A Question About the 12 Step Program

A Question About the 12 Step Program


A reader named Dave writes in and asks:

“Did you do the steps and whats your view on them?

Do I have to do them to be sober??

He also mentions that he recently relapsed, and his sponsor was sort of pushing him to work through the steps rather quickly, and Dave was feeling a bit rushed with the whole thing.

Those are some good questions so I’m going to answer them right here. Let’s take a look.

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First question: Did I do the steps, and what is my view on them?

Yes, I worked through the 12 steps with a sponsor in early recovery. I did a written fourth step and shared it directly with my sponsor, and I continued on with more step work, right up until my sponsor had me take over one of his weekly 12 step meetings that he would do at a local treatment center (he had me start running the meeting for him).

Later on in my recovery I got a new sponsor, and worked through the steps with him too, this time with a much heavier emphasis on writing. I wrote quite a bit in working the steps this time, and used the writing as a tool to process things in my recovery.

My view on the 12 steps is that they are a tool. They will work for some people much better than for others. I think they were written and designed to help a fairly specific type of alcoholic or addict. I do not think that they are universal, in that I do not think they are the ultimate answer for every single addict and alcoholic out there. In my particular case, the 12 steps did not seem to address a complete program of recovery. I needed more, or rather, I needed something different, in order to recover.

Second question: Do I have to do them to be sober?

In a way, yes. You do.

A more accurate answer is to say that “no, you don’t necessarily have to work the 12 steps in order to recover. But you have to do something.”

Action is the key. Remember that the 12 steps are less than a hundred years old, and people have been recovering from alcoholism for thousands of years. How can people recover without using a 12 step program? They do it by creating a purposeful and meaningful life for themselves without drinking or using drugs.

There are a million ways to go about doing this. I used a 12 step program for the first year, primarily for the support and networking that it offered me. After that, my path in recovery deviated quite a bit from traditional recovery. Here are some of the principles I discovered that worked for me:

1) Caring for self – increasing my own self esteem has been a huge part of my recovery. I did this through achieving goals, such as completing a degree and also becoming an avid runner. This idea of taking better care of myself also led me to quit smoking cigarettes, which has had a huge impact on my life as well.

2) Holistic growth – I have been pushing myself to grow in recovery in many different ways since I got clean and sober. Spiritual growth has been only one small part of this effort. I have tried to grow in other ways too, such as physically (through exercise), mentally (through education), emotionally (by making an effort to better communicate with people), and so on. I saw many in traditional recovery who seemed to harp on the spiritual component at the expense of other kinds of growth, only to end up relapsing.

3) Purpose / meaning – If you were going to take one of the 12 steps and use it in your non-traditional recovery, the step to take would be step 12. Reaching out and helping others in recovery is a powerful tool. Use it. Find a way to reach out and help others on a consistent basis and your recovery will become rock solid because of it. Not only will it strengthen your recovery to help others, but it will also give purpose and meaning to your life.

Third question (implied): Am I going too fast or rushing through the steps?

My second sponsor focused on writing in the steps and suggested that you take your time and be extremely thorough when working through this written element. For him, the 12 steps might take a whole year.

I know another guy in recovery who says that in early AA, they used to take a newcomer through the steps in one afternoon. His theory is that you should not waste any time, and therefore you should get right to it in order to give the newcomer the benefits of the step work. They can get instant relief by rushing through the steps, he says.

So those are two opposite strategies, and I know of examples from each camp that have stayed clean and sober. I also know of a lot more examples from each camp that have relapsed.

Ultimately, I tend to harp on customization for a reason: it is necessary. Certain recovery techniques just don’t work for everyone. There are many paths to recovery. Yours may or may not include the 12 steps.

Given that, what is your ultimate truth regarding your own recovery? It is this: you are responsible for finding your own path to success. Do not expect others to tell you how to recover. They can only tell you what has worked for them. Sometimes we need to do our own thing.

Good luck.


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