Are The 12 Steps Still Relevant?

The beginnings of Alcoholics Anonymous, and the application of the 12 steps to dealing with addiction, date back to the mid-1930s. The group was started by a group of Caucasian men in the Midwest, with the main text Alcoholics Anonymous, also known as the Big Book, coming out in 1939.

Today, more than 75 years later, we live in a very different world, with different values and certainly a lot more diversity of perspective and experience. As addicts of all genders, ethnicities, cultural backgrounds, socioeconomic classes, religions and sexual orientations enter the rooms seeking freedom from the bondage of addiction, many of us are asking if the 12 steps and the program of recovery laid out by the founders of AA are still relevant for those seeking to recover today.

How do we make sense of it? How can such an old program, developed by a couple of men so many years ago, whose context was very different from what many of us experience today, still apply?

How Can An Old 12 Step Program Still Be Relevant?

Road Into Sunset-Are 12 Steps Still Relevant - ChristianDrugRehabAlthough the program was born in another time and place, that doesn’t mean it isn’t relevant today. This is because the program is based on universal spiritual principles. Put simply, there are some truths that transcend time, place and historical context. They have their basis in deeper things and thus continue to apply even centuries after they are developed, regardless of the current state of society. The 12-step program contains these kinds of truths.

The other thing we need to acknowledge is that addiction and recovery are about a lot more than race, class and gender. While our modern society places supreme importance on these distinctions, in the end, people are people and addicts are addicts, and no matter where we are or where we’ve come from, there are some things that really don’t change all that much.

Why Are We Looking At The Differences?

Part of understanding the relevance of the 12 steps lies in our perspective. Many of us come to the 12-step program looking for all of the reasons why it can’t work. We point out how different the founders were and how unique our society or context is. We assume that because we are different, the program as such isn’t relevant and can’t be effective. We call for overhauls and upgrades if it is going to work for us.

We might be right about all of the differences. We might note that the language of the Big Book seems antiquated or that the text seems to have been addressed to men. But when we do this, we are not seeking to identify. We are not seeing how many similarities there are between their lives and ours, and we are failing to acknowledge how universal many of these principles are.

Humble Ourselves And Accept

In order to accept the 12 steps and to believe they can work for us, we have to humble ourselves. This means we have to stop believing we are so completely unique that we must have a custom-designed program in order to achieve sobriety. We have to see that we are just like any addict—man or woman, black or white, liberal or conservative, or any of the other labels we use to set ourselves apart. We have to see that this is a universal program that has worked, as written, for millions of unique individuals. It can probably work for us, too, if we are willing to try.

When we look at the 12 steps and what they entail, we can see that the principles of dependence on God, personal inventory, forgiveness, self-examination, prayer, meditation and service are not confined to any time or place. They are no less useful or relevant today than 50 or 100 years ago. Though our society has advanced, it has not advanced beyond the benefit that these practices can confer to those who are diligently trying to use them to get well and to grow in God.

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