What is Step 12 of the 12 Steps Program?
Step 12 of the 12 Steps: Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
On the path to Step 12 of the 12 Steps, most recovering substance abusers go through a “missionary phase” of telling everyone in sight how great the program is and how everyone should try it. Enthusiasm at new beginnings is intrinsic to human nature, but not always joyfully received by friends and family. Few people consider it pleasant conversation to be subjected to a high-energy monologue insisting that they should change and that one specific approach is the way to do it. Nor does anyone like to be threatened with the fires of hell or their earthly counterparts—especially if their own drinking “problem” consists of an occasional glass of wine.
Step 12 of the 12 Steps: Don’t Force Your Change on Someone Else
It’s great to change for the better, and it’s great to be enthusiastic about the change. However, it’s best to remember that enthusiasm is only contagious to the point where others connect it to potential benefit for themselves. Those who personally care about you find that benefit in seeing you improved and happy; those who aren’t quite as close will still appreciate any change that means increased productivity and the end of requests for “small” favors. However, appreciation may soon find its limits if your “asking” habit morphs into a new form called “sit through the full details of our latest expo” or “don’t you know what your ‘social drinking’ might lead to?” Even if someone has a genuine abuse problem in the making, remember how you reacted when others used to “nag” you about overdoing the drinking or pot. The same human nature that brims with enthusiasm over success, hates to be subjected to unsolicited advice that implies “you’ve got it all wrong. … you aren’t doing enough. … I know better than you.”
Dale Carnegie may have said it best: “Nine times out of ten, an argument ends with each of the contestants more firmly convinced than ever that he is absolutely right. Suppose you triumph over the other man and shoot his argument full of holes … Then what? … You have made him feel inferior. You have hurt his pride. He will resent your triumph.” And, “When we are wrong, we may admit it … But not if someone else is trying to ram the unpalatable fact down our esophagus.” And, “If you argue and rankle and contradict, you may achieve a victory sometimes; but it will be an empty victory because you will never get your opponent’s good will.” (See Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, Part 3, Chapter 2, “Twelve Ways to Win People to Your Way of Thinking–A Sure Way of Making Enemies.”)
Step 12 of the 12 Steps: Other Dos and Don’ts
You may never have been as antagonistic as implied there, but you don’t have to directly contradict anyone, or call names, or lose your temper, to turn your message of sobriety into a “rankling” annoyance. Careless insensitivity to others’ feelings and needs is provocation enough. Those who don’t currently number substance-abuse problems as major issues affecting their lives, however happy they are for you and however much they support sobriety programs in principle, get tired of seeing conversations dominated by your primary interest. Those who use socially or occasionally, resent implications that they might be too weak to handle it; and those who do have a current or developing problem are likely to be especially defensive and need handling with extreme tact.
In any case, the responsiveness of whomever you approach is likely to be directly proportional to how desperate he or she is to actually solve a personal substance-abuse problem (or that of a loved one), something not generally obvious at a glance. You thus need to stay alert to any indicators—verbal or non—of interest, boredom, or defensiveness. This may not be easy for you at this stage; besides being caught up in the early joy of victory, odds are that (even after the self-evaluation and amends-making of the earlier Steps) you won’t have completely shaken the addict’s habit of thinking only of yourself. Remember Steps 1 and 2: if you’re powerless to manage your own addiction alone, why should you expect you could force anyone else to change? Even the Higher Power waits to be asked for help.
Incidentally, the “missionary phase” of recovery is often followed by a “disillusionment phase” where the former abuser, even if he or she managed the first stage effectively, becomes seriously discouraged because “no one is interested in the message.” The realization that relatively few people are going to immediately cry, “This is just what I needed!” can be painful when it involves something that meant so much to you. If your enthusiasm led you to start a blog or online group, your disillusionment may be magnified as the first two months pass void of comment except for the occasional “Good thoughts” from a personal friend. (A few people—a very few—instantly find a huge audience; but they’re often the ones who ultimately finish in catastrophic relapse under the pressure of too much success too fast.)
Either the bite of disillusionment, or the problem of familiarity breeding contempt, may lead you into a danger as serious as becoming the 12-Step equivalent of a Bible thumper: a “humdrum phase” where your initial enthusiasm dies and everyday life, albeit now free of substance abuse, becomes just another case of living in a rut—now monotonous, now hectic, but rarely touched by spiritual growth or guided by a deep sense of purpose. Remember the final part of Step 12: “we tried to … practice these principles in all our affairs.” Not for a few weeks, not until we celebrate one or two or five years of sobriety, not until we feel consistently comfortable, but for life.
What, in summary, are the principles of Step 12 of the 12 Steps?
We remember that we aren’t in control of the world and that there’s no shame in asking for help, taking a long break, or admitting that a project is better left undone or handled by someone else. Humility also comprises accepting that we can’t make ourselves incapable of doing wrong, and it means (as per Steps 10 and 9) promptly admitting it when we are wrong, and making equally prompt amends when necessary.
Fraternal twin to humility, honesty means not only refraining from outright theft and lies, but being honest about our limitations and mistakes without worrying about the “what ifs.” Let’s not be like the typical public figure who resorts to all means of verbal gymnastics to avoid saying flat out, “I was wrong, and I’m sorry and want to make up for it.” Contrary to what seems to be taught in law schools, being honest about being wrong rarely invites others to take advantage; on the contrary, it stimulates increased respect and trust on their part.
Impatience—demanding that all traffic lights be green and all plans come with a six-week time limit—is the bane of humanity. It is the mother of smashed fenders, broken relationships, and ruined health. It is the metaphorical abortionist that shreds ideas as “more trouble than they’re worth” before they have a chance to finish developing. It’s also the goad that drives many people to (or back to) substance abuse, which at least provides some form of immediate reward. If we want to live the best lives we possibly can, faith in long-term goals is something we must affirm daily. When the reward we look forward to is big enough and sure enough, quick substitutes that could hamper progress are less tempting.
As Mark Twain said, “The world owes you nothing. It was here first.” Notwithstanding mountains of evidence to the contrary, we all believe on some level that we are more important than anything or anyone else. The truth is, we were made for interconnection, and nothing is more miserable than a life of endless self-gratification. Let’s prove through our own experience that those who wholeheartedly devote themselves to helping others (as opposed to doing it because something’s in it for you) are the happiest. Besides making amends for your wrongs and sharing the message of recovery, do someone a special favor (it can be as small-yet-difficult as interrupting something else to give them your full attention for five minutes) at least twice a day.
Not only is “the Higher Power as each of us understands it” an integral part of the 12 Steps, but virtually every expert, of any religious or philosophical persuasion, agrees that people who set aside regular time for “going deep” (through prayer, meditation, or visualization) enjoy better-than-average success and health. Don’t confuse this practice with “down time” or “self-care”; like physical exercise, “going deep” is energizing and rewarding, but can also be exhausting! It means focusing attention on a few key and very specific thoughts, denying unrelated thoughts any deliberate attention. It means putting aside the “need” to stay in touch with the outside world (no open phone, television, or computer networks allowed!). It means being honest about our own dreams and hopes without judging them or worrying about how they could ever come true or what others would think. Above all else, it means getting in touch with your soul: that spark that guards the core of the unique person you are and that has innate direct connection with the Higher Power. (For an excellent recent book on “what the soul is and how to treat it,” see Soul Keeping by John Ortberg.)
Remember, recovery is an ongoing and lifelong process, and it’s your responsibility to both stay true to it yourself and encourage others who need it.
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