For some time now, we’ve been elaborating on the Twelve Promises listed on pages 83-84 of Alcoholics Anonymous. These pages, included in Chapter 5 (“How It Works”) discuss the benefits of working Step Nine of the AA program. But as we say in many other articles in this series, many of us begin to see fulfillment of the Twelve Promises long before we reach this point in our recovery. The Ninth Promise deserves inclusion in this category, as it pertains to a change in our overall worldview.
Not only does the Ninth Promise pertain to our worldview, but it may even potentially affect our actions. When we see the world differently, we often treat the world differently. Think of our behavior patterns in addiction. Many of us hold negative views of the world around us. This creates feelings of anger and depression, which we repress through substance abuse. But when we sober up, those feelings are still right there waiting for us. So we use again and again, locking ourselves in a cycle of self-destruction. We then feel the need to hide these behaviors, so we begin lying to those we love. Eventually, we come to realize that we embody the same negative traits we perceive in society. This only spurs us toward more substance abuse. It never ends.
We can’t stay sober by maintaining the same attitude we held in addiction. Recovery requires change. And while aspects of this change will occur naturally, we also need to take action. Mahatma Gandhi said that we must be the change we wish to see in the world. He wasn’t talking about addiction and alcoholism, but the message still applies here. For if we wish to change the world around us, we must change ourselves and our perceptions. In doing so, we inch our way ever closer to fulfillment of the Ninth Promise.
Fulfilling the Ninth Promise
As traditionally written, the Ninth Promise states:
“Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change.”
This seems as if it should embody all of the Twelve Promises. And on its face, the Ninth Promise does appear quite broad. It especially seems linked to the First Promise, which speaks of a new freedom and a new happiness. But the Ninth Promise still stands on its own in many ways. We just need to identify them before we can complete a thorough examination of this promise and what it means.
Looking closely at the Ninth Promise, you’ll notice that there are actually two parts to it. The first is that we will change our whole attitude. Second, we will change our outlook upon life. Yes, these things do change when we discover a new happiness. But the word “whole” is important, as it holds the key to this promise’s true meaning. Because while a new happiness will change our outlook, we won’t find happiness in every second of every day. Life has its ups and downs. During the latter, we require a new outlook more than ever.
If we are to change our whole attitude and outlook upon life, we must learn to accept loss without turning to drugs and alcohol. We must also embody the Second Promise, which dictates that we will not close the door on our past. Bad things happen to good people every day. The silver lining is that these moments allow us to demonstrate our true strength. They show us just how far we have come in sobriety, that we no longer feel the need to repress our emotions.
There’s an old adage about sobriety that seems fitting here. They say the good news about getting sober is that we get our feelings back. The bad news? We get our feelings back. But this doesn’t have to be bad news. The Ninth Promise will help us process our negative feelings in a way that might actually serve to help our recovery. As long as we are willing to take action when necessary, we will reap great benefits from our new way of thinking. We’ll discuss this by breaking the matter down into the two aspects referenced above—our attitude, and our general outlook on life itself.
Changing Our Attitude
Our attitude in addiction is generally quite negative—sometimes aggressively so. We treat others with either apathy or disdain, caring little for anyone who doesn’t accommodate our self-destructive habits. Addicts and alcoholics often suffer from a morbid concern for self. It doesn’t mean that we don’t care about others at all, but we often have trouble seeing too far past our own noses. This attitude results in much loneliness and isolation, which doesn’t do much to help our attitude. When we fulfill the Ninth Promise, this begins to change in a very big way.
We mentioned above that some of the major changes to our attitude regard negative emotions. To illustrate this, we’d like to start with a brief story. Recently, one of our patients awoke to troubling thoughts. He wondered what would happen if something terrible happened to his family. Would he stay sober? And even more troubling, what would be their last memories of him? Would they remember him as a failure because he required addiction treatment? This thought troubled him, to the point that he wished he could drink to overcome it. When overcome by these thoughts, he felt completely alone.
Everyone feels this way from time to time. We all suffer from irrational thinking. The important thing to remember is not to let this thinking drive our behaviors. We may feel alone at times, but this isn’t necessarily reasonable. Sometimes, we simply need to remember the number of people who form our support network. When our thinking gets the best of us, we must reach out to these people. There’s no need to suffer alone. In fact, most of the people who care about us would rather hear about our problems than allow us to bottle them up. Because in the end, bottling up our negative emotions serves only one purpose—unnecessary pain.
Those who embody the Ninth Promise find it easier to deal with their emotions in a healthy manner. Such people do not let their emotions control them, nor do they try too hard to control their emotions. Instead, they simply accept that some days will be better than others. Knowing this, they are able to process their feelings and move forward. A healthy support network helps in this endeavor. But the most important thing to remember is that we must recognize our negative attitudes when they first arise. If we can’t recognize our own negative thought patterns, we have little defense against them. Fortunately, however, our time in recovery teaches us a vital lesson—that no matter how bad our thoughts may be, our overall worldview becomes much better when we handle them appropriately.
Changing Our Outlook
Our outlook on life requires a bit of maintenance at well. And to be honest, this maintenance feeds right into the attitude discussed above. If we assume that every negative thought should inform our worldview, then we are doomed from the start. Instead, we must learn to look at the world as a kinder, gentler place than we once thought. We do this by looking outside of ourselves and paying more attention to others. We’re required to do so in Step Nine, which is part of the reason that this is often when we begin experiencing fulfillment of the Ninth Promise. But we can cultivate this mindset earlier if we so choose.
When our outlook on life begins to change, we lose one thing that often holds us back in addiction—hopelessness. At some point during our substance abuse, we begin to resent our own way of living. This leads us to think of ourselves as bad people. We believe ourselves to be individuals undeserving of love or affection. In many cases, we might not even want to be alive anymore. But when the Ninth Promise begins presenting itself, we realize that life can be something more. It doesn’t have to be a never-ending cycle of misery and regret. No matter what we have been through, we can lead a life worth living.
To accomplish this, we often need look no further than service work. This doesn’t have to be some grand gesture. No one tells us to donate hundreds of dollars to charity, or to save a baby from a burning car. These actions are obviously great. But we might begin my simply talking to people after the 12-step meeting. Find someone who looks a little lost—someone who resembles yourself when you first entered recovery. Speak to them and tell them about your experiences. It doesn’t even need to be a long conversation. Simply by telling them about yourself, you might save a life. And in doing so, you might even save your own. The greatest paradox of programs such as AA and NA is that we must give something away in order to keep it. Live by this principle, and the rewards will be great indeed.
The Ninth Promise grants us a new way of thinking. Perhaps our old thought patterns may pop up from time to time. But as long as we continue performing acts of kindness and helping others when we can, this won’t be so bad. We simply need to remember when to make use of our support network. Nobody can do this alone. But if we discover the true meaning of fellowship, then we will indeed see major changes in our thought patterns. And as long as we continue to enjoy these changes one day at a time, we can live with a sense of true serenity.