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The 12 Steps without God or Alcohol: Key Concepts to Improve Any Life

Unless we're part of a 12-Step community, we're likely to remain unfamiliar with the vast amounts of wisdom contained in their literature and practices. I recommend the 12 Steps of AA even to folks who have never experienced addiction because they provide opportunities for healing, self discovery, and spiritual growth.

I encourage folks to notice that only the first step makes mention of alcohol. Replace "alcohol" with the things that negatively impact your life. Example: "I admitted I was powerless over (earning approval from my family of origin)..." I also urge folks not to get hung up on the concept/wording "God." Religious ideas or deities can be limiting. Change this to whatever works for you.

Wonderful examples of a Higher Power folks have shared with me:

  • Love
  • Connection
  • Community
  • Family
  • the Universe
  • Goddess
  • Nature

Adapting the Steps with the Buffet Approach (Take what you like and leave the rest):

Step 1

We admitted we were powerless over ____, that our lives had become unmanageable.

Powerlessness is not hopelessness or helplessness. It simply means we have no control over something. I joke with folks that I am only powerless over nouns (people, places, and things). The only person I need to be in control of is me.

Having a manageable life requires three things:

  • acceptance of powerlessness,
  • rigorous honesty with self,
  • and the support of good people.

When we resolve the aspects of our lives that are unmanageable, the life we most want becomes possible.

Step 2 and 3

Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

This is the choice to believe in something - anything, that can improve our lives. It doesn't require a doctrine or religiosity. If Love can restore us and we consciously choose to be more loving in order to be healthier, that is a great step in the right direction.

Step 4 and 5

Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

A "moral inventory" can be as simple as the untold stories, secrets, and other sources of shame that we continue to carry. If we choose to write these out, we externalize what we've fought to keep from the light of day. If we can share even some of these with trusted others, it lightens our load. The mission of is a powerful example of the liberation folks experience, even in telling their stories anonymously.

Step 6 and 7

Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

Instead of continuing to hide our flaws, let's expose them. Let's share the things we don't like about ourselves and work together to change them. When we don't share our goals we most often disappoint ourselves. When we allow others to support us and hold us accountable, lasting change becomes vastly more attainable.

Step 8 and 9

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

Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

Here again is an opportunity to take stock. Each of us lives with regret. Are there apologies to be made? Can we make an effort to right our past wrongs? Even a card or a letter in which we take responsibility for mistakes or hurtful actions can be liberating to those we wronged.

Step 10

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

Taking a personal inventory can be as simple as reflecting on your day. What went well? What still needs improvement? Introspection is the key to continued growth and affords us a safeguard against complacency.

Admitting our mistakes is an ongoing lesson in humility. It prevents resentments from being formed and promotes harmony. This is not a lesson so much as a reminder.

Step 11 and 12

Reduced to pure spirituality:

Having had a spiritual awakening... improve...and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

We are free to live with intention and to accept that being a "work in progress" means that we continue to strive toward ideals. Incorporating spiritual practices and consciously choosing our focus for the day allows us to have a life "second to none."

Clinical Social Worker/Therapist
My story is I'm forever a work in progress and I love connecting with REAL people who are doing great things. I'm blessed to be making a living doing something I love. I'm a proud dad and the luckiest husband ever. I'm an aspiring author - check out my recovery blog at: Thanks! Jim

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