Why The 12-Step Recovery Method Still Matters, Today

The twelve step program of recovery originated in the publishing of the first edition Alcoholics Anonymous in 1939. Bill Wilson, a long-suffering alcoholic, precisely detailed in this book the steps required for others to recover from this “seemingly hopeless state of mind and body” (Alcoholics Anonymous pg xiii) that characterizes drug and alcohol abuse and addiction:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  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 effectiveness of these steps, as evidenced by the millions of AA members who have recovered, has led to their adaption in treating other addictions, such as narcotics, gambling, sex and overeating. The only change is in the wording of the first and twelfth steps, replacing the words “alcohol” and “alcoholics” with the appropriate substance or behavior. Serenity Springs Recovery Center focuses heavily on the program of recovery as described in Alcoholics Anonymous, taking clients through the steps thoroughly and effectively.  

But what’s the purpose of the twelve steps? How do these instructions pertain to quitting drugs and alcohol?

The process begins with recognizing the absence of control over drugs and alcohol. At Serenity Springs, clients are taught the vicious cycle of addiction early on, as detailed in The Doctor’s Opinion of Alcoholics Anonymous. This results in the ability to identify personally with the phases of active addiction and establishing hope that the program and the remaining steps have something to offer them. By exercising honest self-appraisal, the addict can come to terms with their powerlessness and internal unmanageability, thereby laying down the foundation that successful and lasting recovery may be built upon.

With the powerlessness acknowledged and the insanity of addiction understood, the belief that a Higher Power can provide strength may be accepted with open-mindedness and willingness. AA is not a religious program, but rather a spiritual and self-empowering one, urging alcoholics to believe in a God of their own conception. The addict, seeing how self-reliance has failed them, allows for this Higher Power to guide their thoughts and actions, stepping outside of themselves and putting faith in this design for better living.

Having made this decision, the following steps call for taking inventory of past wrongdoings, from the patterns of which a list of character defects may be gathered and appreciated. With faith in a Higher Power by now firmly established, the client, acting in accordance with this direction and guidance, works toward the removal of these shortcomings. In addition, restitution for harms caused in the past are made directly to those affected and future behavior to them and others is amended to be in agreement with their third step decision. At this point, the best promises of the program are realized, allowing a new, unimaginable freedom and purpose to be felt.  

After working the first nine steps, the remaining steps are often referred to as “growth steps” because they allow for the preservation and enlargement of the individual’s spiritual condition. By keeping account of when fear, dishonesty, resentment and selfishness crop up and promptly dealing with it, the alcoholic may “grow in understanding and effectiveness” (pg 84). By doing this, as well as practicing prayer and meditation, being of service to others and carrying the spirit of the program everywhere in everything we do, life takes on new meaning and purpose.

To the newcomer, these steps may come off as intimidating or even impossible. Why not just detox and stay away from drugs and alcohol? By merely removing substances from an alcoholic or addict, the best that can be achieved is a state of being “dry” as opposed to being sober; the insanity is still in effect and the addict or alcoholic is not any more in touch with reality. Sobriety promises the return of sanity and the ability to know peace. It is a gift that cannot be equaled with any other methods.

What the steps provide is a sense of connection with one’s self, others and a Higher Power. Without this connection, lives are instead run by shame and destructive behaviors. By embarking on this journey of recovery, a feeling of belonging is experienced that was previously missing. Through the fellowship of AA, as well as the tradition of sponsorship, we are able to walk the same path together, offering and receiving indispensable support and encouragement. After all, as Bill Wilson wrote and observed, “Nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics” (pg 89).

The twelve steps provide the only suitable replacement for alcoholism and addiction. Through this process of self-discovery and recovery, we tap into an infinite, spiritual resource, and in the process, recreate ourselves to be the people we were meant to be: happy, joyous and free.

To see precisely how the twelve steps can work miracles in the life of a recovering addict, check out our previous blog post discussing the journey of Joey Mazzo, a Serenity Springs alumni.

Serenity Springs believes in this solution and this is the reason why it is central in our curriculum of recovery. If you or a loved one need the help that we can provide, please contact us immediately to discuss residential treatment.

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