Most people have heard about twelve step programs. However, not a lot of people know what the twelve steps actually are. So here is a quick primer on the twelve steps.
Step 1 - We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable.
This one’s pretty straight forward. Some people balk at the word powerless. However, our experience has shown that, if once you start drinking you have difficulty stopping or you’re not really sure what’s going to happen, you’re probably experiencing some level of powerlessness. And as the step states with powerlessness comes unmanageability. Unmanageability can come in concrete forms like missed financial or social obligations, problems at work, or trouble with the law. However, unmanageability can also come in the forms of anxiety, obsession, relationship problems, and general discontent with life.
Step 2 - Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
No one likes to be thought of as insane. However, often our behavior relating to alcohol could be considered nothing but insane. Some people like to substitute the word clarity here. The basic tenet of this step is “my way isn’t working, I’m ready to try something different.” Many new members use the group of Alcoholics Anonymous as a power greater than themselves in early recovery.
Step 3 - Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God
So wait you told me that I was powerless? And then you told me that I’m insane? And now I have to turn my life over to God? Don’t worry. This step is often a slow burn for most people. And remember that a higher power can be the group for now. The most important part of Step Three is realizing just how little in life we have control over. This new understanding can actually be quite a relief.
Step 4 - Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
There’s a number of different ways to do this step. Many newcomers start out by just writing their life story. While scary at first, committing to paper all of the ways that drinking has affected your life can also be quite therapeutic.
Step 5 - Admitted to God to ourselves and another person the exact nature of our wrongs.
Remember that story that you wrote in the previous step? Now you get to sit down with your sponsor and read it to him or her. This can be a tremendous experience of developing trust with another person and unburdening yourself of much of the guilt and shame of your previous actions related to drinking.
Step 6 - Were entirely ready to have God remove these defects of character.
Are you ready to be a different person? Ok then bring that into your awareness, behave differently and proceed.
Step 7 - Humbly asked him to remove our shortcomings.
Whatever our higher power is, this step asks us to humbly consider that we need help to change.
Step 8 - Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
This is the start of the two steps that most people who don’t know a lot about AA still probably know about. Making amends. It is the beginning of an opportunity to really clean up our side of the street and begin repairing relationships. If you think you might have harmed someone or a feeling of uneasiness surrounds thoughts of a person put them on the list. You’ll work especially closely with your sponsor on this one. So just get them on the list. When in doubt write it down.
Step 9 - Made direct amends to such people wherever people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
Sounds scary right? Well it kind of is. But this is also the step where much of the promises of the program start to come true. So it’s definitely worth it. Working closely with your sponsor on each and every of these amends is crucial. Remember this is not about unburdening ourselves it is about accepting responsibility for our actions and changing our relationships.
Step 10 - Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted.
This step is kind of an ongoing spot check of our actions and behavior moving forward. Now that we have a new way of living some of our previous patterns just won’t sail by unnoticed by our conscience. That being said, we are also human and will make mistakes. Step 10 provides a great way to, without judgment, recognize instances where our actions may have harmed another and immediately do our best to correct the situation.
Step 11 - 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.
Like Step Three this one is going to develop over time. However, the spirit of this step is to introduce prayer and meditation into our daily lives and realize we’re not running the show anymore.
Step 12 - 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.
What’s a spiritual awakening? For many, it is simply a personality change in which we are no longer concerned only with ourselves and utilizing alcohol to solve our problems. Remember, even if you’re new, that there are many who have not come to this realization. So, now that you have the tools to live differently you can be of great help to them. Share your experience and reach out a helping hand. The last part of this step encourages us to practice these principles in all our affairs. At this point it is important to remember the slogan “progress not perfection.” None of us ever do this perfectly. That’s why we say practice. Just try to do things differently, one day at a time, and experience has shown us that your life is bound to get better.
While this post is not by any means a full treatment of the steps, we hope that it has been helpful in understanding the basic spirit of each one. Working and understanding the steps is an ongoing process in AA and we encourage you to dive right in, ideally with a sponsor. A much more detailed analysis on the steps can be found in both “The Big Book”, “Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions” and other AA literature.