Understanding the 12 Steps – Steps One Through Six

The original 12 Steps were developed by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith as the foundation of the Alcoholics Anonymous movement. The 12 Steps were first published in 1939 in the book Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How More Than One Hundred Men Have Recovered From Alcoholism. Since then, the model has been adopted and adapted for many different kinds of addiction.

The 12-step substance abuse recovery model has helped many people, but current sufferers may not be sure that the program is right for them. Some people have criticized the 12 Steps for not being universally applicable to addicts because of the implied belief in a higher power that forms the basis of many of the steps. Some have even gone so far as to label Alcoholics Anonymous and similar groups to be cults. Criticism has also been levied at the program’s efficacy, as well as its claims to confidentiality.

If you’re having trouble understanding the 12 Steps and figuring out if such a program is right for you, here is a straightforward look at each step and what it entails. The first six steps are explained below.

Step 1: We Admitted That We Were Powerless Over Our Addiction – That Our Lives Had Become Unmanageable

The idea that admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery has become proverbial. However, Step One not only involves admitting that you have a problem, it also means admitting that you have become powerless to fight that problem. It means finally admitting that you can’t just “stop whenever you want.” The 12 Step program adheres to the disease model of addiction, which treats addiction as a chronic illness. With the 12 Steps, addicts must recognize that they cannot overcome their illness without treatment, anymore than they could any other chronic disease.

Step 2: Came To Believe That a Power Greater Than Ourselves Could Restore Us to Sanity

This step is sort of a two-parter. One component of this step is the belief that recovery is possible. After admitting powerlessness in Step One, it is critical to balance that admission with the belief that it IS possible to get better.
The second component of this step is the belief that recovery will come with the help of a higher power. This is the first of several controversial steps that seem to require addicts to have certain religious or spiritual beliefs.

However, AA historian Ernest Katz notes that the “Power greater than ourselves” can simply be fellowship and support afforded by AA or another group. The true essence of this step is the recognition that outside help can give people the power to do things that they are unable to do on their own.

Step 3: Made a Decision To Turn Our Will and Our Lives Over to The Care of God As We Understand God

So many struggles with addiction come from feelings of powerlessness, and attempts to assert some kind of control. AA believes that part of moving forward with your life and recovery is admitting and accepting that there are many things in life that are beyond the control of individual people. Whether this means you believe that our lives are in the hands of a God, or simply the unpredictability of nature, AA encourages addicts to (as the Serenity Prayer goes) “accept what [they] cannot change”.

Step 4: Made a Searching and Fearless Moral Inventory of Ourselves

Although the first three steps involve admitting things we are unable to do, the AA road to recovery is not a passive process. The first truly active step is to take an honest look at yourself and gain personal knowledge that will help you with the rest of your recovery.

This step asks that addicts make a written list to help organize their thoughts and to use as a reference later on. This step is not about creating a “list of shame” and dwelling on your failings. Instead, it is about recording your resentments and fears, and understanding where they came from and how they have contributed to your behavior.

Step 5: Admitted to God, to Ourselves, and to Another Human Being the Exact Nature of Our Wrongs

Like the first and second steps, the fourth and fifth steps involve accepting a major emotional burden and then relieving that burden. Step Four can be exhausting, and leave individuals feeling drained and perhaps shameful after taking an honest look at what they and their lives have become. Step Five is about sharing that burden with someone else, and relieving a great deal of that emotional weight.

Although this person with whom you share your wrongs is often your AA sponsor, it can be anyone you choose as long as that person is ready and willing to receive your confidences. Some people may prefer a religious figure such as a priest, or a professional counselor.

Step 6: Were Entirely Ready to Have God Remove All These Defects of Character

Steps Four and Five lead directly to this step. After identifying and admitting to their faults, individuals now make a commitment to changing their behavior. The 12 Steps always separate the decision to take action from the actual process of taking that action, and this is deliberate. AA wants recovering addicts to carefully prepare and commit to each part of the process before diving into it.

Continue reading Understanding the 12 Steps – Steps Seven Through Twelve