Each one of us works our own individual program. In twelve-step programs we are given many suggestions, but there is only one requirement: the desire to stop drinking. Attending meetings or speaking with our fellows, we see how differently each of us works our program. It is a beautiful thing that we are encouraged to work the program how it works for us, and there are always people more experienced than us who have different experiences to offer. The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous says on page 29, "Each individual, in the personal stories, describes in his own language and from his own point of view the way he established his relationship with God."
Our Own Higher Power
In my personal experience, the ability to choose your own Higher Power is one of the greatest examples of people working their own programs. I have met people of all faiths and traditions in the rooms: Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Pagan, Atheist, and simply spiritual. Regardless of your spiritual/religious beliefs, there is a place for you in twelve-step programs.
Although Alcoholics Anonymous was founded by Christians and on many Christian principles, it was created with an expressed intention to work for people of all belief systems. I practice Buddhism myself. My sense of a "Higher Power" or "God" is very different than a lot of my fellows. I choose to utilize the Dharma as my Higher Power. Rather than a supernatural or ethereal force or figure, I use the path of Buddhism as my Higher Power. It works well for me, for I am able to turn my will and my life over to it. I am able to pray and meditate, be grateful for my Higher Power, and not fully understand my Higher Power.
Whatever your beliefs are, the principles are the same: trust in God, pray, meditate, turn your will and life over. I have met many atheists in my time sober, and have found the principles also apply there. In Buddhism, there is the teaching that we all have seeds within us; we have seeds of doubt, anger, love, fear, acceptance, etc. When we take action, we are watering these seeds within us. Being of service waters the seed of compassion, love, etc. Punching somebody waters the seed of anger, hatred, etc. Speaking with atheists, I have heard a very similar account of things. Even though they do not believe in a greater deity, they do believe they have a better person within them. I see atheists in my home group be of service, share eloquently, relate to others, and be wonderful members of our fellowship.
As discussed in a recent post, it is important to keep religion out of twelve-step meetings. I have heard speakers that truly move me that I find out have completely different beliefs than I do. I have heard other Buddhists share that I do not especially relate to. Religion (or lack of) is not important in twelve step meetings. We are all sitting there for the same reason, and sharing our differences only separates us. If somebody is Christian, Hindu, atheist, or whatever, it is their program, not ours. It is my honest opinion that it is absolutely none of my business unless they are directly hurting me or the integrity of the program. The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous says on page forty-five about the program, "Its main object is to enable you to find a Power greater than yourself which will solve your problem."
Alcoholics Anonymous was the first program to suggest the twelve steps as a program of recovery. The twelve steps have been an incredibly useful tool that millions have used to recover in hundreds of different programs. However, the twelve steps are fairly vague and general. Even with the Big Book and the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (Twelve N' Twelve), there is a lot left to the individual in working the steps. In the Foreword to the First Edition, the Big Book says, "To show other alcoholics precisely how we have recovered is the main purpose of this book." This, to me, says that the goal was to show what helped them in order for us to have some experience to help us. However, it does not say that we must work a program exactly as anyone else did.
My sponsor is an old-school type of guy. He reminds me constantly that Bill went through the steps in two days when he was in the hospital. He took me through all twelve steps before I had ninety days sober. I take my sponsees through the steps in the same way. However, I know many people who go through the steps much slower, and still have a full sobriety and life.
With the second and third steps, we may choose different Higher Powers as discussed above. With the fourth step, there are many ways that people work it. I know some sponsors have their sponsees write every single resentment they have ever had and write several pages on each one. I know other sponsors who only want the bare minimum, for they believe the point is to get the character defects out. All of the twelve steps can be worked in a different way really.
Steps ten, eleven, and twelve are steps that are often worked very differently in any given fellowship. With the tenth step, some people write daily. Writing a daily inventory either at night or in the morning helps many people. Some even write during the day when they feel a resentment arise. Others prefer to use meditation as their chief means of taking inventory. Sitting in silence or after prayer is a way that many people see what is arising in themselves and take an inventory. With the eleventh step, any given individual's prayer and meditation is most likely going to differ from his fellows'. There are people of all spiritual beliefs who practice in many different kinds of ways. There are those that hit their knees every morning and evening, those that meditate avidly, and those that don't do either formally. With the twelfth step, there are those that sponsor a lot of people, those that volunteer time with Hospitals and Institutions, those that hold many service commitments, and those that participate in conventions and other committees.
Even though the twelve steps are direct in their suggestion, there is much room for interpretation. Whatever an individual's program looks like, what matters is that they stay sober and help other addicts and/or alcoholics.
Outside of the Rooms
There are also many differences in what we do outside of the twelve-step rooms. Some of us seek therapy or psychiatry. Whether somebody seeks therapy, acupuncture, or attends religious meetings, these are outside issues. People do these things because they help their recovery. People do yoga, surf, work out, or do a number of other things to enhance their sobriety.
People work different jobs, spend free time doing different things, and engage in different activities in daily life. This is one of the freedoms we are allowed with the twelve-step program.
These differences in our programs are a beautiful part of twelve-step programs. It allows us to find people that have worked the program in many different ways. If we maintain an open mind and open heart, we will find that each way is unique, right for the individual, and we must find our personal truth.