The 12 Steps Summarized
The First Step is to admit to ourselves on a deep, heartfelt level, that left to our own devices, we have no power to overcome our addictions. If we had the answer and power to solve our problem, we would have solved it already. We must feel our own powerlessness over our addictions, which has been ruling our lives. It is only by admitting complete defeat that we are then able to access the help and motivation we need to change.
The Second Step is to start believing that there is hope. By finding a power greater than ourselves — whether that is the power inherent in the collective community of Alcoholics Anonymous, or in a spiritual force of our own understanding — we come to believe in our ability to change. We see AA has worked for millions of people, and begin to believe it could work for us too. Believing there is hope is the essence of the second step.
The Third Step is making a decision to utilize this newfound higher power (whatever it is) to continue our path of transformation. By surrendering our will — the thoughts and actions that have been causing our troubles — and exchanging it for a different path (the 12 Steps), we are able to begin the process of true recovery.
The Fourth Step is focused on self-reflection. In the fourth step we make “a searching and fearless moral inventory” of ourselves. Another word for “moral” is truth. By reviewing our lives — the people, situations, beliefs and fears we have engaged with in our past — we can begin to see the truth about ourselves and the role we’ve played in our troubles. Through writing, we begin to see the patterns we have repeated over and over again, and the source beliefs of those patterns. We begin to see ourselves clearly.
In Step Five, we read our written inventory to a trusted friend. By saying, out loud, the patterns we have revealed to ourselves on paper, we are symbolically releasing the baggage from our pasts. Our trusted friend can also help guide us to see events, people and beliefs from our past from a new perspective.
Steps four and five reveal to us what needs to change in ourselves to make lasting change in our lives. The process reveals what ideas have been holding us back, what we need to let go of, and what perspectives and behaviors need to shift.
Utilizing the self-knowledge we gained by completing Steps Four & Five, we make a list of the character defects in ourselves that are hindering our growth (this is Step Six). These “defects of character” could be old beliefs that aren’t working (for example: “I’m incapable of love,” or “I’m not good enough” or “People will always let you down”), or they could be personality defects such as being quick to anger, being judgmental or envious, being a perfectionist or a procrastinator, or holding too high of expectations of others. These defects are the blocks standing in the way of our ability to experience the love, relationships and life we want. Until we can clearly see these blocks, we cannot change.