Exploring the 12 Step Programs Part 1: General Introduction

I know many folks are curious about the 12 Steps Recovery Programs. They are often used instead of, or in support of, therapy and counseling. I would like to explain over a series of posts what they are, pros and cons, and how they tie in with Catholic teaching. Are they safe? Are they doctrinally acceptable? Are they effective? I hope to address these and any other questions you may have about them (incidentally if you do have any particular questions about them you would like addressed in a future post, or privately, feel free to email me at mdestterre@straphaelcounseling.com).

You may be reading this because you have someone in you life who is an addict or you plan to work in a profession where you might be caring for addicts. If you do know someone who is an addict this is critical information to know because it is certain a person with an addiction will be exposed to the 12 Steps in one way or another. Here you can become educated about the subject so if they choose to discuss 12 Step practices and philosophies with you, you can help them. First, by understanding the subject, second by steering them in the right direction if they are asking for advice. Many addicts struggle to commit to the program without support from those around them. It is essential that you have the tools to help them navigate any doubts or concerns they may have in making the program a part of their recovery regimen. If you plan to care for addicts as a profession, you will find much of the same value applies to your gaining knowledge of the subject as well. So lets start with what are the 12 Steps and where they originated from.

The 12 Step Programs began with the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), which has been around for some 60+ years, but it in turn was influenced by even earlier groups, in particular the Oxford Group. Bill Wilson and Bob Smith were the founders of AA. They were two helpless drunks who alone couldn’t quit the allure of alcohol, but found in God and one another a strength over their powerlessness. From the beginning it was emphasized as a spiritual program built on spiritual experience and spiritual awakening. Over time they developed a text commonly known as the “Big Book.” Within it they outline what alcoholism was like, what happened and what it is like now—their stories, their working of 12 Steps of recovery, and a new manner of living based on solutions and spiritual connectedness. The 12 Steps for Alcoholics are as follows:

  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.

These are the 12 Steps as developed by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith. It is important to note that they were based off of personal experience and application of men who were atheist, isolated and severely alcoholic—to the point of death. They had tried everything that the medical and psychological profession had to offer, including seeing such legendary names as Dr. Carl Jung. They had tried religion in their youth and it hadn’t stuck. Theirs was a school of hard knocks. Each step was painstakingly discovered and more importantly put into action on a daily basis. Each day of reprieve from the cravings for alcohol convinced them more and more that this set of spiritual principles known as the 12 Steps was the way to a new freedom and manner of living they could otherwise never know.

The 12 Steps then developed are in most respects the same with any 12 Step Recovery Program aside from the First Step, replacing “alcohol” with whatever might be the problem or addiction (i.e. food, drugs, lust, etc). There are a number of ways they surmise the goals of these steps but perhaps it is best to understand it as properly ordering your relationship with God, yourself, and your fellow humanity. It can also be seen as the spiritual process of surrender, clean-house, and serve. Before we unpack more fully the spirituality and meaning of the 12 Steps, next post we will create a practical visual of what meeting basics are and what the average Joe/Jane will experience in first exposure to a 12 Step group. You may find the details interesting since the general public are not allowed to attend meetings.

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