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How to Work the AA Steps

The Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) steps are the basic framework of long-term recovery for anyone recovering from alcohol use disorder. Stemmed from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, the twelve steps guide addiction recovery and treatment. Without instructions, it can be pretty challenging to understand how to work the AA steps and positively impact your addiction recovery journey. Here’s a short guide to help you start.  

What is Alcoholics Anonymous?

Alcoholics Anonymous is an international mutual aid fellowship founded by Bill Wilson and Bob Smith. Based on “The Big Book” literature, the program aimed to work as an alcohol abuse self-help network. There are no dues or fees to be part of AA; the only requirement is for members to show a desire to stop drinking. 

AA is based on the doctrine that asks members to admit their lack of control over alcohol. It revolves around the idea that individuals must turn themselves to a higher power and find spiritual awakening. While this concept is helpful to some, it can be challenging for those who don’t consider themselves religious individuals.

The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous Explained

The purpose of the twelve AA steps is to help individuals recover from their compulsive, out-of-control behaviors that led them to addiction. It’s meant to provide a route to restore manageability and order in their lives. The steps are about honesty, humility, self-discovery, acceptance, forgiveness, and positive behavioral changes. All in all, the AA steps and helps improve emotional well-being and foster spiritual growth. 

1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable

The first step is always the most debated one because it talks about admitting powerlessness. However, the idea isn’t to admit weakness but instead, tapping into your strengths to ask for help. Beyond admitting powerlessness, it means accepting that you’re living with a disease. It takes time to embrace the power of this step fully. But, it’s by far the most important one in the recovery journey.

2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity

After admitting that you’re powerless against this disease, you have to ask for that higher power for help. Initially, this “power” figure was God. However, you get to decide what a higher power means to you. The second step is about identifying this power and trusting it with your journey. This is the power that fills you with strength and hope and calmness throughout your journey to recovery.

3. Decided to turn our will and our lives over to the Care of God as we understood Him

Now that you’ve identified this power, it’s time to take action. The third step is about acting on your fuel to beat this disease. Now, you’ll trust those external forces and use their suggestions to make progress in your journey slowly. However, this isn’t to say that you’ll give up all control of life to the external. It’s about knowing what’s in your control and what isn’t and taking the initiative to improve.

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves

The fourth step is about honesty and identifying your addictive behaviors. For many, this is one of the most painful and emotional AA steps. By this step, most people are already deep into their recovery plan, and their addiction walls are now crumbling. Making inventory means replaying a movie of everything harmful you did and everyone you hurt because of your addiction. 

5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs

The moral inventory isn’t just about naming previous mistakes; it’s about admitting those. The purpose of this step is to eliminate the guilt and burden one feels because of those wrongdoings. The vicious cycle between shame and addiction ends here. This step is about releasing yourself’ responsibility and understanding unhealthy coping mechanisms that might interfere with your recovery. 

6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character

Now, it’s time to release those negative behaviors and thoughts. Unlearning our behaviors is quite challenging, so is learning new and healthy ways to behave. This step is about progress or improvement over perfection. Although you’re asking this higher power to remove these character defects, you’re permitting yourself to start making these changes. 

7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings

Nobody is perfect; that’s a fact. The seventh step is about humility. As you remain humble on your journey, it becomes easier to downsize the impact of your behaviors, find a place of forgiveness, and see the influence this greater force has over your addiction. Here, you’re leaving the addict self behind, and you’re focusing on celebrating the sober you.

8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all

Another challenging step for many. This one is about making a moral inventory of the damage you caused others. Similar to step four, you’re asked to account for and admit all the harm your addiction caused. By now, you’ll likely see new ways your addiction affected others in the past. Making a list releases some guilt and replaces it with motivation to improve and make it right over others. 

9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others

The previous step is about motivation; here, you’ll use that motivation to take action and mend your social harm. Here’s when you’ll engage in in-person apologies and other amends that you think are fit. But, some amends cannot be made. In this case, indirect amends like sending a card, calling the person, or any other gesture that can help is valid. 

However, it’s essential to understand that making amends doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be forgiven. Acceptance of the things you can’t control is vital. Recognize that the other person has the right not to accept your amends. Don’t lose hope or fall back on your journey. Instead, keep moving towards healthier beliefs and continue to live by your new standards. 

10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it

The tenth step is about reinforcing your new moral compass. You’re already aware of the damage your behaviors can cause and the process of making repairs. This step is about logging current and future actions to continue your progress. Admitting pitfalls and setbacks is learning to manage and control the disease. Besides, it also takes away the cycle of guilt and shame that can lead to significant relapses. 

11. 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

As you continue to make progress, this step is about open communications with your higher power. More than talking and listening, it is essential to listen with intentions. Use these reflections as tools to fuel your progress. It’s about not being ashamed to ask for help, or share guilt, express your gratitude and internalize the burdens. 

12. 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

The final step is about reinforcing everything you’ve learned and experienced but also guiding others. One of the things the Fellowship encourages is to carry the message to others struggling with addiction. This is why many who complete the 12-steps become sponsors or volunteers at rehab facilities. AA recognizes that completing the AA steps alone doesn’t mean you’ll have lifelong sobriety. Imperfection and setbacks are part of the process. This step emphasizes that whenever you are faced with challenges, you’ll have the security of going back to these steps to give you the support you need to remain in control. 

What to Expect from AA Meetings

Unlike other support meeting programs, AA follows a ritual or practice in most of their meetings. It usually starts with the chairperson reading the AA Preamble, a leading group prater, then the Serenity Prayer. Those who’ve been part of the group for some time might recite the prayers as well. Then, some members of the meeting will read brief AA literature, usually part of the Twelve Traditions and The Promises. 

Afterward, the chairperson asks if any newcomers are attending the meeting who would like to introduce themselves. This is always an option, and it’s not mandatory. If this is a step meeting, the chairperson will announce the step they will be discussing. Then, members are invited to share any experience, challenges, or words about the step. 

Understanding the Different Meetings

If this is an open meeting, the chairperson will invite someone who volunteers to talk. During the meeting, they’ll take center stage and start the conversation with, “Hello, my name is [first name], and I’m an alcoholic.” Then, they share their story, everyone thanks them for doing so, and the next person can speak.

Once the time for the meeting is up, the chairperson will end with the Lod’s Prayer. Everyone stands up in a large circle, holding hands, and recites the prayer together. It’s not mandatory to participate in the prayer; you can leave at this point if it’s your wish. 

After the meeting, there’s usually a small social gathering. Some people may introduce themselves; others use this opportunity to ask questions. And others choose to leave immediately after the meeting. 

Of course, no two meetings are alike. Some sessions might feel more religious or spiritually oriented than others. Some are connected to a treatment program, while others have a less structured agenda. It might take time to find a meeting that feels right to you, but you shouldn’t be discouraged if you feel out of place at first. Remember, this is an ongoing process that takes plenty of trial and error to get right. The important thing is that you keep attending these meetings alongside your behavioral therapy and treatment programs. Eventually, you’ll be able to share the knowledge of the AA steps with others and fully enjoy the fruits of your new sober life.

Other Alternatives to Alcoholics Anonymous

One of the most significant limitations of the AA steps is their heavy focus on spirituality. Introducing the idea of a higher power is a significant sticking point for many people, addicted or not. Some individuals may feel that any concept requiring them to believe in something or conform is not for them.

However, there are many variables for Alcoholics Anonymous to consider:

  • Self-Management and Recovery Training (SMART): SMART Recovery programs follow a science-based 4-Point Program directed to drug and alcohol abusers. Generally, their mutual-support program encourages self-empowerment and self-reliance.
  • LifeRing: LifeRing Secular recovery programs are non-12-steps recovery paths for those seeking peer-run support groups. In meetings, participants are encouraged to share practical experiences about their addiction and sobriety journey.
  • RefugeRecovery: RefugeRecovery is a different type of recovery support group based on Buddhist principles. The program believes everyone has the potential to free themselves from addiction. Using Buddha’s teachings, they hope to carve a path of recovery and awakening.

Finding Treatment for Alcohol Addiction Near Me

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use disorder, don’t wait any longer. Countless treatment options can help them conquer their addiction and manage any withdrawal symptoms. Remember, quitting potent drugs alone can be life-threatening. It’s essential to have the support and supervision of drug addiction specialists by your side. 

At Lighthouse Recovery Institute, we believe in offering customized alcohol addiction treatment plans for those struggling with drug or alcohol abuse. On a case-by-case basis, we look at each treatment program to cater to your needs to get better and walk towards recovery. From detoxification programs to group meetings and more, everyone in our team is committed to helping you win the struggle with addiction. 

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