AA & The Twelve Steps


Learn how AA and the 12 steps work in reality

There are a number of stigmas associated with addiction self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. Criticisms include: “It’s a cult,” “they’ll brainwash you,” and my personal favorite (I identified with it the most), “It’s just a bunch of old guys talking about their ex-wives.” Depending on who you ask about the 12-Step program, you will receive a number of different answers based on each individuals’ personal experiences. Despite the criticism, people claim self-help meetings can serve a number of different purposes including fellowship, camaraderie, and, most importantly, a solution to stop drinking and using drugs.

For me, I could not stay sober until I did the 12 Steps. Put simply, the AA program, set forth in the Twelve Steps, offers ‘the alcoholic’ a way to develop a satisfying life without alcohol (Alcoholics Anonymous, 2019). There is a common misconception about individuals struggling with substance or alcohol use – people assume substances are the problem. However, alcohol and drugs have never been the problem; they have always been the solution for people like me. Once this “solution,” is taken away, the deeper problems surface, unmasked by alcohol and drugs.

At the age of 21, someone came into my life and offered me a new solution to my problems, problems like my hatred of everything and everyone in my life. I feared the world around me, especially the people in it. I was the classic overthinker and over-analyzer. I used drugs and alcohol from the ages of 13 to 21 and ended up in hospitals, state institutions, and correctional facilities. It wasn’t the drugs I used that put me in these places; it was the reason I used and the way that affected my interaction with substances.

What is the AA 12 Step Program?

The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous is a program of action that connects someone to their own concept of a “higher power.” In short, the steps are lined out in the order for someone to trust God (or higher power), clean house, and then help others. References to religion and spirituality commonly deter newcomers but these references address a very simple concept: it can’t be done alone. Consider holding a pencil. Alone, it is quite easy to snap this pencil in half with one or two hands. Consider this one pencil as a person in recovery. Now, imagine holding twenty pencils in your hand and then trying to snap them in half. Not as easy, right?

Cleaning house involves looking inward at how our choices play a role in the baggage we carry and making a fearless and moral inventory of these incidents (AA, 2019). Looking at my role in the life I was living was an eye-opening experience. When I first tried getting sober at the age of 18, I was full of anger and resentment. After a few years in active addiction, I accumulated a number of legal charges. Too often I found myself saying things like, “Oh well the cops had it out for me.” The fourth step forced me to look at their perspective of the same scenario, from their shoes. So, yes, if I had been a police officer and saw a 15-year-old driving their parents’ car at 3 am, I would say they’re up to no good, too.

The final step of Alcoholics Anonymous is, “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 of our affairs,” (AA, 2019). The gift of the program is that the steps are never complete; the 12th step is a reminder to pass the message to the next person and show them the path. Whether it is through sponsorship and guiding someone through the steps or showing up to a meeting an hour early to make coffee, the 12th step helps remind me that not everything is about me anymore.

By: Tim Harmon