“In all these strivings, so many of them well-intentioned, our crippling handicap had been our lack of humility. We had lacked the perspective to see that character-building and spiritual values had to come first, and that material satisfactions were not the purpose of living.”
~ Alcoholics Anonymous, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions
The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) have become nearly synonymous with addiction recovery. Recovery centers, residential rehab facilities, and other mutual support groups (such as Narcotics Anonymous, or NA) have nearly all adapted these steps in some way as a form of treatment. So what is it about the twelve steps that work so well for overcoming addiction or alcoholism?
Before looking at where the power of the twelve steps for addiction recovery lies, let alone discussing how to fit the program into your recovery, we must first look at what the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous actually are, and what words and actions they have to contribute to the recovery process. According to the Alcoholics Anonymous website, the twelve steps are as follows:
- We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable
- Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity
- Made a decision to turn our will and lives over to the care of God as we understood Him
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves
- Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs
- Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character
- Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings
- Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all
- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
- Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it
- 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
- Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others, and to practice these principles in all our affairs
Of course, religion is not a prerequisite for following the twelve steps. Atheists and agnostics alike can employ the principles of the twelve steps. As one blogger for AA Agnostica writes, “You don’t run the world, so stop trying. You can’t alter the law of cause and effect, especially when the cause is a drink or a drug, and the effect is the need to drink and use even more. Wishing, hoping, pretending that you can change the things you can’t – this could be described poetically as ‘playing God.’ The folks here have quit that position.”
The power of the twelve steps is found in just one truth that runs throughout all the stages of recovery, whether you are joining AA or NA: getting out of your own way and accepting humility as an integral part of recovery.
The Power of the Twelve Steps
There are many different variations of the twelve step program, since the philosophy behind the program has been around for close to a century. But the main idea still boils down to one important insight: recognizing that you have lost your power over your addiction gives you the freedom to overcome the power that it has on your life. At first glance this may seem to be some kind of mumbo jumbo, like Yoda wrote a fortune cookie specifically for AA and NA meetings. But if you look deeper, you’ll see that this is the key not only to the twelve steps, but recovery from addiction and alcoholism altogether.
“Indeed, the attainment of greater humility is the foundation principle of each of Alcoholic Anonymous’ Twelve Steps. For without some degree of humility, no alcoholic can stay sober at all.”
~ Bill Wilson
If the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous has even stated that the foundational principle of the entire philosophy is to build greater humility, it is clearly a crucial element of the recovery process. But where is the power in humility?
When it comes to addiction recovery, humility is power. Becoming humble about your addiction gives you the ability to seek out the help that you need to begin the recovery process in the first place. It gives you the ability to recognize that you cannot get sober on your own. It gives you the ability to reach out to those that you have wronged and make amends. All of these are crucial elements of overcoming addiction, getting you well down the road to recovery. Not only that, but none of the steps of AA or NA would even be possible without first becoming humble about your addiction, about the problems it has caused, and about the best way to move forward.
How the Twelve Steps Fit Into Your Recovery
The twelve steps may sound good on paper, but what do they look like in practice and on a daily basis? The steps outlined above are more than thought exercises or talking points for group therapy sessions like AA or NA. Instead, each and every step outlines a specific action that you are to take as you move along the road to recovery. In some cases this a change in attitude or perspective; in others, it is physically meeting with others and making amends. Either way, the twelve steps require action, commitment and follow up to actually work in the long run.
The twelve step model is more about getting people to engage themselves in a mental, emotional and physical transformation than it is about the far less tangible changes that self-enlightenment brings. The steps are practical. They are achievable, and they work. Consider some of the following ways you can fit the twelve steps into your own recovery process:
- Use Step One. The very first thing that alcoholics and addicts must do is recognize that they have a problem and that they need help.
- Join a mutual support group. The twelve step model is meant to be completed in community.
- Take your time. It’s not a race or a checklist; the steps are there to help you work through the emotional and mental aspects of recovery.
How to Find a 12 Step Program in Washington State
The twelve steps provide you with the power you need to fully work through recovery, but they are not the only part of getting sober. If you are thinking about getting sober, participating in an intensive outpatient treatment program or even residential rehab is the first step you should take. These programs give you the knowledge and tools you need to be set up for long-term success. But the recovery process is not over once you complete a treatment program.
Thankfully, there are many support groups in Washington State that utilize the twelve steps in providing mutual support throughout the recovery process. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has a full listing of group meetings around the state, with over twenty locations. Similarly, Narcotics Anonymous (NA) provides a list of groups that meet regularly to work through an adapted version of the twelve steps together.
If you have any questions or comments about the twelve steps and the power they have for the recovery process, feel free to leave a comment below.