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12 Step Suite by Dream Theater

Updated on January 30, 2011

12 Step Program set to (hard, driving) music

When I first heard the Dream Theater song The Root of All Evil, my second thought (after "man, what a great song") was that it sounded an awful lot like the song This Dying Soul from their previous album. I was still a new Dream Theater fan at the time, so did some digging and found that the two songs are part of a 5-part suite of songs collectively referred to as The 12 Step Suite.

WIth lyrics by drummer Mike Portnoy, the suite is a reflection on the 12 step program of Alcoholics Anonymous; Portnoy has been sober since April 2000. Spanning 5 albums and 9 years, each of the songs is by itself great, and as a whole they are fantastic. (I created a playlist in iTunes that includes these songs so I can listen to them as an uninterrupted whole.)

Now I understand that Dream Theater's music may not be for everyone. It is a bit hard, very in your face at times. And although the music complements the lyrics well, the lyrics on their own give some incredible insight into one man's journey and battle with addiction.

Mike Portnoy on the 12 Step Suite

a SongFacts interview

This interview with Song Facts was part of the publicity tour for Black Clouds and Silver Linings.

SF: "The Shattered Fortress" is dedicated to Bill W., and all of his friends. Who is that?

Mike: Bill W. is the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, and "The Shattered Fortress" is the fifth and final chapter in a series of five songs that I've been writing over the past 5 Dream Theater albums. I've been clean and sober with the help of AA now for over 10 years, and the 12 steps of recovery has been a huge, huge part of my life. When I got sober 10 years ago, I decided I wanted to start writing songs about the 12 steps. And rather than just writing one song about everything, I had this idea of writing one song that was steps 1, 2 and 3, then the next album continue with the song that was step 4 and 5, and so on and so forth. And "The Shattered Fortress" off the latest album is the final chapter, which is steps 10, 11 and 12, and ultimately these five songs that have taken 5 albums to complete ultimately will fit together and they all have running common themes and melodies and riffs and lyrics, and it all ties together like one giant puzzle that hopefully we'll be playing live someday.

SF: There's some really great lyrics about being responsible for your actions: "I am responsible when anyone anywhere reaches out for help, I want my hand to be there."

Mike: That's actually a line taken right out of AA meetings and the 12 steps. And if you listen to all five of these songs, there's so much stuff that I wrote about that's taken directly out of AA meetings, or taken directly out of the Big Book (the Alcoholics Anonymous guidebook). That was a big part of what was behind the songs, and what's behind me still being alive today.

SF: Sounds like the AA concept is not just good advice for people that have addictions, but good advice for anyone as far as how to be a good citizen.

Mike: That's absolutely true. I mean, the 12 steps of recovery, you don't even see the word "alcohol" or "drugs" mentioned anywhere in that. It's all about bettering yourself and it's not only a program of learning to be sober, it's a program of learning to live to be a better human being. That's why it's been a huge, huge help and a big part of my life for the last 10 years.

The Glass Prison - from Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence

The first of the five songs that make up 12 Step Suite, The Glass Prison is the longest - and, in my opinion the best - of the suite. The song covers the first three of the twelve steps:

1. Reflection

2. Restoration

3. Revelation


We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable.

Cunning, Baffling, Powerful

Been beaten to a pulp

Vigorous, Irresistable

Sick and tired and laid low

Dominating, Invincible

Black-out, loss of control

Overwhelming, Unquenchable

I'm powerless, have to let go

I can't escape it

It leaves me frail and worn

Can no longer take it

Senses tattered and torn

Hopeless surrender

Obsession's got me beat

Losing the will to live

Admitting complete defeat

Fatal Descent

Spinning around

I've gone too far

To turn back round

Desperate attempt

Stop the progression

At any length

Lift this obsession

Crawling to my glass prison

A place where no one knows

My secret lonely world begins

So much safer here

A place where I can go

To forget about my daily sins

Life here in my glass prison

A place I once called home

Fall in nocturnal bliss again

Chasing a long lost friend

I no longer can control

Just waiting for this hopelessness to end


We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Run - fast from the wreckage of the past

A shattered glass prison wall behind me

Fight - past walking through the ashes

A distant oasis before me

Cry - desperate crawling on my knees

Begging God to please stop the insanity

Help me - I'm trying to believe

Stop wallowing in my self pity

"We've been waiting for you my friend

The writing's been on the wall

All it takes is a little faith

You know you're the same as us all"

Help me - I can't break out this prison all alone

Save me - I'm drowning and I'm hopeless on my own

Heal me - I can't restore my sanity alone

Enter the door


Fighting no more

Help me restore

To my sanity

At this temple of hope

I need to learn

Teach me how

Sorrow to burn

Help me return

To humanity

I'll be fearless and thorough

To enter this temple of hope


Transcend the pain

Living the life


Opened my eyes

This new odyssey

Of rigorous honesty


That I never knew

Soundness of mind

Helped me to find

Courage to change

All the things that I can

"We'll help you perform this miracle

But you must set your past free

You dug the hole, but you can't bury your soul

Open your mind and you'll see"

Help me - I can't break out this prison all alone

Save me - I'm drowning and I'm hopeless on my own

Heal me - I can't restore my sanity alone


We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

Way off in the distance I saw a door

I tried to open

I tried forcing with all of my will but still

The door wouldn't open

Unable to trust in my faith

I turned and walked away

I looked around, felt a chill in the air

Took my will and turned it over

The glass prison which once held me is gone

A long lost fortress

Armed only with liberty

And the key of my willingness

Fell down on my knees and prayed

"Thy will be done"

I turned around, saw a light shining through

The door was wide open

This Dying Soul - from Train of Thought

Covering steps four and five, This Dying Soul also revisits The Mirror, starting with the line, "Hello mirror, so glad to see you my friend, it's been a while." (This is something that will come up again in a later part of the suite, an example of how all five songs are both lyrically and musically related and intertwined.)

This Dying Soul includes the following steps:

4. Reflections of Reality (Revisited)

5. Release


We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Hello mirror, so glad to see you my friend, it's been a while.

Searching, Fearless - where do I begin to heal this wound of self-denial

Face yourself man!

Brace yourself man! and trace your hell back

You've been blinded, living like a one way cold existence all the while

Now it's time to stare the problem right between the eyes you long lost child

I wanna feel your body breaking

Wanna feel your body breaking and shaking and left in the cold

I want to heal your conscience making a change to fix this dying soul

Born into a broken home

Surrounded by love yet all alone

Forced into a life that's split in two

A mother and a father both pulling you

Then you had to deal with loss and death

Everybody thinking they know best

Coping with this shit at such an age

Can only fill a kid with pain and rage

Family disease pumped through your blood

Never had the chance you thought you could

Running all the while with no escape

Turning all that pain in to blame and hate

Living on your own by 21

Not a single care and having fun

Consuming all the life in front of you

Burning out the fuse and smoking the residue

Possessive obsessions selfish childish games

Vengeful resentments

Passing all the blame

Living out a life of decadence

Acting without thought of consequence

Spreading all your lies from coast to coast

While spitting on the ones that matter most

Running power mad with no control

Fighting for the credit they once stole

No one can ever tell you what to do

Ruling other's lives while the can't stand the thought of you

A living reflection seen from miles away

A hopeless affliction having run astray

I wanna feel your body breaking

Wanna feel your body breaking and shaking and left in the cold

I want to heal your conscience making a change to fix this dying soul

This dying soul

Now that you can see all you have done

It's time to take that step into the kingdom

All your sins will only make you strong

And help you break right through the prison wall


We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

Come to me my friend (Listen to me)

I'll help this torture end (Help to set me free)

Let your ego go (I can't carry this load)

You can't go through this alone (I feel so hopeless and exposed)

You'll find your peace of mind (Give me some direction)

You can no longer hide (Break out of this isolation)

Let humility (Openness, honesty)

And become what you can be (A healing tranquility)

Help me

Save me

Heal me

I can't break out of this prison all alone

These tormenting ghosts of yesterday

Will vanish when exposed

You can't hold onto your secrets

They'll only send you back alone

Your fearless admissions

Will help expel your destructive obsessions

With my help I know you can

Be at one with God and man

Hear me

Believe me

Take me

I'm ready to break through this prison wall

The Root of All Evil - from Octavarium

Musically and lyrically most similar to This Dying Soul, The Root of All Evil continues the suite with steps six and seven.

6. Ready

7. Remove


We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

Proud enough for you to call me arrogant

Greedy enough to be labeled a thief

Angry enough for me to go and hurt a man

Cruel enough for me to feel no grief

Never could have just a part of it

I always need more to get by

Getting right down to the heart of it

The root of all evil has been running my whole life

Dirty enough for me to lust

Leaving nothing left to trust

Jealous enough to still feel envious

Lazy enough to sleep all day

And let my life just waste away

Selfish enough to make you wait for me

Driven blindly by our sins

Misled so easily

Entirely ready to leave it behind

I'm begging to break free

Take all of me

The desires that keep burning deep inside

Cast them all away

And help to give me strength to face another day

I am ready

Help me be what I can be


We humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

Self-centered fear has got a hold of me

Clutching my throat

Self righteous anger running all through me

Ready to explode

Procrastination paralyzing me

Wanting me dead

These obsessions that keep haunting me

Won't leave my head

Help to do for me what I can't do myself

Take this fear and pain

I can't break out of this prison all alone

Help me break these chains

Humility now my only hope

Won't you take all of me

Heal this dying soul

I can feel my body breaking

I can feel my body breaking

I'm ready to let it all go

I can feel my body shaking

Right down to the foundation

The root of it all

Take all of me

The desires that keep burning deep inside

Cast them all away

And help to give me strength to face another day

I am ready

Help me be what I can be

I am ready

Come to me

Take me away

Repentance - from Systematic Chaos

Repentance is by far the most mellow and somber of the songs in the suite, quite possible of Dream Theater's entire catalog of music. The first part takes the story back to the mirror, and the second part consists of spoken word apologies from a number of friends of the band.

8. Regret

9. Restitution


We made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

Hello Mirror, so glad to see you my friend

it's been a while...

Staring at the empty page before me

All the years of wreckage running through my head

Patterns of my life I thought adorned me

Revealing hurtful shame and deep lament

Overwhelming sorrow now absorbs me

As the pen begins to trace my darkest past

Signs throughout my life

that should have warned me

Of all the wrongs I've done for which I must repent

I once thought it better to regret

Things that I have done than haven't

Sometimes you've got to be wrong

And learn the hard way

Sometimes you've got to be strong

When you think it's too late

Staring at the finished page before me

All the damage now so clear and evident

Thinking about the dreaded task in store for me

A bitter fear at the thought of my amends

Hoping that the step will help restore me

To face my past and ask for forgiveness

Cleaning up my dirty side of this unswept street

Could this be the beginning of the end?

I once thought it better to regret

Things that I have done than haven't

Sometimes you've got to be wrong

And learn the hard way

Just when you're through hanging on

You're saved


We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

The Shattered Fortress - from Black Clouds and Silver Linings

The Shattered Fortress brings the suite to a close with the final three steps, tying all of the musical and lyrical themes together into a grand finale and the final realization of responsibility to help others:

"I am responsible when anyone, anywhere reaches out for help, I want my hand to be there."

10. Restraint

11. Receive

12. Responsible


We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

Freedom--calls my name

Serenity--keeps me sane

Happineses--it dulls the pain

Honest--to see my place

Open--to other ways

Willingness--to understand

Justice--but do not judge

Courtesy--for others' flaws

Kindness--it's not that hard

Self-restraint--of toungue and pen

Inventory--my daily friend

Analysis--let down your guard

Look in the mirror

What do you see?

The shattered fortress

That once bound me

Fateful ascent

Through darkest fires

I've found the path

To take me higher

You're smart enough for me to trust go live your life now

Just keep these steps in your life and you'll know how

If you're not sure, ask yourself

"Have I done to them

As I would have them do to me?"

Look in the mirror

What's that you see?

The shattered fortress

Fly now be free

Fateful ascent

Through darkest fires

I've found the path

To take me higher

I once thought it better to be right

But now I have finally seen the light

Sometimes you've got to be wrong

And learn from mistakes

I live with serenity now

Not self-righteous hate


We 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.

Help me be a channel of Thy peace

That where there is hatred I may bring love

That where there is wrong I may bring the spirit of forgiveness

That where there is discord I may bring harmony

That where there is error I may bring truth

That where there is doubt I may bring faith

Now that you can see all you have done

That where there is despair I may bring hope

That where there is shadow I may bring light

It's time to take that step into the kingdom

That where there is sadness I may bring joy

All your sins will help to make you strong

That I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted

That I may seek to understand rather than to be understood

And help you break right through the prison wall

That I may seek to love, rather than to be loved

For it is by self-forgetting that one finds

It is by forgiving that one is forgiven

Now that you can see all you have done

It's time to take that step into the kingdom

All your sins will help to make you strong

And help you break right through the prison wall

Keep all of me

The desires that once burned me deep inside

Help me live today

And help to give me grace

To carry out your way

I am ready

Help me be all I can be

I am ready

Help guide me and keep me free


Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

I am responsible

When anyone, anywhere

Reaches out for help

I want my hand to be there

I am responsible

When anyone, anywhere

Reaches out for help

I want my hand to be there

Pick your favorite

Which of the 5 songs that make up the 12 Step Suite do you like the best? Or which one do you think conveys the story of the steps the best?

Do you have a Dream Theater lens? Or other website? Please grab the list below and share it on your own site to spread the word about this great piece of music and find out what others think.

The Mirror

Released on the 1994 album Awake, The Mirror is a song about drummer Mike Portnoy's alcohol and drug abuse. Though not technically a part of the suite, it is a key piece of the story.

The Mirror

(do you like what you see?)


Why won't you leave me alone?

Lurking Every Corner, everywhere I go

Self Control-

Don't turn your back on me now

When I need you the most

Constant pressure tests my will

My will or my won't

My Self Control escapes from me still...

> Hypocrite-

How could you be so cruel

and expect my faith in return?


Is not as hard as it seems

When you close the door

I spent so long trusting in you

I trust you forgot

Just when I thought I believed in you...

"What're you doing?

What're you doing?"

It's time for me to deal

Becoming all too real

living in fear-

Why did you lie and pretend?

This has to come to an end

I'll never trust you again

It's time you made your amends

Look in the mirror my friend

"That I haven't behaved as I should"

"Everything you need is around you.

The only danger is inside you."

"I thought you could control life,

but it's not like that. There are

things you can't control."

Let's stare the problem right in the eye

It's plagued me from coast to coast

Racing the clock to please everyone

All but the one who matters the most

Reflections of reality

are slowly coming into view

How in the hell could you possibly forgive me?

After all the hell I put you through

It's time for me to deal

Becoming all too real

living in fear-

Why'd I betray my friend?

Lying until the end

Living life so pretend

It's time to make my amends

I'll never hurt you again

What do you think of the songs in the 12 Step Suite? What do you think of the Suite itself? Does it work? Too ambitious? An accurate reflection of the struggles of addiction?

What would you say to Mike Portnoy about the 12 Step Suite if you had a chance?


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    • charlesgrimes profile image


      7 years ago

      And now the Grammy's.

    • juliannegentile profile image

      Julianne Gentile 

      7 years ago from Cleveland, Ohio, US

      Returning to bless this lens!

    • jvsper63 profile image


      7 years ago

      I think your lens is great .I have never 12 step suite till now. And i think it is great. I know it works. And I believe it is an accurate reflection of the struggles of addiction. Which is so out of control. Especially with our this Great lens

    • gbrettmiller profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      @CHalloran LM: I've been waiting for them to announce the new drummer's name, too, since apparently they've already selected one. It's too bad DT didn't let Mike Portnoy come back when he offered. (Really, it's too bad that he left in the first place!)

      Thanks for stopping by.

    • CHalloran LM profile image

      CHalloran LM 

      7 years ago

      love dream theater.... can't wait till they announce their new drummer.... was hoping it would be marco minnemann but jordan rudess said it's not him... now my second guess is mangini


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