The Twelve Steps

Words copyright © 1939 by Alcoholics Anonymous World Services
Music Creative Commons License 2007 by Jim Bearden

As I mentioned in the “Afterword” to “For Teresa”, at the time I wrote it, I didn’t hear it as a message intended for me. By the middle of  2006, though, I knew that I had to get serious about my own alcoholism, and I got into the Chemical Dependency Recovery Program at the Kaiser Clinic in Cupertino. What I learned there has been tremendously beneficial to me ever since (fifteen years of sobriety later, at this writing), and I’m very grateful to  CDRP, and the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous that I’ve enjoyed since then, for making my life much better. One of the things I’ve tried to learn was listening a little better, so when I heard the words of the First Step (quite familiar to me by then) being sung in my head, sometime late in 2006, to a melody I didn’t recognize at the time, I figured I’d better take it more seriously, as a message to me, this time. Since the Twelve Steps were certainly not written in the pattern of song lyrics, or with any poetic meter, I didn’t think I’d be able to fit all of them to the melody I’d heard, and I might have to paraphrase some, but thought I’d give it a try with the original words, and see how far I could get. Somewhat to my surprise, I managed to fit all the original words into the musical pattern I had developed, although with some (Step 11, in particular), it was kind of a squeeze. You may think the final result, below, is somewhat like Samuel Johnson’s opinion of a woman preaching (“It is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs: it is not done well, but you are surprised to find it done at all”), but I hope it’s at least interesting.

Verse 1:
(1) We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable.
(2) Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
(3) Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
(4) Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Verse 2:
(5) Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
(6) Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
(7) Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
(8) Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

Verse 3:
(9) Made amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
(10) Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
(11) Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
(12) Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Afterword: Quite a while after I finished writing this song, I finally recognized the song that had provided the melody I had heard in my head: an old Elvis Presley song called “The Wonder of You”, which I hadn’t heard for at least 20 years before that. I then looked into the story of how that song got written, and that’s when things got really interesting. The song was written by a native of Birmingham, Alabama, named Baker Knight, who had come to Los Angeles in the late 1950s to try to make it as a performer and songwriter. He never had much success as a performer, but some of his original songs got picked up by Ricky Nelson and turned into big hits. All of a sudden, he was more successful than he ever imagined, and he didn’t handle it well—after a lot of drinking, he ended up back in an Alabama hospital in 1959 not knowing if he wanted to live or die. During this time, he wrote the first version of “The Wonder of You”, as a way, he said, of trying to sort out his relationship with God. After he went back to Los Angeles, the song evolved into more of a love song, was recorded by a couple of singers, but then became a huge hit when Elvis Presley recorded it in 1970. When you look at the original words for the first verse, though, the originally-stated aim of exploring a spiritual relationship is clear:

When no one else can understand me,
When everything I do is wrong,
You give me love and consolation.
You give me hope to carry on,

So here’s why this is very strange for me: both by inclination and by training, I’m a scientist — I tend to believe in things for which I can see actual evidence. So how do I explain the idea that a song, written in 1959 as a spiritual exploration, comes back into my head in 2006, accompanied by the words of the First Step, in the recovery that I needed? I certainly can’t say I understand this kind of experience, but I’m trying to pay a little more attention to it now, and my life is a whole lot better for it.

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