There is a lot of talk about principles in 12 Step programs. In my neck of the woods, the Twelve Traditions are read and they end with a chorus of “principles before personalities”. Step 12 ends with the words “and to practice these principles in all our affairs.” Each of us has our own idea of what particular principles we carry around in our spiritual toolbox and use in our lives. We might have the same principles but we might even practice them a bit different from each other based on how “developed” these principles are within us.
In my first year in recovery, I attended the same meeting six days a week. I also sat in the exact same chair as did everyone else. The meeting room isn’t deep but very long and so anything in the front of the room is easy to read. We have the usual wall hangings; 12 Steps, 12 Traditions, and the Promises as well as the framed AA slogans. (Did you know there really is an order to how they should be arranged?) These are all quite noticeable and even if they weren’t, you could read these from a book.
And then, hanging rather timidly, all by itself are The Principles. These, I was told, are the principles assigned each of the 12 Steps yet there is not a book where you will find these. I wrote them down in the front of my 12 and 12. I honestly didn’t pay much attention to them until recently because I was working on a project that involved them. I realized that if they were not written in a book, did everyone in AA or other 12 Step programs know that there really were specific principles to be practiced or celebrated in each step?
Prior to writing on this topic I checked online to see if there was any history attached to this. According to what I read, there is not. As a matter of fact, one site, “barefootsworld” said that as far as he knew, no one seemed to know where they came from and that the only time they are seen are when they are posted in a fellowship. He also said that the 12 Steps were the principles we follow. True. But then there is the principle inside each step.
The principles, when you read them in associating them with a step, are not easy. In other words, if you look at one of the principles and then at the step (BB and 12 and 12), you won’t see the word used. I honestly tried to find a phrase, a sentence…something in any of the recovery books I have to be able to tie the principle to a step. I was trying to find the “proof” that they were related. You know what? I couldn’t. And so I realized that this principle was the feeling, the emotion, and the end result of working the step. I looked at them this way because if I didn’t, I would totally have rearranged them as I saw fit.
I made notes to myself about where I felt this principle occurred within the step but it is personal to me. Also, it was not easy. Use this for “homework”. Take each principle with the step and define how you personally feel this works (worked) for you inside of the step. Do you have a better understanding of the principle? Are you still having a hard time practicing that principle? Maybe you need to think about the step and what it means. I think sometimes we are so accustomed to being told what we should feel or what we should think that searching for something on our own becomes difficult.
So here they are:
Step 1. honesty
Step 2. hope
Step 3. faith
Step 4. courage
Step 5. integrity
Step 6. willingness
Step 7. humility
Step 8. brotherly love
Step 9. discipline
They do embody the 12 steps and are certainly not the only principles we want to practice. But if you have to begin somewhere, I can’t think of a better place to begin. We work the steps (most of them) every day. Whether we formally rework the steps or not, focusing on these principles might be a new approach to an already God-inspired powerful solution to our problems.
Namaste’. May you walk your journey in peace and harmony.