“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”
– E.H. Chapin
STEP 1: We admitted we felt powerless over circumstances, habits, compulsions, beliefs and/or ways of thinking and acting that seemed beyond our control- that our lives somehow lacked the freedom, happiness, meaning and love we desired.
Many people who have near-death experiences talk about seeing their life play before their eyes or of being given a “life review”. Here the events of their life are replayed and they are able to see the sum total of their actions. Not only do they see their life, they feel it as well. Some even speak of feeling how their actions caused others to feel.
Toltec Warrior Shamanism mimics this life replay for the recapitulation ceremony, where the initiate re-visits the events of their life, typically in some sort of mock-casket. The warrior focuses on how each life event feels, seeking to evoke subconscious or unconscious body memory; understanding that we experience memory in every cell of our bodies, not just our brain. The warrior remembers and works through each event of his or her life, breathing in each event, then breathing out after it is fully revisited to release it. After the recapitulation is finished, the warrior emerges renewed and freed from the chains of the past.
The first step, as well as the other eleven for that matter work in a similar fashion. Many painful events and realizations are brought up through step work. Having the courage to face these painful “shadows” is what ultimately allows us to be free of their influence over us and our lives.
Many people do not fully realize the impact that events of the past have had and continue to have on their lives. When unrecognized and unresolved events of the past and the beliefs we created as a result of them can affect every aspect of our lives: our relationship, our work, our finances, our eating habits and how we perceive the world and ourselves.
Take the example of the child who was overweight when they were growing up. In school the child was bullied in a variety of cruel fashions. His parents were divorced. His mother was a single working mom and the child was alone most of the time. His father was distant and would make fun of the child’s appearance when he was around him. The mass media and mass-mind culture told him that men should be athletic with muscles and six-pack abs. This instilled a deep sense of self-loathing and a lack of self-love in the child.
As the child grew into an adult, they began going to the gym obsessively. They were going to “show” all those people who made fun of them. They became very lean and fit. Fitness became their life and they became a personal trainer. Eventually this person had children of their own and he was going to make damn sure that his children were never fat, so they didn’t have to go through what he did. As a parent this man was an obsessive tyrant, passing on the psychological damage they received when their intention was exactly the opposite. This is how the cycle of emotional trauma is perpetuated.
The emotional trauma from this person’s childhood caused this person to form a set of beliefs about themselves and others. It should be added that as an adult this person now accepts and perpetuates this belief system willingly, (whether they choose to believe it or not) and attempts to control others according to these beliefs.
The first step is about taking an honest look at the events of our life and identifying the key events and relationships that impacted our lives and shaped our beliefs about ourselves and others in a negative manner, giving a sense of powerlessness over our own lives. When we identify these things, we get at the root causal factors of whatever problems we have in our lives; the things that seemed a mystery to us.
These events can range from abuse and neglect, to the death of a loved one, to abandonment issues, bullying. Even the very early childhood the procedure of circumcision has been linked to serious and lasting traumatic effects (there is a reason why the U.S. is the ONLY western country to routinely do medical circumcision and people in Europe and elsewhere think we are INSANE for doing it). Everything matters here, so talk to family if possible to get any details you may miss that could help in the process. Remember the body remembers what the conscious mind may not.
A first step typically breaks into 2 major parts- childhood, where the unpleasant and traumatic events happen to us; and adulthood, where we perpetuate the effects of those traumatic and unpleasant events onto ourselves and others. We take a brutally honest look at all of the instances in which we felt powerless in our lives. Powerless over what has happened to us and powerless over our own behavior and circumstances. True honesty is the key here.
In a nutshell, the first step is typically a written life story that is pretty much all the bad stuff that happened to you growing up and all the bad stuff you did when you were a grown-up yourself. You recall the series of unfortunate events that led to any “wrong-doings” and their consequences. I know that writing a story about all the bad shit that’s happened in your life doesn’t sound like much fun, and it isn’t. But it is transformative. This is the beginning of the dying process that is necessary for the alchemical rebirth.
Going into this we may very well have some idea what our “issues” are. Use these already recognized previously recognized character defects and look for them as you write your life story. Be as detailed as you need to be in order to get a full perspective on how these ways of thinking and being have negatively impacted your life.
There is no wrong way to write a first step and lengths can vary. Mine was about 40 pages handwritten and took me about 8 or 9 months to finish. Look for the cause and effect patterns in your life, and try to find the root causes for them in your life events. Do not try and sugar-coat anything. You need to be as real and raw as memory allows. Do your best to fully feel these events as you write them, and then again when you read them aloud.
This is where the others in your support group come in, as the first step is typically something that is read aloud to others. Being vulnerable among supportive individuals is amazing for the healing process. It is through having the courage to share the events and actions that bring us the most shame, embarrassment, anger, resentment and sorrow that truly begins the process of healing and rebirth.
If you are unable to find others who are brave enough to walk these steps with you, then I would urge you to seek the support of a trusted counselor or spiritual teacher, or perhaps a very close, non-judgmental friend. I strongly advise that you do not share first (or forth) steps with family members or significant others. This can cause hurt feelings and judgments that could impede your growth and progress through the steps.
That being said if you are reading this and feel that you are ready to embark on this 12-step program, do not try and go this alone. I know there may be some solo spiritual voyagers out there, but this is not that kind of work. This is hard and heavy stuff, and you will need the support of other human beings. I strongly urge you to find someone to partake in this process with you, or better yet a group of someones.
Fellowship and support is crucial when working the 12 steps. Not only is trying to work the steps solo ineffective, depending on the level of trauma you have experienced in your life, it can be downright dangerous. And if you realize in the process that you do have some form of serious addiction or compulsive behavior, I strongly urge you to seek out an established 12-step group for that particular issue in your area.
I encourage people to accompany this step work with the Light meditation I posted a couple of weeks ago. I also strongly encourage folks to do one of the 3 exercises I laid out in my previous posting before embarking on the first step. Until next time, take care and God bless.