Joyful Musings – October 2009

Joyful Musings

By Joy Birnbach Dunstan, MA, LPC, MAC

One Breath at a Time


There’s probably not a person alive who isn’t familiar with AA and the 12-step program. It’s been around since 1935 and has been phenomenal in its success, helping millions of alcoholics and addicts achieve and maintain sobriety.

Some people, however, struggle with its wording or its Judeo-Christian slant and might appreciate a slightly different approach. Kevin Griffin is author of One Breath at a Time, a book presenting a Buddhist slant on the classic format. I’d like to share his version of the 12 steps.

For those saying, “I don’t have a drinking or drug problem,” don’t stop reading just yet. We’re all in recovery from something, even if it’s just the bumpy road of life. This can be a path of healing and growth for us all.

Step One—The surrender of old ideas of who we are. To become our best self, we must break out of limiting concepts of who we are and what we think is possible. We must look into the darkness of our soul and accept our shadow before we can attain an honest and authentic life.

Steps Two and Three—Acknowledge a Higher Power and turn over your will to that Power. While there is a Christian inclination in the Twelve Step Program, there is room for personal interpretation of God and different spiritual paths including the teachings of Buddhism, such as the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path.

Steps Four and Five—Make an inventory of all the hurt you have caused and share that list with another person, such as a sponsor. The Buddha says that recognizing and admitting our mistakes and setting an intention to do better in the future is the way to grow as spiritual beings.

Steps Six and Seven—Willingness to change and perform the actions that allow for that change. The Buddha teaches, “We are a process; we are possibilities; and we constantly change.” Sobriety is finding a new way of living that involves engagement where there was withdrawal, generosity where there was self-centeredness, community where there was isolation, joy where there was bitterness, and trust where there was cynicism.

Steps Eight and Nine—Make a list of those you have harmed and make amends to them, as long as it doesn’t cause harm. It takes a strong person to admit his shortcomings, and by making amends we gain authenticity as a person.

Step Ten—An ongoing personal inventory of misled behavior. This step isn’t about guilt and shame, but rather a freeing of energy and a guidepost for growth. Compassion is a foundational concept in healing and growing, as well as a base for most spiritual paths, and it begins with the self.

Step Eleven—Prayer and meditation. It is important to face our thoughts and cultivate mindfulness. Our connection to our inner life nourishes our soul and guides our outer life. Meditation makes it possible to see your thoughts more clearly so as to consciously decide how to respond to them.

Step Twelve—Service. To serve others and to show compassion is a central theme in the Twelve Steps as well as Buddhism. It continues us on our spiritual path as well as helping others in time of need.

Griffin’s ideas are just one more approach among many paths to sobriety. I’ve collected numerous versions of alternative step programs, and would love to hear from you if there is interest to read about some others as well.

Editor’s Note: Joy is a practicing psychotherapist in Riberas. She can be contacted at or 765-4988.

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