The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous
When it comes to recovery resources, there’s been one that’s almost been synonymous with recovery, and that’s Alcoholics Anonymous. Founded in 1935 by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith, Alcoholics Anonymous is a support group for individuals with substance abuse problems. At the time, most of the support groups — including the well-known Oxford Group — were religious and exclusive rather than inclusive. Further, these religious support groups emphasized the concept that substance abuse equated to sin and the journey of recovery was about resisting the urge to sin and trying not to succumb to sin.
However, Wilson conceived of an alternative route to recovery.
Rather than being religious, Wilson saw Alcoholics Anonymous as instead being spiritual, making the support group much more inclusive and versatile than the philosophies of the Oxford Group; while the Oxford Group was strongly Christian, Wilson’s Alcoholics Anonymous welcomed individuals of all denominations who could follow the philosophies of the program by incorporating their own spiritual or religious beliefs. To an extent, Wilson’s spiritual emphasis for Alcoholics Anonymous allows the program to be a template for individuals from all walks of life.
Over time, the spiritual focus of Alcoholics Anonymous became one of its most characteristics features; however, the most renowned thing to come out of Alcoholics Anonymous is surely the Twelve Steps. In essence, Wilson devised the Twelve Steps to be a sort of roadmap or blueprint for recovery. Of course, we associate recovery today with counseling and psychotherapy, but Wilson’s Twelve Steps conceived of recovery as being as much about spiritual recovery and achieving a spiritual awakening as it was about becoming sober and abstinent.
With the Twelve Steps, the idea was for individuals to begin with the first and work their way through each successive step in numerical order. By completing, or “working,” the steps, individuals were able to progress from a state of being chemically dependent to being chemically independent, all while utilizing their own belief systems as motivation and fuel for their recovery goals. For instance, the first of the Twelve Steps involved admitting and accepting one’s powerlessness to alcohol and, thereafter, submitting oneself to the higher power of one’s understanding. As well, an individual was to take an inventory of character defects, admit those defects, and appeal to one’s higher power to overcome those defects. In subsequent steps, an individual makes an actual physical list of the people that he or she harmed — whether physical or emotional — over the course of addiction and takes every chance to make amends to those people in an effort to restore balance to those relationships.
By the time an individual completes the Twelve Steps, he or she has become acutely aware of the character defects that are at the root of his or her addiction. Moreover, the individuals have done whatever was possible to make up for the wrongs committed against others and achieved a spiritual awakening. Finally, the steps guide the individual essentially become a herald for the Twelve Steps by becoming a mentor to newcomers to Alcoholics Anonymous; in effect, being a recovery resource to others serves to reinforce one’s own recovery.