In Mystical Sobriety, James Finley’s latest online course with the CAC, James tenderly explores the transformative power of the Twelve Steps from a contemplative perspective. He reflects on the First Step and the paradoxical power that comes from admitting our helplessness:
We begin with the First Step: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable.” The First Step, then, is admitting. I would like to reflect on the transformative power of admitting. This is a thing about the recovering community in all different modes. See, if you admit, you’re admitted. If you don’t admit, you’re not admitted. And, if you admit, you live; and if you don’t admit, you might die. So, what is it that makes admitting so extremely painful, and the very thing that’s so painful is the very thing that saves our lives? It would seem that the act of admitting is a great koan or a great riddle in our heart worth meditating on. It is this transformative point-of-entry that leads us ever deeper into the sobriety that we’re exploring.
What precedes admitting and makes admitting possible is hitting bottom. It’s very painful to admit that our lives have become unmanageable because we all need a sense of self-efficacy. We all need a sense of, “Look, I can handle this.”… So, what we’re really trying to do here is we’re coming to a painful place of admitting. The admitting then brings us to a place in which, if this is up to me, it is not looking good. As a matter of fact, if this is up to me, I think it’s despair. But the very fact that I’ve risked despair opens up a whole new possibility because maybe it’s not up to me. Maybe there’s another way.
The Second Step of the Twelve Steps is: “We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” As long as we were still holding on to this ideology of our brokenness as having the final say in who we are, we were not capable of seeing this, because we actually had faith in our own brokenness as the power to name who we are. John of the Cross says, “A person who can see a little bit will resist guidance; a person who cannot see at all will stretch forth their hands and be led to unknown places where they don’t know how to go.”  This is really what admitting can do for us. Admitting is poverty of spirit; it is experiential humility. The act of admitting, then, opens up this paradoxical faith.
This is why I think the person on this healing journey in relationship to their Higher Power … comes to say to God: “You know, I don’t know who you are, but I do know who you are: you’re the one who saved my life. And I don’t know who I am, either, but I do: I’m the one you saved.”
 See John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul, book 2, chap. 16, part 7, 8.
Adapted from James Finley, Mystical Sobriety (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2022), online course.
Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Jenna Keiper, Mystic. Jenna Keiper, North Cascades Sunrise. Jenna Keiper, Jonah. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image.
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