As a veteran of the 12 Step groups, I continue to be amazed by the wisdom contained within the 12 Steps. I am struck by the new awarenesses that emerge in my Wednesday night group as we share reflections and experiences week after week. Such discussions never get old. Each Step is like a seed that is waiting to open in response to the water and the sun. In this article, I want to reflect upon and share what I see as a key aspect of each Step as every Step uses “We” in stating the Step. Recovery is much more than “I.” This is what I mean by the title of this article – “Recovery through Power of We.”
Clearly, each person who comes to a 12 Step meeting has acknowledged some kind of addiction and is looking for a place and a group where she or he can find support in making changes around their addictive behavior(s). My feelings in attending my first 12 Step meeting some twenty-eight years ago were ones of hesitancy and anxiety around what I would find there as well as what would happen. Slowly over the following weeks, I found I was feeling more comfortable with others in the group as I made some connections with people in the group. I also discovered both the Serenity Prayer and the 12 Steps, both of which have become components of my recovery program. Gradually, I began to feel a part of a “We!”
We receive more than we thought when we connect with others in recovery.Over the years, I have come to believe that our addictions flourish in isolation and disconnection, while recovery tends to flourish in a community where there are connections. I believe this is part of the wisdom of the people who created the 12 Steps many years ago. In each Step, they used “We”, not “I.” Recovery is moving beyond ourselves and finding others to walk with and to learn from. Each of us – We – need experiences of community where we feel we belong and can tell our stories of addiction as well as recovery.
Being a life-long member of a Christian community – the Roman Catholic Church – I like to correlate my experience of 12 Step meetings and the 12 Steps with the traditions of that Catholic community. I believe a brief passage from the New Testament of the Bible – the Gospel of Matthew – speaks to this dimension of community and “We-ness.” In the Gospel, Jesus says, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among you.” (Matthew 18:20) What I hear in this short passage is when people gather together, acknowledging a Higher Power, the Higher Power is present. This doesn’t require huge numbers of people. It can simply be one more than one. I believe this is a good description of a 12 Step meeting, which doesn’t have to be a large gathering of people. What is important is that the people gather, acknowledging a Higher Power, and different people can have different Higher Powers. For some it might be a God or the group or a sponsor or a friend or a value. Another example of a Higher Power came to me in a conversation with a friend who shared with me how important Nature is for her. She has had profound experiences of a Higher Power in Nature. So, in the coming together of at least two people or a person with Nature – a We – Higher Powers are present.
This is part of the uniqueness of 12 Step meetings, and at the meeting I attend, we both begin and end with reciting the Serenity Prayer. The traditional rendition of the Serenity Prayer is a request for Serenity, Courage, and Wisdom from God. In my saying of this Prayer, I have added another sentiment and that is Gratitude. This is simply giving thanks for the Serenity, Courage, and Wisdom we have been given. My Christian tradition says simply when we ask for something and we receive what we asked for, it is important to give thanks. I even wrote a book about my evolution in this regard and adding Gratitude to the Serenity Prayer (The Gratitude Element: A New Look at the Serenity Prayer, Minneapolis: Gasscann Publishers, 2015). Acknowledging and opening to a Higher Power –whomever or whatever that might be for a specific individual –is a very important dimension of the 12 Steps and happens in profound ways when a “We” comes together. In this, there is also a respect that individuals have different Higher Powers and there is no need to convert someone to my Higher Power. As Ernie Kurtz says, “Anyone or anything can be a Higher Power, just so it isn’t myself.” The people in my group have expanded my view of Higher Powers, for which I am grateful. I would never have come upon this alone!
I believe there is a power in the “We”– a response to Step 1 which speaks of powerlessness vis-à-vis our addictions and how our lives have become unmanageable – to help us make the changes we need to make as we move into recovery. Belonging to a group in recovery can be empowering, helping us to make the changes we need to make. Feelings of powerlessness can give way to some feelings of empowerment.
There are a number of different effects that come with feeling that we are part of a larger “We.” One of these that I see that is especially important is accountability. Being accountable to another, or others, is another way to experience the power of “We.” My experience is that it helps when someone else knows what I am trying to do as opposed to keeping secret what I am trying to do. In telling another what I am trying to do, I give the other person the opportunity to check in with me concerning how I am doing with what I said I want to do. I can also give this other person the opportunity to challenge me to keep working on what I said I want to do. Without some degree of accountability, I can be like a bird flying alone in the skies. With some degree of accountability, I am flying in a flock of birds, flying together. Such accountability can be a helpful way to continue to take inventory – Step 10 – about how we are doing around the things we want to do. I have enlarged Step 10 not only to include the times we have been wrong but also the times we have been right and to admit those to others. This strengthens the “We” of our recovery.
So, the challenge in recovery in the context of the 12 Steps is to allow ourselves to become part of a “We” and to let go of our tendencies to go it alone and isolate. Are we willing to join others in our recovery and become part of a “We?” I believe the 12 Steps propose a program that invites us to move beyond ourselves and join with others. I see this especially today where is so much polarization everywhere as well as so much disconnection. In joining with others and sharing stories of addiction and recovery, we find empowerment to keep walking with others in recovery. Being accountable to others is one way to experience the power of “We.” I hope that you are experiencing in your life, and in your recovery, the power of “We.” If not, I hope you will risk finding another or others with whom you can feel and experience the power of “We.” My experience says that this is worth it and that is a most important ingredient of recovery. It is experiencing the power of synergy – like 1 + 1 = 3. We receive more than we thought when we connect with others in recovery. That is the power of “We.”
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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Last Updated on April 22, 2023