September 22, 2011
"The Universal Wisdom of the Twelve Steps"
The Rev. Dr. Scott Stoner
September is National Recovery Month, the purpose of which is twofold. The first is to honor those who have shown the courage and commitment to choose the path of recovery from alcohol and/or drug addiction. The second is to inform, inspire and invite those who are currently struggling with their dependence on alcohol and/or drugs to begin the road to recovery themselves.
Most people know that the foundation of all Alcoholics Anonymous groups, and of all recovery support groups, is the Twelve Steps. Many people, however, do not really know much about the Twelve Steps. That's unfortunate, because the wisdom of the Twelve Steps is profound and can provide support and guidance for all people, whether or not they are in recovery. In light of the universal wisdom of the Twelve Steps, and in light of it being National Recovery Month, I would like to share the Twelve Steps with you along with some brief reflection. This column will be part one of a two part series. I will reflect on steps one through six of the Twelve Steps today, and then I will reflect on steps seven through twelve next week.
The first three steps of the Twelve Steps are:
1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become
2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we
The essence of these first three steps is that a person admits they have a problem (they end their denial) and that they need the help of God (or a Higher Power) to restore “sanity” in their lives. It is easy to see the universal application of these steps for anyone who struggles with something that is becoming overwhelming and unmanageable. Some examples that come to mind are anxiety, depression, domestic violence, a serious and/or chronic illness, grief, or an acute spiritual crisis. Anyone who is in recovery will tell you that the hidden blessing in life becoming unmanageable is that they finally had to ask for help and acknowledge that they needed to turn to God or a spiritual Higher Power for to restore their sanity.
The next three steps of the Twelve Steps are:
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.
Step four may surprise those not familiar with AA and the Twelve Steps because the inventory that is asked for is not an inventory of a person's alcohol or drug use, but is instead a moral inventory. A moral inventory is an honest assessment of a person's behavior and of both the strength and weakness of a person's character. Have I been trustworthy? Have I been dependable? Have I been prideful and self-righteous? Have I been honest ? Have I been secretive? The reasons for this kind of inventory are first because weakness in a person's character may have contributed to a person's alcohol or drug problem, and secondly, because a person's addiction has most likely weakened a person's character and caused them to act in ways they regret.
Step five has the person in recovery admitting the exact nature of their wrongdoings to God, themselves and to another person. As an Episcopal priest and psychotherapist I have had the sacred honor of hearing numerous “fifth steps” as people in recovery have asked me to be “the other person” with whom they share the “exact nature of their wrongs.” Honest confession is so healing for the soul. Step six follows from step five as the person now turns to God or their Higher Power for help in restoring and strengthening their character.
We can again see the universal wisdom of these three steps. Every faith tradition has some version of these steps that follow the pattern of self-reflection, confession, repentance and reconciliation. Following these steps on a regular basis can only help to strengthen our character, whether we are in recovery or not.
These first six steps make it clear that the Twelve Steps are through and through a spiritual process. The reason for this is simple. To use a metaphor, millions of people have learned first hand through the recovery process that if the walls of their house are crumbling, simply trying to patch them or cover them with fresh paint will not fix the problem. What they learn is that what they must do instead is the hard work of strengthening and truing the foundation that supports the walls. This is why deepening one's spirituality and strengthening one's character become the foundation of a person's life who is in recovery. And actually, come to think about it, deepening one's spirituality and strengthening one's character make a pretty good foundation for anyone's life.
You can learn more about National Recovery Month at www.recoverymonth.gov