A (Hesitant) Presentation: My 12-Step Experience

By T.W. 12/17/15

The practicality and impact of the principles gave me an entirely new perspective. 

12-Step Recovery

Why I’m volunteering to opine on the wildly-controversial, hotly-debated, often-revered, frequently-despised, hugely-admired and easily-misunderstood 12 steps, I can’t fully answer. I can, however, identify what triggered the initial thoughts that are about to pour forth from this keyboard. I will try to explain those thoughts. It’s imperative to keep in mind that this is simply my personal experience. 

I’ve seen so many comments from so many people that my mind kept whispering (to itself, I guess) - “this doesn’t have to be so complicated.” If the steps suggest that we identify a higher power, a God, as we understand this concept, why not take a look at the process with no emphasis on that concept, since it’s a personal perception that is to be chosen individually? In addition, this entire experience is presented on the premise that I was working with a person who had an effective experience with 12-step recovery. 

So, these thoughts were being planted firmly in my mind, and I couldn’t rid myself of them. I decided I would walk to the edge of the high-dive, toes dangling off the end of the board, bounce a time or two, close my eyes, and leap—hoping that there is water in the pool. 

1. Powerless.

Oh, lord. What disdain and fury that word evokes. My take is simple: I reached a point where I couldn’t stay away from booze and drugs when I wanted to, and I couldn’t control them once they entered my body. Things around me spiraled downward and I wasn’t able to keep up with the complicated mess I created. The hope for me was in the real centerpiece of the step—we WERE powerless, PAST TENSE. It’s the only time the word is mentioned, it’s in the past tense and it’s used in a very specific context—their attempts at managing alcoholism/addiction on their own failed. I bought in easily. 

2. A power greater than ourselves.

This one was even simpler. Alcohol and drugs proved to have power over my “self,” and I knew about “self” and “ego” from reading classic philosophical/spiritual literature since college, most of it Eastern in origin. I know where I had ended up using my own tools and it was disgusting and dangerous. I looked around and saw people like me who weren’t drinking. Got it. 

3. Turn it over.

It said “as we understood,” and I understood what I was looking at in front of me: sober people who used to drink and use drugs like maniacs. I’m in. Next. 

4. Inventory.

Love this step because I get to think and write about ME! I was pissed, scared and had screwy relationships. I was the one constant in everything I wrote about. I read it and it looked like a guy who was walking around with a whole pack of circus monkeys on his back. It was ridiculous. If there’s a way to lighten this load, sign me up. 

5. Admitted our wrongs.

I met with a guy I liked and trusted, who knows this stuff well, and unloaded. Sort of like therapy, but free and better—because he shared stories that were simultaneously shocking and hilarious. It was a good time, sitting on his patio trading horror stories. (A “good time” is a relative term, I guess.) 

6. Were entirely ready to remove this stuff.

Uh, yes. Who wouldn’t be? Plus, by this time I’m feeling something change just because of trying to be honest and willing. It felt like freedom. People were noticing it. No problem here. 

7. Humbly asked to remove these things.

If I was ready, what would stop me at this point? I was ready. I had been humbled in a good way. I felt more down-to-earth, and “of the earth” is the definition of one of the root terms that the word humility is derived from. At this point, the “higher power” that I perceived was the process itself. I was feeling less anxiety and less depression. Let’s go. 

8. Made a list.

Listing those I had harmed was easy, once I arrived at this point and completed steps 4 and 5. A wary OK on this one. I knew what was next. 

9. Made direct amends.

When I started at the first step, this would have been literally impossible and would have caused tremendous harm to me had I attempted it, adding to the harm I had done to others. But oddly enough, when I got here and started with the really easy ones, wow - I actually wanted to do more. I was ready to see and talk to some important people in my life. I resurfaced. Most of them really involved just staying sober and rejoining the lives of those I had isolated from. The financial issues were settled reasonably and payments would start when I had the money. This would stop the collection calls. Whew. 

10. Continued to take personal inventory.

What a great way to go through a day mindfully. I paid attention to fear and other harmful emotions that were holding me back from contributing to my kids, friends, to life. Like in the 4th, I saw how heavy the load was that my head was dishing out, and I didn’t want to add to it. It’s working. 

11. Sought to improve our conscious contact.

By now I was anxious to spend time exploring this new consciousness and grow into a more grounded, complete person. I read great stuff. I learned to meditate. I reconnected with things I was passionate about. I felt some authenticity creeping into my behavior and I liked it. 

12. Carry the message, practice the principles.

Once I made it this far, this wasn’t even a choice or decision. I wasn’t going back, that was for sure. Everything had improved, and when a new person stumbled into a meeting, I had no choice but to be willing to help him or her as I had been helped. The person may or may not respond – which is fine. But it was an almost automatic action – just like drinking and drugging myself into oblivion used to be.  

The pitfalls in any method of recovery are numerous and treacherous. I slid down several of them myself. But for me, the practicality and impact of these principles? Rock solid and capable of producing an entirely new perspective. 

For me, it worked when I worked it. 

T.W. is an American writer.  

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