Step 12: Carrying the Message
Step 12: “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”
The Big Book says, “Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics. It works when other activities fail. This is our twelfth suggestion: Carry this message to other alcoholics! You can help when no one else can.”
Rather than moralizing or lecturing an active alcoholic, AA suggests leading by sharing enough about your own drinking history for the other person to identify with it, which will in turn encourage him to talk about his own. “When he sees you know all about the drinking game, commence to describe yourself as an alcoholic. Tell him how baffled you were, how you finally learned you were sick. Give him an account of the struggles you made to stop. Show him the mental twist which leads to the first drink of a spree…. If he is alcoholic, he will understand you at once.” Then you can offer AA’s solution to the hopelessness he feels, because you were once equally hopeless but found a way out. (The 12th-Step approach of leading with one’s own experience to try to help others is the primary reason I’ve shared my history in this website. For more on this subject, click on Why I Give Up My Anonymity.)
Working with others isn’t charity work: “It is important for him to realize that your attempt to pass this [ie. AA’s solution] on to him plays a vital part in your own recovery. Actually, he may be helping you more than you are helping him.”
That’s certainly been my experience. I was never so able to see the insanity and irrationality of my past drinking career as when I saw it in another who was still drinking. Every time I saw an active alcoholic’s denial, it reminded me of my own. And there was no better example that picking up a first drink would return me to the hopelessness of alcoholic insanity than seeing that same hopelessness in another’s eyes.
AA counsels not to be discouraged if someone who is still drinking or using rejects your help. You may plant seeds of sobriety that will sprout later, and there are plenty of other active alcoholics to work with.