In 2005, I met a dear friend who was a recovering drug addict. He had been sober for 9 years, and was whole heartedly dedicated to working the program (the Alcoholics Anonymous 12 step program). It was through this friend that I learned what the 12 steps were, and it hit me that these steps could really be applied to most people’s lives in some way. You don’t have to have a severe addiction to have behavior that you would like to change. It could be as simple as wanting to stop feeling anxious or jealous, or wanting to change an old pattern of behavior that doesn’t serve you anymore. We all have things we would like to work on or change, but it doesn’t happen without the willingness to do the work. It can be scary, but I truly believe that we all have the power to change and to be free of anything that might be holding us back in life.
The 12 Steps- As written in the original Alcoholics Anonymous book in 1939
1) We admitted we were powerless over our addiction – that our lives had become unmanageable- This first step is really just acknowledging what that thing is that you want to change, and admitting that what ever you have been trying to do to “fix” it yourself, is not working. It’s all about surrendering.
2) Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity- This is about getting spiritual. Now this doesn’t have to mean religious. It is just about believing in a higher power: the universe, God, energy. That there is something undefinable, that is bigger than all of us, that has the power to help us if we allow it to.
3) Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God- Then you must make a decision to surrender yourself over to this higher power, what ever that is for you. You are saying “I will let go of trying to control everything and let that greater power show me the way.” This can be very liberating. It is taking some of the responsibility off of you and giving it to “God”. Sometimes if we just learn to get out of the way, miracles happen. But you can’t just say “oh, God will take care of it if I ask, pray, wish..”. You must do all of the other work to support the change.
4) Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves- Step 4 is all about getting really honest with yourself. Guilt of past behavior can be crippling. Acknowledging these things frees you of them. Once you shine light on it, you take away its power over you. We all make mistakes, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. You wouldn’t be who you are without them!
5) Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs- Saying these wrong doings out loud, however small they might be, can really release them. I personally believe that this should be done with a therapist, life coach or other trusted person who will be able to listen without judgment.
6) Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character- You must truly be ready to be set free from what ever it is. Sometimes you say you want to change, or think you want to change, but there is something inside of you that is afraid to change. Sometimes, you are so used to being a certain way that it has literally become part of your identity. It can be scary to let go, and not know who you will be, but it will be so worth it! You will find your authentic self by letting these old ways go that do not serve you anymore.
7) Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings- Then, once you feel like you have done the above steps, you are ready to ask God, the universe, your higher power, to relieve you of what ever it is.
8) Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all- This is another exercise in letting go of guilt, anger, or any other old feelings that might be contributing to the behavior that you want to change. You might not realize that there are things you are holding on to that are really be holding you back! You can’t change the past, but you can choose to let go of unhealthy feelings around things you have done and heal those wounds.
9) Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others- If you have the opportunity, admit and apologise for these things. It will be scary and will bring up a lot of old feelings, but will be so healing!! Of course, this will only make sense in certain situations.
10) Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted
it- In order to support the changes you are trying to make, you must learn to acknowledge the behavior and adjust it in the moment. You might start be seeing it later the same day, “oh, I did that thing again this morning. Hmmm, next time I should try to do “blank” instead.” Then you’ll start to notice as you are doing it, next you will be able to stop yourself from acting on the impulse to do it, and eventually the impulse with disappear completely or at least diminish.
11) Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out – What this really means is to learn to quiet your mind and focus on that higher power and your connection to it. If you are praying, instead of praying for something specific, ask your higher power to show you what it’s will is for you and for the power to carry out that will. This in itself is surrendering. You are saying that I don’t have control over things, nor do I know what is best or right, so I hand this over to you (God, higher power, etc) to show me the way. Trust that there is a bigger plan for you than you are able to see.
12) Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs- Lastly, once you have mastered these steps, and really integrated them into the life you want, you start to share your knowledge and support others in doing the same. It’s being of service, which I believe is necessary for everyone! Nothing gives your life more purpose and a sense of fulfillment than being of service to others in some way.
To me, the 12 steps are really about being self-reflective, getting honest with your self, becoming clear on what you want, and surrendering. You must become aware of your behavior and how it affects your health/wellbeing and everyone around you. It does not happen over night, it is a process, but once you start, you will open yourself up to infinite happiness, change and the most fulfilling life. So take a stab at it! The key is to do one step at a time and not to move on until you have mastered that step. Also, take from this what resonates with you and leave what doesn’t! It is just a guide, trust your gut on what is best for you. Good luck!
*Dedicated to AMG for sharing his friendship and wisdom with me.