The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, created by A.A. founders Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith, have had a major spiritual influence on the lives of millions of people. Everyone can use the concepts in these steps as guidelines to living their own lives. The references to alcohol and alcoholics in steps 1 and 12 can be substituted for any kind of problem, issue, condition or addiction in one’s life.
I was recently supporting a dear friend suffering with multiple sclerosis and we discussed the need to surrender to his problem. We suspected that it would help him to deal with his pain, both emotionally and physically. The interaction made me think about the different stages of surrender when working through The Twelve Steps, outlined below.
I see Steps 1 and 2 as surrenders to whatever the problem or challenge is:
Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over [ ] – that our lives had become unmanageable.
Step 2: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
It is important to identify your challenge. In the case of my friend, it’s the devastating condition of multiple sclerosis. If you can’t identify a specific problem, insert “happiness” – I’ve seen that done before.
The first word in the first step is “we,” which is the magic of Twelve Step programs and meetings. Sometimes, just being around those who are in the same situation as we are and who understand our pains can be a healing experience. I think there is no challenge or problem that others cannot relate to and can offer support if asked to give guidance. Admitting that you have a problem and seeking help are the most important steps in the process.
Step 2 is the surrender, an acknowledgement that your way of dealing with an issue may not be working. Trying a new way with proper help and support is the sane path.
I see Steps 3, 4 and 5 as surrendering to a higher power and becoming able to share your vulnerability.
Step 3: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.
Step 4: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
Step 5: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
The wonderful part of Alcoholics Anonymous is the openness that I am allowed to develop in my own relationship with God or a higher power. The words in italics at the end of Step 3 comforted me. These steps put the emphasis on looking outside of ourselves for comfort and direction. It is also a large part in the healing process.
Steps 6 and 7 ask you to surrender yourself, as a human being, to acknowledge your wonderful imperfections, and to ask God to help you improve.
Step 6: Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
Step 7: Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
The personal surrendering of our true self, our faults, and our weaknesses is a significant step in building true character, personal values, and strengths.
Steps 8, 9 and 10 are designed to set things right with others in your world.
Step 8: Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
Step 9: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
Step 10: Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
These steps force us to acknowledge that we are accountable to those with whom we interact. We are ultimately responsible for our actions. These steps are especially critical to support those whom we love the most. The more comfortable we are with ourselves and those around us, the easier it is to live a more healthy and positive lifestyle, and look others directly in the eyes. These first 10 steps help us feel neither superior nor inferior to those around us, but rather equal to all.
Steps 11 and 12 enable us to become strong spiritual beings, and also to help those in need by sharing what we have learned with our higher power.
Step 11: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
Step 12: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to [ ], and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
Step 12 is like Step 1 in that the word “alcoholics” can be substituted for any problem or challenge one has in their own life. These final two steps help guide us on our spiritual path. One of the greatest spiritual gifts we can offer is to help others, and to think less of ourselves. This process is a major stepping stone in surrendering to whatever problem you may be facing, and how to overcome it.
After 70-plus years of miraculous recovery in this and many other programs that have sprung from the original 12 steps in AA, it is truly amazing to witness the healing and comforting that happens if we surrender and work toward these steps.