Breathing Underwater Chapter 12

“Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”

— STEP 12


My experience with the 12 steps has taught me that step 12 is the point. The whole point. Carrying the message and practicing the principles in ALL my affairs. Yet I think that point is often lost, or not fully realized by many.


Right away Rohr says something that strikes me as unusual. He says,

“I am convinced that one of my major failures [as a priest] was that I did not ask more of people from the very beginning. If they did not turn outward early, they tended never to turn outward…”

If one stops at the first sentence, it sounds as if Rohr were being selfish-centered regretting that he did not ask people to do more!? Yet as you read on, you see the bigger picture - the reasoning behind why the 12 steps ask so much of us. If we do not turn outward, we may never lose the selfishness and self-centeredness that we need to be rid of in order to live.

I have found this to be nothing but the truth in my own recovery journey. For years and years, I struggled with staying clean. I would get a year, relapse, get a year and relapse. The cycle never seemed to end. I got to the point where I became so hopeless in my outlook that the best thing for me appeared to continue using until the bitter end.


Looking back, I realize that the key things that I had been missing were:

  1. Never working all 12 steps, and therefore,

  2. Never fully experiencing the spiritual awakening that comes as a result, and therefore,

  3. I was unable to be of selfless service to others because I was always stuck in self.

Step 12 highlights that in order to ‘keep it’ we must ‘give it away.’ This is one of the many great paradoxes of recovery and sobriety.

“No, we do not truly comprehend any spiritual thing until we ourselves give it away. Spiritual gifts increase only by ‘using’ them, whereas material gifts normally decrease by usage.”

And recovery is a spiritual gift. It is the freedom of mind, body and spirit that only happens through connection with a power greater than ourselves, others and self.


Let me become an evangelist for a moment here (ew, gross). When we find something that works for us, when we find freedom from the slavery of our addiction or behaviour, we are filled with a gratitude and joy that can’t be expressed and we want to share that with others. This is good news, for lack of a better term. So, we do our best to share that with others that feeling that we get inside. However, the real evangelism we ‘preach’ comes not from our words most of the time but from our actions. It is how we interact with one another, how we lend a hand and expect nothing in return that spreads the good news. How we embody the growth that we have experienced is the message we carry. Integrity. Do my words match my actions – in ALL my affairs?


Sharing our spiritual gifts is just that, integrity. Expressing my gratitude - expressing that spiritual awaking with others through my actions.


Now, this spiritual awakening happens at different times for different people. Rohr refers to the second appendix of the Big Book where Bill Wilson clarifies the difference between a “spiritual awakening” and a “spiritual experience.” Wilson says an awakening is a process whereas an experience is an event. Most people have a spiritual awaking – a slow, gradual process that happens over time, working these principles and sharing them with others through our deeds and actions.

Rohr comments, “It is not that God chooses some people to have a spiritual awakening, and others not. Awakening just happens, as certain as the dawn, when two great freedoms meet.”

These two great freedoms that Rohr mentions are keeping God free and not bound by our human formulas, as well as, keeping ourselves free and not constrained by any circumstances such as sin, limitations, failure, or tragedy.


By sharing these awakenings and these revelations with one another, we are setting the stage for others to have the same experiences. We cannot force a spiritual awakening to happen in our own lives, much less in the lives of others. However, we can create a space which allows for these awakenings to occur. And the only way I have seen them happen is when we finally let go of the expectations of God and self.


I would like to close off with a quote from the book that made me make one of those “mmm” sounds we often hear when the “lightbulb” in our thinking turns on. It speaks to another great paradox in the recovery and life journey and shows how this suffering that we experience during our addiction or destructive patterns and thinking is actually the groundwork for any spiritual experience.

“Addiction is a spiritual disease, a disease of the soul, an illness resulting from longing, frustrated desire, and deep dissatisfaction – which is ironically the necessary beginning of any spiritual path.”

I hope that you have enjoyed this book as much as me and have taken away some insights into your own life. If you’re anything like me, half of this book will be highlighted now. And if not, it’s probably just because you cringe at the idea of marking up a book.

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