12 Steps: Keep it Simple

By susanpeabody 03/13/19

Maslow said that after our basic needs are met it is time to become the best person we can be in life. He called this “self actualization." To do this,  we must change. This is what my book, The Art of Changing, is about. It was not written just for addicts, it is for everybody who wants  more out of life.

While there are a lot of ways to change,  the method  I started with in 1982 was  the twelve steps of recovery written by Bill Wilson. I want to outline them here for those who are tired of work books with pages and pages of questions. When they were first written, the steps weren’t meant to be so complicated or to take so long.

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

“We" reminds us that we are not alone. "Admitted" refers to honesty between ourselves and others. "Powerless" refers to helplessness at this moment in time. It is not meant to mean that were are always powerless. "Our lives had become unmanageable" means that we have lost control.

This step is about honesty and humility. We swallow our pride and get honest about where our life has taken us. Humility is the first step in many journeys of transformation. It is a rite of passage. Please note that we are only powerless at this stage in our recovery because we have isolated from God and our fellow human beings. The power to recover comes back to us as we reach out for help and continue to work the rest of the steps.

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

The steps are a spiritual solution. Those of us who use the steps  believe that we cannot restore ourselves but must be restored by divine intervention. In other words, we cannot recover by ourselves, we need help. This help comes in the form of some higher power, whether that be a deity or the energy of the group. This step is about hope. It follows the very painful admission that we [by ourselves] are powerless. So be hopeful. Whether you pray to God or reach out to others, don't try to get better in isolation. Reach out and have faith that your distorted thinking and behavior will be transformed into a healthy way of thinking and behaving.

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

If we are "powerless" over something  and our lives are unmanageable, and God, as we understand God, can restore us to sanity then it is best we turn our life and our will over to God so that he can mend us.

Note that God can mean some benevolent force in the universe or the God within which knows what is best for us. Note that we turn ourselves over to the "care" of God. Note that this is a decision which must be followed by action. Just how do we turn our will over? We commit to change. We look to our recovery friends for an example of a sane way to love and we follow in their footsteps. We find the right path through trial and error. Our only guide is the belief that God wants us to be healthy and happy. If we are not, then we are going in the wrong direction. God will lead you to people and books which will help you. God will lead you forward. Without God we are defenseless against our addiction.

You do not have to be religious to believe in goodness. God is goodness. God is spirit. The spiritual approach to recovery may be hard on some people. But it is tried and true. Herbert Spencer said "Ignorance is contempt prior to investigation." Try this approach if you have failed to get better on your own or with therapy alone. There are legions of people for whom this approach has worked. Surrender (to be free from some vice) to an old familiar God or to a new God of your choice. Don't be afraid. You will meet others on this path. You will not be alone.

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

The more we know about the problem the more we know what to change. We cannot be too general. We cannot just decide to change our lives. We must break this down into manageable pieces. We must change  how we think and behave and what we value.  

An inventory should  include a list of what you want to change about yourself, like low self-esteem and shame-based thinking, feeling, and acting.  Don't forget to list the things about yourself that you want to keep and expand on. Inventories should include the positive and negative. Discuss in your inventory the people you have hurt. Later, in the eighth step, you will be creating a list of such people. What drove you to hurt these people? What things are you later going to ask God to remove? It is traditional to write out your fourth step, but this is not mandatory. Some people do a fourth and fifth step in therapy on a weekly basis. How you do this step is unimportant. The only important thing is that you do it.

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

Once you complete your fourth step inventory it is time to give it away.  We can take time in prayer and meditation to open up and communicate with the God of our understanding about the exact nature of our wrongs. Then we invite and connect with another human being who will actively listen to our inventory without judging, a person who feels safe to us. This person will be someone we respect, someone you can trust sharing this information with and someone who will be empathetic.

Set aside as much time as you need to complete the process. Step five instructs us to admit the exact nature of our wrongs to ourselves at heart level and then connect with another human being to share what we have written. Looking at the harm we have caused ourselves and others, may put us in touch with the exact nature of our wrongs as never before. As we do this, we can see the pain caused by our denial.

An honest Fifth Step supports us in our metamorphosis and helps us understand why our lives were unmanageable. Admitting our wrongs to ourselves helps break through to greater honesty, self-awareness and acceptance. Open your heart, your mind, and your soul to this process. Admit everything. Be courageous. Don't take anything to the grave. After the fifth step, take some time to be alone and to be introspective. Step Five opens the door to truth and freedom. Step Five teaches us to be vulnerable and to trust. Step Five is about letting go.

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

The key words in this step are "ready" and "God." Sometimes were are not ready, even though we want to be, and other times we want to do it ourselves without God. Short comings can be insidious. They do  not let go of us and we cannot let go without  help. Furthermore, we might like some of them and hold on despite the fact that they are undermining our self-esteem. For example lying and stealing may be lucrative habits that we aren't ready to let go of. If we have thoroughly worked the steps up to now, there should be some willingness to become a better person. This is enough. We do not have to work this step perfectly despite the word "entirely." This step is a bridge to the next and so if you are willing at all you can proceed.

While fear and habit hold us back, we may also still be of the belief that we can become better people by sheer will power. If you still believe this then you must go back and work the previous steps again. People who work the steps believe we need the power of God to lift our some of our shortcomings. Not everyone needs divine intervention, but we do. We are "powerless" without help and without our Higher Power. So admit to yourself and another human being that you are ready to have God remove your shortcomings and move on to the next step. If you can't do this then stay with this step until you are ready. The day will come when you see that your character defects are standing between you and your happiness and you will be happy to ask God to help you surrender them.

Step 7: Humbly asked him [God] to remove our shortcomings.

In the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, written by the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, it says, "The whole emphasis of Step Seven is on humility." This is because it is through a recognition that we need help that we are healed. We simply cannot do this alone. We cannot change ourselves through will power alone. Willingness has its place, but it must be in conjunction with divine grace. For those who have tried again and again to get well on their own this step will be the answer to their prayers. There is hope.

When I joined my first twelve step program,  I was an agnostic. Then I came to believe in God. Then I surrendered to God. Then I waited. Nothing happened. Why? Because God likes to be asked. So, through prayer, I asked for his/her help. Since then, so much has happened for the better. If I had known asking was so important I would have done it sooner.

There is a catch to this prayer. Your shortcomings will not just disappear like magic. More likely you will just be given opportunities to learn. I prayed for patience and soon I was thrust into a situation that called for it. I prayed and was given some willingness to act patient even though I was frustrated. Eventually, "acting as if" paid off and I became a patient person. My prayers had been answered.

The other thing about this step is that God will only remove the shortcomings that he feels stand in the way of your development. Many of the things that you don't like about yourself will remain untouched. This keeps us humble. One thing for sure, however, is that recovery is God's will for us. Any shortcoming that gets in the way of that will be removed. So ask God for help and then work with him. Be patient. Have faith!

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

It is easy to see ourselves  as victims sometimes  because we get hurt so much in life  but often  we put ourselves ahead of others. We might neglect our friends and family. We may put a lover ahead of our children. Perhaps under the stress  we lashed out or abused someone. Maybe we stole money. The degree to which we hurt others was explored in our fourth step inventory. Now we must take that inventory and make a list of the people we have harmed and become willing to make amends to them.

There will be people on this list who also hurt us, but that is irrelevant. We must only be concerned about our own actions and making amends for them. Many people get stuck on this step because they are holding on to old resentments, but recovery demands that we heal by reaching out to those we have hurt because of our love addiction. Don't get ahead of yourself and worry about step 9. Just make your list and ask God for the willingness to continue cleaning house

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

Once you have finished your list of people you have harmed, and are willing to make amends to them, it is time to do so—unless going to them would reveal information that would devastate them. This step takes time and you can continue to work the rest of the steps while keeping this step on your calendar as a long-term project.

You can make amends in writing or in person. But remember that no one is obligated to accept your apology. If you owe people money, and cannot afford to pay them, then set up a payment plan. Just be sincere and most people will respond in a positive way.

If the person you want to make amends to is unavailable, or dead, make a living amends. This means doing for someone else what you would have done with this person if you had it to do over again. Give money to charity if you cannot repay someone money you owe. If you neglected your children, because of your love addiction, then make a fresh start with your grandchildren. If you hurt friends who are no longer in your life, find new friends and be good to them.

This step  is hard work. It takes time. But it feels good and clears away the wreckage of the past. After you have completed this step, it is time to forgive yourself and let go of the past.

Step 10. Continue to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

Step 10 is a continuation of the 4th and 9th steps. Not only must we be introspective about our current shortcomings, and share them with God and another human being, if we have acted out in some way, we must go to the person we have harmed and quickly apologize.

Some people do this step every day after they have retired. They look over the day that has just passed and do a quick inventory. Others only work this step when something noticeable has happened. Some people do this in writing. Others don’t. It is up to you do integrate this step into the discipline of your recovery program. How you do this step is less important than doing it.

This step is meant for events that occur in your current life. If you want to do more work about past events and fear-based emotions such as resentments, you can go back and do another 4th step inventory.  This step  helps us keep the serenity we have already gotten from the others steps. It helps keep our recovery strong. Maintaining recovery is as important at finding it. Regression is always waiting for us without proper vigilance.

Step 11:  Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.

All relationships get better when you pay attention to them. The eleventh steps encourages you to improve your relationship with God using prayer (talking to God) and meditation (listening to God), but you can also use other spiritual disciplines such as study, solitude, humility, submission, service, confession, worship, celebration etc. (anything that brings you closer to God).

Not only is it a good thing to get closer to God, you should learn to end each prayer with "thy will be done." The reason you only want to know God's will for you is simply that God knows what is best for you. You only have an idea of what might make you happy. God knows you better than you know yourself and you want what he/she wants for you.

Since we are so attached to our own ideas of what will make us happy, we must also ask for the strength to carry out God's will for us. The journey may have a rocky start. God may want us to do things we don't want to do or are afraid to do.

Praying is an art form and  this way of praying will get the best results.

Step 12: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to others, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

One of the indications that you have had a genuine spiritual awakening is that you want to share this experience with others. You want them to be as happy as you are. You want to help them have a similar experience. This step suggests that we do just that, that we "carry the message." It is also a well known spiritual principle that to keep our own spirituality strong and fresh we must "pass it on." So what we call 12th step work is for you as well as for others.

How you carry the message is up to you.  You may sponsor someone or write about recovery. You may do this a lot or just a little, but you do it.


Life  is about change. Sometimes the changes are obvious when you are in a support group or therapy. But these environments are  like a hot house protecting delicate flowers. The real test is when you go out into the world. Can you practice what you have learned in when you go to work or socialize with your friends?  Yes! just remember it is a process and it takes time. You will always take two steps forward and one step back. But you will move forward if you keep working at it and are optimistic when things seem to  be taking forever. Namaste

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