The Twelve Promises offer us something that the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions do not. By reading the Twelve Steps, we learn that there is a solution to alcoholism and addiction. When we read the Twelve Traditions, we learn how to function as part of an AA or NA group. But when we look at the Twelve Promises, we see something else—an end goal. The Twelve Promises provide us with a glimpse into what our life can be if we work the Twelve Steps and refrain from substance abuse. We hope that our series on the Twelve Promises has, to this point, performed its duties in this regard. Now, we would like to bring this series to a close by talking about the Twelfth Promise.
Throughout this series, our focus has remained on how we may usher in the fulfillment of the Twelve Promises. We dedicate much of our discussion in the first eleven articles to actions we might take, or ways in which we might develop our mindset. But the Twelfth Promise presents us with some difficulties in this area. Why? Because the Twelfth Promise pertains largely to what we will not do in recovery. Or, to be more accurate, the Twelfth Promise focuses on what we cannot do. This might sound a bit restrictive, but trust us—you will soon see that the Twelfth Promise assures profound liberation.
If you wish to experience this liberation, only one goal stands before you—to begin working the Twelve Steps. The Big Book (Alcoholics Anonymous) assures us on pages 83 and 84 (“Into Action”) that we will experience the Twelve Promises upon working Step Nine. Nonetheless, we believe that many can begin fulfilling the Ninth Step Promises quite early in their recovery. It simply takes a bit of understanding. We hope that the following discussion will help you to understand and fulfill the Twelfth Promise in all its glory.
Fulfilling the Twelfth Promise
In traditional enumerations of the Twelve Promises, the Twelfth Promise states:
“We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.”
At this point, we might draw your attention to two key components of this promise. First, notice that the Twelfth Promise describes a sudden realization. The word “sudden” seems particularly noteworthy here. When previously discussing the concept of a spiritual awakening, we noted that the spiritual experience sometimes occurs quite gradually. So if this particular realization of God must be sudden, we can reasonably assume that the Twelfth Promise is not talking about the spiritual awakening we undergo earlier in sobriety. We must remember this as we continue our discussion.
Before addressing the second point, we should note that the concept of God will inevitably put some people off. Many struggle with spiritual concepts when they enter recovery, some more than others. We discuss this in previous articles, noting that true faith requires no dogmatic beliefs. Spirituality and religion can and often do coexist, but they are not joined at the hip. If you take issue with the concept of God, simply replace the word “God” with another such as “destiny” or “the universe.” This should make it easier to understand the point of the Twelfth Promise without sacrificing any of your personal beliefs.
Second, notice that the Twelfth Promise seems to come with some limitations. God doesn’t do everything for us. Only those things that we could not do for ourselves. Some might recall that, in our article on enabling, we defined an enabler as someone who does things for the addict or alcoholic that they could (and often should) do for themselves. In these terms, the Twelfth Promise defines God as the perfect opposite of an enabler. Instead, God acts as a necessary support system while we endeavor to maintain sobriety.
We’ll discuss each of these notes in greater detail below. While the Twelfth Promise involves a lack of control, make no mistake—we still maintain some power over our mindset. At the end of the day, we all have a choice. We can accept that sobriety leads to a better way of life, or we can deny this truth entirely. Just remember that denial might inhibit our ability to experience the benefits of the Twelve Promises. If you truly wish to fulfill the Twelfth Promise, you must approach this subject with an open mind. Otherwise, the Twelve Promises may never bear fruit in your life.
The Sudden Realization of God
As noted above, the word “sudden” carries great significance when discussing the Twelfth Promise. Regardless of our religious beliefs, eventually we come to realize that we did not get this far on our own. Take, for example, those who use their AA group as their Higher Power. Nobody who attends regular meetings can claim to fight addiction on their own. While much of the struggle occurs internally, we still need the unity and support of our fellowship to help us. Perhaps we can’t always say precisely how they offer assistance, but we know ourselves to be stronger as part of the group.
Now, take this line of thinking and apply it on a broader scale. The fellowship is not the only source of power from which we draw when we need to strengthen our recovery. Think of the times that you prayed or meditated to keep yourself from giving in to cravings. Remember the withdrawals, and how they felt like they would never end. Yet no matter what life throws at us, we manage to make it through. And even if there’s a relapse in your history, the fact that you’re reading this shows that you made it back to the light.
The strength that got you through these moments flowed from an internal resource. Perhaps you left this resource completely untapped before entering recovery. In some cases, you might be quite familiar with this resource, yet neglected to make use of it during active addiction. Either way, we should note that this is the precise resource to which Appendix II refers as God. Whether you view this resource as a divine being or simply a greater feeling of conscience remains irrelevant. What matters most is that you continue to make use of it. Upon reaching the sudden realization offered by the Twelfth Promise, we must choose to continue putting our faith in something greater than ourselves.
Of course, there’s more to the Twelfth Promise than the realization that a Higher Power has been paving the way for us. We might remember numerous little moments—some call them “God winks”—in which it felt as if fate delivered us precisely what we needed. Moments in which our plans seemed to go awry, yet everything actually worked out for the best. But to accept these moments as acts of God requires another belief on our part. We must realize that these moments are only possible when we sacrifice our need to control every little aspect of our lives. If we don’t let go of control, we may never see fulfillment of the Twelfth Promise. That’s why we must realize that, sometimes, our limitations are simply too great to overcome on our own.
What We Cannot Do Ourselves
Since the Twelfth Promise pertains largely to our sacrifice of control, let’s talk about things we tried to control in addiction. We tried to control others around us, often becoming irritable when their plans interfered with ours. Many of us also tried to control our emotions, repressing negative feelings whenever they arose. And, in most cases, we usually tried to control our substance abuse at one point or another. These endeavors often fell short of success. But instead of learning that we could not control these things, we simply kept trying. No matter how badly things turned out, we remained dedicated to maintaining the illusion that we could control our lives and the lives of those around us.
Trying to control others generally failed because we failed. We failed to consider the needs of others, instead thinking only what we could gain from our relationships with them. By handing over control to a Higher Power, we relieve ourselves of the need to constantly interfere in affairs that are often none of our business. If we stop trying to control others, we usually find that our relationships improve quite drastically. People find it easier to be around us when we aren’t constantly trying to run the show. Not only that, but Tradition One notes that we must rely on the strength of the fellowship to assist our recovery. We cannot promote unity by imposing our will on others. We must learn to let go.
Controlling our emotions often failed in addiction as well. We tried so desperately to repress our negative emotions that they often rose to the surface in an ugly fashion. Our anger and depression exploded outward, causing damage to numerous aspects of our lives. Meanwhile, we used positive experiences as excuses to celebrate, often by drinking or abusing drugs. In short, everything became a trigger. When we fulfill the Twelfth Promise, we learn to process our emotions a bit more realistically. We feel things as they arise, yet don’t let our emotions control us. This helps us make great strides toward both spiritual and emotional growth.
Finally, we must look at how we tried to control our substance abuse. Prior to fulfilling the Twelfth Promise, many of us believed that we could find some way to both control and enjoy our substance abuse. Unfortunately, this almost never worked out. When we tried to control our substance abuse, we found it boring and unenjoyable. But when we tried to enjoy our substance abuse, we lost control entirely. After trying again and again, we finally hit rock bottom. At this point, sobriety became our only evident solution. Thankfully, this journey eventually brought us closer and closer to fulfillment of the Twelve Promises. Once we reach this point, our lives are never the same. Sobriety gives us what addiction cannot—true freedom. It may take some time, but it’s definitely worth the effort.