Being Hopeful Through the Eyes of 12 Steps

Photo by Rosie Kerr on Unsplash

In seeking to address the topic of hope today, I feel especially challenged as there seems to be so much frustration, hopelessness and powerlessness swirling around these days. These feelings are related to the continuing effects of Covid and now the flu; the rising costs of everyday items such as food and gasoline along with rising inflation; the catastrophic effects of climate change; and there are those of us struggling with addiction issues that can be triggered by some or all of these issues.  These issues and other events can lead us to feel very hopeless – what can we do to feel more hopeful?

In this article, I want to address some of the dynamics of hope that hopefully will help us discover some more hope in our lives. One of the sources for this exploration will be looking at the wisdom of the 12 Steps. I have found the 12 Steps not only provide wisdom in dealing with our addictions but also for making decisions on how to proceed in every aspect of our lives. So, I invite you to come along on this journey toward experiencing more hope.

What is hope?

As I have thought about this question – what is hope? – I have found it difficult to answer. Some aspects that have come to me are: Expectations, positivity, and values. Hope revolves around the expectations we have for ourselves for the present and future. These expectations will also be influenced by our past experiences. If we continually failed at what we wanted to do, it might be more difficult to be hopeful in looking toward the future.

Hope revolves around the values and goals we have as we look forward toward our future. Our values give us direction and energy in creating our futures. These values require some positive results in order to give us hope moving forward. Being hopeful, then, is having expectations that arise from our values that lead to results that are positive, certainly for us, and at times for others.

There is an old philosophical axiom that says: First in intention, last in execution. What this says to me is that the intentions we have for our lives are vital for making those intentions happen. My intention statement lists what I hope to accomplish. Some of my hopes are:

  • I hope to live a healthier lifestyle
  • I hope to live in a world that is more just and equitable for all people
  • I hope to live a life that is less addicted
  • I hope to live in a world where we find ways other than violence to deal with conflicts.

Some of these hopes are very personal, while others are much larger than me – like striving for justice and finding alternatives to violence. Some of our hopes can be very personal, while others can be much, much larger than ourselves. What is important is that you have a stake in making this hope important to you. There is also another adage that simply says we get what we expect. What we expect and what we hope for set the table for our actions to make these things realized.

That, then, is a blueprint for hope – having positive expectations that arise out of what we value and hold to be important. What do you value that can serve as the bases for your hopes as you look into your future? All that is important is that whatever it is, it is something that you value, and you have a positive expectation for this happening.

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Powerlessness and empowerment

As we look to the wisdom of the 12 Steps, I have chosen to begin with Steps 2 and 3. These Steps speak to discovering a Higher Power or Powers that can restore us to sanity. Another way to state this in relation to hope is to seek Higher Powers that can help us feel empowered in relation to what is important to us and to what we are hoping for.  A favorite author of mine around recovery issues – Ernie Kurtz – says simply that anyone or anything can be a Higher Power for us, just as long as it isn’t ourselves. We need others to help us realize our hopes – that can be a friend, a support group to which you belong, things you value like equity and peace, A God or Goddess that you believe in – to name a few examples. Who/What can help you feel more hopeful? I believe being hopeful requires the support and help of others. It is finding situations where we can share both or expectations and hopes as well as our disappointments and feelings of powerlessness. At times, it is finding someone we trust with whom we can share the darkness of our hopelessness. In my view, that person is truly a Higher Power! Do you have such situations and people in your life where this can happen? If you don’t, I urge you to find others who can be that kind of a lifeline for you.

Our abilities

Don’t be afraid to hope and to have the conviction to work to realize your hopes.With an intention and expectations in mind and with the support of others, we can look at what we can do to develop what it is we are hoping for. I don’t see being hopeful as sitting back and waiting for someone to make this hope a reality. We have a very important part to play in realizing our hopes. I see this as an aspect of Step 12 – spreading the message of recovery to others and letting people know what I am hopeful about. My example of hoping to live a healthier lifestyle has meant committing to exercise, eating healthy foods, and experiencing good sleep. Another element to keep in mind around our hopes is that at times realizing our hopes takes longer than expected. In working with our hopes, then, I suggest we often need patience. Realizing our hopes might take longer than we expected, or our hopes might be realized in ways that we don’t see. In regard to these “delays,” the support of others can help us wait and not lose hope. I belong to a couple of groups – one a 12 Step group, the other a men’s group – and they have been an enormous help to me as I waited for things to develop in regard to hopes that I had. It is tough to wait alone! So, don’t give up if life takes longer than expected to develop. Remember: Each of us waited nine months in the womb before it was time to come out and appear.

Prayer and meditation

Step 11 speaks of prayer and meditation as ways to maintain conscious contact with our Higher Powers, one of whom might be God. In this Step, I focus more on the part of remaining conscious. I see this as important in terms of naming what it is we are hoping for as well as the ways in which we can work toward making our hopes real. There are many ways in which we can lose consciousness these days. We can get lost in the expectations of others and forget the hopes that we have. We can lose consciousness by engaging in addictive thinking and acting, and this could be some substance or some behavior. Another way to lose consciousness is to isolate from others and avoid sharing our hopes and what we are trying to do to realize them.

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There are many ways to pray and meditate that can help us remain conscious and in contact with our Higher Powers. I have found conversations with people we trust as a very deep way to remain conscious about our lives. Another way is through any kind of mindfulness exercises that help us become aware of what is going on in our lives. Being attentive to our breathing can be another way to remain conscious about what is happening. Reading books and articles as well as listening to podcasts can be ways to increase our learnings as well as dialoguing with others about what we are learning.

Conclusion

To live without hope can lead to us feeling powerless and possibly even depressed. I hope that the reflections I have shared in this article will help you to find ways to rekindle your hopes about your life as well as the larger issues facing all of us today. I hope that they will help you to stay conscious about what is important to you and to help you work with these issues toward the results you hope for. To conclude, I would just remind you of some of the processes that might be of help to you in naming and realizing your hopes. Remember to state your intentions and expectations for what you want to have happen. This is based upon what you truly value and believe in. Don’t forget the people that can help you realize your hopes as well how you might help them also with their hopes. Name the things you see yourself doing that can help make your hopes real and empower yourself to act. Choose to stay conscious about what is happening:  What is working and what is not and make adjustments to better realize your hopes.

Today, I believe we all are in need of people who not only have hopes and dreams but also have the commitment to work toward making those hopes and dreams a reality.  These hopes and dreams are not only just for the individual but are also around the larger issues facing all of us as a human community. Don’t be afraid to hope and to have the conviction to work to realize your hopes. This does make a difference! I would like to end with a song (and I have changed a word):

“What the world needs now is [HOPE], sweet [hope]. It’s the only thing that there is too little of.” Adapted from lyrics by Hal David (1921-2012), What the World Needs Now is Love (1965).

Don’t give up on your hopes.


Mark T. Scannell is a veteran 12 Stepper who believes that communities or Villages are essential in helping people recover from our addictions. His most recent book – The Village It Takes: The Power To Affirm – explores this theme.

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