12 Steps – What Works & Doesn’t Work

When I was first introduced to the 12 steps as a potential solution to my chronic relapses, I was skeptical of what works.  It took me awhile to realize that I had a lot of preconceived notions about the 12 steps.  I had a lot of prejudice about 12 step recovery.

Because I was in so much emotional pain and suffering greatly (not to mention what I was putting my loved ones through), I became willing to at least listen.

Suffering can be a great persuader.

I quickly learned that there are elements of 12 step recovery that have saved me from relapse.  Some of the 12 step tools are absolutely amazing in helping me overcome barriers to sobriety.

And there are elements that make me want to run the other way.

Two Elements of 12 Step Recovery That Work

Here are two of the elements of 12 step recovery that work. What works

The first element is that 12 step recovery provides a formula in which to appropriately deal with what pisses me off, hurts my feelings, or interferes with the outcomes that I want.

This formula is begun in the 4th step and maintained in steps 10, 11, & 12.

The instructions for understanding and implementing this formula are found in the first 103 pages of Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book.  I tried reading this on my own and while I found it interesting, I did not change a lick.  Once I began to read it with someone else who knew and lived the formula, I began to change. I stayed sober and even began to be happy more often.

Learning to be free from suffering is an awesome relapse prevention tool.  Applying the 12 step formula into my life has been so effective that problems do not pile up on me. I am no longer so burdened by life that I have to numb myself by picking up a drink or a drug.

There is a system in place to help transform from me from the chaotic individual I once was to being able to find glimpses of peace and serenity.  Essentially, I stopped living in drama and I put up the surrender flag on chaos.

My life immediately got better.

The second element of 12 step recovery that works is by the end of the 12 step process I am now focusing more on you than I am on me.  It used to be all about I, me, and mine.  I sought only to fill my own needs and find comfort for me.

Now my focus is usually on the greater good.  I began to see that I am the happiest when I am seeking happiness for others. Sounds cliché but it is true.

This is not a once and done endeavor.  The 12 step recovery process must be practiced regularly.  In the beginning it is best to practice the steps daily.  And to ask a lot of questions of people who are living it.

Some call these shifts in behavior, perception, and attitude a spiritual experience.   That may be true.  My lived experience shows that it helps keep me stay clean and sober and to be happy most of the time.   

What Works and What Doesn’t Work in 12 Step Recovery

Two Elements of 12 Step Recovery That Are Less Than Desirable

These two aspects of 12 step recovery make me want to give up on the whole damn thing!  They are very uncomfortable and are undesirable for me.  Yet they go with the gig of 12 step recovery.

The first aspect of 12 step recovery that makes me want to run the other way is people who are rigid to the extreme.  They will tell you this is the only way to recover.

You know them when you hear them. They are the “my way or the highway” type that espouse a mentality that feels like a cult.  They believe that recovery has to be done one way and one way only.

When I hear these folks my antennae goes up and I want to run out of the room.  Then I remind myself that some 12 step people really do believe that this is the only path to recovery.  My experience shows me that for some people other things like church, yoga, and therapy work too.  For most people,  it is likely a combination of things.

The second element of 12 step recovery that makes me uncomfortable is that it is hard to tell who is actually living in the solution of the 12 steps.  Sometimes I hear a speaker that says all the right things but whose life is actually in shambles.  I once heard a 12 step guy say he was arrested more times in recovery then he was when he was drinking.  Yikes!  If that is sobriety then no thanks.

The problem is it is really hard to tell at first who is walking the talk.  This makes trusting what people say difficult.

The real test of 12 step recovery is my own direct experience.  The Buddha taught his students not to rely on his words. He encouraged his followers to examine their own direct experience.  That is to take the instructions and actually apply them to day-to-day living and then assess their effectiveness.

Now that is a formula I can trust.

Photo by Jayson Hinrichsen on Unsplash

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