Sign and Significance by Jim Anders


The art of cartography measures elevation and position across the face of the earth. All kinds of people from construction foremen to army commanders to families on holiday find this information useful because of the implications it carries. For instance, the more northern latitudes have shorter daylight periods, less direct sunlight and colder temperatures in January than southern locations. Lower elevations have warmer temperatures due to the sheer weight of the atmosphere pressing down and condensing the air especially in very low places such as Death Valley. Add to those conditions the long days and direct sunlight of, say, August, and Death Valley can become a veritable oven of hot, heavy, still air. This information is important not because such extreme places can always be avoided. When they cannot be avoided, they must be prepared for—they must be faced realistically. Where you are and where you are headed is of great importance.

So, if we prepare for physical journeys based upon data about physical conditions how much more diligently should we prepare for spiritual journeys? All journeys require planning and preparations. In the spiritual journey required of those of us who suffer with addiction the planning is hugely important. We, therefore, need solid preparations. We need to know where we are going … we need a map.

Medically safe detoxification and a healthy diet along with the acquisition of some basic tools to deal with anger and despair mark only the outset of the journey. These things give us a running start. However, always remember that abstinence is the path upon which we tread and not the goal itself.

If one wanders off that path the journey will be interrupted for it is not possible to navigate while intoxicated. One may even be obliged to return to some previous point and start again. However, assuming we stay on the path How can we discern what to expect next? That is where the Twelve Steps are most helpful and begin to serve as spiritual signposts on this most amazing odyssey.

Although each of the Twelve Steps constitute a discreet signpost and are worthy of examination, I want to concentrate on just two steps that proved especially important in my journey. Those were Steps Four and Five.

Step Four requires that we produce something of great value, and as with most things of true value it is not easy to produce. We are told to make “… a searching and fearless moral inventory” (Big Book, page 59). A friend of mine refers to this type of activity as “spiritual archeology.” I love that image of sun beaten, stooped over scientists digging out shards of evidence with dental picks and paint brushes, and then examining their findings. All this unhurried and deep effort is spent to understand a dead civilization. You are of so such more value that I ask you to spend that kind of effort to form a deeper understanding of your souls. That such effort is required is the reason we must be “fearless.” After all, who has ever looked deeply within themselves and not found something distasteful or even worse?

Step Five follows the sometimes painful but always enlightening Step Four. In this step, we try to get honest about our lives with ourselves, God and (at least) one other person. A secularized form of sacramental confession this is emotional catharsis in action.

I will never forget my own experience with this step. I was scared to be perfectly honest with anyone. Moreover, I was exhausted by the necessary preparation. I sat in my sponsor’s car wide eyed and quietly shaking as I read to him my Fourth Step. When I was done he took my list and burned it. The rising smoke seemed to ease the pressure … slowly at first, but building. With the list burned to ash, I felt the weight of guilt and shame dissipate. I had never felt so free before. With the weight gone, I seemed to float about rather than walk. If you are new to recovery, do yourself the favor of navigating through these steps and you may find yourself walking on air as well.

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