The 12 Step Programme is a well known set of instructive principles that shows a clear path for addicts to overcome their addiction and address the issues caused by it. The 12 Step method can be used for a range of addictions from heavy substance-abuse, sex addictions to smaller behavioural tendencies which is why it’s so versatile and widely used.
First published in 1939, these 12 steps have helped countless people find the necessary awareness, support and guidance to truly break free of the chains of addiction. With communities offering support groups based on this programme all over the world, it can be incredibly effective in helping you to change your life into one of positivity and healthier habits. Here’s a summary of the 12 steps which I hope will give you an insight into the overall path to recovery:
1. Admit to yourself that you have lost control
In truth, addiction means that we lose the power of conscious decision and choice to a certain extent when it comes to our dysfunctional behaviour. Whether it is eating junk food or drinking alcohol excessively, we no longer have total control over our actions and can be easily overcome by our urges.
If we sincerely accept that we are powerless over our addiction, it is the first and most important step to becoming willing to accept positive change in our lives. Realising that our life has become unmanageable when it comes to addiction and shattering the delusion that we have control over our powerful urges is crucial to recovery.
2. Have hope and faith in a higher power
Regardless of your religious and spiritual beliefs, this step rallies us all together in the acceptance that there is a higher power which has the ability to restore our lives. The focus is not on what this power is, but what it can do for us.
After having admitted to ourselves in Step 1 that there is in fact a big problem which we are powerless against, it is equally important to come to the realisation that we can recover and to have hope in whatever higher power we choose to believe in which can help us to do so.
3. Offer yourself to this higher power as you understand it
Having admitted to yourself that you are powerless and then accepted that there is a higher power that can help you. It is time to devote yourself to this higher power and trust that it can lead and aid you in the path of recovery.
The commitment made in this step is something that will most likely need to be done repeatedly, perhaps every single day. However, it is important to realise that we are not simply handing over responsibility of all of our actions to this higher power, allowing us to indulge further without a sense of responsibility or guilt. We are simply accepting that this higher power will do a better job of guiding our actions and caring for us than we ourselves have managed to do thus far.
4. Make a personal inventory
This is the first practical step in the programme whereby you need to physically or electronically write down and start to rid the burdens and traps which have affected us throughout our lives. The purpose of this is to free yourself of age-old negative thought patterns which act as some kind of toxic monster in your head, constantly reminding you of your resentments, mistakes and victim stories.
Take the time to honestly write down your stories, harmful memories from your childhood or even more recent ones, relationships with family, friends or others that affected you, things that you are dependent on, things that you are ashamed of or feel guilty about etc. Include the people who you have resentments for or people who you have affected through your actions, this will be addressed further in later steps.
This step can be one of the most profoundly freeing things you do in your road to becoming a better person. It allows you to spill out all of these thoughts onto paper which have been stuck to you like a leech for so long and begin your journey of breaking free from them.
5. Confess your mistakes to your higher power, yourself and another person
This could be one of the more challenging steps in this recovery programme. Admitting your wrongs to another person can be challenging but at the same time incredibly rewarding as it destroys your self-made image of yourself, your ego, the need to appear a certain way. In order to do this, it’s vitally important that you are 100% honest with yourself in Step 4. Don’t leave out certain stories as you think they are too bad to talk about.
It is also important that the person you confess your wrongs to is appropriate. It’s not a good idea to go to your spouse or a close family member to spill all of your darkest secrets. This person should be detached from your life situation and be compassionate and understanding rather than condemning your actions. This could be a therapist or pastoral counsellor, a kind of mentor that you feel comfortable sharing with and who can promise you confidentiality so you can trust them should you have the need of expressing any criminal stories.
6. Prepare to correct your personal defects
After having revealed to yourself the extent to which our lives is filled with problems and personal mistakes, we need to be willing and prepared to move forward in a spiritual direction of self-improvement without shaming or condemning ourselves for our actions.
This step involves being clearly aware of our personal defects which has led to our lives getting to this stage and asking ourselves “Am I willing to fix this personal defect?”. If your answer is no, reflect on why you feel that way and how this defect affects your life and makes it unmanageable. Similarly, if your answer is yes think about how it will improve your life in all of it’s various aspects.
7. Ask the higher power to remove your shortcomings
This step is comparable to step 3 in that it requires a sense of humility and pushing of the ego aside. The way you go about asking is entirely individual and based on your own perceptions and beliefs about your higher power. The word “prayer” is widely used as the form of communication we use to contact this higher power but you can ask in your own way provided that it comes from a place of humility and honesty that you genuinely want to work on your defects.
When going about this step, be clear in which shortcomings you want to work on and whether you are fully committed in changing what needs to be changed in order to overcome them. The humility comes from a place of powerlessness which was accepted in the first step of the programme and this is crucial to having positive and genuine changes in your life.
8. List the people affected by your actions and be willing to make amends
In step 4, you included in your personal inventory people who you have harmed. After having reflected honestly and sincerely on your past mistakes, this step is all about being willing to make amends and clear up all of the resentment, guilt and pain that has built up within us over the course of our life. Of course, this involves contacting people who you have harmed and being genuine with your apologies and the actions you take to make amends but all you need to do in this step is prepare and be willing to do so.
It may also be useful to make a list along with each person’s name of exactly what you did wrong, how it affected them and what you should have one instead. This will help you to be fully aware of your mistakes and properly consider whether you are willing to make amends or not.
9. Make direct amends to the people affected, unless it would make things worse
Step 9 is the time when you put into action your list from the previous step and fix your past mistakes. This needs to be approached with caution as there may be personal problems that you may be making amends for. Your apologies should be well thought out, your list from the previous step about exactly what you did wrong will help in this regard. Making amends is equally important as apologising. Apologising to someone that you never returned their money without actually paying off your debt is an empty apology and will not fully resolve the issue.
There may of course be circumstances where making amends is out of your capabilities but this required honesty on your behalf. Another thing to consider is the other person’s response. They may not be ready or willing to accept your apology or amends which should be accepted. We are not there to point out why we took our actions or to try and justify them in any way, shape or form. Lastly, it may not always be the best idea to re-open old wounds and step back into someone’s life trying to apologise and make amends, particularly if it would make the situation worse. As mentioned beforehand, this needs to be honestly judged and not used as an excuse to get out of amends that really should be made.
10. Continue to be aware of your actions and accept any mistakes you make
This step lays the groundwork for the way in which you live the rest of your life. It urges you to be fully aware of your behaviours and monitor your life with honesty and caution. If your personal defects do ever occur again and you make mistakes (more than likely, it doesn’t go away immediately), you can swiftly deal with them instead of allowing them to stay and fester in your life.
The emphasis in this step is really to be fully aware of your actions. This takes time to practise and perfect but you can think of it as a maintenance step. This will set the precedence for making sure that you continue to improve yourself as a person and prevent your character defects from taking over your life again.
11. Stay connected to your higher power and new perspective
This step will provide you with a way of strengthening your connection to your perceived higher power through acts such as prayer and meditation. It can act as your continual, daily compass and personal check to ensure that you remain on a healthy path where you can take care of yourself and find the happiness that you have been seeking in your life.
This step can be used at your own leisure to a certain extent. You do not have to pray or meditate in order to remain in control of your self and the inner consciousness which will guide you to a happier life but it can be a useful, daily reminder to stop yourself from falling into the same negative habits that have affected you for so long.
12. Share your awakening with others live selflessly
Having gone through the journey of recovery, you will find joy and a higher purpose in the act of aiding other people who are going through a similar struggle which you faced. Carry the new principles that you have learnt to other people and share the positive energy with those in most need of it.
As well as this, begin to incorporate these principles and perspectives into every aspect of your life. People who have gone through the 12 steps report feelings of freedom, lightheartedness and pure joy once reaching this stage. Understandably, once you break free from your addiction and begin to live life with a whole new set of positive principles, it may feel as if you have an entirely new beginning with which you can work on yourself.
This programme has changed countless lives throughout it’s history and it provides a new way of living for many people. In a certain sense, you can never actually complete this programme and be done with it. It gives a new set of principles and values that you can continually incorporate into your life. In many ways, the last step is the whole essence and basis for the program. A whole new way of living which will benefit you and others around you.
If you have any thoughts about addiction or this programme, please leave a comment down below! I’d love to discuss it with you.