Lao Tzu, the Chinese philosopher, said “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step".
For people in recovery or those who are supporting someone on the path to recovery from mental illness, addiction, or any of life’s many challenges, this “journey” may begin with 12 Steps.
The steps I am referring to were penned by Bill Wilson, the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, and a self-admitted alcoholic in desperate need of physical, mental, and spiritual help; the year was 1938. Having stood the test of time, these 12 Steps continue to be used worldwide to successfully lead those who yearn for recovery from a life of hopelessness, despair, and chaos to one of happiness, joy, and order. Over the next several months, my desire is to bring a sense of hope for the future to anyone struggling with life-controlling illnesses, addictions, or issues, and knowledge of exactly how the 12 Steps can work to bring both recovery and serenity.
The word “step” is defined by Webster as “the act of putting one foot in front of the
other; a stage in a process; to move forward". Often, when faced with mental illness or addiction, the process of life itself can become stagnant. Fear, anxiety, depression, dependency, and accompanying physical symptoms stop the flow of what was once a life of expectation, independence, and activity. The 12 Steps, which are used in countless programs (Wikipedia lists 37), such as AA, NA, and Alanon, provide solid guiding principles, or a “framework” by which a person can become free to move forward and find solutions that lead to long term recovery.
Practicing these Steps is an ongoing activity for those who choose to make this commitment; sometimes the journey is smooth and easy, but often there are bumps in the road, “potholes” of sorts, that cause a fall. Just as a baby, when learning to take his first steps, does not get discouraged, it is at these times that we recognize our strength and desire for recovery. We rise up, look at the road behind us only long enough to realize how far we have come, and take the next step.
Through embracing the 12 Steps, there are many things that can be discovered about life, about others, and most importantly about ourselves. We learn that we gain power through recognizing our powerlessness, acknowledging the need to surrender our lives, and realizing the importance of taking personal responsibility for our outcomes. The 12 Steps can lead to acceptance of what was, what is, and what can be. Through continued practice of the Steps, our relationships with ourselves and everyone around us improve. Our understanding, empathy, communication, and feelings are bettered. We are able to consistently look upward for guidance, look inward to improve ourselves, and look outward to encourage and serve others, as we practice the 12 Steps in all our affairs.
The guiding principles of the 12 Steps are unique. Each individual is free to choose the interpretation that he feels best serves him. We are all distinct beings, have different life experiences, viewpoints, and beliefs. The 12 Steps allow the freedom for different understanding and actions; there are no “shoulds” or “have to’s.” We clearly see recovery for the glorious thing that it is and are free to pursue it in a way that is best for us, seeking only the knowledge of His will (God or a higher power, as we understand him), and the power to carry it out in our own way. Never will two recovery stories be the same, however, each journey through the 12 Steps will lead to a point of convergence: recovery, sobriety, serenity. I look forward to sharing the value and meaning of each step with you in the coming months as we seek recovery one moment at a time, one day at a time, and one step at a time.
A new light has begun to shine
On the children of the night.
THE 12 STEPS
We admitted we were powerless over__________— that our lives had become unmanageable.
Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
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.
Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to others and practice these principles in all our affairs.
**The 12 steps are used in the rooms of many recovery programs, along with interchange and support among group members, sponsorship, and service.