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How and Why the 12 Steps Work

I love the summer. Even though I live in probably the hottest state in the country, I love the summer. The days are longer and lazier and I reward myself for a hard week of work by spending a weekend mindlessly floating around in the pool. I hate the summer for the same reasons because I can’t drink.

That may sound rather melodramatic but I have to be brutally honest and tell you that I miss the cold ones on a hot day; the margarita’s at the barbeque and the wine while dining on the patio at a favorite restaurant. It should be obvious, if you are a recovering alcoholic, that I am remembering the TV commercial versions of a drink. The reality is that there never was “a” drink and so I have to remember that these romantic visions of alcohol is my disease trying to convince me I don’t have a problem. It whispers to me ever so quietly. Before it raises its voice, before I even think it has a chance to do me in, I remember that I am in recovery, that I live the 12 Steps and I look at the simple facts. The facts are not based on emotion but simply how and why a 12 Step program works?

The first three pages of “How It Works” (Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, Chapter 5) is probably read more than any other page or pages in the entire book. It is used to begin meetings and many of us have committed it to memory from the repetition. But I have never tired of hearing how this program works because these pages provide hope, 12 suggestions on how to recover from addiction, encouragement and the abc’s which describes the reality of our disease and the solution..

“Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path” (p. 58). The people who fail do so because they cannot be honest with themselves. It’s called denial and those who continue to deny their illness cannot recover. Those of us who can make the decision to be honest now find that even honesty is not enough. We must be willing to go to any lengths and even then we are only ready to move forward. It works when we can open our hearts and our minds and become teachable. It works when we can acknowledge a Higher Power to protect us even though we might not always turn everything over to Him.

It works when you read each of the 12 Steps and begin working these in the proper order. It works because these steps are suggestions and not rules. It works because the founders of the 12 Steps recognized our human natures and the need to be perfect. They wanted to remind us that we are not saints but recovery was “spiritual progress not spiritual perfection.” And finally it works because we recognize the most basic personal ideas, the abc’s. “(a) That we were alcoholic and could not manage our own lives. (b) That probably no human power could relieve our alcoholism. (c) That God could and would if He were sought. Letter “c” gives us one of the first BIG promises.

Why all of this works is more subject to personal interpretation. The simplest of the “whys” is that recovery is a “we” program. We have sponsors, go to meetings, help others, and for many of us, there is absolutely no way we could have recovered alone. But it isn’t only the group that keeps us in recovery. There are just as many groups of folks out there that would love you to still be out there at the bars. It’s the foundation of the program. The bigger “why it works” to me is the spiritual base of the 12 Steps.
First of all I believe that Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob were spiritually inspired. They were not holy or religious men but they figured out how to teach poor unfortunate souls, as we, how to live life on life’s terms. The 12 Steps are nothing more than guidelines to a happy, spiritual, satisfying life. I am hoping not to sound like a heretic but I am sure all of you will understand this when I say that the 12 Steps are as important to me as the 10 Commandments. And don’t the Steps tell us in a way to love our neighbor as ourselves and to do unto others? This isn’t religious stuff. This is right living!

Why it works goes even farther. There are numerous books written by American Buddhists who relate the teachings of the Buddha not only to the 12 Steps but to the Serenity Prayer and the Promises. These books (which I will review at a later time) bring the power of meditation, peace and serenity into everyday life. Reading these has given me a better appreciation of the 12 Steps and has deepened my desire for a more spiritual life. It’s like I finally get it!

“The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz (Amber-Allen Publishing) is a modern example that reflects the 12 Steps. All of the Steps could neatly fit into “Be impeccable with your word”. “Don’t take anything personally.” “Don’t make assumptions.” “Always do your best.”

There are probably more examples but the basic idea is that how it works is personal to the addict but why the 12 Steps of recovery work is because deep inside all of us, we want that something that sparks our hearts and souls. Some call it religion. I call it spirituality. Spirituality with a Higher Power, that is.

Perhaps the how and why of your program is there but not in your everyday consciousness but sitting somewhere ready to be recognized. Unless I have tempting thoughts, I’m pretty sure that’s where I keep mine. I do know one thing and I believe we will all agree that the important thing about any recovery program is “it works IF you work it”.

Namaste’. May you walk your journey in peace and harmony.

The Intervention Book by Kathy L. is now available for purchase online and in bookstores throughout the world. Also join the Facebook page called Grateful Recovery.

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