Working the 12 Steps of Recovery: Step 12

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By Scott Brassart

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

Step 12 reads as follows:

Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

The first thing to do when you approach step 12 is to recognize the first portion of the step’s language, “having had a spiritual awaking as the result of these steps.” In other words, by the time you reach step 12, you will have had a spiritual awakening of some sort. Most likely it was not of the burning bush variety, but no doubt you have experienced it. If you think that you haven’t, just take a quick inventory. As yourself:

  • Have I stopped my addictive behavior?
  • Am I interacting in healthier ways with family members, bosses, co-workers, neighbors, and random strangers?
  • Do I feel better about myself and my place in the world?
  • Am I more accepting of others?

If the answer to these questions is “yes” (or even “sometimes”), and it almost certainly is if you’ve diligently worked the first 11 steps, then you have indeed had a spiritual awakening. So, pause for a moment and pat yourself on the back because you are ready for the remainder of step 12.

Essentially, the remainder of step 12 can be broken down into two parts: (1) helping others to recover from addiction; and (2) practicing the 12-step principles in all your affairs.

First, let us discuss helping others. This can be done in numerous ways. Sometimes people think sponsorship of newcomers is the only route, but it is not. Certainly, though, it is one of the best. And it is relatively simple. A sponsor’s job is to understand the newcomer’s addiction issues as thoroughly as possible and to guide that individual through the process of working the 12 steps. (If you are a new sponsor and find yourself unsure of the route, just consult with your own sponsor to see how he or she would handle things.)

Another great way to do 12th step work is to attend and participate in 12-step meetings. By simply attending these meetings you are supporting others on their journey, letting them know they are not alone and that you care about them. When you talk in a meeting, which is highly encouraged, you share your experience, strength, and hope, allowing others to learn and benefit from both your errors and your successes. Even people who are uncomfortable talking in meetings can be of service by arriving early to help to set up chairs and make coffee, and staying late to clean up. These quiet workers are the people who make 12-step meetings possible! The trick with service work, as 12th step work is often called, is finding a job that you’re comfortable with, and then doing it without expecting recognition or thanks.

The second part of Step 12, practicing the 12-step principles in all your affairs, is even easier. After all, you’ve been doing this with your addiction and most of your day-to-day life already, and you have Step 10 and Step 11 (which you practice on a regular basis) to keep you on the straight and narrow. In Step 12, you merely continue implementing the step-work you’ve already done and are doing on an ongoing basis, applying the lessons you’ve learned to all aspects of your existence, not just your addiction.

Despite the ease of working Step 12, recovering addicts nearly always fall short of their ultimate goals. And this is just fine. In fact, it’s not only acceptable, it’s expected. We are not saints when we arrive, and we do not miraculously become saints just because we’re working a program of recovery. Our real goal is to live sober lives one day at a time, and to do that a little bit better today than we did it yesterday.

Final Thoughts on the 12 Steps

Hopefully you have found this series of blogs on working the 12 steps helpful. Before signing off, I want to reiterate a statement I made in the opening blog: There is no right or wrong way to work the 12 steps. There are as many ways to work the steps as there are people working them. The important thing is not how you work them, as they are a proven pathway to long-term sobriety and recovery.

It is also important to remember that 12-step recovery is not something that people do alone. Instead, it is a collective effort—recovering addicts helping other recovering addicts to achieve and maintain sobriety.

You may not enjoy 12-step meetings at first, but as you get to know people and, more importantly, as others get to know you, you will assuredly warm to them and to the process of 12-step recovery. In all likelihood, meetings will, over time, become an important part of your social life—not because you can no longer hang out in “slippery” venues, but because meetings are where your friends are. If you simply open your mind and your heart, you will find that 12-step recovery is a beautiful place to be.