What Are the 12 Steps and What’s Their Purpose?
The 12 Steps of 12-Step programs provide tools for getting and staying sober. Admitting one’s addiction is Step 1. The rest of the steps provide tools of sobriety. Addicts generally spend years (and years and years) regarding drugs as the solution to their problems. Recognizing that this solution has turned into one’s biggest, deadliest problem requires a wholesale shift in attitude. Learning to live sober is infinitely harder. That’s what the Steps are designed teach.
The 12-Step program is a mechanism to stay sober, to keep relapse triggers at bay instead of turning to chemicals to cope with negative emotions.
Some of the Steps are expressly concerned with the spirituality at the heart of the program: Step 2 and Step 3 call for a spiritual solution to addiction: that God (or the individual’s concept of a “Higher Power” — a source of strength one didn’t think one had that can be relied on for care and comfort) can restore addicts to sanity if they make a decision to turn their lives over to Him. In Steps Steps 6 & 7 members of the program ask their Higher Power to remove their character defects. Steps 10 and 11 call for prayer and meditation to deepen on’e conscious contact with one’s Higher Power (Many people have problems with this concept. I sure did. For more on this topic, click on What About “the God Thing?” and Doubt a Spiritual Solution Works?)
Other steps, though grounded in spirituality, don’t specifically refer to God or a Higher Power: The program prescribes sharing a rigorous, ruthless, moral inventory (Step 4) and an informal confessional (Step 5). It commands that responsibility be taken and amends be made (Steps 8 and 9) to short-circuit jumping from regret, anger, guilt and shame to seeking relief in a first drink or drug. The program prescribes continuing daily ethical inventories and action to atone for transgressions, so resentments can’t build up and fester. It provides a constructive way to deal with the “fuck you” impulse to people, places and things which can lead to using. Finally, Step 12 calls for helping others, ”carrying the message” to alcoholics and addicts who still suffer.
All these tools teach you how to distinguish rational impulses from the irrational belief that drugs are the solution so as to stop yourself from acting on the irrational ones by picking up a drink or drug.
The optimal way to learn about the 12-Steps is by attending meetings regularly, reading recovery literature, and working through the Steps with a sponsor.
Ultimately, the 12-Steps are more than just a way to stay sober. They’re a blueprint for living life as a whole human being. They consist of universal spiritual principles: tell the truth; treat others as you’d want to be treated; monitor your inevitable failures, apologize for them and make things right if you can do so without hurting others. In other words, the Steps provide tools for living a full, satisfying, meaningful life.
For the next article in this series click on What About “the God thing?”
For more detail, click on The 12 Steps.
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