Taking Step 12

Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
Suggested Reading for Step Twelve:

Big Book:
Chapter 7 – Working With Others

12 & 12:
Step 12

Step 12a. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps….

The price. This little quote sums up the price we pay to get to this point:

My friend promised when these things were done I would enter upon a new relationship with my Creator; that I would have the elements of a way of living which answered all my problems. Belief in the power of God, plus enough willingness, honesty and humility to establish and maintain the new order of things, were the essential requirements. Simple, but not easy; a price had to be paid. It meant destruction of self-centeredness. I must turn in all things to the Father of Light who presides over us all. [Big Book, page 13, line 29]

Awakening as the result of what? The result of taking the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous is a Spiritual Awakening. Please reflect that this step does not say the awakening comes as the result of taking steps 1 though 11, those preceding Step 12. On the contrary, the awakening comes as the result of taking all of the steps, including Step 12.

An exclusive result? Notice, too, that the result of these 12 steps is a Spiritual Awakening. We have heard that this awakening is the sole or exclusive result, otherwise our authors would have said “…a…” result. Careful reading of the Big Book, however, makes clear that there are many results of taking the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, even though your Spiritual Awakening may be the cardinal, or most significant, result.

Who/what awakens? The original draft of the Big Book said the result was a spiritual experience. However, experience was changed to awakening, because the experience was so subtle for most of us that we couldn’t really say when it happened, what it was like, or whether it had ever happened at all. Some folk believe that it is the Spirit, the God-head within us, that awakens as the result of our taking the steps. Upon deeper reflection, however, we come to doubt that we could have ever gotten into A.A. and through the first 11 steps without the guidance of a Spiritual Power. Therefore, the Spirit has not been asleep to awaken. It is we, who have slept in the presence of the Spirit, that are now quickened to consciousness of the ever-presence of God.

Where do we find God? The awakening concept also clears up the question as to where and how do we find God. The answer is, of course, that God was within us from the very beginning. As to the where, the Big Book tells us at least twice exactly where God is:

With few exceptions our members find that they have tapped an unsuspected inner resource which they presently identify with their own conception of a Power greater than themselves. Most of us think this awareness of a Power greater than ourselves is the essence of spiritual experience. [Big Book, page 569]

Sometimes we had to search fearlessly, but He was there. He was as much a fact as we were. We found the Great Reality deep down within us. In the last analysis it is only there that He may be found. It was so with us. We can only clear the ground a bit. If our testimony helps sweep away prejudice, enables you to think honestly, encourages you to search diligently within yourself, then, if you wish, you can join us on the Broad Highway. [Big Book, page 55]

An evolutionary awakening. Most of us have become aware of His Presence only in retrospect; that is, by realizing that He is simply there, as He has been for some undetermined time:

  1. The first evidence of the awakening is usually in the change that takes place in our actions. We stop doing the things that injure ourselves and others. We begin to do the things that demonstrate constructive service. This is because most of we alcoholics do not think ourselves into right actions, but we can act ourselves into right thinking.
  2. Next, there is an evolution in awareness. The mind has discarded its old habits, and new habits and ideas are in charge.
  3. Finally, we discover that the promises in the Big Book are coming true in our lives. The essence of these is the presence of an internal peace that would have been inconceivable were we still drinking and carrying-on as we once were.

The smears on the window of the Spirit within have been removed. His radiance and power shine upon the world and others through us. The light is not of our making, we are simply the channels through which it flows. But, we play a vital role in all this. It is ours to:

  • keep the lens free of the stain of ego
  • to keep the nozzle of God’s power opened
  • and to train it upon those who are desperate for sobriety and healing.

STEP 12b. …We tried to carry this message to alcoholics, …

Carrying the A.A. message is mandatory. You have learned by now that carrying the message of Alcoholics Anonymous to those who still suffer is an indispensable component of your own sobriety. You can uncover many quotations in the Big Book to affirm the absolute necessity of your carrying the A.A. message to other alcoholics.

Where do newcomers come from? The circumstances in which we carry the message have changed significantly since the Big Book was written. In the old days, the drunk was found by or referred to an A.A. member, who qualified his prospect, often taking him through Step 3, before sponsoring his attendance at a meeting. Nowadays, the prospect may call into a telephone exchange that either sends some of us out for a visit or arranges for the prospect to attend a meeting; the prospect may just show up at a meeting alone or with a friend; he may have met some of us at a hospital or penal institution; he may “graduate” from a drying-out institution; or, a judge might sentence the poor guy or gal to a number of meetings (without ever consulting with us first). Thus, open meetings and a cup of coffee afterwards serve as the primary screening vehicles through which we come into contact with raw recruits. We have, for the most part, learned that many of the drunks who really need to sober up are often reluctant to try the A.A. approach. Unfortunately, it is typically necessary for them to take the first move in seeking recovery.

Experience is indispensable. Given that we feel compassion for the suffering alcoholic and are willing to spend some time with him, the only real tool we have is experience. Your experience with recovery, though vital, is of less importance with the very new than your experience with alcoholic drinking preceding recovery. The best experience is your own experience. The new prospect will know right away that you are authentic. Without his being able to validate you, you are wasting your time, and his, too. Of secondary benefit is your ability to relate the experience of others you know in A.A. But second-hand experience will usually suffice only to get the prospect to a meeting where he can meet a sober member with personal experience of an alcoholic situation similar to his own. The other tools in your kit, of course, are those which open the channel to a Higher Power.

With whom should you work?

  • With alcoholics. The first suggestion is that you carry the message to alcoholics. Lots of people come into A.A. with major problems that a compassionate member would like to help them out of. If we try to relieve newcomers from problems other than alcohol, we can get ourselves into uncharted waters in a hurry. Quite often we eventually discover that our own egos play a part in our trying to rescue those in need. Those with medical problems should see doctors. The financially strapped can usually manage to survive. Repair of a catastrophic family situation should probably be left to a counsellor. Our unique domain of excellence is avoidance of the next drink, although it is natural for us to try to be useful in other areas as well.
  • With alcoholics who really want to recover. When you are asked to help another, you are quite in order to ask, “Are you willing to go to any lengths to stop drinking alcohol?” If they are, continue. One of the worst traps we can get into is to try to sell A.A. This puts us on the defensive, where we cannot afford to be. If your prospect is not sick and desperate enough to grasp at about any straw, then he might have to try another approach. A.A. is the “best deal in town for a buck.” But there are others, too, and they might seem more palatable. Sometimes, we weep at how often real alcoholics turn, again and again, to the ultimate teacher – alcohol. If your prospect continues to drink in spite of your assistance, he just might be better off under the guidance of someone else.
  • With alcoholics who ask for your help. Continue with those who ask for your help. But don’t be misled that all the things which might be asked of you are valid “A.A. requests.” Carrying the alcoholic for more than a day or two, if ever, is something we avoid. It may come to the point that you must decide what you think the newcomer really needs, and you then offer that to him or her. If that isn’t what they want, then they have plenty of other sober members to find it from. There comes a point, too, at which the prospect either follows the A.A. path, or he wants to do it his own way. Sometimes we need to give him enough slack to stumble. Hopefully, he doesn’t also “slip.”

Getting the right help. In many instances you might believe that the newcomer will be better off with an organization other than A.A. or with a different A.A. member, and you should try to steer them there. A good ground rule is that you should have gotten out of the kinds of predicaments the newcomer is in, so you can explain what you did to get out. Otherwise, you can provide only head-learning where actions taken and experiences learned are needed. We mentioned elsewhere that A.A. is like a three-legged stool. Each is necessary to keep it from falling on its face. These are:

  1. Process. The 12 steps. They will work to recover from just about anything.
  2. Fellowship. Working with other recovered alcoholics is necessary. Those lacking direct personal experience in alcoholism carry the message poorly.
  3. Spirit. This whole thing works only in the presence of and under the direction of God.

Do not short-change newcomers by letting them depend upon you to help them out of situations outside our own experience. In addition, it is usually not a good idea to undertake extensive therapy with a candidate you are or might be sexually or emotionally attracted to. With rare exceptions, women work with women, and men work with men.

What is the source of recovery, anyway? Few of us have escaped the exhilaration of getting a new prospect sober – or kick ourselves for letting him slip into the debauch of relapse – only to realize that we didn’t do it. At most, we carried the A.A. message and offered some compassion and comfort, for a while. We have also come to know that the newcomer didn’t bring about his own sobriety, either. Nor did the Group or the book. It was the result of you and your prospect using the other tools in your recovery tool-kit. Yes, we gain the certain knowledge that God, the Creator of the Universe, Himself, does the work. Period.

The best 12th step might just be you. Words are often cheap. The message that best gets through the haze and cynicism of the alcoholic is you – your situation and behaviour. Do you have what the newcomer wants, not so much in terms of your possessions, but, more correctly, would the newcomer want to be like you. This takes us right to the pay-off. Your life has been spiritualized and you are living by the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous.

STEP 12c. …and to practice these principles in all of our affairs.

These principles? And which principles might be these principles, pray tell? Most members answer with, the steps. They are partly right. For the moment, let us resolve that these principles are the Alcoholics Anonymous principles of recovery as set forth in the Big Book (and the 12&12). They are not some other collection of principles.

To be sure we know what we are talking about, it is necessary to decide just what a principle really is. A principle is a fundamental or basic tenet, truth or rule. Principles are the foundation of truth underlying the laws of nature, and, especially, belief systems. For the purposes of A.A., principles might be thought of as basic action guidelines. They represent the belief system against which we measure thoughts or actions.

You are going to have an exciting time identifying and practising A.A.’s principles. It is suggested that you and some friends start with the first printed page in the Big Book (then the 12&12), and that you each read a paragraph while the others ask themselves if the paragraph contains any basic action guidelines for recovery from alcoholism, for quality living in general or for spiritual growth. If so, write them down.

In all of our affairs. Once we have learned the talk, we walk like we talk. Knowing what the principles of recovery in A.A. are is the easy part. The key to Step 12 is that we practice/exercise or act in accordance with these A.A. principles in all of our affairs (thoughts, words and deeds) 24 hours of each day during each day of every year. Wow!

Of course we can’t be perfect (saints). We just get better and better and better … New habits eventually displace old habits, and we don’t even notice the dramatic changes that have taken place in our attitude and behaviour. The rest of the world notices, though. They really do appreciate our new and constructive contribution rather than the destruction we once delivered.

So, we are new people, behaving under new guidelines; we describe and demonstrate to other A.A.s the message of A.A.; and we have a spiritual experience. Each of these three parts of Step 12 reinforces the other two. Each is vital to recovery.

Excerpted from “Taking Step Twelve” by the Big Book Bunch. The complete article is available here.

About the Authors

Contributors to Renascent’s Blog share their stories of addiction and recovery and/or their professional expertise.

One response to “Taking Step 12

  1. “Sometimes we had to search fearlessly, but He was there. He was as much a fact as we were. We found the Great Reality deep down within us.”
    This reminds me of the apostle Paul’s words to an audience in Athens, Greece: “He made out of one man every nation of men . . . so that they would seek God, if they might grope for him and really find him, although, in fact, he is not far off from each one of us.” (Acts 17:26, 27)

Comments are closed.