Introduction from the latest edition of A Deeper Wisdom: The Twelve Steps from a Woman’s Perspective
My awakening came late in time. I missed the second wave of feminism in the 1960s and 1970s. I was immersed in fundamentalist traditions that kept me isolated from the political movements in the wider culture. I was dealing with the aftermath of growing up in a severely dysfunctional home, children’s shelter, and orphanage—the kind of situations no one wanted to hear about because they were “so depressing.”
I was managing depression and my disheveled inner landscape with food and relationships. These habits of behavior kept me comatose until I was ready to walk through my personal past. I also finished high school and college successfully, launched a private day school, found great joy in teaching, and courageously entered a marriage. Light and darkness always dance together in our lives.
I was not alone. In circles of women I heard stories of others whose “consciousness raising” was precipitated by real life challenges. The “knight in shining armor” mythology shattered as they divorced and became the sole financial and emotional provider for their children. They sought support at a local women’s center and began to listen to women’s stories, shedding the competitive attitudes of a lifetime.
They stumbled into self-help meetings and someone said “Goddess” instead of the compulsory “God” in the Twelve Steps, and they wondered how she got the courage to commit such a heretical act. Their therapists suggested they read The Second Sex or The Creation of Patriarchy and they were stunned that women were writing such powerful treatises and they knew nothing about them.
In the 1980s after my divorce, I showed up at graduate school to major in religious education, the appropriate focus for young women, only to discover that most of my classmates were “radical” women going into the ordained ministry. After graduate school, I relocated and was drawn to the local Unitarian church. I sat with tears in my eyes every Sunday listening to the preacher. Her words resonated with my deepest experience in a way that the words of male ministers had never been able to do.
In the process of awakening, I realized that aspects of the 12 Step model weren’t working for me. I desired a non-shaming, non-hierarchical framework within which to wrestle with my habits of behavior. I rewrote the 12 Steps from an inner perspective, recognizing that my journey was an inward one. Instead of looking to another God or higher power outside of my life for salvation, I longed to return home to myself, to grow in knowledge and love of myself, to accept and trust myself. I wasn’t interested in ascending to enlightened states of being that involved the denial of the self. I was compelled to descend—to look deep within to reclaim forgotten aspects of myself.
Releasing the shame of a lifetime, I reached beneath my obsession with flaws, beneath the accomplishments that masked my sense of unworthiness, beneath years of alienation from myself, toward the goodness at my center. I discovered that the good was deeply embedded within me. As I embraced my original goodness, my inner spaces were cleared out and reclaimed as my own. I found rest within my own life and now accept all of myself as worthy.
From a self-possessed center, I refused to embrace any set of principles based on the belief in my fundamental sinfulness and defectiveness, or on the necessity of ego-deflation, humiliation, or the surrender of my natural impulses. Instead, I reframed the 12 Steps based on my belief in original goodness and the necessity of self-love and self-trust. Each step now answers the question, “What’s good and right about me?” and affirms my natural impulse toward healing and wholeness.
As I was writing A Deeper Wisdom, I invited a community of recovering women to join me in the process. It is always in the company of women that we are reminded of our common heritage as women. A heritage that reaches beyond “the beginning” defined by men to the “very beginning” when the divine was imagined as woman.
We discover that we are surrounded by a courageous cloud of witnesses—their experience and stories, their ideas and images, their creativity and outrage become healing resources for us. No longer asking the question what’s wrong with me, we are freed from our obsession with the works, words, and lives of men. Self-possessed, we step outside of patriarchal thought and immerse ourselves in women’s history, philosophy, theology, creativity, recovery, and spirituality. Receive Gerda Lerner’s strong challenge:
To step outside of patriarchal thought means being skeptical toward every known system of thought and being critical of all assumptions, ordering values and definitions. It means being critical toward our own thought, which was trained in the patriarchal tradition. Finally, it means developing intellectual courage, the courage to stand alone, the courage to reach farther than our grasp, the courage to risk failure.
Perhaps the greatest challenge to thinking women is the challenge to move from the desire for safety and approval to the most “unfeminine” quality of all—that of intellectual arrogance, the supreme hubris which asserts to itself the right to reorder the world. The hubris of the god-makers, the hubris of the male system-builders.
We’ve been warned against exhibiting hubris (“arrogant pride”) all of our lives. Gerda Lerner supports us to be arrogantly full of ourselves for the salvation of a planet out of balance and in danger of annihilating itself. In her every word, we hear the powerful affirmation, “It is right and good that you are woman. Assert to yourself the right to reorder the worlds you inhabit. Be full of yourself!”
Patricia Lynn Reilly is the founder of Imagine a Woman International and BAB Coaching and Publication Services. This week’s blog is an excerpt from the 2012 edition of Patricia’s book A Deeper Wisdom: The Twelve Steps from a Woman’s Perspective. The book is written to all women on a spiritual journey of self-discovery who are interested in woman-affirming processes and thinking. Visit here to purchase the book for $12: http://www.imagineawoman.com/home/products/books-by-patricia-lynn-reilly