The Twelve Steps to recovery were created over 70 years ago during the creation of Alcoholics Anonymous. They are outlined in the Big Book, which Bill Wilson (the co-founder of AA) began writing in 1938 and they have been used as a successful path to recovery ever since. The Twelve Steps are used by Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, Al-Anon, and many more programs seeking to help people recover from the disease of addiction.
The Twelve Steps provide a step-by-step path to emotional and spiritual freedom from addiction. They are meant to be worked with a sponsor and in order.
Before we review each, let’s get one thing out of the way. I am a recovering member of a Twelve Step program and have worked all the steps we will discuss below with a sponsor. What I share about the steps comes from my personal experience with working them, hundreds of meetings about them, and many conversations my sponsor and I have had about them.
The Twelve Steps to recovery work because they rely strongly on the value of one alcoholic or addict, speaking to another. It is essential that you know that what I write in this post as a fellow addict who has worked the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Disclaimer: This blog in no way takes the place of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous or the guidance of a sponsor. All helpful tips are things I did when I first got sober at the suggestion of my sponsor.
Let’s talk about God. It is common for addicts and alcoholics to come into recovery without any faith in God or a belief in God. THAT IS OK. If the word God bothers you when you are new, think of it as an acronym that stands for “group of drunks” and plug that phrase in where you see the word, God. All you need to be willing to do is believe that there is a power greater than yourself. That power can be the Twelve Step group you attend, your sponsor, your treatment center, or anything you feel comfortable trusting enough to guide you forward.
As you move through your step working journey, your opinion of God may change, your relationship with Him may change, but you do not need to believe in God to recover. There is an entire section of the Big Book devoted to those who don’t believe in God. It is called, “We Agnostics,” and you can read it here.
Below we will review the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and learn a bit more about each. It is important, however, to note that the for the Twelve Steps to work, you must work them with a sponsor. And, it is crucial that you work them in order. It may be tempting to enter treatment and immediately skip to Step Nine and start apologizing to everyone we’ve hurt but resist the urge to do so. Hopefully, the explanations below will help explain why the steps are worked in order.
Helpful Tip for Working Step One: Make a list of how you have tried and failed to stop on your own, how your addiction has created chaos in your life (did you lose a job, a relationship, or commit a crime?). Has your health suffered, have you tried and failed to control your using? While working the twelve step, exercises like this can help us see on paper what our addiction has done to us. It smashes denial and the belief that we can manage our disease alone.
Helpful Tip for Working Step Two: Think about the things you did to keep your addiction moving forward. Did they make sense? Did you put yourself or others in danger, did you drive under the influence and wreck a car? Consider what life would look like if those irrational behaviors were not standing between you and freedom.
Helpful Tip for Working Step Three: Make a list of the qualities you want the God of your understanding to provide. Should that power offer you love, forgiveness, a compassionate ear? Challenge yourself to believe that power greater than you has your best interests at heart and wants you to live, succeed, and thrive. Discuss your thoughts about this step at meetings and with your sponsor.
We must not rush this step. We must uncover every stone to walk away free. Be thorough, and now – more than ever – listen to Breakthrough Recovery Outreach’s message and TRUST THE PROCESS.
We don’t need to worry about the rest of the Steps until we get to them. We write our fourth steps without thinking about sharing it with another person. For now, we simply get the step down on paper.
Helpful Tip for Working Step Four: Before beginning your fourth step, speak to your sponsor and get instructions. As feelings arise as you work your way through this step, talk to fellow members of your Twelve Step group and get their experience, strength, and hope. Some sponsors like us to use worksheets to write out the fourth step. The worksheets for step four are here.
Helpful Tip for Working Step Five: Let it all out. We must let every dark secret hit the light to begin healing. Take a moment to celebrate yourself for getting through the work. Step work is not called work without reason. Good for you for following some Good Orderly Direction (another acronym for God!).
Helpful Hint for Working Step Six: We are much more than our defects. Remember we all have assets too. Consider your assets. Are you a good listener, are you a loyal family member, are you generous?
Helpful Hint for Working Step Seven: When you feel an old behavior beginning to take form, ask God to remove it, talk to your sponsor, and write about how you feel having NOT acted on it. This feeling of pride will push you to rely on this step more and more.
Helpful Hint for Working Step Eight: Think back to step three and the decision to turn your will and your life over to a power greater than yourself. By now, you’ve hopefully experienced some spiritual relief. Now is the time to remember again to TRUST THE PROCESS and move forward toward the freedom that working the twelve steps promise.
Helpful Hint for Working Step Nine: Look up the word amend in the dictionary. It means to change. Think about the difference between committing to change and offering an apology. Most of us have apologized dozens of times already. Step nine is about changing our behavior to prevent causing future harm.
Helpful Hint for Working Step Ten: Keep a journal and write down how your day went for a week. What good did you do, did you do or say something you need to make an amends for, what are we grateful for, how has being sober improved your life?
Helpful Hint for Step Eleven: Think about what the God of your understanding’s will for you is. At the most basic level, it’s probably that we stay sober and learn to live a life we enjoy.
Helpful Hint for Working Step Twelve: We can be of service from the moment we walk in the door of a Twelve Step program. We can straighten chairs, make coffee, or talk to a fellow addict with one day less time than us. We are of use throughout the step-working process.
The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous work. They help us move through the pain that may have precipitated our using. They can apply to every area of life and can be worked over and over throughout our recovery to help us keep growing and keep healing.
Working the Twelve Steps is hard work, but it life-saving and life-changing. Commit to working the Twelve Steps, have patience, and wait for miracles to find you. Because they will.