Joe K. is one of many men that came to Alcoholics Anonymous through a mandated addiction rehabilitation center. The facility mandated 12 meetings a month but participants could choose which program they wanted to attend. Joe and some other guys went to a lot of AA meetings together.
“The facility provided information and meeting lists on all of the meetings available,” he says. “The first meeting was overwhelming for me at first. Just to walk through the door … but people were very warm and inviting and that nervous feeling subsided because of it.”
Joe did not get a sponsor for a couple of months because he wanted someone like-minded. “I was early in recovery and had a hard time believing that people understood my journey,” he says. A man who had been through the program at the same facility came in to talk, and “something just clicked,” says Joe. “My eyes opened wide and I decided that’s who I would ask. For me it was an instant win because it wasn’t the quantity of his sobriety but the quality that he had. He was recovering and transitioning into a better person at the same time.”
Joe and his sponsor began working the steps, and like many in recovery, found the fourth step, which requires a detailed moral inventory, to be a sticking point. “It was hard; things came up,” Joe says. “I forgot they were still in there and releasing all of that in the fourth step, for me, it’s pretty key.” Joe laughs and shakes his head as he says, “I did burn the notebook that I wrote my fourth step in. I’ve heard that people do that to release everything. I remember the day that I burned it, it was in the winter and it meant something, like freedom from those resentments. I don’t hold nearly as much resentment as I used to and it’s still a work in progress.”
Joe continues to practice the steps every day beginning and ending with the third step, which states that he ‘Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.’ “This is honestly the best step for me personally, because it starts my day perfectly and finishes it just as well,” he says.
One of the most humbling things Joe did during his steps was to read his fourth step inventory to his sponsor. He recalls being embarrassed, but his sponsor shared items that were on his own fourth step to reassure Joe that he was not alone in having to confront painful realities.
“It took a while, but it was freeing, it was relieving,” Joe says. “I walked out of the sober house, feeling like I was on the biggest pink cloud ever.”
Joe had a chance to right previous wrongs when he came to the ninth step, which is about making amends. “I was working in a building and I saw someone that I had done some wrong to 20-plus years ago in high school. It was pretty bad and he didn’t know it was me. I pulled him aside and apologized and told him what I had done wrong and that I wasn’t that same person today. It was good; we were friends almost immediately. It gave me a feeling of having honor about it.”
One of the recommended practices in AA is to get involved with a home group, and Joe found a regular meeting where he feels accepted. “I need to get a job in my homegroup because that’s an important factor in being involved in your home group,” he says.“I’m guilty of not doing that but knowing it is a start for me and then actions will follow.” When asked what is keeping him from getting a job in his home group, he honestly answers “It’s a commitment. It’s still a fear of mine. It’s something I’m working on.”
Joe loves the fellowship and the quality of friendships he has made. “It’s not a lot, but again, it’s quality over quantity. If I have issues, I can talk to them,” he says, “I guess I’ve been blessed with being able to ask for help, real friends, like calling me on my BS, which is what friends do. It’s different from when I was using drugs, because people weren’t real friends, they were buddies, drinking buddies. My friends today really care, which means a lot. It makes me happy. Confident.”
While Joe continues to work the program and rebuild his own life, he struggles with feelings of helplessness when he sees his friends relapse. “You try and try and give them the best that you can and all the love that you can but sometimes they don’t love themselves enough to come back and that’s difficult.,” he says I can be there for them with open arms if they come back, but the difficulty lies at the moment they use,—I can’t really associate or be around them. I have to stop reaching out at times for my own sake.”
Joe says that the main principle AA has taught him is to care for others and have compassion. “That, to me, is probably one of the most important things that I use on an everyday basis; it doesn’t matter your race, your gender, your sexual preferences, ”he says. The 12th step is a beautiful thing, having that awakening and caring for others. It’s a new life from what I used to be.”