Twelve Step Programs: A Christian Perspective

Many people have heard of Alcoholics Anonymous and the twelve steps, but unless you are either “in the rooms” (a euphemism for being a member of AA) or in the treatment community, you might not really know much about the steps.  As a Christian, it is smart to ask if embarking on such a program could cause a conflict with your faith, since such a conflict could become a source of confusion and frustration in early recovery – right when you need it the least!

The twelve steps make up a pathway to healing and living sober.  They build upon one another such that you do need to embark upon them in order.  But following them as a program, they can make the difference between being “dry” versus being sober.  A dry drunk, as you may have heard, is a miserable, lonely, sad alcoholic who simply no longer drinks.  A sober person is a vibrant, healthy, happy person who is engaged with life and enjoys sober living.  Working the program can give you such a life, but only if you work it, so let’s take a closer look.

How the Steps Match Up With Walking in God’s Path

The first step, “we admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable,” is all about humility and surrender.  It is that moment of giving up, hitting bottom, and realizing that your human will isn’t enough to combat addiction. “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” (Proverbs 11:2).  The second step, “came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity,” offers the solution: allow God to help.  The third step creates a critical turning point: “made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”  Taken together, these first three steps constitute the foundation of healthy Christian recovery: stop the “Me-first” egotistical thinking that got you into this mess in the first place and admit the truth – that despite your best efforts, your will, and your intelligence, you are not able to be in control.  Then have faith that help is available, and then turn it over to God.

The fourth step, “made a searching a fearless moral inventory of ourselves,” comes after you’ve let God in, because when you look at who you are, and what this disease has turned you into, you will need to support of a loving and merciful God.  “Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord.” (Lamentations 3:40).  This examination continues and develops in the fifth step, as you “admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”  This process of bravely looking inside yourself, taking note of all you discover, and then sharing it with God and a trusted person can be incredibly emotionally wrenching, but so valuable and healing.  Similar to confession, practicing honesty and openness sets the stage for growth and healing.  “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” (James 5:16)  The next part of this process, the sixth step, involves reaching the point of readiness to change: “were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character” and the seventh step is to “humbly ask Him to remove all our shortcomings.”  The fourth through seventh steps, taken together, create a foundation of self-examination and willingness to be honest about who you are, and the brave next step of trying to be different.  Prayer, meditation, and faith are important components through this part of the process, as facing the negative aspects of your personality can be pretty rough.

The next steps involve facing what you may have done to others due to drinking or using substances.  The eighth and ninth steps “made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all” and then “made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others” are all about making amends – getting ready to do so and then doing so mindfully.  Jesus’ s teachings suggest that this is important, as he suggests in Matthew “First go and be reconciled with your brother, then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:24)

The tenth step suggests that this is an ongoing project: “Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.”  In other words, keep an eye on yourself, and consider recovery a process rather than a product.  Stay with it, stay vigilant, in order to stay sober.

Awakenings and Carrying the Message In All That We Do

The last two steps will resonate well with Christians seeking recovery as they both deal directly with spiritual practice.  The eleventh step reads “sought through prayer and meditation to improve our contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will and the power to carry that out.”  Or, as in the Bible, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…” (Col. 3:16).  The twelfth step requires recovering people to share what they have learned and take the message of the steps to others in need: “having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and practice these principles in all our affairs.”  This notion of sharing wisdom and good practices with others in need is echoed in the bible: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.  But watch yourself or you also may be tempted.  Carry each other’s burdens and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”  (Galatians 6:1-2).

Taken as an overall practice or program, the twelve steps have paved the way for many people to become sober over the last eighty or so years.  With their contemplative nature and insistence upon honesty, soul-searching, and charity towards others, the steps dovetail well with a Christian faith-based approach to recovery.  And as they say in AA, it works if you work it, so work it: you’re worth it.