There may be as many meanings to the 12 steps of recovery as there are people who pursue those steps. Addiction recovery will always have deeply personal meanings and implications to addicts who are able to overcome their chemical dependence on drugs or alcohol. Still, there are a few common threads to the 12 steps and their meaning through every addict’s experiences.
The co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, Dr. Bob Smith,
famously summarized the 12 step program into six words:
“Trust God. Clean house. Help others.”
More than a few alcoholics and addicts cast a wary eye at this formulation because of the Christian leanings that are implicit in the “Trust God” prescription. 12-step recovery programs, however, are far more than religious proselytizing. They are more appropriately a blueprint and pathway that helps addicts turn away from the self-destructive behavior that initially fostered their addiction.
The 12 Steps of Recovery in Context
The first three steps of a 12-step program reflect the themes of “trusting God”. This theme is often rephrased as “trust a higher power” for individuals who do not adhere to any organized religions. All individuals in 12-step recovery programs are asked to understand and acknowledge that some higher power exists outside of themselves, and that they can turn to that higher power for inspiration and motivation to fend off temptations to return to drug or alcohol use.
Steps 4 through 11, which reflect the theme “clean house”, ask an addict to understand and acknowledge the mistakes that he has made in the course of his addiction, and, where possible, to make amends for those mistakes. Addicts and alcoholics will occasionally cling to the problems and mistakes that led to their addictions. Asking an addict to acknowledge mistakes and to get past them is an important element to helping him to achieve real sobriety. Focusing on past mistakes and regretting the harm that addiction has caused to other people will trap addicts in their pasts. Cleaning house lets an addict focus instead on his future.
Lastly, step 12 directs recovering addicts to help others. This continues the actions in the prior steps that make it possible for an addict to move forward instead of remaining mired down in the harmful conduct of the past. Having an addict reach out to help others allows him to use his own experiences as a guide and an inspiration to show other addicts that drug and alcohol addictions can be defeated. More importantly, helping others shifts an addict’s focus away from himself toward people and events other than himself.
Self-centeredness is a trait that leads many people to alcoholism and drug addiction. As addictions grow deeper, an addict focuses on nothing more than feeding his own cravings for drugs and alcohol. An addict’s inner self might continue to lure an addict back into his old self-destructive ways, but shifting an addict’s focus toward helping others will help the addict to avoid those lures.
Figuring out the 12 Steps and Their Meaning for Yourself
The 12 steps and their meaning have been criticized and vilified by many people, but addicts and alcoholics that have grasped the strength and meaning of those programs have found them to be powerful and effective tools to overcome addiction.
If you would like more information on the meaning of the 12 steps of recovery, please call the Last Resort Recovery Center near Austin, Texas, at 877-892-7997. We can show you how the meaning of 12-step programs and how they can fit into your drug or alcohol addiction treatment program.