Every person in recovery is different; every person in recovery is the same. That is my conclusion after meeting, listening to, and reading about alcoholics and addicts in all stages of recovery. As a sponsor, it is satisfying to know exactly what my sponsees need—they need to work the Twelve Steps and have a spiritual experience. Imagine my frustration when I discovered that no two sponsees ever worked the Steps exactly as I suggested, nor did they have a spiritual experience when I thought they SHOULD.
When I first came to the Twelve Steps, I was no different. My first sponsor told me exactly what I needed to do, but I simply avoided doing them. I heard, "Work the Steps", but I paid little attention to the Steps for weeks or months at a time. I heard, "Half measures availed us nothing", yet I tried half-measures for years. I heard that I would obsessively think about recapturing the good parts of addiction and avoiding the bad parts. I heard I should regularly call my sponsor. I heard I should describe where I really was that day, every day.
Did I listen? Nope. I wanted to be sober but I avoided doing anything I was told. I put on an act to appear as if I was doing everything my sponsor said, but addiction was still my master.
After years (yes, years) of coming to meetings and NOT following the program, I became convinced that the Twelve Steps were useless. I felt sorry for myself: "After allllllll the time and effort I have put into recovery, I have nothing to show for it!" Poor pitiful me!
At that low spot, I accepted two suggestions from other people. A relative sent me Joe and Charlie's "The Big Book Comes Alive" recordings which included a discussion of how the Twelve Steps were worked back in the 1930s and 40s. Also, my sponsor asked me to stop praying to a "God" that I had no understanding of or personal connection to. He urged me to search my childhood for any time I had ever felt the presence of a Higher Power. To my surprise, I reopened a long-forgotten connection to a God I personally could understand.
Finally, I began to work the Steps fully and without reservation.
I cannot honestly say I worked HARDER after that—slipping every few days for years is brutally, brutally hard. I cannot say I worked SMARTER after that—lying, evading, cheating, denying, and manipulating required greater mental work than telling the simple truth.
But something definitely did change in me. I know, because those tired old "bumper sticker" sayings that AA is well known for suddenly came to life for me in very personal ways:
EASY DOES IT replaced my attitude of: "I must not be working HARD enough on recovery yet."
KEEP IT SIMPLE replaced: "The Twelve Steps are a COMPLEX set of psychological theories."
FIRST THINGS FIRST replaced: "Tackling EVERYTHING at once proves I am productive."
ONE DAY AT A TIME replaced: "I MUST earn a 10 year sobriety chip IMMEDIATELY!"
The change did not happen overnight, but in time, my emotional numbness began to thaw. I experienced a great moment of grief when I realized how much of my life had been lost to addiction. But then almost immediately, the grief was replaced by a tidal wave of happiness that the rest of my life was still mine to enjoy.
I was already attending church—unsuccessfully trying to "bleach" away the moral stains of my addiction—but I began to let my friends there see my real brokenness. I no longer built relationships on secrets. I stopped judging other people. I started to relax about tomorrow. I took better care of the people who my Higher Power placed in my life.
That feeling of uselessness and self-pity disappeared.
Promise 6 came true for me as the result of working the Steps. And when I stay active with my recovery, that Promise continues to come true with each new Today.
I turned to a 1934 dictionary to better understand what Bill W. may have meant when he wrote Promise Six. For me, the key word in the promise was "disappear". Webster's Dictionary offered this definition:
"Disappear v. - To cease to come or be in sight."
I mulled over this definition. When something disappears, you can no longer SEE it. That made sense. I could imagine standing on a beach and watching a ship sail into the distance until it vanishes over the horizon. The ship still exists, but because it is no longer visible to me, it has disappeared.
The other part of the definition mentions "cease to come in sight". I wondered why that part was included. I pictured myself on a beach when there is no ship in sight. Then I imagine spotting one just as it appears on the horizon. I wait and watch, assuming the ship will come closer, but it never does. In fact, that distant vessel vanishes again. I rub my eyes. Was it ever really there? Of course it was! But it ceased coming into sight—thus fulfilling the second aspect of "disappearing".
So maybe Bill W. meant that my feelings of uselessness and self-pity would go away and whenever they started to come towards me, they would vanish again.
I certainly welcome BOTH parts of that Promise.
To create a drawing for the word "disappear", I considered depicting ships on the horizon but without the element of movement, that image would not work. After some pondering, I realized that snow on the ground provides a traces of whatever has passed by, even after the person or thing has disappeared.
I drew a city street that was empty: no cars, no people, no activity. But the tracks in the snow clearly showed that cars had passed through but were now gone.
But what about that business of "cease to come into sight"? For reasons that are still not clear to me, I drew footsteps passing along the sidewalk and terminating at an open manhole. I paused to consider what I had just drawn. "Whoever that person was," I thought, "they have certainly ceased coming into sight." I could see that there was a slapstick humor to the idea—cartoon characters and movie comedians fall into open manholes all the time. Wasn't that funny?
For some vague reason, I felt uneasy about the image. Recovery is about real people, not cartoon characters or comedians. I was drawing for my Higher Power and humor was not my intention here.
Then, an idea occurred to me. Who says the footprints lead INTO the manhole? Might the impressions be a record of someone who has climbed out of the sewer and walked safely away?
I looked again. I liked that idea. It did not make perfect and total sense, but it just FELT right. I sighed. I want my drawings to depict something real without a lot of symbolic meaning. But simply I liked this drawing no matter how it was interpreted:
1. My uselessness and self-pity will disappear as if into a manhole
2. Once free of my feelings of uselessness and self-pity, I can climb out of that sewer and walk into the world as a free person.
This has become one of my favorite drawings. I suspect that is partly because it contains a touch of mystery for me, even today. Just because I have a "God of my understanding" does not mean that I completely understand God. A little mystery seems to be a good thing.