At the time of writing, several friends of mine are engaged in formal initiation proceedings, leading me to consider my own experiences with initiations. It was easy to pinpoint those formal initiations such as being initiated into the National Honor Society, or being initiated into a co-ed social group at my college that I can only explain as being modeled on the Merry Pranksters. But the experience that first came to mind when thinking of initiatory experiences was working the Twelve Steps.
Anyone who has a desire to stop using can become a member of a Twelve Step group. You do not have to work the Twelve Steps. However, the process of working the Twelve Steps is the manner in which one draws closer to the program or becomes truly initiated. It is how we begin to view fellowship as family. Since we work the Twelve Steps with a sponsor, we are forced to reach our hand out and ask for help. No longer are we able to sit in the back of the room, not talking to anyone. We must make connections in order to move forward. As we reveal ourselves to our sponsor, we learn how to become open and more vulnerable. We become open to taking suggestions, and learn about humility. These are essential elements for being part of a society instead of being a party of one. Not only does the process of the Twelve Steps change us into better people, but we also learn how to be with people as we work the steps.
The many tales of underworld descents provide a poetic structure through which to understand a program of recovery. Much of what we do is painful, and involves spelunking around in some of the darker neighborhoods of our psyche. If we persist, at the end of the experience we are reborn. As in the Sumerian tale of Inanna’s descent, there are seven gates (steps) we must pass through in the Recovery version of the Underworld, and at each of them we must turn over some part of ourselves just as Inanna was required to turn over a symbol of her power and wealth. In Step One, we hand over our attachment to the idea that we shall ever be able to exercise any power over our drinking or drugging. In Step Two, we give up the specter of self-sufficiency. In step Three, we turn over our will and our lives. We hand over denial and self-delusion in Step Four, and in Step Five we part ways with our pride. In Step six we relinquish our attachment to our character defects, and then in Step Seven we actually ask for them to be removed. As Inanna became stripped of the symbols of her holy priestesshood, so too do we become more naked and vulnerable as we go along. When we question, as Inanna did, why we have to do this or that, our sponsors or old-timer’s might snap at us as the Chief Gatekeeper, Neti, snapped at Inanna, “Quiet Inanna, the ways of the Underworld are perfect. They may not be questioned.” We’ve all met the Big Book thumpers who talk like this!