Twelve Step Programs

A Brief History

We would have to transport ourselves back in time to the early 1930’s. In the United States, the Great Depression has just started after the Wall Street Crash of 1929. Even though the sale of alcohol was prohibited by the The Eighteenth Amendment (Amendment XVIII) of the United States Constitution in 1919, there was still a lot of drinking going on behind the scenes. A gentleman by the name of Bill W., a stockbroker, began to realize his alcoholism was becoming a problem, thus checked himself into a hospital.

An old drinking buddy, Ebby, came by to visit explaining he had been sober for some time. Bill W. while appreciative to Ebby for the visit wasn’t convinced sobriety was going to work as it did for Ebby. Afterwards, Bill W. had a unexplained “spiritual experience” which led him to the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935.

Another program, Narcotics Anonymous was founded in 1953. Mirroring the same principles of Alcoholics Anonymous, they recognized all “mood altering substances” were a problem including alcohol. While on the other hand, many Alcoholics Anonymous groups stood on the principle AA was for alcoholics only.

From there, several recovery programs have been founded for a variety of people with different problems.

What are the 12 Steps?

The Twelve Steps, simply put, is just a new way to live without using our addictive substance. Each program addresses their problem (i.e. alcohol, drugs, over-eating, gambling, sex, etc.) differently while applying the same principles. If a person follows the program outlined they have a greater success of staying sober than doing it with none.

The Authors Thoughts on the Twelve Steps

When I first was exposed to AA and NA, I thought both programs were bogus. I simply didn’t believe what they were telling me. It took a while for me to understand what a 12 Step program was all about. At the beginning there were a couple of things I had to do in order for this to happen.

First, I had to stay sober no matter what. It was hard. I had to learn to ask for help. Going up to a stranger and saying anything at all was not something I ever imagined myself doing ever. But I did, day after day.

I thought I knew everything. In reality, I knew nothing at all. Therefore I had to listen without prejudice or any judgements. As I listened to people tell their stories I heard my own. I also heard of how they changed their lives. They did what they were told without question.

Lastly and probably the most important thing for me was to be brutally honest with myself and others. I didn’t trust a single person in my first meeting nor did I trust myself. These people started sharing something they would not share with anyone else. When I heard people talk about the changes in their lives and seeing firsthand how sobriety worked, I started to trust those around me. With that trust I believee the person who told me what to do had only one purpose – to help me stay sober. They did.

In the end, I kept my my shut, I listened to what people had to say and did what they did. I didn’t like it, I didn’t understand it but in the end, it worked.

So for anyone how may be on the fence about 12 Step programs, I ask three things of you:

Honesty. If I’m not honest with myself or others, I won’t stay sober. Even those little fibs we tend to say here and there. Cut ’em out. It took me years to stop my habitually lying. Even today, when I say a “white lie” or “fib” my immediate response is, “Sorry, I just lied…[the truth]”. In the end, one lie leads to another and another until that mole hill is a mountain.

Open-mindedness was a new concept to me. I had to put all preconceived notions of what things meant aside. For instance, sobriety is NOT just putting down or not using the substance. There are going to be things you don’t understand. Things you don’t want to do. Things you disagree with. Things that are new. Things which you thought were this, when actually it is this. A big part of sobriety for me was learning new things. I had to change the way I think – period. If someone offered a “suggestion”, I didn’t dismiss it. I say “Okay, perhaps I’ll try that!” I can’t tell you how many times that saved my life.

Willingness is the ability to try new things. Everything in sobriety is going to be new. Waking up sober is new. Eating without using a substance before or after is new. But I’ve never done these things before without a substance? Try it. Try those things people have suggested keeping them sober in their life and see what happens.

Do I have to go to a 12 Step program to stay sober? No. No one will force you to do anything. There are other recovery programs (i.e. Celebrate Recovery, SMART Recovery, SOS (Secular Organizations for Sobriety). It’s only through my own experience, a 12 Step program is the only way I have stayed sober.