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How AA’s Twelve Steps Can Help You

A well-known saying asserts that in foxholes there are no atheists.

When we're in a position of pain, danger or need, something within us awakens and reignites a deep connection to our Source. And somehow, with this connection, we find strength we never knew we had and the ability to move forward.

A paradigm for this is the Twelve Step Program from Alcoholics Anonymous. This program is one of the most successful self-help models in existence, so successful, in fact, that it has been modified and adapted by other groups including Narcotics Anonymous, Al Anon for families of alcoholics, CODA for co-dependency, Self-Esteem Anonymous and more.

At the core of the program is the belief in a Higher Being who has the ability to help us overcome our "unmanageable lives."

In the words of the Steps:

Step 1: I admit that my life has become unmanageable and I have become powerless.

Step 2: I acknowledge the belief that a Power greater than I can restore sanity to my life.

Step 3: I turn my life over to this greater Power, however I want to define Him, and ask for His help.

In a nutshell, these three steps are saying: "I can't. G‑d, You can. Please help!"

What is it about the Twelve Steps that makes this program so versatile and successful?

And, why does the acknowledgement of a Higher Being--rather than, for example, looking inward and just encouraging one's own efforts--bring healing and solace when we feel overcome with addictions, suffering, stress or despair?

I think the emphasis on a Higher Being is a necessary balm for any broken heart in these three fundamental ways:

1) Recognizing Our Limitations

We live in a world of unprecedented human achievement. We've conquered so many frontiers and overcome limitations on so many levels including technology, medicine, and communication. We've become accustomed to controlling our realities.

Yet, ironically, we also take comfort in becoming aware of our own smallness. Despite our human achievements, despite the cosmic significance of our technological advances, despite the intricate complexities of the machines that we create, or the crushing power of the weapons we manufacture, when all is said and done, when we consider the vastness of our universe, we don't ultimately want to be in charge. We find it strangely comforting to believe in a Power that is much greater than ourselves who takes ultimate responsibility for our world.

We aren't accustomed to accepting limits, yet when we encounter circumstances over which we have no control, we are forced to face our limitations. Recognizing a Higher Power means acknowledging that we need the help of Someone outside of ourselves to overcome our struggle, whether in the arena of health, self-limiting beliefs, addictions or negative self-talk.

And that recognition is the comforting first step to our recovery.

2) We're Not Alone

Wherever we may find ourselves on this planet (and beyond), at all times of day or night, today's technology allows us to instant message, email, voice mail, and video conference with one another. And yet, more and more of us feel disconnected and intensely lonely. We're "in touch" and always just a click away from a whole cyber-community, but we don't feel "connected" on a more meaningful level.

This aloneness becomes all the more acute when we are fighting a formidable battle over an acutely painful situation.

Recognition of a Higher Being means that we are never inherently alone.

The Ultimate Being of compassion and wisdom has a real connection with you and is saying: I am near you. I understand your struggles even when you feel so alone. I am with you even before your predicament, providing you with the fortitude to continue. I will help you tackle unchartered territory. I understand you better than you understand yourself.

G‑d understands and is with us through our fears, uncertainties, failures and successes and makes us feel that much less frightened and isolated in taking steps towards our future.

While, to some, belief in G‑d means presenting a wish list of what we want or need, it is foremost the experience of being in the company of G‑d. At all times. In all struggles.

3) You Matter

And finally, being in G‑d's presence brings the recognition that despite my smallness, as G‑d's creation, I matter.

Have you ever strolled through a crowded shopping mall, or down a crowded pedestrian walkway, neck to neck with tens of others, sensing that your presence there doesn't matter at all? No one would really notice or care if you weren't exactly where you are, doing what you're doing. Your presence doesn't matter. Not to anyone.

And yet, belief in a Higher Power means you do matter and that your every action is significant.

There is reason for challenge. It is not a random happening, but a planned struggle necessary for our souls. There is a point and a purpose to our successes and our failures. On some level, the chaos of our world is not chaos, but makes perfect sense.


Whether we are dealing with an addiction to some negative substance, or whether we are struggling with a crisis or challenge, at some point in our lives, we all cry out from the depths of our souls.

Unfortunately, life is too full of moments when we acutely feel, G‑d, I just can't.

At those moments, we need to be able to find within ourselves the comforting words: G‑d, You can. Please help!

Chana Weisberg is the editor of TheJewishWoman.org. She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of five popular books.

Overheard:*

"Is there any difference between iPod Touch First Generation and iPod Touch Third Generation, aside for the mike?"

"It's not only the mike; it's also the voice recognition."

"So, if you could buy any, would you get the Google Nexus 1, the Palm Pre or the iPhone?"

"The Nexus has cooler features, the Palm Pre has multi-tasking, but I'd still get the iPhone because of its better operating system."

"Did you ever try to get Skype on a cell phone with 3G internet?"

And on and on the conversation went…

No, I wasn't eavesdropping on some high tech geeks. I was sitting at my kitchen table, listening to the questions posed to my oldest son by his eleven-year-old brother.

Being technologically challenged, the terms flew over my head. But for my eleven-year-old, this was as ordinary and mundane as today's weather forecast.

For me, WIFI, 3G, nano, gigabytes and Skype are a foreign language. For him, it is a common reality.

Incredulously, I wonder how he knows about this stuff. He wonders, just as incredulously, how I don't.


When the Jewish people left Egypt and miraculously witnessed the splitting of the Sea, "even the simplest person experienced visions more profound than did the greatest Prophets of old" (Rashi to Ex.15:2).

It was an astonishing expression of G‑d's power revealed to every individual—even unborn babies in their mother's wombs--who all shared the same level of perception. The most spiritually inept Israelite was able to point with his finger and declare, "This is my G‑d!"

G‑dliness was not something that one needed to learn about in a classroom, but was a part of their language, perception, feelings and very existence. It was palpable all around them.

A similar description is given about the time of our redemption. Then, too, G‑dliness will be so transparent, it will overflow like "waters that cover the sea bed."


Sounds impossible?

Not really.

If children today can casually discuss technology that even the brainiest computer scientist was only aware of in the theoretical realm a mere forty years ago, it makes you wonder. What might we all be discussing very soon as part of our own regular existence?

The sky's the limit.

It's kind of like 3G—the reception is accessible to all; it's just waiting to be picked up.

*Since my little head couldn't possibly remember all these unfamiliar terms, I sat my eleven-year-old down with a paper and pen in hand so he could slowly repeat the conversation. After painstakingly explaining many of these terms, he asked to be excused. (Maybe his Gmail was beckoning. )

Chana Weisberg is the editor of TheJewishWoman.org. She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of five popular books.

An Antidote for Despair

"I just can't take it anymore!"

When you feel enveloped in a deep, dark pit of despair, when your heart feels shredded into a thousand pieces, when you just can't contend with the painful challenges for even another moment...

You just might not have to. You next moment may be entirely different than your current one.


The philosopher Kierkegaard, who sowed the roots of existential psychology, eloquently wrote, "A self, every instant it exists is in the process of becoming, for the self… is only that which it is to become."

And yet, the source of much of our misery is that we view our lives in a limited way, as a snapshot, believing that what we hold now represents how we always were and will be.

But everything in our world remains in a state of flux. At every moment there is enormous change. The shift may occur so slightly as to be imperceptible to our eyes and minds, but it is taking place.

Change is ceaseless. A vase or a piece of furniture changes every single moment even if it looks permanent. It discolours and becomes antique, not all of a sudden, but moment by moment.

This is true of inanimate objects, and applies even more to physical, psychological and spiritual dynamics.

The typical cell in our body dies after 100 days or so. Every second, 2.5 million red blood cells are born, and in the same second a corresponding amount die. This cycle of birth and death occurs constantly.

In the words of Rollo May, "Personality can be understood only as we see it on a trajectory, toward its future; a man can understand himself only as he projects himself forward. This is a corollary of the fact that the person is always becoming, always emerging, into the future. The self is to be seen in its potentiality."

Some challenges don't come and go, but continue to afflict us throughout our lives. Yet, even then, a new set of circumstances is constantly being conceived and formed, creating the process of change.

William James writes, "The grass out of the window now looks to me of the same green in the sun as in the shade, and yet a painter would have to paint one part of it dark brown, another part bright yellow to give its real sensational effect. We take no heed, as a rule of the different way in which the same things look and sound and smell at different distances and under different circumstances.

"The same object cannot easily give us the same sensation over again...Every thought we have of a given fact is, strictly speaking, unique and only bears a resemblance of kind with our other thoughts of the same fact. When the identical fact recurs, we must think of it in a fresh manner, see it under a somewhat different angle, and apprehend it in different relations from those in which it last appeared. "


In one of the most moving accounts of hope emerging from within overwhelming darkness, the Torah records the first interchange between G‑d and Moses.

The Jewish people had been experiencing the severest degradation under the tyranny of their Egyptian oppressors. G‑d commands Moses to reveal that He will be freeing them from bondage. Moses responds by asking what he should say is G‑d's name.

Moses was requesting a message of solace and hope to bring to a broken people whose G‑d had seemingly abandoned them during the last many decades by turning a deaf ear to their anguished wails.

G‑d responds elusively. Moses should convey to the Hebrew slaves that G‑d's name is "I will be what I will be."

For a time, the slavery became worse after Moses' message of hope. Though the seeds of redemption were sown, from the people's perspective, nothing had changed. And yet, the situation was dramatically evolving.

Perhaps G‑d's message to the downtrodden people, is G‑d's message to us in our moments of misery, that we can connect to divinity with "I will be what I will be"— the power to be.

Only when we are able to realize that being is inseparable from becoming, can we free ourselves from the shackles of servitude to our anxieties and self-defeating habits.

The present is only what we have brought from our pasts, and what we will use to forge into our immediate futures. Bringing this truth into our consciousness can help us find solace as we encounter the hardships in the present tense of our lives.


So when the blackness seems overpowering, when the tedious monotony is driving you to the brink of insanity, take comfort in the realization that nothing in our world remains static.

Not our present challenges. Nor who we are.

You, your life and circumstances are an integral part of the labyrinth of G‑d's cosmic plan, emerging anew every instance.

There is no static "is." There is only what we were—and most importantly, what we choose to become.

Chana Weisberg is the editor of TheJewishWoman.org. She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of five popular books.
Often we need a break from our daily routine. A pause from life to help us appreciate life.

A little pat on the back to let us know when we're on track. A word of encouragement to help us through those bleak moments and difficult days.

Sometimes, we just yearn for some friendship and camaraderie, someone to share our heart with. And sometimes we need a little direction from someone who's been there.

So, take a short pause from the busyness of your day and join Chana Weisberg for a cup of coffee.

Chana Weisberg is the author of Tending the Garden: The Unique Gifts of the Jewish Woman and four other books. Weisberg is a noted educator and columnist and lectures worldwide on issues relating to women, faith, relationships and the Jewish soul.
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