My book 12 Steps To 1 Hero: the opening pages

self-help recovery book 12 Steps Twelve Steps hero's journey

How chaos captured in a net never makes order

It was really scary… but then it was beautiful.

That’s how my ten-year-old son Daniel described the final part of The Neverending Story fantasy film when I asked what I’d missed after falling asleep towards the end.

I recalled the earlier line in it said by the old gnome lady Urgl: “It has to hurt if it’s to heal.”

Both sentences can be used to sum up the Hero’s Journey and the 12 Steps, the recovery programme or “a design for living” successfully worked through and lived by millions of people since the book Alcoholics Anonymous outlined it when published in 1939. That book gave its name to a growing group that until then had no official name, and that most commonly now is known simply as AA. (Not to be confused with British breakdown service the Automobile Association or American Airlines, although all these AAs are to varying degrees rescuers of stranded people…)

As well as being used by alcoholics to recover and stay recovered from their once hopeless condition – and alcoholics were previously unfathomable to even the greatest medical and psychological minds, and so essentially left to die – it has also been adapted to work the same miracle for many other debilitating, isolating, despairing and fatal conditions and addictions. This includes addiction to such as illegal and prescribed drugs, work, technology, hoarding, sugar, external validation, gambling, relationships, sex, pornography, food, nicotine, emotions, codependency and love.

In fact it can work for any addiction: that is anything that is detrimental to a person and/or anyone around them that the person cannot stop doing – and stay stopped. Anything that is a distraction or that provides pleasure or relief or numbness has the capacity for someone to become addicted to it. There is today even a group called All Addicts Anonymous, which is “AA, as adapted for all addicts and all addictions”.

But as well, increasingly, it is seen that these remarkable 12 Steps can help immensely – entirely – anyone suffering from all manner of emotional problems, mental health conditions, sickness or disease.

More people than ever are interested in them and discovering they are modestly yet abundantly a way of living that creates and gives a meaningful and happy life of comfort that’s beyond their wildest dreams, that the 12 Steps are a series of only positive measures that anyone can do, and with not a single “don’t” in them. It is not a programme of “don’ts,” but of “dos”.

Indeed, as far back as 1953 with the publication of AA’s guidebook to the 12 Steps, Twelve Steps And Twelve Traditionsits Foreword made the observation that: “Many people, nonalcoholics, report that as a result of the practice of AA’s Twelve Steps, they have been able to meet other difficulties of life. They think that the Twelve Steps can mean more than sobriety for problem drinkers. They see in them a way to happy and effective living for many, alcoholic or not.”

The man who wrote most of that book, one of AA’s co-founders who was a New York-based stockbroker called Bill W, had written three years previously: “I don’t think happiness or unhappiness is the point. How do we meet the problems we face? How do we best learn from them and transmit what we have learned to others, if they would receive the knowledge?

“In my view, we of this world are pupils in a great school of life. It is intended that we try to grow, and that we try to help our fellow travelers to grow in the kind of love that makes no demands. … When pain comes we are expected to learn from it willingly, and help others to learn. When happiness comes we accept it as a gift, and thank God for it.”

This essential aspect of living well by being capable of meeting the problems life throws up was also made by naturalist, geologist and biologist Charles Darwin in the previous century: “It is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able to adapt to and to adjust best to the changing environment in which it finds itself.”

That is, we need to be adaptable to change. As author and pastor John C Maxwell says: “Change is inevitable… growth is optional. To grow you must see the value in yourself to add value to yourself and others. You must know yourself to grow yourself, and it is hard to improve when you have no one but yourself to follow.”

So imagine, or maybe you don’t need to imagine, that you’re a million miles away from where you could be. If you are, you more than likely know this. It may be buried deep down, but deep down you know it. You can do something about that. You can go to the place where you could be. More than that, you can go to where you should be, where you’re made to be. You can make those changes, those adaptations and adjustments, thatyou need to make to be that person you were meant to be. Sometimes these are small changes. Sometimes they are like the response to someone I know, who had needed half his stomach removed due to his heavy drinking, who on starting the 12 Steps asked someone around a long time in AA exactly what he needed to change. The reply was: “How about absolutely everything!”

There’s a phrase that’s popular now that says: “It’s okay to not be okay.” It should I think say: “It’s okay to say or admit I’m not okay.” That’s what I think it’s being used to mean. I hope it’s not being used to mean that it’s okay to not be okay, always, for all of your life. That is plainly not okay. No one was put on this Earth to be that way. That would be pointless, that would be life without real purpose, maybe that is a life that has not adjusted or adapted or made any changes. Many people come into the 12 Steps groups talking about having the same emotional reactions as when they were a child or a teenager. Okay, there’s some food for thought.

When you’re suffering you know it’s not okay. You know this isn’t who or how you’re supposed to be. Maybe, you can hardly even look at yourself in the mirror. Let me let you know that I’ve been there. But you don’t have to stay there forever. Yes, acknowledge and accept where you are, you already know that and you need to admit it – it’s the first step, admission is Step 1 of the 12 Steps – “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol– that our lives had become unmanageable.”

This is how it was first written for Alcoholics Anonymous, but you can try replacing the word “alcohol” with whatever you want. There’s more on this to come. But then know that you can move forward to somewhere different, somewhere less dark, somewhere much brighter. Somewhere bright and light and relaxing and full of meaning and happiness. So rest assured, you can do something about it.

I will say to my young children to do their best in life to make it fulfilling, to always be kind, and that maybe those are the same thing. We need to learn to speak to ourselves like this too. Many people are not accustomed to this sort of gentle voice, they grew up with harsh tones. The word gentle here is perfect as it derives from Latin gentilis meaning “of a family or nation, of the same clan”.

So much more than beating an addiction, which is clearly a momentous feat in itself, the 12 Steps enable a realisation that allows you to become this person you’re supposed to be, by going on a journey to find the hero inside. Consequently significantly emboldened, you can now stand tall, even during the worst periods of life: during a relationship or job rejection; as a loved one suffers with sickness; when the world recoils due to terrorism or a pandemic virus; even during the deaths of your mother and father… You are the one that is there for the others, you are the strong one, you are the brave and courageous, you are the calm in the storm and you are the one from where the light shines in the darkness. Isn’t that the aim, to be that one?

It is the enabling of that which can confront the unknown, sometimes the unimaginable, definitely chaos and disorder – and triumph despite it, through it and frequently because of it. It is to be someone who is noble, admirable, excellent and worthy.

Read more and get 12 Steps To 1 Hero here.