The Power of 12
Elke Zilla with Marilyn Geddes
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” – Plato
My luck is changing.
A few years ago, one of my Drama students submitted a marvelous audition piece, a hilarious monologue about the importance of honouring our lucky numbers as determiners of our life destiny. I still smile every time I buy a lottery ticket or highlight a special date to celebrate an event. I can’t recall all of the clever scenarios this young man presented, but undoubtedly, beyond his fine acting skills, he made quite an impression on me. To this day, I am still fully committed to incorporating my lucky number whenever I can and wherever I am.
‘Mi numero afortunado’ is 12. I was born on the 12th day of the 12th month around 12 noon. My father was the oldest of 12 children. I was married on the 12th, delivered my first child on the 12th, need only to dial 1212 to reach my wonderful, life-saving, doctor and on the 12th of May, I attended my first 12 step program.
Many organizations dedicated to dealing with addictions and disorders incorporate the 12 step philosophy into their programs. All are built on the premise of surrendering or placing one’s trust in a power greater than ourselves, and all pave a path to healing through 12 universal or spiritual truths:
Whether you are facing dependency, illness, or profound loss, devotion to these 12 principles will cultivate your capacity to see beyond the veils of fear and empower you to arrive at a place of authenticity, a place where you are at home to heal and alter every aspect of your life.
My initial intention in attending the meeting had been to accompany and support my daughter. I was informed that I would only be permitted to participate if I proclaimed to the group a desire to stop using an addictive substance. Unfortunately, when I’m on the spot, I have a tendency to elaborate:
“Hello, my name is Elke. I’m not an alcoholic…but am definitely prone to pour a drink…just to relax…you know in times of stress or in the face of challenging circumstances or perhaps to celebrate an occasion or two...”
I’m sure that it was divine intervention that saved this audience from my complex and convoluted inner dialogue. When it was time for me for me to speak, I grabbed my daughter’s hand and said quietly:
“I have a desire not to drink”.
As we shared and declared various truths around the room, I noticed that the walls were painted with slogans and messages:
“Leave your grievances, your excuses and your past at the door”
“Every problem comes bearing its own solution”
“Your power is limited to the extent you are afraid”
“Unforgiveness is the poison you drink every day hoping the other person will die”
One of the first requirements of “a clean and sober” thought process calls on us to relinquish the opinions, attitudes and judgments that we project on to ourselves and others. My first step was to peer into my own addictive, intoxicating thought system and recognize that it was essential to see beyond its distorting veil.
I have learned that everything in life is training…training in the art of living and the art of embracing whatever comes our way. This means opening ourselves to unwavering acceptance of our glorious capacity to heal. We are all on the path to recovery, whether it is through healing our relationships, our addictions or our illnesses. Some of us have simply stumbled at different places for different reasons.
It was captivating to sit within the spirit of human resilience amongst these supportive strangers and hardcore soul searchers. Their gut wrenching stories and unimaginable experiences touched the hearts and souls of everyone gathered there. To witness such wisdom borne from such brokenness filled me with awe. As each person spoke with clarity, vulnerability and humility, their confessions engendered only more love, respect and compassion from those around them. I understand, now, why forgiveness plays such an important role in the healing process. It is the only means by which we can free ourselves from the illusions of separation, inadequacy and guilt.
My daughter beside me was quietly crying. For most of the meeting she had been writing in her journal and fidgeting with a pamphlet of prayers, poems and phone numbers that had been passed to her. At the end of the testimonials she stood up intent on saying something, but then sat down again. The room was still. Nobody moved. Nobody spoke. And then, as if time had been encapsulated in that holy instant, a thin voice broke the sacred silence and said:
“Everyone has been really kind and I want to tell you that I appreciate your willingness to share your support. It’s difficult to describe what I feel right now. It’s like I am seeing myself for the first time in the eyes of everyone in this room. It scares me a lot. I’m only 20.”
I realized then that every program of recovery or healing--whether it is 3 step, 6 step or 12 step--is built on the foundation of one sincere moment.
Our sponsor was a colorful, tattered and tattooed veteran named Mark, whose violent appearance and trembling presence could not camouflage the love and serenity that radiated through his eyes. He spoke last, saying, “Today I am celebrating 13 years of sobriety. I am here with my family and I am safe, sober and spiritually revived. Tonight, I would like to read something to all of you, especially to the new members who have courageously come here tonight. I hope my words and experiences will encourage them to place their trust in the possibility that they are so much more than who they think they are now.”
As he struggled to unfold a faded piece of paper, Mark’s hands shook and his voice quavered. For a moment I thought he might break down. But then, out of the depths of his pained and rough exterior, he stepped up to the platform, smiled stoically and graced us with these words:
“Life is not about reaching some problem free state of being. Life is about arriving at a place where you stand fearless within your problems. Lay claim to that place as a space for your renewal. Every one of us in this room has been resurrected from the dark depths of demise so that we may rise again as the light of the world and contribute to the healing of our brothers and sisters. We have much to offer through our fearlessness.”
I am forever altered and inspired by Mark’s words…and the entire experience of the meeting. In fact, after much contemplation, introspection and meditation, I feel encouraged and enthusiastic about sharing the steps of my own path through cancer; a step by step process that embodies complete faith and trust in our own unfolding potential, one that emerges through a deeper sense of meaning, purpose and connection with all of creation. It is my hope that my story will encourage others to rise above the fearful prognosis of a diagnosis.
Initially, I felt huge inner resistance to sharing my experiences and views, but a 28-year teaching career fueled by opportunities to work with rebellious and talented young people has convinced me that a little audacity can refresh and revitalize an old, stale perspective. My intention now is to express my gratitude for every stranger, friend and angel who “showed up” for me through the course of my own 12-month recovery.
12 Steps in Retaining Our Spiritual Magnitude Through Cancer (available December 12th, 2009) is the form through which I intend to express my immense appreciation and gratitude. This anthology of thought provoking stories and encouraging messages will be compiled into a spiritual handbook for healing; one that is embedded in the 12 step philosophy. It includes one of my favorite passages from Marianne Williamson’s book Return to Love:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world.”
We cannot always control our circumstances, but we can and do choose our response to whatever arises. All healing is essentially the release from fear. Reclaiming the power of choice, we find the courage to live fully and fearlessly through any prognosis or challenge.
With respect to Mark and the work of all 12 step organizations, I hope that my words can be considered a fearless contribution to the healing of my brothers and sisters. I dedicate every beautiful moment of my life to them.
I am, indeed, a lucky person.