1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
From: Alcoholics Anonymous, 3rd Edition, 1976
Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.
New York, New York
The 12 steps describe the process that the original members of Alcoholics Anonymous went through in their search for sobriety. There is nothing magical about them. The first 3 steps relate what happens when an addict finally hits bottom and realizes that there is really no hope that life can continue the way it has been going. Combined with that sense of hopelessness and powerlessness, however, is the realization that it is possible to recover. Deciding to put faith and trust in the process and be open to help completes the first 3 steps.
It is not critical at this point that you make any final decisions about who God is, or even that there is a God. All that is necessary is that you look around and see that there are other people who are sober and happy and then to become openminded and willing to do the things they did to get sober.
Steps 4 through 9 are reparative. In the process of working these steps you take an honest look at your life and personality and become ready to make changes. This doesn’t happen overnight. You can take as long as you need to complete these steps. And you can go back and do them over if you like. There is no correct time frame. You don’t want to put them off, but there’s no advantage in rushing them either.
Included in these steps is a process of making amends to people you may have harmed as the result of your addiction or your behaviors. Although this can be very difficult, it is remarkably helpful. You might not be able to reconcile some relationships, but you can get a sense of peace about them.
Steps 10 through 12 are concerned with maintenance. These involve an ongoing process of examining and taking responsibility for your behavior and a continuation of growth, spiritually and emotionally. Service to others, especially to other suffering alcoholics and addicts, is an important part of maintaining your sobriety.
We have covered a lot of ground in this discussion of recovery. If you are reading this because you have a problem with addiction, don’t feel overwhelmed. People take these steps every day, and many recovering people are out there to help you along the way. The first thing you can do is talk to someone. Alcoholics Anonymous is listed in most phone books at the very beginning under AA. Even if your problem is drugs or a behavioral addiction like gambling, the person on the other end of the line will help you get started.
Elizabeth Connell Henderson, M.D.
Appendix A: Regulation of Addictive Substances
Appendix B: Sources of Additional Information