Tips for Working the 12 Steps
So you completed inpatient rehabilitation facility treatment and learned about a 12-Step program. Maybe you even have a program sponsor from whom you receive helpful guidance for your recovery. Ultimately, though, “working the steps” is a soulful, individual journey that requires courage, diligence, and humility. Here are some tips to make it easier for you.
#1: Consult your therapist or continuum of care counselor
A quality treatment center won’t send you back into the wild without a detailed continuum of care plan customized for your specific needs and relapse prevention guidelines. You should be able to confer with your addiction experts as you grow and evolve through the 12 Steps. Keep in mind that there’s really not a deadline for completing this process, and you might have to revisit a step or two more than once.
Without question, working the steps brings up a lot of issues. While your sponsor might be knowledgeable about many things, they’re likely not a treatment professional—their primary role is to help you through the program. Maintaining good communication with your recovery specialists ensures greater success.
#2: Consider this to be a fluid process
If you were introduced to a 12-Step program during treatment, you might already be in process, as each program leader has a slightly different approach. If not, take time to read all the steps thoroughly before addressing each one. As mentioned, if you have a sponsor, they’ll help guide you, but they won’t have the “answers,” as this process isn’t a test.
Open up, ask questions, take your time. We all want to “get better” but recovery is more than that. You’re rediscovering your true self—the one that might have been smothered by trauma, legal or financial troubles, relationship difficulties, and addiction. As long as you’re dedicated to that goal, you’ll have the compassion and patience to see it through.
#3: Remember that meetings have a similar, but different, structure
It’s helpful to remember that most program meetings, regardless of the substance or disorder focus, still follow a similar structure. Knowing what to expect helps ground you and reinforces your intention. But your 12-Step meeting in a facility will be different than the one you attend near your home, on vacation, or on another day. Leadership, personalities, and atmosphere ebb and flow, and that can be refreshing or unsettling.
Finding the right meeting to meet your needs is your responsibility. Many people tend to give up too quickly if something is said that they don’t agree with, or they don’t want to listen to others’ stories. Unless something is drastically triggering you or you feel unsafe, recognize that it’s natural to be uncomfortable sometimes as people share and open up in vulnerable ways. This is expected and acceptable. If a particular meeting simply isn’t helping you, this isn’t an excuse to drop the process, but an invitation to find one that will.
#4: However you define “higher power” is okay
In the past few years, 12-Step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) received negative criticism regarding the use of the word God, the implication that addiction was a moral failing, and that you could only participate if you were Christian. While it’s true that the origins of the group are rooted in this denomination, the principles have evolved to be inclusive, encouraging participants to define higher power or God in ways they can identify with—even if it doesn’t involve spirituality.
That being said, many people find spirituality helpful for their recovery–while others would rather not include it at all if they identify as atheist or agnostic. Once again, you simply have to find the path that works for you.
#5: Revisiting or postponing steps is part of the process
As mentioned, there’s not a deadline for working the steps. And depending on what type of program you’re following—drugs, alcohol, overeating, gambling, and so on—some variations to the philosophy might take considerably more time than others.
For example, in the AA Big Book, 400 pages of information relate to recovering from alcohol use disorder. The entire book isn’t dedicated to the steps, but certain chapters might resonate more with you after you’ve been in the program for a while than when you begin. Or steps 8 and 9 might present additional complications:
- Step 8: Make a list of all persons we had harmed, and be willing to make amends to them all.
- Step 9: Make direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
Sometimes people simply aren’t ready to make amends, for various reasons. This is usually a prompt to review progress so far and revisit prior steps for deeper, more meaningful work.
#6: You can do other programs, too
You might find additional enrichment in your sobriety journey learning new coping methods, finding specific issue support, reaffirming your faith, and other beneficial practices while simultaneously working the steps. There’s no need for mutual exclusivity.
For example, SMART Recovery teaches participants methods for self-empowerment, self-directed change, and managing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. LifeRing uses a “3-S” philosophy of sobriety, a secular approach, and self-directed planning as a framework for recovery goals. Women for Sobriety use acceptance statements which encourage emotional and spiritual growth. Celebrate Recovery follows a similar 12-Step approach totally immersed in Christianity.
Willingway Supports the 12-Step Process
Our inpatient and outpatient services include 12-Step programs as part of an individual treatment plan to expand on therapeutic methods and provide a circle of support. You can learn more by attending one of our continuing care community groups throughout the Southeast.