I’m probably going to say and explain a lot of things incorrectly here about the 12 Steps, but I’m going to do my best. Please remember I’m still new here, and still learning. Specifically, I’m going to talk about Steps 2 & 3(ish) – and how the last 36 hours that just passed here in rehab played out.

And that time I had an epiphany on the beach this morning.

I’m going to try and make this brief, but I promise the ending is pretty damn cool.
(Post-script: It’s not brief. It’s pretty long. Apologies)

I’m all new to this. I came here knowing nothing about AA, nothing about the 12 Steps, and only scary horror stories of people’s detox nightmares that I read online.

What I did know, was that I was absolutely powerless when it came to alcohol. I no longer had control (and can admit wholeheartedly that I never did). That most sincere confession is the very first post I ever made on this blog – How Did I Get Here. I had been tormented for years and as everything of value in my life spiralled outwards away from me as though repelled and disgusted by my drinking, I came to realize that this could not go on any longer.

I have never looked back from my choice to come here. I was beyond willing to go ANYWHERE that could assist me. Despite walking into this blindly I could clearly see my destination, which was to find help, since I was helpless.

You could call that Step 1. 

I gladly raised the hammer and put the nail in the coffin on that part of my life, in admitting I was absolutely powerless and out of control, and in a cycle of insanity.

I was raised Catholic, but we were never devout. “C&E Catholics,” essentially – we’d go to church on Christmas and Easter (and any unfortunate funerals or weddings in between). The one thing I have been surprised with is how Step 2 – and essentially every step in general, refers to the Higher Power of your understanding. 

Pardon my language, but thank god.

I know I’ve explained this before, but I believe in The Universe as my Higher Power. I believe in energy. In the Law of Attraction – essentially, you get what you give, and energy cannot be created or destroyed. I believe in love and compassion, in fairness and equality, though I also believe in an afterlife of sorts. I do not believe there are coincidences, and I believe we all have a path and purpose in life.

I understand that all of that doesn’t fit nicely into one shoe.

But, I believe. I definitely believe there is something greater than me, and all of us. I don’t have a name for it – so I just call it The Universe. I’m sure there’s more poetic, specific or appropriate names for it – but that’s what resonates with me. Essentially – it is everything. And I suppose that makes it just like almost every other religion.

The end all, be all. 

In a roundabout way, this would be a loose Step 2.

I admit that the universe has never let me down, has allowed me to live up to this point, and for some reason, has chosen me to get well. 

Perhaps in one of my drunken, sobbing hot-mess disaster evenings (which the last one was only 9 days ago) I sent yet another pathetic sick plea to The Universe that I just couldn’t do this on my own. I had said it so many times, but this time it came from the very hallows of my despair, where it continually caroused with the resentment of myself, and how alcohol had won.

Again. And again. And again.

So, still trying to wrap my slowly-coming-to-consciousness head around all of this new information and the evidence behind the 12 Step Program and AA – I find I’m still stumbling on how to approach Step 3.

To make a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand Him.

Well, fuck.

Inside me, the shutters started rattling and doors start slamming and that wicked west wind starting blowing every imaginable option and thought, question and belief around my brain – a storm was coming and I wasn’t prepared. 

For a control-freak, who has been absolutely out of control (funny how we can trick ourselves into thinking we are) for well over 10 years – this a huge step. And there’s no way my legs are long enough. The distance between where I’m standing and where I need to be may as well as be opposite ends of the Grand Canyon.

But, I believe. I believe in The Universe. I believe, and in the past have proven, that if I ask, it will answer – so long as I’m on a frequency of Gratitude.

Ask. Believe. Receive.

I speak with Jeff, one of my counsellors, about this stumbling block I’m having, and for any of his advice on how I can actually just release my will to something, and allow it to take charge of my life. We chat and discuss, and essentially it comes full circle to exactly where I knew it would – that only I can figure that out for myself. It’s different for everyone.

And that meant it is no different for me.

I finally make it to bed with no hope of sleeping (again) and put the audiobook of The Secret on to fall asleep to. I have “Thoughts Become Things” – the essence of the entire book and philosophy – tattooed on my arm. I felt it couldn’t hurt for a brief refresher course and quick tune-up. If I was going to put my absolute faith into the care of The Universe to look after me now, it seemed as good a time as ever for a quick re-introduction, in case The Universe had forgotten about me, in the meantime.

Here’s where shit starts to get real (sorry for all of that crap up above, but I felt it necessary to explain where I was even this morning waking up – sort of hovering between “I got this” and “Holy shit what the hell is happening”).

Every morning we wake at 5:30am and head to the ocean for a walk on the beach during sunrise. It’s the most therapeutic thing in the entire world, and our psychotherapist comes with us and we each go our own way. Unlike every other morning, my other counsellor who is guiding me through the alcohol addiction / AA / 12 Step portion of the program happens to be up as well, because there’s some mix-up with the car keys.

He’s never up at this time, so it was weird to begin with.

I ask if he’s coming with us and jokingly he says, “No – just bring me back a shell. A nice one – you know, one of those conchs” as he climbs the stairs back to his room. He’s an incredible man with as many stories as there are grains of sand on the beach. A recovered addict, alcoholic, certified relapse counsellor and clean for nearly a decade – he is hands down the exact person I would have chosen to help me, if I had had the choice. He’s hit rock bottom so many times he’s left an imprint. One day, I’d love to tell his story, and I plan to learn as much from him – and about him – as possible while I’m here.

But that’s for another day.

So off we go to the beach. It’s one of those beautiful Dominican beaches – clean sand, few pebbles, rolling waves crashing and nothing but palm trees and ocean spreading for miles in every direction. It’s peaceful, it’s quiet. All the tourists are still passed out and hungover in their 5 star resorts, while we addicts and alcoholics are walking the beach searching for our souls.

I become determined to find a shell to bring back for Jeff. Thing being – I’ve never seen a shell on this beach. Little broken off pieces here and there, but nothing more than worn round pebbles beaten by millennia of travelling across the sea, just to wash up here for a moment and be stolen back by the next wave in a second.

And I think of The Universe. Asking and receiving. And where I need to get to with my faith in order to move forward – eventually – under the care of that Higher Power I still (obviously) haven’t surrendered to.

I decide to stop looking. I stop walking.
I place my request out loud, alone on the beach.

“Please, send me a shell. As a sign, and for Jeff. I need this.”

I speak it deliberately and with more confidence than I’ve felt since…well…I don’t even know how long. And I leave it there – letting the words wash into the ocean and out of my hands.

I walk further, down the beach. A jogger passes me and I admire her determination. Her health. I imagine she lives on avocados and overpriced coconut water. Or maybe she’s in a loveless marriage and hates her job. I’m sad for a moment when I wonder if maybe she’s trying to stay fit because she has fertility problems and would do anything to create an entirely new human inside her – the beginning and birth of a completely new universe.

I’ve come to learn that nothing is ever as it seems.

That’s been my brain lately. Here, there, everywhere. I remember I’m on the beach. I turn to the ocean and let the water rush up around my ankles, washing away the sand beneath my feet as it returns.

One wave. And the water exhales back to the ocean.

Two waves. It is exactly 7am. Sunrise. The sun crests over the horizon.

And there it is.

The wave washes back, placing at my feet, the most perfect shell.

A conch.

I swear on my father’s grave, I shit you not. It fucking happened.

It gives me chills typing this. And the only thing that could have blown me away more was if I heard a freaking choir of angels at the same time.

It was like a full blown epiphany and 10 billion sleeping neurons in my soul sprung to life.

I pick it up and stood there for at least 5 minutes, just taking it in. It wasn’t just a shell. It was exactly what I asked for – and it was the answer I was looking for – within literally minutes of me asking for it.

I’m not doing a very good job of describing how impactful this was/is for me. If there was ever an ounce of proof I needed to be able to place – with absolute surrender and confidence – my life into the charge of The Universe, I received it this morning at exactly 7am, on a beach in Cabarete, Dominican Republic, when the ocean placed a conch shell at my feet.

Screen Shot 2017-03-01 at 9.34.33 PM.png

The more I looked at it, the more I admired its shape and design – the spiral of the universe itself. It wasn’t massive, but it was absolutely perfect.

Even more amazing – if you know anything about “The Golden Ratio” it gets even more mind blowing (I’ll spare you the details, but it cemented in me that I am exactly where I need to be right now, at exactly the right time, and the universe made sure I was standing at that very spot to collect that shell – and the faith and hope that came with it.)


Thank you, Universe.

I naturally can’t wait to get back to the centre to give it to Jeff and see his reaction, especially considering the talk I had with him yesterday about my stumbling on finding the faith to commit my life to something I can’t quite define.

We get back to the clinic and I give the shell to Jeff. He holds it in his hand. He looks at me. He looks at the shell, and he looks at me again.


I tell him the story of how I asked, how I stopped looking, and how it found me.

Then he says – “and it’s a conch. It’s a baby conch.”

And he starts to cry.

He goes on to explain that despite his years of sobriety, 11 DUI’s, 3 suicide attempts, years in jail, and multiple relapses that he is still in his infancy, just like this shell.  Trust me – the man is a genius and his life calling is to be here helping addicts and alcoholics. He has a heart of gold, and he’s the most devote Christian you’ll ever meet. His life has been spared so many times so he could help spare mine and so many others. I truly do want to write his story for him one day, because I can’t even summarize it here and do it an ounce of justice.

“This is honestly one of the best gifts I’ve ever been given,” he says. “I will keep this forever. And I mean it.” Clutching it in his hand like it’s the first piece of a food a starving man has had in 20 years, he looks me straight in the eyes with tears in his own, and without a word gave a nod, and passed some sort of strength to me that I’ve never known before.

I just re-read the last few paragraphs, and it makes me sound like I’ve totally fallen off my already broken rocker.

If I were to explain it any differently, I’d only add more rather than take any away. As time goes on I’m sure I’ll be better able to explain the transformation that happened to me today. It feels as though I’m telling a story that happened to someone else.

But it didn’t.

It happened to me.

It may sound like so much-ado-about nothing: “Woohoo! You just made me read 2400 words because you found a stupid shell? Thanks a lot, Shawn…”

Yep. That’s exactly it. I found a shell. And with it came the unquestionable, unwavering answer that I was looking for: that my faith is in the right place.

That I’m in the right place.

That The Universe has my back.

And everything is going to be okay.

Written by SJ VanDee

Recovery Blogger. Sober AF. Photographer. Storyteller. Writer.


  1. IMHO the first that you’ve noticed of many miracles you will experience. As I look back, My will and my life have been in the care of the Universe from the beginning Step 3 is me agreeing to participate and cooperate-Awesome story

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I think I’m having a very similar journey this far as you, as I’m working on step 3 still now. I’m finding so much strength in meditation right now as well – this whole thing is a big trip (and an awesome one so far, despite the ugly parts)

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much man 🙂 it was truly one of the coolest things that’s ever happened to me. I’ve relived it in my mind several times each day. Even though I gave jeff the seashell, I got so much more. Pretty cool to have had that moment of awakening and faith being confirmed and strengthened…not only so quickly but literally EXACTLY when I needed it. Still going through lots of gross stuff – but that experience (miracle? I dunno…) is helping me through them. And will continue to I think.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I can relate to this, though I probably a much more ordinary way. I always pick pennies up wherever I find them and look at the date. For me the date is a reminder to think, “What was going on in my life back then?”

        Sometimes the date will bring up a bad memory (like buying a case of beer on Friday evenings on the way home from work and knowing that Sunday, I’d need to get myself together enough to go out and buy another one) and then I’m reminded, “Never again.” Sometimes the date will bring up a good memory too. Either way, the date and the memory recalled have always seemed to be exactly what I needed at the time. I’m only sharing this because you may not come across very many seashells back home in Canada, but pennies are more probable.


  2. Yes. It is amazing how magical moments continuously appear when we are alert and open up seeing them.

    The power of connection with others is amazing. That was a beautiful exchange.

    Keep focusing on you. Take your time. Enjoy the miracles.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. It is really overwhelming to be honest. I was worried about “the detox” and my narrow mind didn’t even really think beyond that. What happened that day was exactly what I needed to grasp the actual vastness of what is happening/about to happen. *enter moment of kind of waking up here*


  3. That’s beautiful Shawn. I’ve had moments, and I know what it’s like! It’s amazing!! It is that “belief” that finally set my recovery in motion. Can’t possibly turn your will and life over to something you don’t believe in!! So so cool. Enjoy the ride. I’m sure you will be on cloud nine for awhile. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much. It has definitely given me a new “fuel” so to speak over the last few days since it happened. I wasn’t dragging my feet exactly beforehand – but I definitely needed that sign (?) or confirmation…miracle?…to give me this new motivation. Loving it. Still lots of gross scary parts every day lol. But I have that event in me now and I can’t deny it. It was/is wonderful. Who knew….

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I did. lol. 😉 I’ve had epiphanies and coincidences (although they are no longer called coincidences in my book), signs and miracles. All because I hit bottom and had nothing left inside of myself. Nothing. All I could muster was a pinky sized strenght to reach out for God (my Higher Power) and amazing things started happening. If you keep your eyes and ears open they happen more and more. Or you notice them more and more I should say. xoxo

        Liked by 1 person

      2. So wonderful 😍 right now I’m finding that books are finding their way to me. It’s weird. And I read them and they’re absolutely perfect. I have an interesting story from (again!) on the beach the other day I’ll probably share soon. Very sad story actually, but I ended up indirectly meeting someone who I then indirectly introduced to my psychotherapist who that new stranger most DEFINITELY was meant to speak with that day. There are no coincidences, I agree 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha what’s my palm say?!? Yes Jeff is one in a billion. I’d love to write his story. It’s inspiring and fascinating (it would be an amazing movie, too). Action, drama, tragedy, documentary, horror – it has all the elements of a box office, life changing hit.


  4. First things first (I don’t want to forget to make this comment after reading the full post): The way you work the steps today will change as you mature in the program. Their meaning will grow as you do. In other words, work them the best you can now. This is where rigorous honesty comes in (How it Works, pg 58).

    You can only follow the path to the best of your honest ability, as it is right now. You’ll get better at it as you grow.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. God, or the universe as you choose to call it, does for us what we cannot do for ourselves, brother.

        You didn’t ask for just a shell. You asked for your faith to be increased and it was, because that’s how it works.

        Outstanding post. THIS is what I wanted to see! This is real. This is good. This is progress, not perfection (though it sounds like this case was pretty close).

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Thanks so much Jim (and sorry for my late reply it’s been busy over here!!!). It was an absolutely surreal experience and you are exactly correct that I asked for my faith to be increased and it was delivered. Point made loud and clear and impossible to ignore. I’m feeling more at peace than I have since the early 90’s lol.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. On it!! I’m so sorry I’m behind on reading everyone’s posts. I’m buried in books and therapy and group sessions and meditation and yoga and it’s all amazing….but I do admit I need to get caught up on the “Good stuff” which is all of your posts!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much xoxo it was beyond surreal and it was just what I needed. I don’t expect that to happen every day (and it hasn’t) but it was definitely a sign that I’m where I belong, which is was questioning a little bit at first. There’s been some tough parts…and I know the really tough ones are yet to come. One day at a time. Xo

      Liked by 1 person

  5. My dear Shawn, this post brought me to tears. I’m so thankful this moment happened to you (and for Jeff), and I just know that it’s only the beginning of many more magical, eye/heart/soul-oppening moments to come. Much love and support.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ahhhh thank you. It was so bizarre. I still get chills thinking of it. Surreal would be a good word to describe it. Amazing how much you can notice and receive if you just let it come to you and pay attention. Like friends like you xo


  6. What a wonderful experience! There are plenty more to come. Hold on to experiences like this for your worst days because it will help you get through those “tough times”. You’re doing a wonderful job. I just have one suggestion, as of now. Make sure Step 1, 2 and 3 are solid, as another said, “rigorous honesty”.

    I may have put this here before, but I’ll do it again. This is how I explain “The 12 Steps of AA” for most of my Sponsees. It’s simple. Step 1, 2, and 3 are the foundation of your house; the foundation must be solid, otherwise your house may fall down. Steps 4 – 9 is like rebuilding a frame, piping, and clearing all the dust. Steps 10 – 12 are the final touchings (the roof, the front door, windows, etc.) and then finally you can open that front door (after going through all 12 steps sequentially), holding the hand of others and letting them in.

    Another note and I’ll zip it. Make it a priority, before the end of rehab to get a list of local meetings, attend at least three a week or more (many of us “suggest doing a 90 meetings within 90 days”), get a Sponsor (to help you through the rest of the Steps and get a homegroup. Don’t worry about it now. At the end of rehab, talk to the counselor about my “suggestion” and they should be able to pull a list from the Internet of local meetings and help you plan your future. Make that commitment before you get home.

    I continue to look forward to your further experiences!! ** zip lip **

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you SO MUCH Mike! My talk with my counsellor here today was about me starting to set up those home groups and begin doing research for meetings and more. I have a couple sponsors in mind, and hope to reach out to one of them soon. I’m still here 19 more days (woah) so plenty of time. He drilled into me the important of “nailing” Steps 1, 2 & 3 – but I’ll admit I like (and get) you explanation my much more. He mentioned he knows I have Step 1 solid in my mind, I think he’s looking for more proof that I’ve got it solid in my heart and my gut. Same with 2 & 3 obviously. Today was 3 back-to-back 1.5 therapy sessions and I’m whipped. First with Ivan, my Cognitive Behaviour Therapist, then Jeff, Addictions Counsellor, the Karina, the psychotherapist. I have so much to digest right now now sure where to start (so I thought here would be a good distraction LOL). Time to make a list I think so I can stay on track today. Thanks as always for the support & advice! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Hot damn man! What an experience. Some real “moments of clarity”. I think they totally apply to the steps exactly as you laid them out. I thoroughly enjoyed this read Shawn. I love reading about transformation. I’m always looking to to transform and change myself. I’m sort of hooked on it nowadays. Imagine that! Ah!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks so much, Mark! This is a total trip – so much more than I imagined (and it’s wonderful). The detox was the easy part (who knew?). I’ve discovered I absolutely LOVE meditating. That’s like an instant transformation in 10-20 minutes, and it’s totally free 🙂 I’m addicted (in a good way!)


  8. There are moments, usually in nature, that I find and acknowledge the miracle of existence.
    The miracle of life.
    I can’t understand it, and I don’t try.
    But I do know when I can stand back, let life flow, I am in a better place.
    Big Hugs, Shawn.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s my goal, Wendy 🙂 I think it’s in the “trying” that we lose that real “understanding”. I’ve been meditating daily and have discovered I LOVE IT. Definitely helping with “letting it flow”. So happy you’re in a better place 🙂 that’s my goal too xo

      Liked by 1 person

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