The 12 steps make up the defining recovery process of those belonging to Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.). Bill Wilson and Bob Smith first developed them. Together Wilson and Smith developed a program to help alcoholics recover. This included working the 12 steps, and then later assisting other recovering alcoholics to practice the 12 steps.
Since writing the 12 steps in the A.A. “Big Book,” as it is termed, the steps have been somewhat adapted to recovery of other forms of addiction. Narcotics Anonymous uses 12 steps almost identical to A.A. Others may use a modified 12 steps program to recover from gambling, sexual addiction, or to quit smoking.
The 12 steps must initially be worked step by step. The first step is admitting one has a problem and recognizing that one is powerless to fix that problem. The second step is believing that a higher power could help restore one to sanity. Next the alcoholic turns the problem over to the higher power in Step 3.
A higher power does not have to mean God. The phrase is a higher power, as we “understand it.” Thus many atheists and agnostics are able to work the 12 steps without having to embrace a form of organized religion. How much the higher power is a religious figure depends very much on each individual A.A. group.
Some groups are very religious, and may end an A.A. meeting by saying the “Our Father.” Other groups forgo this. Almost all A.A. meetings end with people holding hands together, and at least observing their fellowship as a group. The group itself can be the higher power.
Step 4 is a difficult one, where one takes a moral inventory of oneself. This means recognizing faults, behaviors, and patterns that lead one to drink. A sponsor usually guides this step.
Step 5 takes the moral inventory further. One must acknowledge and admit one’s faults, confess them to a higher power, and also to a person. Usually the sponsor acts as a confessor in this case.
Step 6 is a statement of readiness to a higher power, and to perhaps a sponsor. One recognizes again, as in Step 2 that a higher power can remove one’s faults. Step 7 then asks the alcoholic to “humbly” ask the higher power to remove faults.
In the 12 steps, 8 and 9 are active steps. One acknowledges wrongs one has committed to others and asks their pardon. Step 9 specifically calls for restitution to be made, where possible, to those one has harmed.
Steps 10 and 11 continue the process of moral inventory and of closer connection to a higher power. Step 12 is another very active step in which one commits to helping other alcoholics.
People in A.A. continue to work the 12 steps, perhaps for a lifetime. Some find they have sufficiently recovered to only attend meetings occasionally. Others find they need regular meeting attendance to remain committed to recovery. Additional study groups may be offered on each of the steps. There are also books that elucidate each step in further detail, which may direct study groups.
Working the 12 steps is an intensive and committed process. It has been found effective however, and many people owe their recovery from active alcoholism to working the 12 steps and to the philosophy and support of A.A.