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The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (part 1)

Updated on August 19, 2014

Recovery From Addiction isn't Something You Can "Sorta" Commit To

When it comes to addiction, you either commit to sobriety or you don't. There is no middle ground.
When it comes to addiction, you either commit to sobriety or you don't. There is no middle ground. | Source

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Steps One, Two, and Three

Twelve-step programs are popular on a global level and are continuing to increase in numbers on a daily basis. The basis of these programs is that people struggling with addiction can recover from their illness by following 12 steps based on spiritual principles.

There are three main components required in order to work these steps in one’s life. Those components are honesty, open-mindedness and willingness. With those, one is well on their way to spiritual healing and recovery. Here are the first three steps broken down into easy to digest language.

Step One - We Admit We Are Powerles Over Alcohol

This first step, step one, is the most important of all. Without admitting powerlessness and coming to terms with the unmanageability of one’s life, there is no point in continuing on with the rest of the steps. The disease has to be recognized and the problem has to be admitted by the person struggling if they are to have any hope of recovery.

This step takes humility and comes down to admitting complete defeat. The addict is not in control when active in his addiction; this fact has to be accepted. If he is not willing to come to the realization that he is powerless, he most likely has not reached the point at which he is willing to surrender.

Once things get bad enough, it is near impossible to say that he feels in control of his life. That is when true defeat will be admitted and he can proceed to step two.

Step Two- We Realize That Recovery Relies On Our Ability to Find a Higher Power

Step one shows addicts that they are powerless. Step two proves a solution to that problem, and the solution lies with a Power greater than the addict. Willpower alone is no defense against addiction; if anything, it is a liability. Left to their own devices, they will act out in their addiction, thus, they must find a Power strong enough to save them from themselves.

At this juncture of recovery, the addict does not yet have to believe, they just need to be willing to believe. Atheists and agnostics fear not, this is not a religious program, it is a spiritual one.

No one is trying to convert people or tell them what they should believe in. This is all about choice. Many addicts have chosen to use the meeting rooms as their Higher Power. That is fine. It is a matter of realizing that they cannot do this alone, that they must rely on someone else, someone more powerful to restore them to sanity.

This step is all about willingness and opening the mind. The second step states that addicts believe they could be restored to sanity not would be restored to sanity. This gives them the choice of whether or not they want to proceed to the third step.

Step Three- Turning Our Will Over to Our Higher Power

This step is about turning over one’s will to a Power greater than them. Addicts are victims of self-will run riot. They want to control life, they want to do things their way, but they need to realize that their way was not working, and now has come the time to stop doing it their way and try someone else’s.

This step is a decision: either the addict is ready to turn over his will, or he is not. If he is not then he should go no further then this step, because without turning over his will the rest of the program will be useless.

In step three, faith begins to grow and acceptance begins to seep in to the addict. Recovery from addiction is not a matter of intelligence; if it were, many more would be achieving it. Addiction is a spiritual malady, thus requiring a spiritual treatment. Upon awakening, the goal of the addict should be to follow the will of his Higher Power, living by the words “Thy will be done.”

When an addict is in the driver’s seat, he frequently veers off course; when a Higher Power is in the driver’s seat, the path stays smooth. Complete surrender is necessary before continuing on past this step.

Many addicts find the third step prayer helpful in the practicing of the third step, and before continuation into the rest of the steps. They say “Higher Power, I offer myself to thee, to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I will help. Of Thy power, Thy love and Thy way of life, may I do Thy will always.”

After the completion of this step, the addict is ready to move on.

You Can Feel Like Dr. Jekyl One Day and Mr. Hyde Another When Struggling with an Addiction


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Step Four and Step Five

The 12 steps were designed by Bill Wilson and Doctor Bob as a method for treating alcoholism. They have now become widespread for the treatment of all kinds of addiction. For those people who have worked the first three steps of a 12-step program, they are now ready to move on to steps four and five.

The fourth step is when the addict takes a searching and fearless moral inventory of themselves. This is about cleaning house and can be a scary process. In the fifth step, they reveal to their sponsor everything they wrote down in the previous step. In these steps addicts expose their secrets in an effort to be rid of shame, guilt and remorse.

Step Four- We Make a List of Our Resentments

List who he resents and what they did to harbor the resentment. With a sponsor, the addict goes back through the list and looks for the role he played in the given situation. What did he do to set the ball rolling? This is about taking accountability for one’s own actions.

What the addict is looking for ultimately will be flaws in his character, or “defects.” He wants to find out exactly how, when and where his natural desires have warped him. A sexual inventory is done on top of the moral inventory, as well as a fear inventory. What are the roots of his fears? If he can find this out, he may be able to embrace that which scares him.

Inappropriate patterns of behavior are looked for, so they can be corrected. Where has the addict been selfish, dishonest, angry or self-seeking? Self-will run riot is what drives him to act out in his addiction, so he looks for where he had been completely running on self-will, so as to not repeat the same mistake in the future.

Everything is inventory material; anything that comes to mind should be written down and presented in the fifth step. All the addict is doing is trying to get a clear picture of what his character defects are so he can correct them.

The seven deadly sins are considered, and he tries to see how he acted in the resentments that benefited those sins, or natural desires. Many addicts choose to pray before embarking on this step, as it lets their Higher Power in and can direct them in the right way to take this painful inventory.

Step Five- We Make Amends

Now that the moral inventory is on paper it is time to reveal what he has written to his sponsor and in the presence of his Higher Power. Twelve-step fellowships teach that addicts cannot live alone with their pressing problems and the character defects that aggravate them. This is why the fourth step is disclosed to a sponsor during the fifth step.

A thorough house cleaning is imperative if the addict wants any chance of recovery. Few people who shy away from this step are able to hold on to sobriety for very long. During the fifth step the sponsor reassures the addict that he is not alone in this, that many of the things he is revealing, the sponsor has been through as well. This step is usually an end to the isolation addicts so often feel.

If secrets are kept and harmful behaviors are not revealed, the odds of returning to his old ways are high. Taking the fifth step is about taking accountability for one’s own actions.

The conclusion of the fifth step usually consists of meditation and prayer to reflect on the work that was just finished. It is a time for the addict to ask his Higher Power to free him of the wreckage of his past. When this is done, he is ready for the next step.

Addiction is a Disease of the Body, Mind and Spirit


Steps Seven and Eight

In steps four and five of the 12 steps, the addict takes a moral inventory of himself and shares it with his sponsor in the presence of his Higher Power, who he came to believe in through steps two and three.

Certain patterns of behavior, known in the fellowship as character defects, become glaringly obvious. In the seventh and eighth steps, it is time to work on getting those defects removed.

Step Seven- We Become Ready to Let Go of Our Defects

This step is not one that can be done in a day. Becoming ready to have one’s character defects removed is a long and humbling process. The defects showed themselves in the previous step, and now comes the time to become ready to have them removed.

Like step three, this step is about being open-minded and willing. It is believing that it is possible for the addict to live freely, with the defects removed from him by his Higher Power. In the second step, the addict came to believe in a Higher Power, and that Power’s ability to restore him to sanity.

Much like that step, he must now realize that he alone is powerless over his defects, and that only God can remove them from him. If he tries to rid himself of his flaws by just willing them away, he will have little success. The key factors in a solid sixth step are perseverance, willingness, faith and self-acceptance.

Trust must be placed in the Higher Power of the addict. The willingness refers to being willing to change one’s own ways of behaving in an effort to avoid acting on defects. Perseverance is required because no one is perfect, and this step is continually practiced, but never mastered. Once the addict is ready for God to remove his defects, he is ready for step seven.

Step Eight- We Humbly Ask Our Higher Power to Remove Our Shortcomings

Now that the addict has become ready to have his defects removed, it is time to take the seventh step, where he seeks the help of his Higher Power to have them removed.

This step is merely asking one’s Higher Power to free him from the bondage of himself. By this point, the addict should have developed a good quantity of humility that was most likely not present before he began the steps; this humility is necessary for step seven. The work done now greatly depends on the addict’s concept of a Higher Power.

The most common method of asking a Higher Power to remove defects is through prayer, but that may not be the option that everyone wants to choose. Willingness is key here. Asking God to simply remove the defects will not do much good if the addict doesn’t make the effort to change the way he has been acting.

“Faith without works is dead.”

Efforts must be put forth that show willingness to live differently. The addict alone can’t rid himself of defects, nor can God remove them from an unwilling person. Through prayer and subtle changes in daily living, the addict will grow to see great changes manifesting in his life. A more spiritual life will be developed, and this will prepare the addict for the eighth and ninth steps.

© 2014 Kathleen Odenthal


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