A Brief Guide to Understanding the 12 Steps

Personal Responsibility and the Recovering Alcoholic - Part 1Most people, even if they have never encountered addiction in their own lives or in their family, are familiar with the Alcoholics Anonymous program — a worldwide group approach to addiction recovery centered on helping alcoholics and other addicts enjoy lifelong sobriety. But many may not understand what the 12 Steps, the basis of the A.A. program, are all about. This article helps to explain the 12-Step model of addiction treatment.

The founders of Alcoholics Anonymous understood addiction as an obsession of the mind and a compulsion of the body. They also saw that addiction was a spiritual disease and that addicts were, to some degree, spiritually sick, as well as mentally and physically afflicted. Thus they realized the need for an approach that encompassed a strong spiritual component.

The 12 Steps are the pathway; beginning the addict’s journey out of addiction and into a life that is grounded in sobriety, faith and service. With each step taken, the addict is moving away from an existence broken by addiction and toward a life defined by wholeness, healing and recovery.

The basis of 12-Step addiction treatment is that addicts are powerless. While many well-intentioned friends or family members will tell the addict that he or she just needs willpower, what seasoned addicts know is that, paradoxically, the real power over the disease comes from admitting we don’t have any at all. And thus we begin the program by admitting powerlessness over the addiction.

But we aren’t left powerless. As we progress through Steps Two and Three, we come to believe that God can restore us to sanity and we become willing to put our lives and our wills into His hands.

From this foundation, we move into action, doing the work that demonstrates we really are putting ourselves into God’s care. It begins with taking inventory of our lives and looking not only at how we’ve been wronged, but how we’ve wronged others and contributed to the conflict and chaos of our own lives. We humbly share this inventory with our sponsors, we examine the character defects that ran through our lives and relationships, and we become ready to have God remove every one.

But it isn’t enough to simply confess our wrongdoing before God and another member of the program. We must be ready to go before those we have harmed; ready to do whatever we can to right the wrongs of the past. Using our inventory as our guide, we make a list of the people we have harmed and become willing to make amends.

Following these vital action steps, we look to the growth and maintenance of our spiritual condition. We implement the practice of a daily inventory, we learn to incorporate meditation and prayer in order to deepen our relationship and contact with God and we aim to be of service to those around us, especially other addicts. If we are going to stay sober, we must make our lives more about others than ourselves.

Christian recovery uses the 12 Steps as a pathway to re-establishing faith and a relationship with God for lifelong recovery. While one need not be a Christian to follow the 12-Step program, many Christians will identify with its spiritual focus. If you or a loved one struggles with addiction, the 12-Step program and Christian recovery provide hope of healing and wholeness, beginning a lifelong journey in sobriety and spiritual growth.