An explanation of the Twelve Steps in Plain English
If you’ve never worked through the twelve steps of AA, they can be like a mystery to you. This page breaks them down into plain English, and describes in simple terms how each step applies to your life.
“We admitted that we were powerless over our alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable”.
The first step is also the biggest one of all, because it breaks through an addict’s denial and starts them on their journey of recovery. Our decision to make a change, to look at our using and see if it might be detrimental, to go to a meeting and ask for help, or to check into a treatment center—any of these constitute at least a start on the first step.
“We admitted” is actually more than just a simple admission; it is actually a declaration, an acceptance of our condition as addicts. Any drunk can admit to being a drunk as they continue to guzzle a bottle of wine. But to actually accept our addiction, and take this crucial first step, is an acknowledgment of our need for help, and it implies that we are now pursuing a solution.The first step is a revelation of sorts for the newcomer. Those of us who are not forced into sobriety have probably already taken a good hard look at this step. It has become our life-changing surrender, our biggest admission to the world. And surprisingly enough, this step can keep you clean all by itself. Those who are seeking a happy and joyous life in recovery will want to pursue the following eleven steps as well—but just consider the power in this first step alone. An addict who fully realizes, digests, and internalizes the first step is well protected against that first drink—but oh how easy it can be to forget how unmanageable our lives really were. This is the insidiousness of the disease–that we can somehow manage to remember the good times we had as addicts instead of all the nightmares we lived through. That is what makes the first step such a powerful defense against relapse—it is a powerful reminder not only of our hopeless state of compulsion if we take that first hit, but also of also of how obsessed we will become afterwards—in our relentless quest for “more.”Step one is an argument against an addicts typical line of insane thinking. Many of us rationalized when we were still using that, if we could just straighten our lives out to a certain point, then everything would be alright. What was underneath this line of thinking was the secret plan to start using again once our lives were in order. Admit it or not, most using addicts have fantasized about getting back on track financially in order to be able to use drugs—the way they really want to use! If only I had enough money/drugs/booze/whatever. It’s this line of thinking that shows us the unmanageability in our lives—that even if we are clean for a period of time, our devious minds can be planning a full scale relapse.
The fact of the matter is, a true addict operating with nothing but his own willpower cannot say no to the first drink or drug (with any degree of consistency). This is the powerlessness that the first step addresses. In other words, it is an overwhelming obsession of the mind that drives us to pick up the first drink or drug. We simply cannot stop thinking about getting our next fix. The unmanageability of our lives is characterized by the compulsion to keep using after we have started—despite the severe consequences we may be witnessing all around us. The first part of the step deals with our apparent inability to resist the first use. The second part deals with our inability to control ourselves after this first use. Because we are a crafty lot of drug addicts, the first step addresses both our obsessive and our compulsive nature—leaving us no way to manipulate or wiggle our way into a relapse. The first step is our greatest defense against relapse, because it clearly reminds us of what we are inviting back into our lives if we choose to use again.
“Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity”.
Step two is about hope—the hope for a newcomer that they can one day live a happy and content life without obsessing over drugs and alcohol. Chances are good that any addict entering recovery has been humbled a bit by the enormous admission he made in the first step. He probably feels a bit defeated, as he has just confessed that he does not know how to live successfully. The second step is a logical progression from this; it is the beginning of a solution that will turn an addict’s life around.
Many addicts who first see this step mistake it for an instruction to be religious. They may have been raised in a particular religion and say something like “I already believe in God”. So they don’t spend much time worrying about step two and move right on to the third step. Obviously this is a mistake, as many of us may have issues with God as we understand him. In order for step two to start working in our lives, it is suggested that we find a higher power that is loving, caring, and greater than ourselves. Those of us who have a resentment against God, or who believe him to be malicious towards us, need to find a way to break through our anger and give our faith a chance.
The atheist or agnostic who wants nothing to do with any sort of God can still make a start on step two. The cliché heard around the meetings is “fake it till you make it”. Some of the most deeply spiritual people we have seen in recovery made a humble start on the second step this way—blindly following their sponsor’s advice to at least give prayer a chance. Those of us who took this approach and forced ourselves to pray on a daily basis have seen a slow but sure faith grow out of it—a casual dawning on our minds that a higher power is indeed working in our lives. The step doesn’t say “we believed in a higher power…” The step says “we came to believe…”. Like almost everything in recovery, step two is a process .
There are also a number of newly recovering addicts who simply do not believe in a higher power, and are violently opposed to any suggestion of them believing in a God. Because of convenience, most people in 12 step meetings simply refer to their higher power as God, but any agnostics or atheists among us should not be put off by this. There are many recovering addicts today who do not pray to any specific deity, and may have “nature” as their higher power. Religious beliefs are not required to recover in a 12 step program. Even the hard-line atheist can make a start on our program if he is willing to concede that a power greater than himself even exists. We are not trying to convert people to religion—all we are asking for is that you are open to spiritual principles.
People often discuss sanity and try to define it when referring to the second step, because it makes a specific reference about “restoring us to sanity”. The cliché most often heard in the meetings about it is that “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. This characterizes our attempts to control our using, even though most of us knew in our hearts that we could never control it for any length of time—yet we kept trying. This was our compulsion at work, driving us to keep slowly self-destructing, even against our will sometimes. When we come to believe in a higher power, we can replace our compulsive behavior and obsessive thinking with this spiritual principle—the hope that we can be restored and start living a normal life again.
“Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him”.
In a twelve step program, step three is our springboard into action. Up until this point, the steps we’ve worked on have been about new realizations for us. Step one was about coming to terms with our addiction and the unmanageability of our lives. Step two was about coming to terms with the solution to our problem. Step three is about putting that solution into action. The first part of that solution is to “make a decision”. What exactly are we deciding to do? How exactly does the third step work in someone’s daily life?
First of all, it is not critical that we understand exactly how this decision is going to affect our lives when we first make it. What is important is that we have the willingness to make the decision to start practicing a spiritual life. And what is this spiritual life we talk about? In terms of the third step, it is our daily practice of giving our problems over to God. We decide that we are going to do what we reasonably can in our lives, and leave the results up to our higher power. For many of us, step three becomes our buffer zone against “freaking out”, or flying off the handle. We stop worrying about the results and let our higher power start managing our lives.
Most of us start some sort of prayer at this point, asking our higher power for direction and guidance in our lives. Those of us who are struggling with the concept of a higher power or of praying to one can still make a start at this point. We don’t necessarily have to “believe” at this point. The decision to turn our will and lives over can be made in an instant, at any time. Then we begin the process of practicing this way of life. There will be times when we will “take back our will” and try to control the outcomes of things—becoming overly attached to something emotionally. Later we can look back and realize that this was the case, that we were not letting our higher power handle the results. We return to prayer and look to our higher power and others for guidance again.
This step is about willingness as much as it is about a daily faith that works in our lives. Once we have made the decision to turn our lives over and let our higher power into our lives, we always find that the process improves with more practice. Even the atheist or agnostic is usually amazed when they become willing enough to give the third step a chance. We find that our faith can always grow more as we progress through the steps.
Another way that we allow our higher power to manage our will and our lives is through other people in the fellowship. One of the sayings we hear at meetings is that “God speaks to us through people”. In practicing a daily faith that works for us, we bounce our ideas off of others in the program. We listen to their feedback and keep praying for guidance from our higher power. We talk with our sponsor on a regular basis and use the opportunity to discuss our life decisions. We are reaching out and asking for help, using whatever resources are available to us. Our faith continues to grow as we see that the third step is working in our lives.
“Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves”.
The fourth step has developed a bit of a reputation amongst members of the twelve step fellowships. Somehow it has evolved into this huge “monster in the closet”, something to be dreaded by the newcomer as some horrible task that they eventually will have to tackle in order to remain clean. It has been built up into a horrible event; fearful, embarrassing, painful, and generally unpleasant to experience.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be this way. Don’t buy into all the hype–that this step is going to be a horrible and excruciating experience for you. If you take your time with it, be as honest as possible, and talk to your sponsor about it, everything should work out fine for you.
Actually, the fourth step is fairly straightforward compared to some of the mental and spiritual hurdles we have had to overcome just to get here. Since it is a written step, the instructions are quite clear. When the newcomer asks “how exactly do I do the fourth step”, the answer is clear and concise. “You sit down and you write this, this, and this”.
There are several guides that describe exactly what “this” refers to. The big book of Alcoholics Anonymous describes very clearly how we work through the fourth step. They emphasize analyzing our resentments using a chart system. It is a simple system that has worked for all of us that have used it. Likewise, Narcotics Anonymous has a step study guide, which is a workbook full of questions that is designed to help people work through the steps. The workbook asks several questions for each step in an effort to guide recovering addicts through the steps. Those of us in recovery have found that both of these guides worked well in helping us through the fourth step.
So what exactly gets explored in the fourth step? It is more than just a list of our resentments. We look at the source of those resentments and see what our anger was based on. Feelings of inadequacy or jealousy might be the reasons. We go on to closely examine our fears, seeing how they helped to shape our behavior and reactions, pushing us to medicate ourselves.
A properly done step four is a study in relationships. We examine any of our current or past relationships with family, friends, or anyone else who is or has been significant in our lives. In almost all cases we are looking at our part in the relationship. Many times we may have been hurt or abused by others, but we have to look at our reaction. There are those of us in recovery who have been “true victims”. We acknowledge that others may have hurt us, but we also look at our part it in. Did we use the experience to justify our using? And for how many years might we have been doing this? Step four is an effort to get to the heart of these matters, to see what OUR part is in something, so that we can accept responsibility and move on with our lives. Dwelling on the negatives and using them to justify our sick behavior is just plain unhealthy, and it characterizes an addicts obsessive thinking. We work this step to break through our unhealthy thought patterns.
Step four is a groundwork for the remaining steps as well. After we have written it all down, we now have a “spiritual road map”, a guide to the fears, resentments, character defects, and people we have harmed along the way. This can be especially helpful when working the remaining steps.
Many times we will be nervous or embarrassed to share our fourth step with our sponsors. Typically our sponsor will share some of theirs with us, establishing some level of trust. We almost always find that our fears are overblown and that we are simply human—just like our sponsor is. Some of our uniqueness is destroyed as we share this step with our sponsor. We are learning a genuine humility, seeing that we are not as terrible as we thought we were.
“We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs”.
At this point in our recovery, we have jumped some major hurdles. We should be practicing a spiritual lifestyle as best we can, working the third step on a daily basis. We found that writing our personal inventory down on paper was not as monstrous as it had sounded in the meetings. Hopefully we have a sponsor with which we have developed a high level of trust. What we are going to do in the fifth step parallels a Catholic confession. We are going to sit down with our sponsor and reveal the exact nature of our wrongs.This step brings us that much closer to freedom from our typically wretched past. Most of us are absolutely terrified of confessing our wrongs to another person. Some of us might vow that we will never do it, especially while we are still writing out our fourth step. But our sponsor and others in the fellowship will convince us that this is an absolutely essential step to our progress; that we will feel great relief once we “get it all out”.
Of course, this is exactly what happens. As long as we feel that we have a trustworthy sponsor, we always feel better after doing our fifth step–never worse. After finishing writing out our fourth step, many of us are feeling a heavy burden on our shoulders. Completing the fifth step is what lifts that burden and grants us our freedom.
How does it give us freedom? By relieving us of the shame of our past. Keeping our secrets inside and dwelling on how awful we are only allows our shame to grow and to torment us. Telling our wrongs, and our secrets to our sponsor allows us freedom in our everyday lives. The cleansing of the fifth step wipes away our negative obsessive thoughts.
How do we know when we have done the fifth step correctly? When we have done it completely, and told the nature of our wrongs in their entirety, we know we have done the step correctly. There should be no nagging thoughts when we have finished; we must not omit any details, no matter how embarrassing we think they may be. We must tell all and hold back nothing. This is the only real measure of success when evaluating our fifth step. If we hold anything back, even the slightest detail, we run the risk of losing everything. Weeks, months, or even years later, the tiniest of secrets can come back to haunt us. We will face a situation we never expected, and the secret will be put right in our faces. That is why we must be thorough when working this step.
Some of us are still beating ourselves up when we work this step with our sponsors. We should not have to exaggerate our wrongs or make our story out to be worse than it really was. We are searching for a confession of the exact truth—as cleanly cut as possible. We must be sure not to minimize our wrongdoings nor exaggerate them. It is important that we be accurate in our retelling as well as thorough. If we cannot remember details we simply do our best; make the best effort we can.
If we have chosen a good sponsor, they will never judge us or condemn our actions when we tell our story. They will simply listen and take it for what it is worth, neither attacking or mocking us. Typically our sponsor will share part of their past as well, showing us how their story relates to ours, pointing out the similarities. Again, we find that we are not as unique or as terrible as we once thought we were. We are growing spiritually in the program, no longer hindered by guilt and shame.
“We became entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character”.
Step six is about our willingness to change. We have completed the fourth step and, in doing so, have a comprehensive list of all of our character defects. In the fifth step, we confessed these wrongdoings to our sponsor and felt some relief. Now we have to start “cleaning house”. We have to be willing to become willing.Our defects that we exposed in the fourth and fifth step will eventually lead us to relapse if we leave them unchecked. The sixth step is about developing a sincere desire to rid ourselves of these defects. We are committing ourselves to become better people.
In attempting to live the spiritual life, we are becoming more and more self-aware. We start to see how we use our character defects to deal with life. Many times, the thought of giving up our character defects scares us, when we realize exactly what it will mean. Those of us who were hostile can no longer lash out in anger when we are confronted and have to face our fears. Those of us who wallowed in self-pity in a sick state of self-comfort can no longer do so. In working this step we are agreeing to let go of these old behaviors and move on with our new, healthier lives.
We find that selfishness is almost always at the core of what needs to be eradicated. Our self-centeredness will destroy us if we do not take action. We pray for willingness in an effort to become ready. Our sponsor tells us to imagine our life without character defects. We start to get a glimpse of a healthier future for ourselves. We are becoming spiritually coiled and ready to spring into action. This step invites us to look ahead and picture what we want our lives to be like, to see what kind of person we are to become. Our willingness is growing with each day. Our new life is starting to take shape. We start to appreciate that our problems today are much different than the ones we had when we were still using.
The sixth step involves action and a mental decision. We are committing ourselves to take action and do are part in order to be free of our character defects. We know that it is unrealistic to skip this step and simply wish for our higher power to make us perfect. Step six is an agreement to meet our higher power halfway; to do our part, to take what action we can and leave the results up to God. We are not expecting a miracle, we stay realistic about changing ourselves and make a commitment to do are best at it. In the end, though, most of us do look back and consider the changes we experience to be miraculous.
“We humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings”.
The seventh step is an action step that involves prayer. After carefully identifying our character defects in the fourth step, and having become entirely ready to have God remove them in the sixth step, we are finally going to get down on our hands and knees and ask our higher power to remove them. This is a plea to make us into a better person, so that we can continue to grow in our recovery.The key principle in this step is humility. We have already experienced some degree of humility by working the first step. In a way, we extended our humility in the third step by coming to rely on a higher power to guide us through our day. Now, in step seven, we are going to practice humility by asking our higher power to rid us of our character defects.
Being involved in a twelve step program, it is likely that others will eventually point out some of our character defects. We must be careful not to take the defensive too quickly, as our natural reaction might dictate. When others see a flaw in our personality, we should try to take it as an opportunity for growth. It can be hard to hear the truth about ourselves. There is a bit of wisdom in the fellowship about others pointing out our character defects: if more than one person points out the same defect, we should probably take a look at it. In other words, if several people are seeing the same flaw in us, we can no longer rationalize it away as their perceptive error in judgment. There probably is some truth to their insights if more than one person is seeing it. Even if we initially lash out in anger, we would do well to examine what was said later on, after we have cooled off. There is always room for growth.
One thing that helps us to gain the humility necessary to work this step is to make an effort at accepting other people’s character defects. When we notice these defects in others, instead of becoming angry, criticizing them, or lashing out at them, we try to pause and reflect—in an effort to gain understanding. We try to accept others as they are. When we notice their character defects and become aware of our reaction to it, we look inside of ourselves and analyze our own behavior. What usually triggered a response is the same defect or defects that we see in ourselves. By accepting these defects in others, we are increasing our awareness of our own shortcomings.
There is always the danger at this point of being too hard on ourselves. We have to try to remain realistic about our character defects and our rate of change. We look to our sponsors as well as others in the program to see if we are still on a path of growth. Usually these people will say that we are “right where we need to be.” Many of us will feel impatient that our character defects continue to keep popping up. We renew our efforts of prayer and resolve to take positive action.
With step seven, we are on a path of spiritual growth. Now we are truly taking action in trying to change ourselves for the better. Prayer is a daily habit and our self-awareness continues to increase. We are struggling to become the person we know that our higher power has envisioned for us. Working the seventh step means we can no longer say “Oh, that’s just how I am”. We are committed to change ourselves for the better.
“Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all”.
Step eight is just what it sounds like—spelled out in plain English for us. We sit down and make a list of all the people that we hurt in the past. The idea is that we are going to eventually go find these individuals and make peace with them, but part of the trick is that we can not look that far ahead yet. We have to make our list as if we were never going to go through with our amends. There might be people on our list that we don’t think we can bear to talk to, or who we don’t feel that they deserve our apology. That is why we must make the list blindly. It is not necessarily going to be ours to decide on how the list of people gets handled. Our sponsor will eventually go down the list with us and evaluate how each person should be handled. We are not in a position to make this decision on our own. Remember the fourth step and how thorough we had to be in order for it to be a success. It is the same way with step eight. The only way for us to screw it up is for us to intentionally leave someone off the list. We put down everyone that we can possibly think of. Then our sponsors help us to evaluate the list and decide on who we should make amends too. If we are completely thorough in making our list then we have done it properly. It has also been suggested that we make a list of people that harmed us as well. The idea here is that, for many of these people that hurt us in the past, we might have resentments against some of them. Our sponsor may suggest that we make an amends for the resentment in an effort to let go of it. We do not do this looking for an apology from them—the idea is only that we “clean our side of the street”.We have to be careful of our expectations when working this step. We can not go into this with an attitude that we are going to be forgiven by each person, because this is not likely to be the case. There will probably be those who are not yet convinced of our new lifestyle, and they may not be willing to believe us yet. All we can do is make our sincere amends to these people, and if they will not hear it, perhaps at some time in the future they will be ready too. The important thing is that we are not expecting or demanding certain outcomes. We must simply be willing to do our part in making the amends, and, as usual, leave the results up to our higher power.
Making the actual list is only the first part of step eight. We then become willing to make each amends. Achieving this willingness is about forgiving ourselves as much as anything else. Like all the steps, it is a tool of healing for us. Some of the people on our list may not even be alive anymore. Still, we are aiming to become willing in our hearts to honestly make things right with that person. If we find the sincerity to do so, then we are healing that piece of ourselves. Our genuine willingness to make things right starts the process of chipping away the chunks of guilt that can drag us down emotionally. We are finding a new freedom by forgiving ourselves.
The eighth step also helps us to live differently in the future. It is not simply about putting right the past, because now we are learning a new process. We are seeing how to forgive ourselves and how to live successfully. This new awareness helps us to learn about how we deal with other people, and as a result, we are now much less likely to harm them. We continue to grow spiritually.
“We made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others”.
Step nine is where we start to clear up the wreckage of our past. We are actually going to sit down with the people we have harmed and make our amends to them. More often than not, this will involve action other than just mere words. Most of us spent our lives during our active addiction apologizing to others for our actions—only to keep doing the same hurtful things, over and over again. So we know full well how weak a mere apology can be. Making amends implies much more than a simple apology.To start with, we need guidance when working this step. We should consult our sponsor before we make each amends to make sure we are not going to harm anyone. If the only thing we are capable of doing is stirring up bad memories for someone else, then we should probably not make the amends at that point in time. Sometimes we need to wait awhile for other’s anger to subside. Remember, we did a lot of damage and hurt people very deeply during our addiction. It may take more time until they are ready to even talk to us. This is also true if we try to make an amends and the person just flat out rejects us. We can not get discouraged or angry at this point. We have done our part in trying to make things right, but we have to respect the hurt that we caused this person. Perhaps after some period of time, they will become ready to forgive us. But if they do not, we cannot blame them or get angry at them for it.
We need to check our motives when we are working the ninth step. Our sponsor can help guide us with these decisions. If we are too eager to rid ourselves of a mountain of guilt—guilt that we created by our hurtful actions—then we might be acting out of selfishness when making an amends. We need to be sure of our motives. Our aim should be to truly repent for the hurt we caused, and a genuine effort is made to make up for it. We want to put those that we hurt at ease and see that they are happy—for their sake, not for ours. If our motive is simply to clean up our soul so that we can feel proud of ourselves, then we are headed down the wrong path. We have to genuinely want to help others.
Working step nine requires action beyond the direct amends. True, we want to try to compensate directly those that we hurt, but we also want to change our attitude and behaviors, so that we do not hurt others in the future. If we were angry at someone and lashed out at them, then we know what are task is after we have made our amends to them. Our indirect amends to that person—and to the world in general—is to work on our anger and not let ourselves lash out at others. Our amends to people should include a promise to ourselves—to change for the better and not keep making the same mistakes.
When we first get into recovery, some of us might see this step and want to rush ahead with it, trying to make all of our amends right away. Obviously, this does not and can not work, because we have not yet worked the previous eight steps. The steps are in order for a reason, and most of us have several months or even years in recovery before we make our amends. Notice how each step builds on the one that came before it. We have to come to believe in a higher power before we can turn our will over to him. We have to make our inventory in the fourth step and identify all the people that we hurt, and the character defects that caused us to hurt them. We have to work to remove those defects and then list all the people we harmed. Then we have to become genuinely willing to make amends to those people. Finally, after this journey of self-improvement and self-analysis with working the steps, we can go make our amends to people. It is only now, after all of this growth, that our apologies can possibly mean anything.
When we have worked this step properly, our spirits will be lighter and the burden of guilt will be lifted. If our motives are pure, and we make a genuine effort at compensating those that we hurt, we are going to experience a sense of freedom. We continue to move forward and grow spiritually. Looking forward to the tenth step, we will now learn how to keep our spirit clean on a daily basis.
“We continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong promptly admitted it”.
Step ten is a tool for our daily spiritual maintenance. We use the tenth step as a self-check, a way to catch ourselves when we become angry, resentful, or depressed. It is our reminder that we must continuously work on ourselves, it is our method of staying self-aware.When we first arrive at this step, we might ask exactly how we are to work it on a daily basis into our lives. Usually our sponsor will recommend that we start by reviewing our day each night before we go to sleep. This seems to be a fairly practical and universal suggestion. Taking a mental tally sheet at the end of each day can help us to see if any troublesome behaviors or nagging resentments are creeping into our lives. We can also reflect on some of the good things that we accomplished that day and give ourselves credit for it. As always in recovery, we are searching for an honest and thorough assessment. We try not to exaggerate or dramatize either the good or the bad points of our behavior. We try to simply see them for what they are.
Another suggestion we have heard around the tables is that we should examine each of our actions throughout the day with a simple question: was that God’s will, or mine? We can usually get a pretty good idea of our true motives behind our behaviors with this question. It seems to cut right to the heart of the matter and quickly shows us what areas we need correcting in. In this same vein, we can ask our Higher Power at this point what he would have for us tomorrow, in an effort to do his will. The idea is to put the question to our higher power in assessing our behavior, instead of simply trying to justify it ourselves.
Those in recovery have suggested another way to work the tenth step: all throughout our day. People refer to this as a “spot-check” inventory. This is simply when we pause in the middle of our day, become quiet for a moment, step back from ourselves, and take a quick assessment of things. Sometimes we have to do this just to slow ourselves down a bit. We may have become so busy in our day that we are no longer being thoughtful in any way, but are simply reacting to things as they come without much thought. The spot check inventory can bring us back to mindfulness. If we are having a bad day, and sliding into anger or resentment, the spot check allows us to become aware of this before it has mushroomed into something worse. We can catch ourselves before our thinking becomes too polluted. When we pause to assess ourselves, and find that our thinking has become negative, we can take action and change it. We do this by acting—doing something for someone else, or getting outside of ourselves briefly. We don’t just try to change our thoughts from the inside, but we start acting differently in order that those thoughts will start changing on their own. This is how we can catch ourselves and turn a bad day around–through action.
The tenth step has a built in system to prevent new resentments. The key is that we “promptly” admit when we are wrong, instead of walking around with a chip on our shoulder, letting anger and frustration build into a wicked resentment. If we work step ten on a daily basis, we should be able to go to sleep each night with a clean slate, because any wrongs we did during the day were already accounted for. We made our amends immediately, and tried to make things right before leaving the situation. In this way we are keeping our conscious clean as we go along. Step ten is really a study in our reactions to the world around us. If we work this step every day, our level of self-awareness will skyrocket and our attitude will improve.
“Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood him, praying only for knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry that out”.
Hopefully by this point in our recovery we are already praying on a daily basis. In attempting to work the previous steps into our lives, we have learned to pray for guidance and direction and to seek God’s will for us. Many of us in recovery are also doing something that we believe qualifies as meditation. Some of us may read a daily reading out of some recovery literature, others may sit on their back porch each morning and drink a cup of coffee in quiet reflection. The point of step eleven is for us to grow in our spirituality; to reach out further and dig a bit deeper. It is an opportunity for learning as much as it is a daily maintenance step. We can reach out to others in an effort to focus our spiritual efforts. We can explore various religions or philosophies, in an attempt to focus our prayers and connect with like-minded people. If we have a specific set of beliefs, we can seek out others who share those beliefs, and connect with them on a spiritual level. In some cases this may involve an organized religion, though this is not a necessity for us. The point is that we are willing to grow as a spiritual being, and with step eleven, we make a conscious effort to do so.Keep in mind that with prayer comes responsibility. Certainly by this point—after working the previous ten steps—we have learned that prayer must be followed up with action. By now we must know that if our prayers are nothing more than wishful thinking, and we are sitting back, waiting for the whole world to fall into our lap, then we are wasting our time and not “acting””very spiritual. While the eleventh step focuses on prayer and meditation—remember—it is still an action step. Now more than ever we cannot afford to just “kick up our feet”.
One of the key words in this step is “sought”. The idea is that we need to be seeking; we need to be searching. Simply ask yourself: How does God want me to change the world? In what way? What action should I be taking in my life today? In some ways, the eleventh step is a huge reminder of the importance of step three. Once again, the focus is on “God’s will for us”. So much of our success in the program can be attributed to how well we work the third step on a daily basis. If we are seeking God’s will, and turning our life over to his hands, then we are walking a spiritual path and doing well in our recovery. The eleventh step is a move towards a “God-centered” life. We are reminded to seek His will for us, to get out of “self”, to become less and less self-centered.
In working step ten, we learned how to take inventory of ourselves on a daily basis. Now, in step eleven, we are learning how to practice a spiritual life each day. Looking forward, to step twelve, we will learn how to reach out and help others as well. Taken together, and practiced on a daily basis, the last three steps are a powerful tool for those in recovery. Collectively they represent self-analysis, spiritual growth, and service work. If we can work these three steps diligently, relapse is extremely unlikely. If we are thorough in our practice, our personal growth is all but guaranteed. With our horizons expanded, we move onward to step twelve.
“Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs”.
Arriving at the twelfth step should be our cue to start reaching out and helping others in recovery. By this time, many of us will have already been involved in service work in some form or another. We can typically look back over our recovery and see that—while we were not transformed instantly by a bolt of lightening—we have indeed experienced a spiritual transformation; our personality has changed for the better. We are not as quick to anger, and we have indeed become interested in helping others in recovery. We are now following a set of spiritual guidelines in our lives.One thing we can do to help reach out to the newcomer is to attend a “home group” meeting on a regular basis. When we regularly attend the same meeting, we are bound to encounter newcomers that are seeking help. We want to be in a position to reach out and carry a message to these people. Part of the power of the twelfth step, and in carrying the message to others, is to watch the message transform them, as we see them start to grow. Having a home group affords us this opportunity—to see a newcomer keep coming back on a regular basis and watching them grow in their recovery.
A “twelve step call” is basically what we refer to these days as an intervention. We simply do what we can to talk to and reason with an individual who is in need of help. Many times these people will not hear our message or take action at the time, but it is important to remain positive about what we have done when we reach out to someone in this way. Many times, we have planted a seed, and our intervention attempt becomes a small part of the process that an individual has to go through on their journey. We may not have talked them into a life of recovery in one visit. But it is all part of the process. We do what we can to carry the message and leave the results up to our higher power.
Our sponsor will usually suggest, if we have not done so already, to get involved with chairing some meetings on a regular basis. There are programs we can participate in that specialize in bringing a 12 step meeting into various institutions (like jails or treatment centers) where the people do not have access to outside meetings. We can carry the message of recovery into these places and try to give the people there some hope—that they too can recover, just like we did. Perhaps some of us were once in those very institutions where we are now chairing meetings. For some of us, this is like recovery “coming full circle” in our lives. We can look back at where we started from and marvel at the transformation. We carry the message of hope to other addicts, and in return, they are helping us to stay clean for another day. The extreme selfishness of our old selves has been eliminated. We are living a spiritual life.
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