The recovery world is very opinionated when it comes to 12 Step programs. The 12 Steps really and truly help some people. Others are lukewarm to the idea of “organized recovery.” And still, others won’t even step foot in an Alcoholics Anonymous open meeting. And that’s okay. Each one of these groups of people is right. Recovery is personal and the way a recovering addict goes about his life in recovery is his choice.

12 StepsHowever, the 12 Steps really do change some people’s lives. When you break free of the chaotic, harmful life of addiction, you’ll need something to grab onto, even if just to get your bearings. Like a flashlight in an unfamiliar room, the 12 Steps can help guide you through early recovery. But the 12 Steps can do just as much in long-term recovery as they do for people just starting out in sobriety.

An End to Isolation

The life of an addict is not a glamorous one. Stumbling around in a drug-induced haze, pushing further and further away from the clear light of normal society. Addiction changes brain chemistry and causes the addict to cast aside all other priorities – including the feelings of others – in favor of his drug or drink of choice. Trust falls from the addict as if he’s wearing some protective barrier to warm, human emotion and connection. The high is the only purpose in this world. Isolation and addiction go hand-in-hand.

Once an addict gets clean, that isolation doesn’t just fade automatically. Connection needs to be worked for. While it may take some time to rebuild relationships with people outside of recovery (the 12 Steps can help with that too), a 12-step meeting is filled with other recovering addicts who all understand what it’s like to come from that bleak, lonely world of addiction. Connection comes easy here. Merely walking into a 12-step meeting will create the opportunity for people to come talk to you. Hearing others’ stories and (eventually) sharing your own will inherently draw a connection between you and the other people in the meeting as the foundations of fellowship are built.

The 12 Steps themselves also break through isolation. You can’t work the steps alone, primarily because you don’t know how, but also because it’s virtually impossible to handle that much of a reality-check without the support of others. A sponsor will typically help you through the steps. Not everyone chooses to enlist the help and support of a sponsor, but it is the most used road. Your sponsor will hold you accountable while also building you up through support and guidance.

The 12 Steps Themselves

The 12 Steps:

(as defined in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous)

As I mentioned earlier, the 12 Steps themselves will contribute to ending the isolation that was built in addiction. The fifth step, for example, asks that the recovering alcoholic actually admits their wrongs to another person (typically your sponsor). But each of the steps is also important for creating the space to alter our ways of thinking and our behavioral habits for the better.

Let’s look at some examples…

12 Steps

Step 1:

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

The first step in the AA 12 Step program is to admit your powerlessness and to acknowledge that life in addiction was not livable. This is a crucial step in early recovery because you can’t accept that your life will get better if you don’t first admit that your life in addiction was a problem (to put it lightly).

Step 1 is also an important step to carry with you through long-term recovery. Some people boast the whole “Once an addict, always an addict!” thing. But rather than being pigeon-holed into such a seemingly restrictive box, you can just remember your powerlessness over alcohol (or drugs). It’s totally fine to subscribe to the “Once and addict, always an addict!” mantra. But if you’re not one for labels, it helps to remember your first step and how much better your life is when you’re clean and sober. Doing so is a major key to preventing relapse.

12 Steps

Step 4:

Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

The fourth step is difficult. It’s not easy for anyone to look within themselves and truly realize their faults. This is especially hard for a recovering addict to do because addicts tend to jump into the role of the victim. The fourth in the 12 Steps isn’t meant for you to accuse yourself of doing bad things so that you can beat yourself up over it. It’s created to help an addict truly understand himself, including his mindset and behaviors. This is a crucial step in early recovery because you can’t go on to better your life, make amends, rebuild relationships, and thrive in recovery if you don’t first understand yourself, which, yes, includes your faults.

This is another step that continues to be important in long-term recovery. Humans are not static beings. We change and we grow. It’s important to keep a running moral inventory as we change. Doing so is really the only way to keep a solid understanding of ourselves. It will help us do things like stay connected to our core values, realize our triggers, understand what causes us pain, and resolve resentments. Step 10 actually explicitly asks that we continue to take a personal inventory of ourselves, but obviously, we can’t do so if we haven’t first worked that initial moral inventory.

12 Steps

Step 11:

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.

These steps repeat God as the higher power, but you don’t necessarily need to pick God (or even believe in God) to work the steps. You just need to accept the existence of a higher power… “God as we understood him” is an individual and completely personal thing. So, for those people who do believe in God, Step 11 enhances that. But for those who choose something else as their higher power (karma, science, humanity, etc.), Step 11 is still incredibly important. Prayer and meditation will help a recovering addict learn to quiet their minds enough to listen to themselves, others, and the world in general. Meditation is also accompanied by things like patience and understanding.

The second half of Step 11 is very important to keep with you throughout your entire recovery. If you don’t believe in God and his will, it’s important to at least accept that there are other wills beside your own in the world. Let’s say you believe in the goodness of humanity as your higher power. Working your eleventh step means that you keep a constant desire to understand the will of goodness and humanity and that you contribute to carrying out that will. In simpler terms, you choose to believe that people are good and you contribute to that goodness by bettering yourself. Regardless of what you believe in, this step is crucial for living happy and healthy in recovery.

12 Steps

A Better Life with a Side of Clarity

Many people are quick to write off the 12 Steps as cult-ish or restrictive. But the truth is the principles behind the steps are important to living a better and healthier life. I wouldn’t recommend going through the steps if you don’t believe in them. But understanding the significance behind them can help anyone in recovery, regardless of their feelings towards AA and other 12 Step programs. I mean, who doesn’t want a clearer, quieter mind, a better understanding of themselves, and the belief that life can be so much better than it was in addiction?

The 12 Steps can help a person stay strong and happy in recovery once he is sober. But they can’t help if you’re still in the deep darkness of addiction. New Start can help bring you out. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, please don’t hesitate to reach out. You can call our addiction staff at 855-737-7363 or talk to us on our live chat.