Why is It Important to Work the Steps in Order?
If you are brand new in recovery, first of all, congratulations! This is the most important decision you will ever make in your life. If you think that is an exaggeration, all you have to do is think back to the hell you were in when you were using drugs or your drinking was out of control. If the life you were leading was truly chaotic, then the road to recovery should be considered your journey back to health – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. And this journey isn’t one that will be an easy one. If you are fortunate enough to be able to enter rehab, along with the day-to-day support you will receive in the way of counseling, you will also be in a safe environment as you withdraw from the drugs or alcohol.
Steps One, Two and Three
Whether you know it or not, you have already taken steps one through three. You admitted you were powerless and that your life was completely unmanageable. Every addict and alcoholic takes this first step when he or she hits bottom and realizes that the only way to end the chaos is to stop using or drinking.
Whether you believe in God or you are an atheist, by entering rehab or finding Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings to attend, you arrived at the understanding that something greater than yourself could get you back on your feet and toward sobriety. If you tried in the past to quit cold turkey and failed, recognizing that you need all the support you can get is taking the second step.
And by looking for a sponsor, and by following the directions of the drug counselors, you are in effect saying that you are willing to turn over your life to something or someone greater than you.
Working the Program
It is usually about this point in recovery that most people start to get a little anxious. With the physical cravings reduced from every single waking moment to something that you can wait to get to a meeting to talk about, you are no doubt feeling as though you are hitting your stride. It’s not uncommon for people at this stage to start thinking, "Yeah, I got this thing under control. I am even ready to make some amends to people I harmed."
This is precisely the reason why the fourth step comes in when it does. Your sponsor will have you sit down and take an inventory of yourself. He or she will have you look at all the things that got you to use or drink in the first place. Admitting you are powerless over drugs or alcohol was one thing, but understanding why you looked to them to numb the pain is another. For some people the reality of their addiction and their personal flaws is excruciating. In many cases it’s the first time they’ve had a chance to really take a long, hard look at themselves. It’s enough to make the most stoic person, even the most hardened criminal sob like a baby. This is good! We all have painful pasts – full of abuse, mental illness, neglect, foster care, etc. Using to forget about the past is understandable. However, there is no way to get clean from your addictions – no matter how horrifying your past is – without facing those demons head on.
Once you have admitted these defects about yourself to your sponsor, and asking God, a therapist, your sponsor or your friends and family who are rallying behind you to maintain your sobriety, to help you remove these flaws, only then are steps eight through twelve even possible to consider.
Although early on in your recovery you were eager to apologize to every single person you harmed while you were in the throes of your addiction, you simply didn’t have the foundation to do this effectively. It is next to impossible to admit wrong doing to others when we are still unaware why we committed the offenses in the first place.
Think of the twelve steps as being similar to being on a plane watching the video that precedes take-off. It advises us that in the event of an emergency, causing the oxygen masks to be released, to place yours over your nose and mouth before you help someone with theirs. This is a simple analogy but there is a clear message here. The first seven steps are in place to protect you and your recovery. With a solid foundation in place, you can face those you harmed and work toward making things right. Once you’ve tackled that arduous task, having had your spiritual awakening as a result of living life sober and on life’s terms, you are ready to help others who are still suffering.