Twelve and a half steps

Books Proximity Principle
AN image of Theresa Jackson Theresa Jackson
5th June 2024 4 minute read

I soon got used to the steep walk uphill from Bradford train station into East Bowling. In the middle of a stretch of houses was The Caleb Project, a day centre open to those battling with addiction to drugs or alcohol, or both. I had been volunteering here for a few weeks. The staff were warm and welcoming, the clients who visited the centre greeted me with ease and openness, but something was missing. I had great empathy for those who walked through the doors of the centre, but I couldn’t relate much with their situations. I’d not taken heroin or crack cocaine and I had a modest relationship with alcohol. One morning, one of the clients, let’s call him Jake, turned to me, and asked politely “have you ever done your steps?” 

The aims of the Caleb Project were to engage service users in a rehabilitation programme towards achieving abstinence. One of the approaches used was through the 12-step programme. Originally outlined by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), the 12 steps are a set of guiding principles that help people during additional treatment and recovery.   

I had heard of the steps, but I didn’t know much more than its basic principles. “I’m on Step 6,” Jake continued to explain. “I’ve got this far before but things went a bit wrong so I started from the beginning again a few weeks ago, you can do that you know.” I assumed by describing things as going a bit wrong Jake was referring to a relapse back onto drugs. The answer to his question was ‘no,’ I hadn’t done my steps, but my answer got a bit lost as he went on to explain that step 6 was about being ready to have God remove all defects of character. At this point Jake had lost me. I couldn’t really grasp what he meant by defects of character, and I had even less idea how a God would remove them, whatever they were. 

 The following week I was in a meeting. It was explained to me that as part of my voluntary hours, there was the option to work through the local vicar’s new book entitled 12 ½ Steps to Spiritual Health. Astin, (the vicar) had carefully adapted and extended the 12 Step programme used in treating addiction as he felt that for “alcohol” you could read “sin” and in turn provide a helpful way for people to connect with the Christian faith. I worked through my steps tirelessly without distraction. The weeks turned into months; it was a gruelling process of self-discovery. I got a sponsor (someone who helps you navigate the process by answering questions and offering accountability), I studied the workbook and I committed myself to the course.   

During this time, my relationship with the clients at Caleb distinctly changed. It was no longer about the helper and the helped. Us and them. It became a community of people walking alongside each other providing mutual encouragement. When I was placed in the Caleb Project as a volunteer, there was an assumption that I was there as a helper rather than a learner. That I was somehow better or more qualified that those walking through the doors each day.   

Fr Gregory Boyle says that when volunteers let go of the desire to make a difference and open up to how they themselves can be changed; a mutuality is created. It is what he calls kinship. “If you go to the margins to make a difference, then it’s about you and it can’t be about me. It has to be about us,” said Boyle. “So, if you go to the margins so that the folks on the margins make me different, well then suddenly it’s mutual. It’s exquisitely mutual and everyone is inhabiting their truth and their dignity and their nobility. Then it’s not about saving, fixing, rescuing success, tally sheets of people who have now moved on; it’s only about delighting in the person in front of you. And then, just experiencing the kinship and connection between people.”   

Jake will not know the impact he had on my life the day he asked me if I had done my steps. He treated me as an equal. I only hope I can return the favour.           

Written by

Theresa Jackson

Born and bred in London, Theresa is passionate about seeing the nation impacted by the gospel in word and action. Her calling to urban ministry saw Theresa moving from north to west London in 2012 to join an Eden Team in Ladbroke Grove, where she lived for the long-term seeing God impact lives. In 2022, Theresa completed a Masters in Missiology, where she awarded the Department of Theology, Religion & Philosophy Masters Graduation prize. As part of the Proximity team, Theresa is using her skills and passion to see the church step out even more in urban ministry to help co-ordinate the project.

AN image of Theresa Jackson
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