How to work the 12 steps of Alcoholic Anonymous
You will not look for a solution unless you admit to yourself that you have a problem. If you still feel that you are in control of your drinking and that you can quit any time, it’s difficult to stop because you can make plenty of excuses to drink again. So, the first thing recovering alcoholics do is to recognize their powerlessness over alcohol use so they can accept help.
Alcoholism has physical and mental components. An alcoholic craves for alcohol because his (or her) physical body reacts (withdrawal symptoms) in the absence of alcohol. But, the mental craving is deeper than the physical desire for a drink. The brain triggers withdrawal symptoms because it gets so used to the presence of alcohol that it becomes the “new normal”. There’s psychological craving too. Alcoholics tend to get comfort from the use of alcohol and its absence causes anxiety, depression and other negative emotions.
While many people with drinking problems know that they need to stop drinking many of them are not willing to start kicking the habit. The most practical way to be free from addiction is to take the first step and that is to accept that you are not really willing to stop and it and think about what will happen if you don’t. Make a list of the things that matter in your life right now, and the things that stop you from abstaining from alcohol. The moment you recognize the things you lost to alcohol you may feel a desire to quit and that’s what you need to start the process.
Since you feel that you have lost control over your alcohol consumption, you also need someone or something more powerful than you, to stop it so you can return to normal.
You reach Step Two when you go deep into your spirituality. You are gradually realizing the fact that someone or something more powerful than you is working in your life. Some who come to a 12 steps program already believe that a Higher Power exists while others do not.
You can increase your faith in a Higher Power by reciting the serenity prayer first thing in the morning or every time you feel stressed or overwhelmed. When you feel you need help in a situation you can stay still and ask your higher power to help you and believe that the help will come. If there are things in your life that you cannot change, pray that you will be able to accept them whatever the results will be.
You can also try appreciating small miracles in life like friends who love you, wonderful sunsets and so on. You can also list the things that are too good to exist without someone in control of them, like how beautiful and perfect the universe looks like or how you were able to surpass a very difficult situation.
Step Three is the phase where you have finally decided to trust God or your Higher Power with your recovery. The moment you admit your powerlessness to overcome your addictive behaviors on your own and that a Higher Power can deliver you from your addiction you are already ready to make the step turning over your problems to your Higher Power. When you do, you have to trust that your Higher Power can restore you to a sane mind that will lead you to healthy behaviors and a lifestyle filled with joy and satisfaction.
Step Three is an affirmative action that removes the walls that you surround yourself with that block God or your higher power from getting into your life. You make a decision to surrender, though you haven't surrendered yourself yet, or you don’t have faith yet. There are series of things you must do after you decide to turn it over to God or Higher Power. You have to know God or your higher power. Step Three, is about making a decision. Not commitment. Step Three does not mean you have already turned your life and will to a Higher Power. It is just an initial step to it.
If you want to know how to face the facts in your life, you must make a moral inventory of yourself. As you find out more about the things in your life, you will also have the chance to face them head on. Do you suffer unnecessarily because you cannot let go of the pain caused by some people in your past? Are you doing things to keep other people away from you, though you are suffering because of it? It is important to go through the trash that you have been unwilling to throw away for a long time. Do not fool yourself of their value when in fact they are simply hoards of bad memories that you needed to dispose of a long time ago.
What behaviors or decisions jeopardized your job and relationships or crumbled your finances? Are they caused by our drinking behaviors? Conducting matter-of-fact inventory of your moral values, beliefs and decisions can help you learn more about yourself.
Step Five shows how alcoholism has permeated your life. Confessing things to your Higher Power including those acts or thoughts that you would never share with other people, can help lead you on the path to serenity. Confessing something that is very hard to admit even to yourself can crack your denial and release you from unnecessary emotional baggage attached to it.
While it is one of the most difficult things to do, confession is a big step to freedom and growth. Opening up or being honest to God or your Higher Power helps you discover your wrongs as they are. What's more, to actually admit to God your wrongs and pains can be a very liberating experience because it helps you to finally spill long kept secrets, faults and shortcomings. The moment you come out of the open, and as you become honest to someone higher than you then it will be a lot easier to admit these things, “out loud” to someone else.
Step Five is a way of clearing out the old garbage that has been in your conscience for a long time. It clears your conscience and helps you look at other people without fear and emotional burdens.
In Step Six, you are already willing to have God or a Higher Power remove all these things that you consider objectionable in your life. You no longer cling to these things; rather you ask God or your higher power to help with your willingness to let them go. You can only do this through acceptance. You accept your character defects and you are willing to let them go.
This is the phase where you prepare for the changes ahead. It is also a moment of reflection on your willingness to ask God to remove your character flaws so that God can help you work on your life. While you do not expect that your behavioral problems will automatically disappear at the same time as your desire to drink ceases, you are aiming for improvement in the best way that you can.
After you did Steps Four and Five, you can ask yourself if you are willing to give up the faults that you have identified.
Oftentimes, you become comfortable with old habits. But after doing the previous steps, you may feel guilty about doing them and you become motivated to remove these shortcomings. To do this however, you need your higher power to give you the ability to prepare for it.
Step Seven refers to authentic humility to see yourself exactly as you are and acting on that recognition by transferring the control to God or your Higher Power. You can only proceed to the 7th step when you accept your powerlessness and pain and with that realization helps you become more humble.
As you work on removing your defects, you also act on each one. Actually working to remove the defect means that you have faith that someone higher than you can remove it. So, you are simply acting on that faith. For instance, if you are struggling with your shyness, you can start facing it by sharing your stories during AA meetings or by talking to other members. You will never learn how to speak confidently with people until you start talking to them.
If your character defect is selfishness, then you will have to focus on being selfless. Do something that is the exact opposite of selfishness. You wouldn’t know if you have already changed until you share your time and money to others. You can start by being part of the AA meeting committee. You can make coffee, arrange the chairs, or put a small amount of money on the collection bucket. It may take a while, but practice can lead to spiritual progress.
People with trust issues can slowly work on this defect by sharing a little of themselves during AA meetings. Oftentimes, the trust issues get in the way of the person; This is where a relationship with an AA sponsor can be so important.
You wouldn’t be able to trust your sponsor until you realize that the real issue is not the trustworthiness of the sponsor, but your fears that he or she will not be able understand you.
Step Eight is about making amends to people you have harmed or caused pain, grief, damage or wronged. While Steps Four and Five allows you to list the people you hurt, Step Eight refers to the willingness to show that you are sorry about something you did to them.
You can also classify people you harmed based on a time frame. Those that you can make an amend to right now because you are willing to do it any time, you put in the “Now” column. The second column would be the “later” group because you think you are not yet ready to make it up to them any time soon, but you are willing to do so once you muster the courage to do so. List the people you don’t want to face or make amends to in the “Never” column.
Many recovering alcoholics end up making amends for all these groups of people, (yes, including the “never” group) because they ultimately realized that real freedom can only be achieved when you set yourself free from guilt by making amends to those you harmed.
It may sound frightening, but you are not actually making amends in Step 8. Rather, you will simply list the individuals you have done wrong and break the list into three categories. First, the people you harmed since you have been sober. These include those whom you may still be hurting today. Second, people who claim that you hurt them in one way or another and that want you to recognize the harm you have caused. And, third the people you believe you wronged and feel guilt about.
It is normal to get wrapped up in the guilt and shame of the harm you did to others, but tapping into a Higher Power that could enable you to make amends and rely on can make the difference.
You cannot start on amends until you prepare the list. Some people struggle with making the list because they experience a whirlwind of thoughts and emotions like denial, guilt, anger and resentment. These emotions can be so overwhelming especially when you question how you harmed them. So the dilemma of many individuals in recovery is whether they can have enough faith in their Higher Power to help get it done and over with so that they can prepare for Step Nine.
Step Nine is about acting on Step 8. It takes a good amount of courage to do this, but calling on your Higher Power can help you make amends.
While you cannot undo the past and the people you harmed may not respond positively, at least you can show them that you own up to your mistakes. And, you are doing something to help lessen the consequences of your past mistakes.
Making amends is not the same as apologizing for the harm done. You are just letting them know that you know you harmed them and that you are doing something to help correct your behavior. You are not expecting forgiveness. If they respond to you positively then it’s a bonus.
You can ask for guidance from your sponsor to make sure that the steps you intend to make won’t worsen the situation. It often applies to situations when the people you believe you harmed do not know you harmed them. It’s not advisable to go up to them and divulge what you are thinking, without deliberately planning how you should say it. And, it is very important that you make a conscious effort to change your behavior as you try to make amends.
When making amends, you should not drag others into your mistakes. You will just talk to the person you think you harmed about your part in the incident and that excludes anyone else.
While Step Nine is about making it up to others, it is also about forgiving yourself and forgiving those who harmed you. While you don’t have to approach someone who hurt you to let them know they are forgiven, it is still good to know that you have finally forgiven someone and now refuse to let this person affect you.
There are four types of inventory in Step 10: Spot check, daily, periodic and annual. Having reached Step 10, you have already developed the awareness that you can take a personal inventory any time of the day. Aside from this new awareness, you are also able to control your actions because you are aware of what you are doing. You learn how to behave better and to cope with stress. The actions usually relate to your relationship with God or Higher Power and these actions that show whether you still apply the 12 steps in your life or not.
You can start off each night writing down how your day went by. Write how you felt, who or what upsets you or how you reacted to situations. Read it over several times and if you did something wrong or reacted in a negative way, plan out how you can do things differently. You can also pray at the end of the day and reflect on how you spent your day.
You can take periodic inventory and check on your motives when doing something or acting in a certain way. This means asking yourself whether you are doing something for personal gains or to deliberately harm someone else when applicable situations arise. It is also wise to reflect on the things you can improve every once in a while so you will know if you can make some changes that will help you become a better person. Every year, you can attend an AA retreat or simply take some time off to reflect on how your year went by and the way you handled situations in your life.
Don’t be too hard on yourself. Step 10 is also about living one day at a time. So, if you behaved badly don’t punish yourself. Just try to do better next time. Gradually you may realize that you no longer behave or react in a negative way.
Step Eleven discusses God-consciousness. You learn to have a conscious contact with God or your Higher Power in order to improve your character and your life as a whole. To do this, you have to get rid of prejudice and make a conscious effort to be honest with yourself. Focus on God and not on your flaws because doing so will make you less focused on your troubles and more on your Higher Power’s ability to help you.
Step Eleven puts your problems in perspective. Prayer and meditation come in handy especially when you are having a bad day or if you got into arguments with a workmate or a family member. It can clear your mind and give you a sense of peace. Through prayer, you may have the wisdom to realize that your problems are not as big as you think they are, and that you will ultimately get through them.
You don’t have to waste time on learning about different relaxation techniques, stress-reduction exercises and tips from meditation buffs to have a conscious contact with your Higher Power. The truth is that Step 11 comes in naturally as you pray and meditate on a daily basis. Conscious contact with God is also a personal experience which can happen while you are watching the stars at night, strolling on the beach or while driving in the middle of a busy street. There is no exact formula on how to feel God’s presence. You will just know it when the sense of comfort floods your senses and you feel safe, loved and important because you know that God is with you.
Relying on God or your Higher Power is not codependency. It is not about shifting your dependence from alcohol to God. You do not rely on the Higher Power for self-worth or to get approval. Rather, having a relationship with your Higher Power means that you are having a healthy relationship with someone who loves you and accepts you unconditionally. Praying also means that you give your trust to God and put down your ego to allow God to be in control.
Step Eleven does not teach you how to pray better but to trust God or your Higher Power to give you the wisdom to overcome your struggles. You may pray when you get up in the morning and before you retire at night and maybe start it with the Serenity prayer.
Step 12 refers to a point in your life where you have already found spiritual awakening or a realization that your life has a new direction and a new meaning. It’s because you have God or your Higher Power as your source of strength. You become honest, more tolerant and more loving than before. You learn to give without asking for rewards. That’s why AA members who have already achieved sobriety pay it forward by helping alcoholics in distress so that they can also enjoy a sober and meaningful life.
When you finally reach this step, you may want to help AA. You may feel responsible to give everything that was given to you when you first came to AA. Old timers tend to help newcomers a great deal and since you cannot pay it back, all you can do is pay it forward. So, if you have spare time on your hands and you believe that you are already in a position to help others, you can be a sponsor. Or, you can simply attend AA meetings and offer support and encouragement to newcomers. You can also share your stories of recovery and inspire those who are still struggling with alcoholism.
The 12 steps can help you overcome alcoholism for good if you work these steps by attending AA meetings, getting a sponsor or attending an alcohol rehab program based on the twelve steps.