In AA Step 12 says, “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.”
When we think of step 12 in AA, we often think of the first part of the step — service, carrying the message, helping other alcoholics, sponsorship — but there’s much more to it than that.
Step 12 — Practicing These Principles in All Our Affairs
What most people miss about step 12 is the second half — practicing these principles in all our affairs.
What are these principles? The principles of the previous 12 steps:
- Step 1. Honesty
- Step 2. Hope
- Step 3. Faith
- Step 4. Courage
- Step 5. Integrity
- Step 6. Willingness
- Step 7. Humility
- Step 8. Love
- Step 9. Discipline
- Step 10. Perseverance
- Step 11. Spirituality
- Step 12. Service
Practicing these principles is difficult. It means that we have to change everything we’ve ever done in our lives, and for most people, this is impossible to do right away.
Sure, it all sounds good — just be humble, just live a life where you love everyone, just be disciplined in all things.
But in practice, it’s really hard.
And let’s not forget the second part — practice these principles in all our affairs.
In AA step 12 is saying that we don’t just act this way when we’re in a meeting, or when we’re speaking in group conscious.
It means we act this way at home toward our family and our friends.
It means we act this way at work with our coworkers and bosses.
It means we act this way on the road when someone is driving like an asshole.
It means all our affairs — all aspects of our life.
It’s easy to say, “Always be humble,” but when we find ourselves doing well at work or excelling at something we love (like writing for me, or maybe sports or some other hobby), then the tendency to become prideful and throw humility away can become strong.
What step 12 requires is practice and time. We need to practice acting with these principles in mind, acting this way in our lives no matter what’s going on.
We’re going to fail at this.
I get angry easily. Some of it is a result of anxiety, but a lot of it just comes from the fact that I’m an angry person.
When I get angry, those principles go right out the window.
In a way, practicing step 12 is practicing step 6. We’re fighting against character defects that are the opposite of these principles. Over time, with practice, we can change the way that we are.
We can change our character.
We can live up to these principles that seem so difficult to achieve.
Remember, we need the 12 steps because these principles are not easy for people like us.
If we acted in all of these ways naturally, we wouldn’t need the 12 steps in the first place.
I tell most people that, if you’ve met me, there’s a good chance you’re fucked up — because I am too, and I talk about it a lot.
It’s okay to be fucked up. That’s why we have the 12 steps in the first place — to help people like us.
So those are the principles that we work to live up to. But what about the first part of step 12?
What about service?
In AA Step 12 Is Also About Service
When most people think about step 12 in AA, they think about service — about carrying the message of recovery and hope to other alcoholics and drug addicts.
In some AA groups, step 12 is emphasized heavily. In others, not so much.
Carrying the message can be divided into two parts:
- Literally carrying the message to a treatment center or jail or hospital.
- Sponsoring other alcoholics and drug addicts and taking them through the 12 steps.
How to Carry the Message in AA
Carrying the message can be done in a variety of ways.
The most common way is to go with members of your AA home group to a treatment center and to talk about the 12 steps.
In many cases, it’s just 3 or 5 people talking about their experience with the 12 steps. They talk about what their lives used to be like, how they got sober, and what their lives are like now.
In some cases, there’s a structure to the hour that’s spent talking to the patients. It might be reading from the book and explaining how the 12 steps work.
It might be giving a presentation about the 12 steps, like Stickman.
It might just be leading a meeting where the patients all get to share, just like in a regular meeting of AA.
This same format is often followed when carrying the message to other institutions, like jails.
Carrying the message like this is important, but it’s not the most common way that the message can be carried.
The most common way is through sharing in an AA meeting.
Sharing in a Meeting of AA
When we go to a meeting in AA, if it’s a good group, we hear a message of hope from everyone who shares.
That’s the primary reason for a meeting after all. It’s a place where newcomers can come to learn how AA works and what they need to do to get sober and stay that way.
People who have been through the 12 steps — even if they haven’t completed them — have experience with working the 12 steps and getting better.
They can share how well the 12 steps have worked for them so that newcomers can start to understand how it all works and what they can do to live a better life and stop drinking or getting high.
For most people, by the time they get to AA, they’re using or drinking so much that, even if they wanted to, they can’t stop.
Many are using and drinking against their will.
So it’s up to those of us who have gotten better — even if it’s just a little bit better — to share a message of hope when we speak in a meeting, to tell them that yes, you can recover, that you don’t have to live this way anymore.
Ideally, when someone has heard the message of AA — which is essentially that you can recover from alcoholism and drug addiction — they will ask what to do next, how they can recover.
The next step for them is sponsorship.
In AA, Step 12 Includes Sponsorship
Sponsorship is the final — and perhaps most important — method of carrying the message in AA.
When we sponsor someone, our primary job is to show them how to work the 12 steps.
While there are secondary things we can do — like helping people stay accountable through regular phone calls — we focus on taking someone through the 12 steps.
In AA step 12 doesn’t explicitly tell us that we sponsor people, but that’s what’s been developed over decades of practice and experience.
It says in the Big Book that it’s the story of how thousands of men and women have recovered from alcoholism.
The way they’ve recovered is by working the 12 steps.
And the 12 steps are work. For example, we need a sponsor to hear our 5th step — which is essentially confession — but it’s up to us to put in the hard work of writing out a 4th step so that we have something to talk about in step 5.
Without a sponsor to guide us, working the 12 steps is difficult at best.
It’s possible to do it with just the Big Book as a guide, but there’s really no reason to with meetings so common and so accessible in many parts of the world.
If we have gone through the 12 steps ourselves, have had a spiritual awakening as a result of that, we should be performing service by taking other alcoholics and drug addicts through the 12 steps.
Why should we do this?
While it’s good to be of service, it has a function.
It keeps us sober.
In AA Step 12 Keeps Us Sober
In the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, it says: “Nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics. It works when other activities fail.”
This is referring explicitly to sponsorship.
It’s saying that, if we want to stay sober — especially if we’re thinking about drinking or getting high — that we should take another alcoholic or drug addict through the 12 steps.
This implies that we should be sponsoring people not just when we feel good, but when we’re feeling bad — especially when we’re thinking about drinking.
This runs contrary to popular opinion.
You’ll often hear that you shouldn’t be sponsoring people if you still have the mental obsession to drink or get high.
You’ll often hear that you shouldn’t be sponsoring people unless you have a specific amount of time sober — usually years.
This is bullshit.
I went through the 12 steps in 45 days, and I probably could have gone through the faster if I hadn’t been struggling with OCD.
I started sponsoring immediately, and I’ll tell you honestly that the only reason I’m sober today is that I did intensive work with other alcoholics and drug addicts.
There were times when I would spend 8 hours a day at a treatment center taking other alcoholics and drug addicts through the 12 steps.
My sponsees often only been sober a month less than I had.
None of that mattered.
I wanted more than anything to be sober.
So I followed the suggestions of the Big Book.
I worked intensively with others.
If you want to stay sober, I suggest you do the same.
Step 12 Is the Most Critical Step
It’s easy to say that all the steps are important — and they are — but the truth is that step 12 is the most important step of all.
The reason for this is simple — if you work through steps 1–11, you’ll get sober, but if you don’t work step 12, you won’t stay sober.
That I guarantee.
At least if you’re an alcoholic or drug addict like me — of the hopeless variety.
If you’re serious about staying sober through the 12 steps of AA, then you need to work step 12 on a regular basis.
In AA step 12 is your lifeline.
It’s the only thing standing between you and death.
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