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Don’t Study The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous - Take Them

In early recovery it’s easy to fall into a false sense of security from thinking you are engaging in sobriety, by simply studying the 12 Step of AA. This is exactly what happened to me as a newcomer to AA. The newness of recovery combined with my desperation led me into a period of self-deception and false assumptions. It took way too long for me to discern the distinction between studying the 12 steps and taking them. 

If you’re in an area with a lot of 12 step meetings, it’s easy to find step study. Participation in one of these step studies is great but don’t be deluded into thinking that studying the steps equals taking the steps.

Looking from this perspective it won’t be difficult to grasp the distinction:  Studying the 12 Step is not the same as taking the 12 Steps.

AA Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.

You can read about Step 1 for months or years without taking it to heart. Yet in a moment of awareness and insight you could experience Step 1 in a way that causes you to transcend and escape the dreaded circumstances of your past in just a moment of clarity.

Admitting powerlessness takes-on a new dimension and becomes personal when we write out a list of the events providing evidence of our powerlessness. Putting the details of our drinking career down on paper brings clarity. How often did our drinking cause difficulties? How often did we drink more than we intended to? How often have we sworn-off with all the intensity we could muster only to find a plausible excuse to drink again? How often did we give ourselves a pass or blames others for our circumstances?

AA Step 2: Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

The thinking that gets you into recovery is not the same thinking that’s needed to reach a state of high-quality sobriety. If we’re stuck on the Higher Power thing we may need to redefine it.  Group of Drunks, Good Orderly Direction or Creator of the Universe, we need to define some power greater than ourselves. Even believing that somebody else believes is a leap in the right direction. Journaling on this topic while searching your soul will result in a ray of light, even if only a small one. 

If you’re feeling stuck on the higher power thing,  it’s helpful to notice how long the same thoughts on this topic have been circulating in your mind and recognize that without a significant shift it’s likely to continue with the same disappointing results.

Listen in a meeting for someone who shares from a place that you deem to be more spiritually aware or inspired than what you are experiencing.  You can step out of your comfort zone and strike up a conversation by asking them how they found their spiritual footing. Keep asking until you connect with the insight that moves you forward in your spiritual growth.

AA Step 3: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

Step 3 may be easier that you imagine. Especially if we examine the Third Step Prayer, which deserves close attention because of the beauty and wisdom that it holds. If you have never dissected it, you may want to look again through new lenses. Using a Higher Power of your own understanding the Third Step Prayer becomes a path to surrendering combined with an acknowledgement of the unselfish motives of recovery.

The Third Step Prayer:  God, I offer myself to Thee — to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life.

AA Step 4: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

The results from studying this step for weeks are pale in comparison to even one hour spent completing a simplified Step 4 worksheet or checklist. The act of writing out one completed four column inventory could be the catalyst of a spiritual awakening ranking high on the Richter scale of spiritual insights and epiphanies. Dwarfing the results of endless hours of studying Step 4. 

AA Step 5: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

Waiting until every line of your 4th Step is complete before starting your 5th Step is a huge mistake and an unnecessary delay. It’s far better to get started with one resentment or one event from your past that needs healing. The kind of insight and epiphanies that make a difference for the newly sober rise up through the sharing process. These actions can advance your spiritual development way beyond what you can expect to get from weeks of studying.

AA Step 6: Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

After Step 5 where we have owned some of our character defects, by o we pause and consciously examine our readiness to have these defects of character removed by our Higher Power. If this is done in our heart of hearts it can bring to light where the sticking points are, and certainly has a favorable chance of being completely sensational.

AA Step 7: Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

If you have been fortunate enough to sense a heartfelt desire to be free of the shortcomings that have troubled your life, you could use the 7th Step Prayer as your act of humility to propel your movement forward. 

7th Step Prayer:

My Creator, I am now willing that You should have all of me, good and bad.
I pray that You now remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to You and my fellows. Grant me strength, as I go out from here, to do Your bidding. Amen

AA Step 8: Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.

We want to continue our momentum by getting out the pen and paper and writing out this list.  Our progress will be enhanced if we just stick to Step 8 as it is written, not forecasting into the future about the 9th Step work to follow, just begin by making the list… then ask for the willingness and the wisdom to make amends. 

AA Step 9: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

We begin the Step 9 work by first asking our sponsor for guidance. This part cannot be overemphasized. When we are pioneering new territories in our recovery process a quick check-in with our sponsor will likely pay huge dividends. Then without hesitation we launch out, not waiting until we’ve done everything we can think of to delay and avoid. It’s quite the opposite. We used our most creative talents to find a way to get started and to get the job done.

AA Step 10: Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.

Step 10 falls into that category of things which are easy to do and easy not to do.

There is no way to predict the value of this process without doing it.

With practice you will experience wisdom and guidance appearing on the page that you did not expect and could not predict When we take-on the 10th step, the teachable moments of the day appear in a new light. It’s nothing short of amazing what comes through as we engage in this simple process. 

A few minutes of practice here is worth more than a month of studying Step 10.

AA Step 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.

The 11th Step does not reveal her gifts without practice. It won’t matter how little time you may have spent in prayer and or meditation, your investment of time in stillness will have a rich pay-off. Thinking about meditation won’t produce much, but even a few minutes in stillness observing your inner landscape will initiate a trend that you can feed and nurture for great benefit. 

The willingness to contemplate a prayerful thought can generate new neural pathways that blossom into previously unimagined realms of spiritual growth, all just waiting on a welcoming heart to begin.   

AA 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.

Step 12 is simply our travel insurance. It’s how we utilize the effectiveness of the program and ensure our success in sobriety. When in doubting our ability to help others we just need to remember that helping others in recovery isn’t an optional activity. Helping others is the essence of it all. Our founders Bill W. and Dr. Bob discovered the way out of a hopeless condition of mind and body. Nothing is as effective in ensuring long term success in sobriety as helping another Alcoholic.

“Practical experience shows that nothing will so much ensure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics. It works when other activities fail.” AA Chapter 7 p.89

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