12 Step Recovery: The Elevator is Broken, Please Use the Steps
For many people, the words “12 Step Recovery” might be familiar, but their knowledge about it could be scant. In 1935, Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith founded Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), based on spiritual principles. They were both hard-core alcoholics suffering huge pain and consequences. Many of us believe that the blueprint of AA was divinely inspired, and working the 12 Steps has provided millions of alcoholics a chance of living a life in recovery.
Some of the fundamentals: AA, and the other self-help groups that are spinoffs, is really anonymous. What that means is that a member is known by first name only, there are no commercials, i.e., outside enterprises. There is no formal organization; instead, “our leaders are but trusted servants, they do not govern.”
At age 11, I was profoundly affected by the teleplay “Days of Wine and Roses” which tells the story of a down-and-out alcoholic and his finding recovery in AA. At that time I called myself a “foodaholic” and wished there was a place like that for me. Eighteen years later I learned that such a place existed, and I tiptoed my way in and eventually became very active. 12 step recovery was a major turning point in my life.
So what, you may be thinking, are these 12 Steps all about? Here is a brief glimpse into each one, including a bit about my own personal experience:
Step 1: Admitted powerlessness over alcohol (food, sex, whatever the drug of choice). I knew that my eating was out-of-control: once I started eating, in the privacy of my own home, I couldn’t stop until the intensity of the stomach pains forced me to curl up in a fetal position. I felt powerless to stop this behavior!
Step 2: Came to believe in a Higher Power (HP) that could restore your sanity. I had a lot of trouble with this one and it took me over 2 years in program to believe that any kind of loving God/Universe would bother restoring my sanity around food.
Step 3: Made a decision to turn your will and life over to that Higher Power. Again, this was problematic for me: my God was a punishing God and I couldn’t take this step until I was able to transform my concept of God into one of unconditional love.
Step 4: Take a personal inventory. This was a huge step for me—doing introspection and seeing what was right and what was wrong in my behaviors.
Step 5: Tell someone about what you wrote in Step 4. Oh, horrors….be honest with someone and share the ugly parts of myself? What a big challenge. I did it and it was a transformative experience.
Step 6: You are ready to have your Higher Power remove your defects of character. At some point I started chafing when I heard the words “defects of character.” I prefer to think of these as “characteristics that have outlived their usefulness.” I realized that many of my flaws were no longer useful to me and I was ready to have them removed.
Step 7: Asked your HP to remove these shortcomings. This action was much easier for me: all I had to do was ask, with humility, to have the flaws (I wrote about in step four) taken away.
Step 8: Make a list of everyone you’ve harmed and become willing to make amends to them. I made my list without much difficulty, but it took lots of prayer and deep breathing for me to become willing to make amends to people I had negatively impacted for 20 years or so.
Step 9: Make the amends. This was tough for me – I wanted to keep up the appearance of always doing right and looking good. Not only did I survive this step, there was tremendous spiritual growth because I did it! Now the promises started to come true for me (“you will know a new freedom and a new happiness….you will know peace…no matter how far down the scale you have gone, you will see how your experience can benefit others…self-seeking will slip away…”).
Step 10: Continue to take personal inventory and promptly admit when you are wrong. Steps 10-12 are the maintenance steps and I continue doing them every day. It keeps me current on my amends!
Step 11: Improve your conscious contact with your Higher Power. Again, this is something I do all the time through prayer and meditation and connecting in with my HP many times throughout the day. Because of working the steps, I now can say that my most important relationship is with the God of my understanding.
Step 12: Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of completing these steps, you are now instructed to carry this message to others who suffer. I was eager to carry the message and became very active—leading at meetings, volunteering within the fellowship, starting new meetings—sharing my experience, strength and hope.
Many people in recovery say that their 12 Step program saved their life. I believe it gave me a new life. No longer did I have to act “calm, cool, and collected;” no longer did I have to gorge to fill the inner emptiness; no longer did I feel so alone and disconnected from others; no longer did I have a fear of God. Now, as I continue to trudge the road of happy destiny, I can admit my faults to myself and others; I allow myself to feel my feelings; I know I am a woman of worth; I have a glorious relationship with my HP. Because of working the steps, I believe I have emotional maturity. Because of working the steps, I know that you and I are connected, that all is one. And, because of working the steps, I not only believe I have a purpose on this earth, but I am living my purpose.
Working the 12 Steps is not for sissies. It takes courage to admit our wrongdoings, and our imperfections. Don’t have a problem with drugs, booze, food, sex, gambling, or whatever? If you have a family member with any of these issues, you can attend Al-Anon and the focus will be on you. In my opinion, it would behoove every person alive to work these 12 steps — there is no faster way to spiritually grow, to emotionally mature, and to become the best YOU that you can be.
There are many, many anonymous groups out there: Gamblers Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Adult Children of Alcoholics, to name a few. Instead of feeling upset that I had a food addiction, I am grateful–it brought me the 12 Steps which started me on a personal growth path.
I discuss many of my experiences in working the 12 Steps in my book, STOP EATING YOUR HEART OUT: The 21-Day Program to Free Yourself from Emotional Eating. If you have any questions, I am happy to answer them.
Image from http://www.oamaui.org/12steps.htm