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Working it Through: A Closer Look at The 12 Steps of AA – Part 2 of 2

If you are new to 12 Step programs or are coming back to the program, this two part series takes a closer look at the 12 steps of AA, breaking things down and showing you how, with a little work, it can support you to live a clean and sober life.

"Ours is a spiritual, not a religious program"
--well known statement in the AA and NA program

Removal of Our Shortcomings

Step 7

We humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

For those folks who are not considering working their program from a faith based perspective I suggest you can do the following to work on and through this step. The important issue here is that you have reached a point in your recovery where you have identified many of the 'short comings' -- those character flaws that really mess up your life.

Some examples might be placing your own self-importance ahead of all others, distorting the truth to serve your own best interest or need, saying one thing and doing another, gossiping (especially to promote personal gain) and practicing deceitful behavior just because you could.

Burning Up the Negatives

With clients that I work with who are not faith based I suggest you take all your 4th step work - go to the beach or a safe wooded area-someplace where you are alone and bring along a steel pail or coffee container (anything that won't burn).

Put all of your 4th step notes in the container and set it on fire. Allow the wind (we have established that the wind is stronger and a greater force than we are) to carry off the smoke that has been created. Then dig a shallow hole and bury the ashes. Mother Earth devours the ashes and the wind carries away the negative energy.

Sound hoaky?' I suppose but the symbolic energy that you have created and participated in is very powerful indeed. You have identified the negatives in your life.

You agreed to rid yourself of them and then carried out that behavior. It works. It is the inner conversation that you have with yourself that is strengthened and important.

You can even write something to read at you ceremony that signifies a change in attitude or names which perspective you want to adopt -- "I will be more honest".

You are now ready to carry on with steps 8-12. You have connected your inner world, and we all have one, with your outer world.

Identifying Our Affected Others

Step 8

We made a list of all persons we harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

It sounds so simple but it takes humility, courage and honesty to face the facts around how you treated other people when you were using. The purpose is to clear the wreckage of the past with those who are important to you and those who deserved better than what you gave them.

It also allows for the reconciliation of some of the important relationships that you would like to have back but you may not be sure about how to go about repairing our relationships. This step simply encourages us to make a list of those people and that is all for now. Take your time and make sure that the list is as complete as you can make it.

This is not about feeling guilty about how you treated some folks but rather preparing to set a new stage so that, when the time comes, we may walk among those we care for with our heads up and a clear conscience.

Mending Broken Relationships

Step 9

We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure themselves or others.

This is where you accept the responsibility for how things have gone in the past because of your substance abuse and seize the opportunity to set things right with all those folks that you have listed.

It is also vitally important that you do not attempt to be overly honest to the point where any of your declarations, that may include other people's behavior, becomes public knowledge.

For example: You, your good friend and his girlfriend go to a party and drink far too much. Later in the evening you and the girlfriend begin to be a bit more friendly than is acceptable and lines are crossed. You both realize that that was not appropriate and manage to stop before any further harm is done.

Admitting to your good friend now that that happened back then would be an example of making amends that would hurt, not only your friend but his girlfriend and might jeopardize their relationship not to mention your relationship with your friend. Apologize to the girlfriend if you like but including your friend in your efforts to clean off your slate would not be suggested here. This is one of those things that you might just have to learn to live with.

Making a Personal Inventory

Step 10

We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

Because we are human we will continue to make mistakes and we will continue to engage in ways of living that are not always healthy for us. It's important for us to take a bit of time on a regular basis to do 'a mini 4th step'. If we see some things that we question then we correct them. If we see or hear that we are stubborn, for instance, then we need to look at that and determine what that is about. Are we sliding back into old habits or ways? If we are -- correct that.

The biggest mistake that folks in recovery make at this point is defending something that they have done that is not OK. We are better to admit that we screwed up - correct the issue and move on. Make your amends to anyone who deserves an apology. That way it doesn't become something that smoulders under the surface. Put enough of those little smouldering issues together and you could easily have a relapse in the making.

Stepping Back and Reviewing Our Progress

Step 11

We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will and the power to carry that out.

This is a very important piece of the program because it encourages us to revisit how far we have come in the program and to give thanks for what we have gained. If you are a faith based person then this can happen through prayer and meditation. If you are not then it can happen through self talk and meditation. Keep a journal summing up what you have learned in the past week or month or year.

Write yourself a letter outlining all the things that have come about because you have decided to remain clean and sober. Give thanks for all the knowledge you have gained and all the healing that has begun, the relationships that are more healthy now and the possibilities that have been presented to you because you choose, each day to remain clean and sober. This step provides us with an opportunity to be grateful and thankful to whatever force or power helped us get as far as we have.

It is the inside work that we have done, the skills that we have developed and the open mindedness that we have allowed that has helped us get this far. It is a power or force greater than ourselves that we may, albeit reluctantly, acknowledge, even with some lingering doubts, that has helped us to vastly improve the quality of our lives.

Growing Ourselves by Supporting Others

Step 12

Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry the message to addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Once we get to the point when we 'finish' the 12th step there is a concern that always presents itself. There is the possibility that we can get 'cocky' - that we can think to ourselves that we finished the program, that we have learned all there is to learn and that 'I've got it done now.' Some even think that they can go back out again and have a drink or a toke every once in a while because they know how to stop now. Many a program has tanked because of that error in judgement.

Each time you go down it becomes more difficult to get back up again. When you are finished the program you go back to number 1 and start again. It will not be quite the same program because of the things you know now that you didn't or couldn't know back when you first started out on this journey.

The way you continue to grow is to help others who struggle. Remember that 'we keep what we have by giving it away.' Help those who don't believe they can do it or are intent on doing it 'their way'.

You have to be careful that you don't get caught up in their stuff and you have to be careful that you don't take on their recovery program and try to get them to do theirs the same way you do yours. Sometimes you just have to let them go and hope that they make it back. Everyone has to travel their own journey of recovery at their own speed. But many keep coming back. Our job is to be sure that there is a warm, caring, non-judgmental place for them to come back to and a warm hand shake or hug that says:

"We're here for you -- come on in!"

Drug & Alcohol Counselor/Therapist

My experience would include the lessons taught by over 20 years of active use, leading to 23 years of sobriety and what I consider to be a state of quality living. I learned many things in a practical sense from attending A/A, C/A and N/A. Sometimes the best education can come from the most unlikely sources. I graduated from College and completed the Addiction Studies Program at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. I also completed a variety of courses concerning mental health issues and gambling addiction, family systems and relationships.

I welcome any comments both pro and con. You can ask me anything you like by contacting me through the site or by emailing me at: [email protected]. You can also learn more about where I come from and what I have learned on my journey by going to All the best, Jim

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