Step Twelve

A blend of spiritual awakening, carrying the message, and daily practice

Step Twelve of Alcoholics Anonymous consists of just 28 words:

"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."

Learning to do all this is not easy. To get started, divide the Step into three parts.

First comes the concept of "spiritual awakening."

This has many meanings. For Bill W., the co-founder of AA, it was a sudden, dramatic and life-changing event. In his autobiography, Bill recalled that he was bathed in light and seized by an ecstasy beyond words:

"I stood upon a summit where a great wind blew. A wind not of air, but of spirit. In great, clean strength it blew right through me. Then came the blazing thought, 'You are a free man.'"

After that moment, Bill never took another drink. Yet in the book "Alcoholics Anonymous," he explains that this kind of experience is not required for recovery. Instead, most spiritual awakening happens over time in a subtle and gradual way.

"I'm not going to sit here and tell you that I've had a white-light spiritual awakening moment," says Kimberly M., a recovering alcoholic. "For me, a spiritual awakening is a whole different ball of wax—a moment of clarity when I can say I understand."

Those "aha" moments are regular events for Kimberly, who acts as a sponsor for several women in recovery. Kimberly's sponsees call her daily, and each week she meets with them in person. "We talk, and I can see the physical pain that they release when they're unburdening the feelings that they've kept buried down inside of them," Kimberly says.

The second part of Step Twelve is about carrying the message of recovery to other people.

This needs to be done carefully. Some key points to remember are these:
  • Talk to people when they are ready
    The Twelve Steps are a program of attraction, not promotion. We draw people into the Steps by our own example. When the right time comes, they'll ask: "How can I get what you've got?"
  • Keep it simple
    Our message for the person who's dependent on drugs is simply this: "I once was like you. Then I had a spiritual awakening as the result of the first eleven Steps. I have not gotten drunk or stoned since then."
  • Let go of labels
    When talking to people, we don't refer to them as alcoholics or addicts. We merely tell our story and let other people decide if it rings true for them.
  • Avoid "two-stepping"
    This takes place when people fly directly from Step One to Step Twelve. Flush with euphoria, these people are ready to carry the message before they've done Steps Two through Eleven.

This leads naturally to the third part of Step Twelve—practicing the principles "in all our affairs."

  • For example, the first three Steps are about honesty. They remind us to tell the truth when our efforts to solve any problem have failed. In turn, being honest allows us to ask for help.
  • In Step Four, we go deeper, practicing the principle of self-observation. This means taking a "moral inventory" that shines a light on our strengths and shortcomings.
  • In Step Five, we take what we've learned about ourselves and share it with others.
  • Steps Six through Ten remind us to practice the principles of willingness and humility as we admit our mistakes and make amends.
  • Step Eleven focuses on the principle of change. Nothing is static. We either grow in recovery or "coast" and become complacent. Prayer and meditation offer a source of guidance for acting wisely in any situation.

Step Twelve boils down to the principle of brotherly love.

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