Twelve Steps to Freedom?

Twelve Steps
Image Courtesy of Mark Highton Ridley from

 § Part of the Recovery Is NOT For Quitters series §

What is a Twelve-Step program? In simple terms a Twelve-Step program is a list of guiding principles that outline a course of action for the recovery process. There are many Twelve-Step programs aimed at helping people recover from a wide variety of issues including addiction to alcohol, drugs, sex, and many other behavioral issues.

The first, and most widely known Twelve-Step Program is of course Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Interestingly, with just a little research, you will find that the concepts behind each of the individual Twelve-Steps were nothing new even in 1935 when Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith founded AA. With AA it was the first time these concepts were brought together to form a program of recovery. In 1939 the AA Twelve-Steps were first published in the book Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story Of How More Than 100 Men Have Recovered From Alcoholism. AA members call the book Alcoholics Anonymous, “The Big Book.” From that point forward these steps have been adapted and have become the foundation of many other Twelve-Step programs.

Since Alcoholics Anonymous is the group that started it all,  let’s take a look at the Twelve Steps of AA as they appear in the “Big Book” on pages 59 and 60 of the fourth edition which was published in 2001.

The Twelve Steps Of Alcoholics Anonymous

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  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.
  12. 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.

(The Twelve Steps are reprinted with permission of Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.  (“AAWS”) Permission to reprint the Twelve Steps does not mean that AAWS has reviewed or approved the contents of this website, or that AAWS necessarily agrees with the views expressed herein.  A.A. is a program of recovery from alcoholism only – use of the Twelve Steps in connection with programs and activities which are patterned after A.A., but which address other problems, or in any other non-A.A. context, does not imply otherwise.)

The first time I read completely through these twelve steps, I was ready to give up. They seemed to be directly opposed to everything I think and here’s why:

Admitting I am powerless in fighting my addiction seems to completely undermine the entire recovery process. Addiction is an issue of self control. It is I that must decide whether or not to take a drink or pop a pill. Overcoming that desire requires an exercise of my personal will power. Outside influences can help and often make a huge difference but if I don’t change, nothing does. So the first step is, in a sense, a precursor  for not owning my addiction and not taking responsibility to make the necessary changes to live a healthy and sober life.

The first step essentially sets a person up for steps 2, 3, 6 and 7. In these steps, it is almost as if the current addiction is replaced with another addiction. To the AA program itself or even religion; carrying with it the dependence on an external influence (God) to bring about the necessary changes.

Along with those steps, responsibility for failure flys out the window! It’s no longer my fault if I do not succeed. In step one I admitted I was powerless and had no control, steps 2, 3, 6 and 7 told me to ask God to take care of things for me. So it’s in God’s hands now, right? Where is my responsibility and more importantly since I do not believe in God, who takes responsibility? The answer is simple – only me.

I took these thoughts to my counselor. Thankfully, after many previous discussions, he knew where I was coming from as far as the spiritual aspects of the program were concerned. He heard what I had to say and simply said, “You’re over analyzing this. These are not steadfast ‘rules’ that you must follow. They are suggestions, take those suggestions and do what you have to do to make them work for you.” He then suggested some websites to look at and in my wandering around the net I found an adaptation of the 12 steps that truly do work for me.

  1. I get it: What I’ve been doing is self-destructive. I need to change.
  2. I see the big picture: The way to stop relapsing into self-destructive behaviors is to build a healthier sense of self.
  3. I have an action plan: From now on, I am squarely facing everything that is in the way of feeling really satisfied with my life.
  4. I honestly look at the effects of my actions on others and myself.
  5. I take responsibility for my actions.
  6. I see that my knee-jerk reactions have to do with being in the grip of more or less conscious fears.
  7. I strive to find my motivation in a deeper sense of who I really am, rather than fear and defensiveness.
  8. I stop blaming and feeling blamed, with a willingness to heal the wounds.
  9. I swallow my pride, and sincerely apologize to people I’ve hurt, except when this would be counterproductive.
  10. I live mindfully, paying attention to the motives and effects of my actions.
  11. I stay in touch with a broader sense of who I really am, and a deeper sense of what I really want.
  12. A growing sense of wholeness and contentment motivates me to keep at it, and to share this process with others who are struggling.

These are called the Proactive Twelve Steps. These, along with the help of a counselor who truly understood me as a person, have made it possible for me to discover for myself how not only participate in the AA program, but to succeed!

I am sure there are some die-hard, “orthodox” AA members out there who will declare that I have besmirched their beloved AA program. My only response will be one I have heard many an AA member say to others. You work your program and I’ll work mine. I would add, but let’s do it together so that we can all benefit from the experience of others and ultimately live healthy, happy and sober lives.

In no way am I saying that AA should change anything. What I am saying is that the twelve steps of AA as they are written may work for some, but certainly not all. That being so, those who wish to participate in such a program have to adapt the steps in such a way that they do work, while not changing the actual intent behind them. I do believe that the intent behind them should always be change. Change to a healthy, happy and sober lifestyle!

It’s more than possible, I am living, not just alive, but living proof.

What do you think about Twelve Step programs?

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