning. Yet when confronted with TODAY's piano, he had to intensely focus all of his perceptive powers in order to put it into tune. In theory, the tuning fork tells him the correct pitch, yet an inexperience person could struggle for hours, trying to make the piano match that perfect tone.

Having seen a few people, tune pianos, I know they go into an almost trance-like state. They carry the same tuning fork to each job, but must confront hundreds of variations and nuances that make every piano unique. The tuner cannot walk up to an unfamiliar piano and KNOW that piano inside their head immediately. They must instead delve into the instrument until they PERCEIVE what makes it unique. Only then can they begin the work of tuning it.

What makes this definition unique is its warning not to automatically apply old solutions to new situations. In many ways, that was my problem before recovery—I was reacting in a knee-jerk way rather than thinking and feeling about each unique situation.

When I say the Serenity Prayer now, my wish is for my Higher Power to make my mind supple, not rigid. And to allow me to perceive rather than prejudge. Just by saying the prayer, I can feel a quietness descend which leaves me ready to receive new knowledge.






Serenity Prayer: Wisdom




"And the WISDOM to know the difference"

The definition: "Wisdom n. the quality of judging soundly concerning what is true or false"

This drawing is difficult to describe in terms of the Serenity Prayer alone. In the Twelve Steps of recovery, the insanity which all addicts and alcoholics suffer can be traced to "a lack of proportion, of the ability to think straight." I wonder how many people in recovery have read that phrase countless times without pondering what it literally means. 

A "lack of proportion" (as I understand it) means confusion over the size of things. For example, when two cars collide, the two drivers may view the damage very differently. One might examine a small scratch and declare, "My perfect car is RUINED forever!" The other driver might yank off their crushed bumper, throw the broken windshield in their back seat, thump on the hood confidently, and declare, "Mine's not so bad; I bet I can still push it home!" The two drivers cannot agree about the true proportion of the damage. What most non-addicts cannot understand is that both of these attitudes can co-exist inside the same head for decades.

The "inability to think straight" is equally puzzling. When I receive a paycheck on Friday, I could take it straight to the bank and deposit it. That's straight thinking. My insanity would have me believe that if I bought lottery tickets until the money ran out, I'd certain win something. Armed with those winnings, I could buy a car and maybe a motorcycle. When I pull in the driveway, my wife will be so thrilled by our new-found wealth that her parents will admit that they were wrong about me being an irresponsible fool. When my insanity reigns, I lose my ability to think straight.

Knowing these two aspects of insanity from the Twelve Step program colored my interpretation of the word "Wisdom" in the Serenity Prayer.

The definition speaks of the true and the false. This was exactly where my sanity slipped the most. As I began the new drawing for "Wisdom", I wondered what that moment would look like when my perfectly sensible mind turned from sane to insane. I thought about the tremendous effort that duck decoy makers put into creating lifelike imitations of the real thing.

In the next instant, I found myself sketching the moment when such a craftsman might suddenly lose their sanity. The change would not be instantly noticeable. They would use the same tools and make the same motions. Except this time they would have confused the real duck and the wooden decoy. In that instant, they stop doing what they intended and begin doing something very destructive.

Duck decoy makers will chuckle at my inaccuracies. But the truth remains the truth. How many times did I suddenly confuse my property with someone else's? Did I treat my employer's time as if it were my own? Did I covet another's wife as if she should be mine? The insanity piled higher and higher. But what's hard for most people to believe is that I didn't realize the switch between true and false had occurred. I had elaborate excuses, explanations, and rationalizations for these lapses into unreality.

I have returned to sanity, thanks to a Power higher than human power. And while medical insanity does not come and go easily, mine still does. If I do not follow the program of recovery, I can look down and realize my hands are no longer servants of the pure and simple truth. Just like the hands in the drawing.


TRIVIA: Did you notice that the ruler hanging on the wall is wavy and there are zeroes where some inch markings should be? That's because page 37 in the Big Book includes a remarkable definition of "insanity". Bill W made it clear he was referring only to alcoholic—and probably addictive—insanity when he wrote: "Whatever the precise definition of the word may be, we call this plain insanity. How can such a lack of proportion, of the ability to think straight, be called anything else?" The ruler in my drawing cannot be used to measure sizes correctly (lack of proportion) nor can it be used to draw a straight line (inability to think straight).

Serenity Prayer: Courage




"The COURAGE to change the things I can"

In making this drawing, I may have made an error. "Courage" was one of the first words I looked up in the 1934 Webster's dictionary. I suppose I was curious to learn how any dictionary would define that familiar word, so I went looking for it among the crinkled old pages.

The definition: "Courage n. the heart as the seat of intelligence, or feeling"

Say what? If you've read my other comments, you've heard me say I was surprised by certain definitions. This one was by far the most unexpected. Where, for instance, was the reference to BRAVERY? Where was the steadiness of nerve when confronting great danger? What did the HEART have to do with anything?

I say this drawing may have been an error because there is something I didn't initially notice about this definition. This definition is labeled as "archaic", which is Webster's way of saying it is outdated—people don't use it that way anymore. The word hasn't been used this way since Shakespeare's time. 

Trouble is, I didn't notice the "archaic" label until after the drawing was complete. What was the drawing? It was a mom standing outside of a burning house in her nightgown. Inside a flaming upstairs window is a nursery and crib. Just out of view, a group of people are lunging to catch her as she starts to run back into the house. One hand is a fireman, trained never to let people return to a burning structure. Another hand is a woman, perhaps a neighbor, who is desperately clutching at the woman's hair to stop her. The third hand is that of a child, probably the woman's own, trying to keep her mother closeby.

The woman is clearly going inside, regardless of the well-meaning hands. She has already broken the grasp of the fireman. She is yanking her own hair out of the neighbor's grasp. She has become blind to the presence of her already-rescued child and is turning with determination to go after the remaining one upstairs.

This image is emotionally wrenching to me. Sure, the image is dramatic; perhaps melodrama. But I personally know many ordinary people who lack common BRAVERY in the face of physical DANGER who would react in the same way as this woman.

It's not a warrior's great bravery that compels this woman; it is her love. It's not danger that she is focussing on; it her infant's immense need she is drawn by. She has not made a mental calculation about her odds of succeeding. Instead, her heart has become the seat (or the foundation) or her intelligence. She is not thinking with her mind alone; she is giving total authority to her heart.

Under everyday circumstances, this woman might be a very timid person. She might never disobey a fireman. She might meekly follow her neighbor's advice. She might put her older child's needs ahead of her own. But with the rising of her courage, she makes decisions from only one place; her loving heart. This drawing is a portrait of that type of inwardly igniting courage, and I needed that same courage to walk away from the grave that addiction was beckoning me towards. 

I myself don't have the courage necessary to confront danger or evil alone. I can't, but He can.

I considered switching my drawing to a more modern definition of courage. But instead I left the illustration and definition as-is. I saw no reason to change the words which held so much truth about my own experience. My courage did not come from fierceness or numbness. My courage came from the Divine flame that I suspect flickers inside every heart. I hope Shakespeare himself would approve of my definition of "courage", even if my modern counterparts protested. My sponsor always says, "Will" is the most important ingredient in recovery. I would like to believe that perhaps that can be extended to include Will Shakespeare. ; )
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