step nine

4 Principles of Step Nine (Alcoholics Anonymous)

You’re likely either terrified at this prospect or thrilled. If you’re anything like me, you’re both simultaneously. Yup, that’s me – driving 100 miles per hour with the emergency break up. 

Indeed, I need a map drawn for me to handle even the most mundane of tasks. For Step 9, Bill W elucidates 4 major guiding principles. They are as follows.

1st Principle: “We cannot buy our peace of mind at the expense of others.”

This is obvious, but sometimes we can get so gung-ho for our recovery that we’ve incidentally morphed back into addiction-minus-the-drug; it happens subtly and right before our eyes. 

If self-centeredness is the root of the disease then trying to acquire peace by harming others in the process is like cutting the root down to the surface rather than yanking it out. You can’t pull the wool over your addictions eyes, no matter how clever you believe you are. 

We have to use tact and common sense, and since this won’t always be obvious – assuming you’re like me –  we will need a sponsor, close friend, mentor, pastor, someone to run our brilliant ideas by so we can filter out the nonsense. 

A mentor once told me that,

Usually, what we don’t want to hear pertains to living a life consistent with specific values. For example honesty, compassion, forgiveness, charity, faith, open communication, etc. 

We all have personal values. These concepts inform our decision making. It’s safe to say a telltale symptom of addiction is living in a manner that is inconsistent with our values. Two things need to occur: an overhaul in values (steps 1-4) and behavior that corresponds to these new values (step 5-9). 

What happens when we live inconsistent with our values? Well, from personal experience I can tell you that once you make that decision that runs contrary to your conscience you don’t know where you’ll end up nor how quickly you’ll get there. 

The Process

When this process kicks into gear we either correct the behavior (unlikely without strong support and accountability hence the vulnerability in Step 5) or we rationalize and justify the behavior. 

If we take the latter route we end up maximizing the “normalcy” in our lives, for example, “I still have my job, I still have my kids, I still have decent relationships, I still have a clean record…” and so on and so forth. In turn, we totally minimize the behavior that is causing the disturbance within. 

I call this dynamic the amplification proclamation. Let me explain before we move on because I think this principle is crucial to understanding why addiction and therefore recovery is a lifestyle not simply going to a meeting for an hour a day. 

The importance of values is that they naturally create predictability, stability, and security. If one lives detached from these values they must manipulate their surroundings to create the same predictability, stability, and security.

Confused? Let me try to break it down a bit further.

Remember, as a species, we are formulaic and thrive in consistency. All action we take is seemingly to achieve this end (it’s survival).

However, this presents an ethical fork in the road – one of truth and the other of deception.

For instance, if I have a core value regarding relationships which states:

  • That each individual should be treated with honor and respect
  • That honest communication should be the standard by which needs are met interdependently, and 
  • That love means nothing more than contributing to each other existence regardless of personal feeling or difference

Then how should I handle an abusive relationship? 

Naturally, that value should effectively bar the potentiality let alone actuality of such a relationship, nonetheless, I find myself in it. 

How? Why?

Well, I molded my abuser per my values. 

That’s not as absurd as it sounds if I convinced myself that they were something other than what they were. 

I’d simply laser target and amplify the areas in their lives where they are in accord with my value and minimize, if not abandon entirely, the areas where they grossly deviate.

We must bring our attention to the fact that we choose this – this is no way to reduce the culpability of abusers who are certainly responsible. Rather, I think this provides reasoning as to how some of us can stay in unhealthy abusive relationships whether with an actual person or a drug.

It may not necessarily be at the forefront of our consciousness and there is most likely a myriad of other factors at play that are influential. 

Nonetheless, once we are aware, we are confronted with a choice.

We can either separate the idea from the person and see the abuser as incapable of fitting our value-mold then perhaps move on. 

Or, we can make the infamous amplification proclamation. 

This is nothing less than continuing to accentuate the perceived good – a corollary being the minimization of the bad – and ultimately perpetuate our own abuse. 

Eventually, we will be unable to differentiate the true from the false, we will be almost entirely unable to see the bad even when evil is staring us in the face. 

We will effectively blind ourselves to the truth all in an effort to keep our system consistent and intact, but instead, we lost our ability to reason – we’ve essentially lost the power of the will.

I know, you’re wondering what this has to do with Step Nine, but hear me out.

This process of self-deception runs deep. I’ve provided a very simple example, but it’s far more subtle and insidious than I can articulate.

Congruence, which is the state when personal values find conformity with lifestyle, begins with conflict resolution.

Where’s the conflict? Within you. The first 8 steps worked to resolve this. However, congruence is when the inside reflects the outside. Step 9 is the first venture to resolve the conflict outside of you. It’s the first tangible act of a new lifestyle informed by newly instilled values. 

Peace is acquired by living a life congruent with personal values. If you have to step on someone’s toes and climb over someone’s back to acquire peace you don’t have peace, you have delusion. 

We approach amends looking to restore not just our lifestyle to principles but relationships. Indeed, you cannot have one without the other. That’s the nature of this principle. You will not be perfect, but you can do your best.

From the words of Our Lady of Asgaard,

2nd Principle: Let’s Not Talk Prudence While Practicing Evasion.

It’s smart to play amends safe. Too many people rush into amends and have to make amends for making amends too earlier. Allow me to illustrate.

I recall making amends to an individual that I had a high tension relationship with. We worked together and couldn’t avoid each other, but to stay we had colliding personalities is the understatement of the century. At any rate, after some time sober and arduously working on myself without the direction of my sponsor I decided impromptu amends was necessary. 

I meandered over to the saucy gentlemen and claimed I was prepared to clean my side of the street. I confessed the damage done, took responsibility, and asked how I could make this right. Of course, he conceded to my errors and acknowledged that I can now go in peace. 

However, peace was not what I was experiencing. 

I decided asking this pointed question was necessary for a full restoration of our relationship. “So…are you going to clean up your side of the street?”

Yikes. Well, he didn’t feel that was necessary. A nice little verbal brawl ensued and the effort was sabotaged. 

It’s good to be enthusiastic but all zeal and no wisdom is a recipe for disaster.

The opposite is also true. If you’re so selective on the perfect time and the perfect moment you’re simply practicing avoidance. 

Be wise and submit your plans to your editorial team! Whether it’s a counselor, sponsor, pastor, whatever. Don’t go at this alone if you can avoid it.

3rd Principle: The Only Exceptions We Will Make Will Be Cases Where Our Disclosure Would Cause Actual Harm.

This piggybacks off the 1st & 2nd Principle. Sometimes what constitutes hurt isn’t so clear. We need to make sure we aren’t needlessly sacrificing others for temporary selfish relief. Additionally, we need to make sure it’s not just fear that’s keeping us from following through. This leads to the final principle.

4th Principle: The Readiness To Take The Full Consequences Of Our Past Acts, And To Take Responsibility For The Well-being Of Others At The Same Time, Is The Very Spirit Of Step Nine.

There are two specific disciplines that I think can be a significant aid as you traverse Step Nine. I discovered them in M. Scott Peck’s spiritual classic The Road Less Traveled. They are the habits of delaying gratification and claiming responsibility.

Delaying Gratification

One word that consumers hate: dissatisfaction. Not only do we hate being dissatisfied, but we live to gratify our every waking appetite. Furthermore, this isn’t done in a calculated or strategic manner. Instead, it’s often at the mercy of our impulses. Our mantra? Feel and react. Feel and react.

As stated above, our first choice – that is, our initial impulse – is suspect at best. It’s worth running it through a quick analysis, a pre-screening as it were, to make sure our operating system continues to be user-friendly and optimized. It’s sort of a no-brainer, you use your brain…

Anywho, this process is uncomfortable. It is wise to get used to this place – discomfort is an ally. Befriend it and you’ll see less of it. 

It’s like the friend everyone has who is unable to maintain romantic relationships because every time it gets real and emotionally raw they either leave or find a way to sabotage it – maybe that person is you? 

At any rate, befriend your emotional pain and she usually isn’t interested in sticking around. She thrives off not being wanted. Delaying gratification triggers this confrontation so we can get on with our day.

I Hate Doing The Dishes

I recall a Saturday when my better half, right before she departed for work, requested I do the dishes. Nothing less, nothing more. A very reasonable request indeed. But holy crap, the mental anguish. I know, pathetic. There are just a million things I desired to do and not even a fraction of it was the dishes.

So, I did what any intelligent individual would do: nothing. I put it off for later. I figured I’d play some guitar, read a few chapters (who doesn’t love a good novel?), maybe watch a show, eat some grub, and then get to the obstacle at hand. But guess what happened? Or better yet, guess what didn’t happen? Yup, you got it. The dishes. And truthfully, it brought me great distress throughout the day. Not necessarily unbearable pain, but that gnawing feeling that something wasn’t right which limited actually experiencing the gratification of the present moment.

However, if I just quickly befriended my mental discomfort and did the dishes first, I could have optimized my experience and gratification. This is the principle. Delay doing what you believe brings you comfort. First, embrace your discomfort, then you may truly be comforted.

Acceptance Of Responsibility

Peck tells this wonderfully instructive story in Greek Mythology which majestically captures the principle he is trying to convey.

The Myth of Orestes and the Furies

“Orestes was the grandson of Atreus, a man who had viciously attempted to prove himself more powerful than the gods. Because of his crime against them, the gods punished Atreus by placing a curse upon all his descendants. As part of the enactment of this curse upon the House of Atreus, Orestes’ mother, Clytemnestra murdered his father and her husband, Agamemnon. This crime in turn brought down the curse upon Orestes’ head, because by the Greek code of honour a son was obliged, above all else, to slay his father’s murderer. Yet the greatest sin a Greek could commit was the sin of matricide (killing one’s mother). Orestes agonised over his dilemma. Finally he did what he seemingly had to do and killed his mother. For this sin the gods then punished Orestes by visiting upon him the Furies, three ghastly harpies who could be seen and heard only by him and who tormented him night and day with their cackling criticism and frightening appearance.

Pursued wherever he went by the Furies, Orestes wandered about the land seeking to atone for his crime. After many years of lonely reflection and self-abrogation Orestes requested the gods relieve him of the curse on the House of Atreus and its visitations upon him through the Furies, stating his belief that he had succeeded in atoning for the murder of his mother. A trial was held by the gods. Speaking in Orestes defense, Apollo argued that he had engineered the whole situation that had placed Orestes in the position in which he had no choice but to kill his mother, and therefore Orestes really could not be held responsible.

At this point Orestes jumped up and contradicted his own defender, stating “It was I, not Apollo, that murdered my mother!” The gods were amazed. Never before had a member of the House of Atreus assumed such total responsibility for himself and not blamed the gods. Eventually the gods decided the trial in Orestes’ favour, and not only relieved him of the curse upon the House of Atreus but also transformed the Furies into the Eumenides, loving spirits who through their wise counsel enabled Orestes to obtain continuing good fortune.” 

Claiming Responsibility Is The Great Neutralizer

What does it appear our predecessors were seeking to communicate to us? What principle were they attempting to convey? Could it be the key to mental health?

Epictetus summed up the sentiment wonderfully when he declared in his discourses, “For nothing outside my reasoned choice can hinder or harm it—My reasoned choice alone can do this to itself. If we would lean this way whenever we fail, and would blame only ourselves and remember that nothing but opinion is the cause of a troubled mind and uneasiness, then by God, I swear we would be making progress.” 

It’s what psychologists would call the locus of control. Richard B. Joelson in an article in Psychology Today titled “Locus of Control: How do we determine our successes and failures?” thrusts Epictetus thought into contemporary understanding. He writes,

“There is a concept in the psychological literature known as locus of control that is unfamiliar to most people, even though, once defined, is commonly understood. Locus of control is an individual’s belief system regarding the causes of his or her experiences and the factors to which that person attributes success or failure.This concept is usually divided into two categories: internal and external. If a person has an internal locus of control, that person attributes success to his or her own efforts and abilities. A person who expects to succeed will be more motivated and more likely to learn. A person with an external locus of control, who attributes his or her success to luck or fate, will be less likely to make the effort needed to learn. People with an external locus of control are also more likely to experience anxiety since they believe that they are not in control of their lives. This is not to say, however, that an internal locus of control is “good” and an external locus of control is “bad.” There are other variables to be considered, however, psychological research has found that people with a more internal locus of control seem to be better off, e.g. they tend to be more achievement oriented and get better paying jobs.” 

You Will Fail. You Will Drop The Ball. It Will Be Uncomfortable. That’s Ok.

Being wrong is awful. Nobody wants to admit it. However, to simply rationalize the wrong or externalize it, only compounds an already spiraling painful issue. Ok, so I didn’t do the dishes. I procrastinated and was lazy. I tried to avoid the discomfort but I couldn’t. And now, I have a double dose of it. So, should I place blame and receive a triple dose? No, that would be the height of folly. Instead, I should admit my fault, claim responsibility for my discomfort, not seek to find a reason for it outside of myself. I must befriend it, dance with it, and allow it to run its course. This is called moral duty. It’s inescapable. 

The Eumenides awaits.

Works Cited

  1. The 4 Principles were lifted directly from the Twelve Steps & Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous
  2. M. Scott Peck. The Road Less Traveled. (1978)
  3. https://www.legends.report/overcoming-our-personal-demons-the-myth-of-orestes/
  4. Discourses of Epictetus (108 A.D.)
  5. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/moments-matter/201708/locus-control
  6. Imperfection: The Key To Psychological Congruence

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