Working the 12 Steps of Recovery: Step 11

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By Scott Brassart

Last week, we discussed how to work Step 10 of the 12 Steps, along with the benefits of working that step. This week, our focus logically moves to Step 11.

Step 11 reads as follows:

Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.

Step 11, like Step 10, is not a step that is worked once and then forgotten. Instead, it is part of an ongoing (usually daily) ritual of recovery. That said, recovering addicts often find prayer and meditation to be somewhat baffling concepts. And some, especially those who began the recovery process as agnostics or atheists, may still be struggling with the idea of having a higher power at all. For these reasons (and many others), Step 11 can be a difficult one to work. If you find yourself struggling with this step, take heart in the fact that you are very far from alone, for even the most devoutly religious members of 12-Step recovery groups sometimes temporarily lose their way here.

The good news is that if you’ve diligently worked the first ten steps and still find yourself at odds with the spiritual nature of recovery, that’s OK. As mentioned above, Step 11 is part of an ongoing practice. As such, nobody is expected to work it perfectly. In fact, the effort of working Step 11 is usually far more important in terms of lasting positive effects than any other factor. The step itself actually takes this into account by incorporating the words “God as we understood God.” So, however it is that you understand (or don’t understand) your higher power, that’s just peachy. You don’t have to be a devout Christian, Jew, Muslim, or anything else to work Step 11, because Step 11 isn’t about religion. Instead, it’s about finding your personal spiritual center, whatever that might be.

For some addicts, this is relatively easy, especially those who arrived in recovery with an existing spiritual practice. In such cases, a renewed effort in that discipline is usually the way to go. The exception to this occurs when the addict no longer trusts or believes in that discipline. This sometimes happens when the religion of one’s childhood has a scary, judgmental, punishing form of God, or when the people associated with the religion did not adequately practice what they preached. In such cases, it is perfectly acceptable (from a 12-step standpoint, anyway) to develop a completely different spiritual connection.

That said, for individuals who don’t yet have a spiritual connection and for people who are seeking a different one, the mere thought of trying to find one can feel incredibly daunting. But it needn’t, as the process is really not difficult. The only things required for success are open-mindedness and willingness, and by the time most recovering addicts reach Step 11 they are more than a little bit familiar with these concepts.

The first thing to understand is that there is no right or wrong way to develop a spiritual connection. There are as many ways to accomplish this task as there are people who’ve done it. In other words, no two people’s journey and experience are exactly the same. And the real reward isn’t reaching some specific spiritual plateau; it is simply making the journey and having the spiritual experience. Nevertheless, a few general tips may help you to find your particular pathway toward enlightenment.

  1. Make your spiritual quest a regular part of your daily routine. Set aside a specific time each day where you will not be disturbed by family, work, or other outside distractions.
  2. Create a ‘sacred space’ in which to conduct your daily spiritual practice. This may be something formal and elaborate such as a meditation garden, or it may be something quite simple, such as your favorite easy chair (with the television, stereo, phone, and other potential distractions either removed or turned off).
  3. Develop a spiritual routine. This could include a guided meditation, a series of affirmations, a specific or nonspecific prayer, writing out a gratitude list, etc.
  4. If all else fails, find a spiritual mentor. Pick someone who has what you want in terms of his or her spiritual connection and do what he or she does. Eventually, you will be able to adapt elements of that person’s spiritual practice into your own.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with new ideas and to alter your spiritual practice as time passes. It is very likely that as you continue to work step 11, your concept of a higher power will change, as will your ability to connect with it. As such, your daily routine is likely to vary over time as a reflection of this growth.


In next week’s post to this site, we will conclude our discussion of the 12 Steps with an examination of Step 12.