The 12 Steps
The 12 step recovery programme was first created as the foundation of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), co-founded by Bill Wilson in 1935. Since 1935, 12 step fellowships have provided a community-based, mutual-support programme of recovery that has been helping addicts of all kinds get and stay sober.
The 12-step model has been adapted and successfully applied to many kinds of addiction treatment. The 12 steps are now heart of many other 12 step fellowships, from Narcotics Anonymous to Gamblers Anonymous to Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous. There are meetings held in all parts of the world.
As a member of any 12 step fellowship you will guided and supported through the process of the 12 steps by a ‘sponsor’. A sponsor is a member of the programme who is successfully working their 12 step programme, is sober, and is equipped to coach you through your process.
The 12 Steps.
The 12 Steps outline how to recover from addictive processes and behaviors and restore manageability and peace in your life. Below are the 12 Steps with a brief explanation of each step.
Step One – “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.
You may have heard people say that you cannot change before you admit you have a problem. Step one addresses this by working on breaking the denial and self- deception that often accompanies addiction. Step one works on examining how your addiction has played out and realizing that in fact that your addictive behavior is beyond your control, this means that achieving sobriety is not about “having more willpower” instead it describes powerlessness as the nature of addiction.
Step Two –“Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
Step two really offers hope that recovery is possible. Step two tells us is that it is possible to gain strength, inspiration, and guidance from something outside of and greater than your own will. The choice of what you use as a higher power is very personal. It only must be something that can help and guide you in the right direction.
Step Three – “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”
The third step is an action step. The first two were about contemplation and awareness. In this third step you will start to act less on your own compulsions, relying more on an intuitive understanding of what your higher power’s will for you is.
The Third Step can be problematic for some people because of the word God, it is important to acknowledge the qualifier that it is God, as we understand him. For some, GOD is an acronym that stands for “Good Orderly Direction”. For others, it can even stand for a “Group of Drunks/Druggies” – the fellowship they receive from others in their fellowship meetings.
Is the 12-Step program is a Patriarchal Cult?
You may come accross problematic things in 12 step literature, as with all literature, they were produced within a context – the original texts were written in the 30s by white, male, Christians. 12 step fellowships are today what each group makes them, continually evolving and become more inclusive. People are free to take what suits them from the meeting and leave the rest. The 12 Steps provide a frame work for what must necessarily be – a very personal, existential journey. Those participating in the 12 steps must think critically and find their own way on that journey.
Step Four – “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”
Through Step four you will take an honest – and sometimes uncomfortable – at yourself, your behaviour, and the effect it has had on yourself and those around you. It requires fearlessness because you might be facing truths about yourself that you may not like. It requires you to be searching as you will take time to thoroughly examine your thinking, feelings, and behaviour, and moral – in that you will examine your thoughts, feelings, and behavior you will think about whether or not they seem right to you and if not have a look at what your motives might be.
Step Five – “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”
This Step can be experienced as very therapeutic, sharing your story, often with someone that can relate as well as offer empathy and acceptance, and insights can be a powerful release. Often the person you share you story with will share some of their experience and you will find that you are not so uniquely imperfect.
Step Six -“Were entirely ready to have God remove all of these defects of character.”
This refers to the practice of letting go of the patterns of behaviour and thought that are holding you back. It takes commitment to change ingrained ways of coping, even when they aren’t serving you well.
Step Seven -“Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.”
This step is about continuing to practice new behaviour, letting go/handing over the old behaviour each time it comes up. Sometimes people find it useful to write a list of the behaviour that they struggle with and then write a list of opposite action to aim for.
Humility it is not about making yourself small, rather it is about making yourself right sized.
Step Eight – “Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.”
Through this step you will become willing to make amends, to work on repairing the damage done through your active addiction. Willingness is the most important aspect of this step because as we will see in step nine it is not always possible to make amends.
Step Nine –“Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”
Step eight was about awareness and willingness, step nine moves you into action. You will have looked at the damage we have done and now it is time to take action to put things right. Sometimes making amends personally with someone you have harmed in the past can be a dangerous or negative thing. You do not want to cause difficulties in someone’s current life so this step should be approached with caution and thoughtfulness.
Step Ten – “Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.”
At this point in the programme you will likely be adept at being honest with yourself, recognizing triggers and noticing when your thinking is getting a bit off track. The tenth Step is about flourishing in a new way of life, and vigilance.
Keeping on top of your behaviour and thinking will allow you to steer clear of collecting further consequences that might get in the way of your growth.
Step Eleven – “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.”
Often you will hear prayer described as talking to your higher power – expressing gratitude, asking for help, sharing struggles. Meditation is often described as meaning listening, in quiet contemplation for guidance and insight.
Do I have to believe in God?
The 12 Steps contain numerous references to God or a higher power, and often meetings conclude with a prayer, usually The Serenity Prayer. This was because of the context of the founders of the original 12 Step fellowship, Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith in 1935 Akron, Ohio.
Florence Rankin, AA’s first female member, joined AA in March 1937, and the first non-Protestant member, a Roman Catholic, joined in 1939. The first Black AA group was established in 1945 in Washington DC by Jim S., an African American physician from Virginia. AA membership has since spread internationally and become ever more inclusive of all kinds of diversity. It has close to 2 million people worldwide are members. There are now 12 step fellowships to fit almost any problem you can think of and it has become inclusive of all kinds of spiritual, agnostic, or atheist bliefs.
The 12 Steps have not changed in language, they have however changed in meaning as times have changed. They continue to be adapted by each individual that finds a way to incorporate them into their lives. The concept of God has expanded to include any higher power in which you can put your faith, this can be something spiritual, equally it can be the group itself or anything which fits the individual.
Step Twelve – “Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”
Working with others will keep you moving forward and will help you to build lasting and meaningful relationships with others. Through this work you will have the opportunity to form connections with others, to help and be helped, to experience gratitude and care, those things often so missing from a life lived in active addiction.
The 12 steps offer an ongoing recovery programme and a fellowship of clean and sober peers to help you through all the stages of your recovery – from getting clean and sober, to getting well, to helping others.
Researchers working in the field of substance abuse for well over a century have produced a substantial body of theoretical models and empirical data. The concepts that have helped to define substance addiction, particularly in relation to alcoholism, have been applied to behaviours and processes as well as substances. This process has not just happened in the academic field of psychology, there has been a grass roots broadening of understanding of addiction. This means that there are now 12 step programmes available for you if you are experiencing all kinds of addictions.
There are 12 step fellowships for many addictions now, if you need help you may be able to find it in at least one of these fellowships:
- AA – Alcoholics Anonymous
- CA – Cocaine Anonymous
- CMA – Crystal Meth Anonymous
- CoDA – Co-Dependents Anonymous
- COSLAA – CoSex and Love Addicts Anonymous
- EA – Emotions Anonymous for recovery from mental and emotional illness
- FA – Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous
- FAA – Food Addicts Anonymous
- GA – Gamblers Anonymous
- HA – Heroin Anonymous
- MA – Marijuana Anonymous
- NA – Narcotics Anonymous
- N/A – Neurotics Anonymous for recovery from mental and emotional illness
- OA – Overeaters Anonymous
- OLGA – Online Gamers Anonymous
- SA – Sexaholics Anonymous
- SLAA – Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous
- WA – Workaholics Anonymous
The 12-step process for recovery from addiction can be equally effective for those struggling with an eating disorder.
Eating Disorders Anonymous (EDA) is a fellowship of individuals who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their shared problems and assist others in recovering from their eating disorders.
To learn more about 12 step support for eating disorders you can contact:
- Overeaters Anonymous: A program of recovery from compulsive eating using the Twelve steps and Twelve Traditions.
- Anorexics and Bulimics Anonymous (ABA) is a fellowship of individuals whose primary purpose is to find and maintain recovery from eating disorders.
Whilst all the 12 step fellowships seek to increase your capacity for serenity, joy and wellbeing there are specific fellowships you can join if you are struggling to regulate your emotions.
For example The Emotions Anonymous 12-step recovery programme might be for you if you are experiencing anxiety, grief, depression, anger, low self-esteem, and other emotional regulation difficulties. Emotions Anonymous was founded in 1971 and is a 12 step programme adapted from Alcoholics Anonymous Approach. Anyone who wants to cultivate emotional wellness is welcome.