When I first got clean and sober the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous seemed like a huge scary thing to me. I had a lot of bias and confusion about the twelve steps of AA. Below are seven myths about the twelve step that I wish I had known in my first year of recovery. Perhaps then I would not have waited so long to find the healing path that the steps offer.
Seven Myths about Alcoholics Anonymous Twelve Steps
1. I have to wait a year to start the steps
Yet I could never quite make that one-year of sobriety. It was so elusive. I kept relapsing and could not figure out why. I was told not to begin the steps too soon. Too wait until I had more sober time. This is a total myth!
Start the steps as soon as possible to relieve yourself of the bondage of the past. Particularly if you experience chronic relapse like many of us do. How exactly do you start the steps? Find someone who has gone through the steps as they are outlined in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. The best place to find this person is at an AA meeting designated as a Big Book; 12 & 12; or Big Book Step Study meeting.
2. The fourth step is the most difficult and has to be repeated from time to time
This is a total twelve-step myth! Everyone thinks the fourth step is like the big bad boogey man. Yes it does take awhile to write out and it is true that what is revealed is not always comfortable. But it is a once and done step! If you use steps ten, eleven, and twelve on a regular basis then you never have to repeat a step four!
3. The third step is once and done
This could not be further from the truth and is a total twelve-step myth. The third step is where we turn our will and our lives over to the care of a higher power as we understand that higher power. If only this was a once and done deal! It actually has to be repeated several times each and everyday. Some people like to have a mantra that says “Your will not mine be done.” Others like to remind themselves to “just let go.” While still others repeat the Third Step Prayer found in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous over and over again throughout the day. The third step is about realizing and accepting that things do not always go my way and I do not have to try to control everything. It is about giving up my will (read ego or selfishness and self-centeredness).
The best method I have found to realize that I have taken my will back is when I get frustrated, impatient, hurt, or feel any negative feeling. That means I am not accepting the current moment exactly as it is. Once I realize this then the next step is to go to the acceptance stage. Acceptance comes from again and again, several times a day, turning my will over to the way things actually are and finding contentment in the current moment. That is, being at peace with things exactly as they are rather than how I think they should be. This is a practice that takes time to develop.
4. The ninth step is about saying you are sorry
No the ninth step is not about saying you are sorry. The ninth step is about repairing the relationships that our addiction has damaged. It is a myth that it is a mere apology. My amends to my Dad was about how I had not been the kind of daughter I wanted to be to him. I asked him how I could make it up to him. As a result of starting the conversation off this way, my Dad and I had an amazing honest and heart-felt talk that repaired decades of damage – literally!
5. The steps are all about how I suck and about all the bad things I have done
This is a complete and total myth! The twelve-steps of Alcoholics Anonymous are a path to healing. There are many paths to recovery and this is just one. Doing the steps as they are outlined in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous with a Big Book sponsor helps to create a new relationship with yourself, those you love, and a higher power that you define. If this was only about looking at how much hurt I have done to others then I have missed the point.
Healing occurs when I see how to repair the damage my addiction has caused. It is a shift in perception, emotional healing, and a way to clean the slate so that I can start anew. This is true freedom from the wreckage of my past.
6. I have to believe in God in order to do the steps
Myth number six is perhaps the most misunderstood of all the Alcoholics Anonymous concepts. You do not have to believe in God! You only have to believe in a power greater than yourself. It helped me to articulate that I knew I was not holding together the universe, making stars, or changing the seasons. Yes there are natural laws that are in charge of all this. I do not need to make this complicated. I just need to know I do not have to understand it completely.
I am one hundred percent sure that love, kindness, empathy, and compassion come from the greatest of sources. Maybe that is in the human heart. Maybe it is an energy that we just have to tap in to. I am relieved to know that I do not have to know exactly what this higher power is. All I need to know is that I am not it! Keep it simple.
7. I have to have a lot of sobriety to work with another alcoholic or addict
The seventh myth is what we tell ourselves when we are too afraid to fail. It is a complete and total Alcoholics Anonymous twelve-step myth that you have to have a lot of clean time in order to help someone else. If you have one day of sobriety you can absolutely help that person who cannot put together twenty-four hours. It is in this spirit of service and a deep desire to help those who still suffer that you will find the greatest of healing! Giving away your own personal experience about what happened to you, how you came to truly surrender, and what you do on a daily basis to stay clean and sober is the greatest asset you have. This is one of those paradoxes: I have to give it away in order to keep it!