I wouldn’t be sober if it wasn’t for _____. For thousands of people, that blank would immediately be filled with the 12 Steps.

While the 12 Steps aren’t for everyone, fellowship groups like AA and NA have helped a very sizable group of recovering addicts. The success that people find with the support of 12 Step groups can cause them to put an overwhelming amount of devotion into this recovery approach while turning a blind eye to other methods. Just as it’s important to find balance in everyday life, it’s important to balance your recovery. In other words, it’s important to find healthy ways to supplement the 12 Steps.

supplement the 12 steps

About the 12 Steps

At a base level, the 12 Steps provide the structure that was so severely lacking in addiction. They take a recovering addict through pivotal experiences, from admitting a problem to taking a moral inventory of oneself and making amends to those they’ve hurt in their addiction.

Alcoholics Anonymous praises the steps as a way of life. But that’s not to say they need to be the only way of life. Finding healthy, constructive ways to supplement the 12 Steps can only benefit your recovery.

Note: 12 Step groups offer excellent tools and support for recovering addicts, but they’re not a replacement for treatment. We recommend that a person first go through detox, residential, and/or outpatient treatment.

4 Healthy Ways to Supplement the 12 Steps:

1. Practice Mindfulness

mindfulnessMindfulness is a form of meditation that focuses on being intensely aware of what you’re feeling in the moment without any judgement. It’s feeling without interpreting.

If you’ve never actively practiced mindfulness before, it can sound vague and lackluster. The benefits of mindfulness, however, are definitely worthy of attention. Mindfulness and other forms of meditation have been studied in many clinical trials. The evidence supports the effectiveness of meditation for a variety of serious conditions that many recovering addicts realistically experience, including stress, anxiety, depression, and pain.

How Does Mindfulness Supplement the 12 Steps?

Step 4 focuses on taking a “searching and fearless moral inventory” of oneself. This involves searching out what drives our actions as well as our reactions — how and why we act the way we do. Recovery isn’t solely about achieving sobriety. The heavy lifting of recovery occurs when addressing the underlying drivers of addiction.

Practicing mindfulness offers reprieve from interpreting and judging our reactions. For those going through recovery with the 12 Steps, it’s incredibly important to take that inventory of ourselves. But it’s also critical to set aside time to breathe and exist in the now and just let ourselves feel.

  • How to Practice Mindfulness:

    There are many ways to practice mindfulness, from simple breathing exercises to more structured methods like body scan meditation.

    Body Scan Meditation:

    Lie flat on your back, legs extended, arms at your sides, and palms facing up. Starting from your toes and moving up to your head, focus slowly and deliberately on each part of your body one by one. Toes, feet, lower legs, upper legs, and so on. As you do this, be aware of any sensations or emotions associated with each part of your body.

2. Journaling

journalingPutting it lightly, thinking is skewed in addiction. Addicts have not only learned to lie to themselves and others, they’ve also learned to live in an unparalleled numbness. As a person recovers, removing drugs and alcohol also removes that fog of numbness like a manhole cover over a flooding sewer of pain and trauma.

Again, putting it lightly, a recovering addict needs a way to navigate through the chaos. Enter: journaling. Documenting feelings, thoughts, observations, and goals helps a recovering addict create structure, know themself, and gain valuable insight into the underlying drivers of their addiction.

How Does Journaling Supplement the 12 Steps?

Many of the 12 Steps include listing and taking inventory, which are methods of journaling. However, step work is constructive and follows a clear progression. Journaling on your own specifically for yourself is a great way to supplement the 12 Steps by branching out from conformity.

  • Tips for Successful Journaling:

    • Keep your journal in plain sight so that it’s easy and inherent to grab and write.
    • Try a stream of consciousness style of writing. Journaling doesn’t have to subscribe to trendy, flowery methods. You’ll reap more benefits by writing in a way that feels natural to you.
    • Just write. If you’re stuck or distracted, just jot down whatever comes to mind. More substantive thoughts will follow naturally.

3. Social Activities

social activitiesIsolation is alive and well in addiction. The addict’s main priority is getting that next hit (or drink), so all other priorities fall to the wayside. This includes family responsibilities, personal relationships, and work obligations. That alone will cause strife between the addict and their friends, family, and colleagues. Additionally, addicts will typically engage in very destructive behaviors to achieve that high, hurting their loved ones in the process.

In recovery, isolation won’t resolve automatically. Connection and fellowship need to be worked for. Social activities are prime ways to build connection with others. Not only are they fun, engaging activities that you’ll actually want to participate in, but they also help build tools that support recovery. For example, participating in social activities can help you build communication skills, learn to be honest with others, and practice seeking support and encouragement from your peers.

How Do Social Activities Supplement the 12 Steps?

One of the key features that 12 Step groups offer is fellowship. Alcoholics Anonymous is a support group. Attending meetings and developing relationships with fellow members helps put an end to the isolation that metastasized in addiction.

By all means, keep attending those AA meetings. But, to supplement the 12 Steps, attending sober social events that aren’t necessarily tied to AA can help keep your mind open and give you a wider view of what a clean and sober life can offer.

  • Social Activities at New Start:

    At New Start, we incorporate a variety of social recreational activities into our residential program to promote fellowship as well as mental and physical health. Some of our clients’ favorite activities include hiking, go-karting, and beach visits.

4. Exercise

exerciseRecovery does engage a lot of therapy, meetings, counseling, and step work. But getting up and exercising is advantageous to a clean and sober life. Exercise obviously improves strength and physical health. It’s also proven to improve mood and reduce stress. In addition, exercise releases the same “feel good” brain chemicals that addictive substances do. Unlike the effects of those illicit drugs, this is a safe and healthy “high.”

How Does Exercise Supplement the 12 Steps?

Yes, the 12 Steps are formative and constructive. But they take a lot of hard work, especially the first time through. Whether you’re admitting powerlessness, taking a moral inventory, or making amends to the people you’ve hurt, the work can be draining and emotionally exhausting.

Taking time to exercise can give you an emotional break to focus on your body and physical health. It’ll also help boost your overall mood so that you can go into that step work with a more positive mindset.

  • Alternative Ways to Exercise:

    Going to the gym is the most tried and true mode of exercise for a lot of people. But that’s not the case for everyone. Some great alternatives include:

Go to meetings, speak in front of your peers, work those steps, and find connection. The 12 Steps and any healthy acts that supplement the 12 Steps can be infinitely beneficial to recovery. But they’re not a replacement for evidence-backed treatment.

New Start offers both inpatient and outpatient treatment so that you can thrive in these ventures. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, our addiction counselors are available 24/7 by phone to help: 855-737-7363