What is a Twelve Step Recovery Program?
Working the Twelve steps in a recovery program provides a step-by-step path to emotional and spiritual freedom from addiction. They are meant to be worked with a sponsor and in order.
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 and the Value of One Addict Helping Another
Before we review each, let’s get one thing out of the way. I am a recovering member of a 12 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.
Working the Twelve Steps – Don’t Let the Word God Frighten You
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.
Working the Twelve Steps in Recovery – One Step at a Time
Below we will review the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and learn a bit more about each. It is important, however, to note that 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.
- We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable. This step is about understanding that on our own will, we cannot overcome alcohol (or any addiction) alone.
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 steps, 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.
- Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. Understanding that we are powerless over our addiction and that using has caused us to behave differently than we would sober helps us realize that our using causes us to act and think in ways that are irrational.
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.
- Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him. Having realized that our using behaviors were insane, we decide to turn our will and our lives over to the care of a power greater than ourselves. Remember, we determine what that power is. The point is that we realize that we may not always know what is best for us and that turning our will and our lives over to God or a group or a recovery house, safeguards us from self-sabotage, self-will, and the cycle of using.
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.
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.Now is a good time to remember why we work the steps in order. It takes courage to sit down and look at all the harms down to us, all the harms we’ve done to others, and consider what part we’ve played in our circumstances. Now is when we need to look back at Step Three and remember that we believe a power greater than ourselves will care for us as we search our souls.
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 step 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.
- Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. The fourth step in hand, we meet with our sponsor to admit the exact nature of our wrongs. As we share our experiences, our sponsors share their own experiences, and we realize that we are not alone in anything anymore.
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!).
- Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character. Steps four and five help introduce us to ourselves. We begin to see ourselves and our defects of character. We don’t have to do any more than prepare to release them to God at this point.
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?
- Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings. By now, we have a good idea of who we are. We have hope that we can, with the help of a power great than ourselves, have some of our shortcomings removed. We must remember that this step is an action step. We cannot fall to our knees and ask God to remove our desire to lie and then continue to lie. We must recognize the desire to act on a defect (such as lying), be willing to ask the power greater than us to remove it, and then let that power help us not to act on it.
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.
- Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all. Work step eight without worry about step nine. For step nine, we sit with our sponsor and make a list of the people we harmed. I owed an amends to someone who had harmed me. I spoke with my sponsor about my feelings about that and just put the person’s name on the list. I was not willing to make the amends when I made the list, but over time I became willing and was able to make the amends. I say this because part of step eight is making the list. Part of it is about becoming willing to make the amends.
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.
- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.The process for making amends is described in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous and is critically important to our healing. It should not be done without a thorough review, in advance, with our sponsor. At the outset, this step seems to be about apologizing to others. It is actually, much more than that and this is why we don’t begin apologizing before working steps one through eight.
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.
- Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it. Now that we’ve worked on clearing the wreckage of our past, we address our wrongs as they happen.
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?
- 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. This step depends on our personal definition of God and how we seek to connect with Him, the group, or whoever the power greater than ourselves is. Because we each have different beliefs, this step should be worked with our sponsor’s guidance so that it best fits our personal belief system.
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.
- 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. Once we have worked the steps, we can help others work them too. We can carry the message, share our experiences, and unite with our fellows.
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.
Final Thoughts on Working the Twelve Steps in Recovery
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 in recovery 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.
Are you ready to change your life and break free from addiction?