Updated: Jun 29
When I stepped into the world of recovery, the first resource I thought of was Alcoholics Anonymous. AA has predominately been the go-to group for alcohol abuse since the 1930's, and that hasn't changed much today. So, automatically, when I gave up drinking, my mind wandered to AA and the 12 steps. I had heard of the 12 steps, but I'd never actually known what they were. And while I considered attending an AA meeting, I took a different approach for my sobriety. The point of this post isn't to tell you whether or not to attend AA. It works wonders for some people, and for others, it's not their cup of tea. This post is an outline of the 12 steps, and my take on each of them. Please know, that you're entitled to your own opinion on the steps, and everybody's sobriety is unique to them. This, however, is a reflection of my sobriety story and how the 12 steps resonate (or don't) with my experience.
1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol- that our lives had become unmanageable
To an extent, I agree with this. For me, realizing that I was "powerless" over alcohol came much later. It took a few months of inner reflection to really understand how alcohol had been controlling me. Before most activities, I was reliant on alcohol to have a good time. So yes, I did quit because my life had become unmanageable and I was powerless over alcohol. Plus, now that I've been alcohol free for seven months, I think about it as a way of taking my power back!
2. Came to believe a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity
I have a hard time with this one, for one, because it forces religion/spirituality into the equation, and for two, because it infers problem drinkers were insane. I'm a spiritual person, and I believe in the universe and energy, but I think that as individuals, we are capable of returning back to our true selves. Whether you attribute that to the help of a greater power, I've found that believing in MYSELF has made all of the difference. The phrase "restore us back to sanity" only places shame on the individual.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him
I appreciate that this step includes God "as we understood him," because that that opens up the door for a larger audience. I do have to ask, though, what about atheists? Personally, I mostly agree with this step. My view is that if we work on being the best version of ourselves, the universe will align with our needs and desires. However, we have control over how aligned we are with the universe through our actions and thoughts. Trusting in the universe to take care of me when I'm in alignment is my version of "turning my will and life over to the care of God."
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves
I think it's important to be careful with this step. I do believe that some inner reflection is necessary to move forward, but if done too early on in recovery, the shame could be too emotionally detrimental and might result in relapse. It's important to be gentle with ourselves, especially in the beginning. We tend to be our own biggest critic which can drive us towards change, but it can also lead us to low self esteem and hatred. This step can be beneficial, but only when you're ready for it and are confident in your sobriety.
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs
Even though I was cautious towards the last step, I really resonate with this one. Although I do think it's still important to be gentle with yourself, admitting our wrongdoings frees us from the weight we've been carrying. It's therapeutic, lets us see reality for what it is, and allows us to connect with our loved ones over our suffering.
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character
I don't think this step is constructive. Everybody possesses all character traits on a spectrum. The opposite of selfishness is selflessness, and we all fall someone along the spectrum between the two. And, it varies on context as well. To see ourselves as defected characters only places judgement on ourselves. Nobody is perfect. Everybody possesses all character traits, we're just unique on where we score on the spectrum. You are human, and it's perfectly okay to accept how you've responded in the past while wanting to be better in the future.
7. Humbly ask him to remove our shortcomings
Similar to the last step, self-compassion is restorative when thinking about past wrongs. You can work on improving yourself while still being tender with yourself. I used to turn to alcohol to avoid the parts of myself that I didn't like. I have a REALLY hard time validating my own feelings, and obsessing over control. Both of those things stem from my childhood and were defense mechanisms I adopted for the hardships I faced. The biggest lesson I've learned is that in order to accept myself fully, I need to turn to those parts with care. I don't think it's helpful to focus on removing our shortcomings... I think it's better to understand them, accept them for what they are, and then eventually, let them go.
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends with them
I don't think it has to be a list, but it's good to try to think about the people you've hurt in order to move on, for the sake of both of you.
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others
YES! One of my biggest milestones was when I called people I had wronged under the influence and apologized. Overall, I felt 20 pounds lighter and my bonds were strengthened. I could sleep better at night knowing that I had made corrected the things that weighed me down.
10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admit it
I think that this comes naturally when you get sober. I find myself wanting to act with more integrity, and when I don't want to do something, I don't feel bad about saying no. I'm more authentic, and am drawn towards doing the right thing. I've learned how to be more emotionally intelligent, which allows me to admit my wrongs when they happen.
11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood him, praying for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out
I do feel like my spirituality has grown since I got sober. Truly, I think it's because I have more time to meditate every morning. Instead of numbing myself, I find the meaning of everyday life and am filled with gratitude.
12. Having 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
I hate the word alcoholic. It puts blame on the person and not the substance. Remove that word, and I'm all about this step. Actually, I'm living proof of this step. By writing this blog, it's my attempt to carry my message along about the lessons I've learned throughout sobriety. So yes, I am forwarding the message. And if it can help just one person, I'll be more than grateful.
Everybody's recovery is unique. This is my own take on the 12-steps, and I'm sure that it might change later on in sobriety. I agree with some steps, and disagree with others. What I've found is that successful recovery for me includes inner reflection, self improvement, and compassion. Recovery is not one-size-fits-all, so if you don't resonate with the steps, feel free to make up your own!