Working the 12 Steps of Recovery: Why It’s So Important

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By Scott Brassart

At Seeking Integrity, we are big believers in the power of the 12 steps, as first developed by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and later adapted for use in other forms of addiction recovery, including recovery from sexual addiction and drug addiction. Those who seek treatment at a Seeking Integrity rehab learn how much we value 12-step work almost immediately, as attendance at 12-step support groups is a regular part of our treatment regimen. Within the first day or two, clients inevitably find themselves at a 12-step meeting, and this repeats consistently through the treatment stay. Our goal is to establish a pattern of 12-step support group participation before our clients complete rehab and return to the real world.

A lot of times clients wonder why we are so adamant about going to meetings and working the twelve steps. They think, “Gee whiz, I’m paying a lot of money to be in treatment here, I’m taking time off from work, and I’m spending time away from my family. Won’t this cure me of my addiction? Why should I bother with all this 12-step stuff?”

Unfortunately, even the best addiction rehab cannot cure addiction. In fact, there is no cure for addiction. You don’t spend a few weeks in treatment and walk out the door perfectly OK. Instead, you depart with an understanding of your basic issues, some useful coping skills that can help you avoid relapse, and a plan for carrying the sobriety begun in rehab forward into the rest of your life. Basically, our job is to prepare our clients for the lifetime of recovery to come – and we know from years of experience that 12-step work is going to be an essential part of this.

As you may already know, the 12 steps can seem a bit daunting. When you go to your first meeting and you read the steps (on that ubiquitous giant scroll hanging on the wall) they seem relatively straightforward. They probably even make sense. But when you think about actually doing them, about admitting you are powerless over your addiction, about turning your life over to a higher power, about dredging up your worst moments and talking about them with another person, about making amends for your wrongs to people you’re still incredibly angry with…? Yeah, right. That’s not going to happen. Most likely, you would rather eat dirt.

Well, guess what? Working the 12 steps, doing all of those things that sound incredibly awful to you when you first learn about them, is an essential element of long-term sobriety and recovery. Treatment at a Seeking Integrity may be the beginning of your sobriety, but staying sober over the long-haul, building a better life, establishing meaningful connections, and finding serenity and happiness requires ongoing work. And a significant part of that work is practicing the 12 steps.

In the coming weeks, I will provide a brief guide in an effort to demystify the 12 steps, hopefully taking away or at least diminishing the fear of working them. Though I am not a therapist, I’m a long-recovering alcoholic, drug addict, and sex addict. I have worked the steps myself, and, as a sponsor, I have successfully guided many others through this process. In other words, I’m not the ultimate authority on working the 12 steps, but know what I’m talking about.

That said, the guidance I provide is not the only way to work the 12 steps of recovery. In fact, there are as many ways to work the 12 steps as there are people working them. So rather than telling you this series of blogs presents the way to work the steps, or even the Seeking Integrity way to work the steps, I will simply re-state the advice I’ve heard (and given) over and over in 12-step meetings: Take what you like and leave the rest. If the material presented makes sense to you, then use it. If it doesn’t make sense to you, that does not in any way mean that the 12 steps are flawed; it only means my suggestions are not the best course for you.

At the end of the day, how you work the 12 steps is not important. But it’s imperative that you do work the steps because, as stated above, working the 12 steps is a proven part of the pathway to long-term recovery. So please go to meetings, get a sponsor, build a support group, and talk with this network about their experience working the 12 steps. Each of these individuals will have something useful to offer, and before you know it, you’ll be helping them, too. You will be as important to these folks and their recovery as they are to you and yours.

One final note: Recovery is a journey, not a destination. And the journey is meant to be enjoyed. So take your time and revel in each tiny success. You don’t have to ‘be well’ by tomorrow. In fact, you don’t ever have to be well. The true goal of recovery is to do life better today than yesterday. Happily, with residential addiction treatment, ongoing aftercare (both online and real-world), the 12 steps, and a strong support network, this is not only possible, it’s likely.

Please return to this space next week for a discussion on how to work step 1.