Step eleven, like step ten, is not a step that is worked once and then forgotten. Instead, it is part of an ongoing (usually daily) ritual of recovery. That said, recovering addicts often find “prayer” and “meditation” to be somewhat baffling concepts. And some, especially those who began the recovery process as agnostics or atheists, may still be struggling with the concept of having a “higher power” at all. For these reasons (and many others) step eleven can be a difficult step to work. If you find yourself struggling with step eleven, take heart in the fact that you are very far from alone, for even the most devoutly religious members of 12-step recovery groups sometimes temporarily lose their way here.
The good news is that if you’ve diligently worked the first ten steps and find yourself still at odds with the spiritual nature of 12-step recovery, it’s OK. As mentioned above, step eleven is part of an ongoing practice. As such, nobody is expected to work it perfectly. In fact, the effort of working step eleven is often far more important in terms of lasting positive effects than any other factor. The step itself even takes this into account by incorporating the words as we understood Him. In other words, however it is that you understand (or don’t understand) your higher power, that’s just peachy. You don’t have to be a devout Christian, Jew, Muslim, or anything else to work step eleven, because step eleven isn’t about religion. Instead, it’s about finding your personal spiritual center, whatever that might be.
For some folks this is relatively easy, especially those who arrived in recovery with an existing spiritual practice. In such cases a renewed effort in that discipline is usually the way to go. The exception to this occurs when a person no longer trusts or believes in that discipline. This sometimes happens when the “religion of one’s childhood” has a scary, judgmental, punishing form of God, or when the people associated with that religion did not adequately practice what they preached. In such cases it is perfectly acceptable (from a 12-step standpoint, anyway) to develop a completely different spiritual connection.
That said, for people who don’t yet have a spiritual connection and for people who are seeking a different one, the mere thought of trying to find one can feel incredibly daunting. But it needn’t, as the process is really not difficult. The only things required for success are open-mindedness and willingness, and by the time most recovering addicts reach step eleven they are more than a little bit familiar with these two tenets.
The first thing to understand is that there is no right or wrong way to develop a spiritual connection. There are as many ways to accomplish this task as there are people who’ve done it. In other words, no two people’s journey and experience is exactly the same. The real reward isn’t reaching some specific spiritual plateau; it is simply making the journey and having the spiritual experience. Nevertheless, a few general tips may help you to find your particular pathway toward enlightenment.
1) Make your spiritual quest a regular part of your daily routine. Set aside a specific time each day where you will not be disturbed by family, work, or other outside distractions.
2) Create a “sacred space” in which to conduct your daily spiritual practice. For some this may be something formal and elaborate such as a meditation garden, for others it can be quite simple, such as a favorite easy chair in a comfortable room (with the television, stereo, phone, and other distractions either removed or turned off).
3) Develop a spiritual “routine.” This could include a guided meditation, a series of affirmations, a specific or nonspecific prayer, writing out a gratitude list, etc.
4) If all else fails, find a spiritual mentor. Pick someone who has what you want in terms of his or her spiritual connection, and do what he or she does. Eventually you will be able to adapt elements of his or her spiritual practice into your own personal routine.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with new ideas and to alter your routine as time passes. It is very likely that as you continue to work step eleven, your concept of a higher power will change, as will your ability to connect with it. Thus, your daily practice is likely to vary over time to reflect this growth.