12 Step Tuesday! Let’s Review the steps for Alcoholics Anonymous and what it means to an alcoholic in recovery. We don't actually practice the AA philosophy in our group meetings but are fully supportive of our patients going to AA meetings if it will be helpful to them.
Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
The first step is often the hardest for many alcoholics and addicts as it forces us to no longer be in denial of what has become obvious to everyone around us. Members of AA often talk about having a “low bottom” which means they had to hit a very low and deep rock bottom before they chose to stop drinking.
This step is also about respecting oneself with an illness, just as a diabetic has to respect their loss of control over sugar. One comes to learn that loss of control is not due to lack of will power or mental toughness but the result of changes in the brain. The brain of the person with addiction adapts differently to alcohol or drugs than the person who does not lose control.
Step 2: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
We just talked about hitting rock bottom. With it comes what AA’s big book calls “incomprehensible demoralization” which is a hard concept to understand until one has lived it. With this step, and within the above context, alcoholics are often faced with a dilemma around a feeling of absolute helplessness when one may not have any faith at all in God because of where they are at.
It’s important to remember that the emphasis is on a higher power rather than the traditional sense of God as we may have known from our childhood experiences. As many may not have had positive experiences with organized religion, this is an important distinction that many addresses. The truth is that this step is about keeping an open mind and having faith that one can climb out of where they are in that moment.
Step 3: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
Whether it is an atypical Christian view of a higher power, a different religion’s concept of a higher power or even acknowledgment that there is something else out there the important part is seeing that we need something greater than ourselves to “restore us to sanity”.
Many begin to understand this when they read about “as we understood Him”. This seems purposely written to account for all as the process of letting go and turning over our will means that we are no longer at the center of our own universe. We begin to see that we have ignored others in favor of ourselves and that turning our will over can mean that we are thinking of others for a change.
Step 4: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
It truly is important to have a more fluid sense of a “higher power” and giving our will and our lives over to it as we discussed on Step 3. This next step is where the work gets done of accounting for where we have had resentments.
Our first inclination is often to only write out a few things because we are looking at the overriding theme of resentment but a true look at resentments could bring quite a list. It sounds like hard work but the act of doing this step makes Step 4 one of the most important. Many people with success in AA suggest carefully going over this with one’s sponsor to ensure that our accounting is complete.
Step 5: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
With Step 5, we typically will have a conversation with our sponsor reviewing the inventory we made in Step 4. For many this is a hard thing to do as admitting to another our wrongs means that we are also admitting out loud to ourselves. Again, as mentioned in previous posts, replacing the word ‘God’ with ‘Higher Power’ is a way for many to proceed through the steps.
Step 6: Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
This is a step where, for many, we begin to keep our side of the street clean and focus on our own actions and how they affect others. This allows for what were defects of character that were present while we were drinking to become less and less of an issue in our relationship with others.
A focus on a “higher power” or God, as appropriate, gives us a humility created by our prior work in the steps.
Step 7: Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
Anyone that has been in the rooms of AA knows that “defects of character” or “shortcomings” can be removed with a steadfast focus on one’s sobriety and its causes. Whether we look to God or a “higher power”, the act of creating the inventory in Step 4 and acknowledging our faults creates the space for self-redemption and forgiveness from others.
Step 8: Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
Often done somewhat concurrently with Step 4, Step 8 is a chance to reassess the work we did in our inventory and add if needed and come to terms with whom we may have harmed in our drinking career. Being willing to make amends means that you may or may not make them as there are times when it can do more harm than good or could harm others.
Step 9: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
In those rare cases where we could injure others by making direct amends, we might write a letter we don’t send, especially if the person has passed away. As much as possible, however, this step is designed for us to actually make the amends in person. Surprisingly, this can have the effect of freedom and creating a new relationship with the person in question.
Step 10: Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
Just because we got sober and have had several months of sobriety doesn’t mean that we don’t create and hold new resentments. For many of us, we begin to see that although this might be part of being human, taking continual personal inventory frees up space in our head. Admitting we were wrong allows us to keep our side of the street clean and see our role in whatever matter between ourselves and others we are addressing.
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.
Step 11 shows us that we need to continually work on ourselves and can do so through prayer and meditation with our higher power. As we’ve said when posting about the other steps, the importance here isn’t centered on a God of religion but of a higher power that works for you even if it is a God within the context of religion. We see this in the “as we understood Him” part of the step and can see that reflective exercises like meditation can keep us on the path we began with Step 1.
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.
Many of us find Step 12 work to be the most rewarding as we’ve spent enough time in the other steps that helping others and practicing these principles in all our affairs makes sure that we continue to work on ourselves even though we are helping others. This step is about empathy as we have been through so much and know what the newcomer to AA is feeling and dealing with. Many volunteer to run meetings or speak on panels at hospitals, schools and prisons. Keeping a finger on why we got sober helps us stay sober over time.
If you are ready to take the first step, we are too. Contact Recovery Road Medical Center at (805) 9627800.