The 12 Steps & Faith
Many people have a sense of what goes on in Alcoholics Anonymous (or similar program) meetings because we see them represented in popular culture with some frequency. For example, it is fairly common knowledge that AA involves “12 steps.” And while some of those steps—like the need to make amends to those who have been harmed by your behavior—are often depicted on TV or in movies, most of the steps go unrepresented. As a result, you may only have a hazy sense of what the 12 Steps might include.
But having a clear understanding of the 12 Steps can help you decide whether or not a program like Alcoholics Anonymous is right for you. In particular, you may find that you need to think through how (or if) your faith tradition (or lack of one) interacts with the steps as laid out in AA’s “Big Book.”
So let’s take a look at the steps themselves.
Counting Up From One to Twelve
Here are the steps as listed on the Alcoholics Anonymous website:
- We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable.
- Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
- Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
- Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
- Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
- Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
- Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
- Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
- 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.
- 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.
Turns Out God Isn’t So Anonymous
If you have never seen the steps listed before, you may well be surprised to see how often God shows up along the way. Fully six of the 12 steps refer directly to God. That may give you pause.
You might wonder if AA jibes with your religious practice. Or if you don’t have a religious practice, you might wonder if you can make meaningful connections and progress in a program that seems so God-centric.
Those are reasonable questions. Here are some potential answers:
- Note the phrase “as we understood Him” in step three. While the founders of AA may have had a Judeo-Christian conception of God in mind, this phrase offers a doorway for other faiths to participate fully in the community. There is a similar sort of wiggle room in the eleventh step and its mention of “prayer and meditation”—two activities that can be broadly and differently defined by different individuals.
- Note a certain vagueness of some of the steps. Arguably step six–Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character—is hardly a step at all, but rather a state of mind. Wanting to strengthen your character is a worthy and helpful goal, and can be pursued without specific reference to a higher power.
- Consider an alternative slate of steps. If the prevalence of God in the 12 Steps makes you uncomfortable or skeptical, there are alternatives. For example, AA Agnostica (which is not associated with Alcoholics Anonymous) offers a secular version of the steps.
An Article of Faith – It is Important to Stay Sober
Our purpose here is not to weigh in on matters of faith, but rather to reinforce a key message: maintaining your sobriety is extremely important. Finding a program—or a version of or alternative to a program—that can help you do that is essential. It’s possible that no recovery program will be a perfect fit, but a good fit can take you a long way, so finding ways to make a program work for you is absolutely worth the effort.
Take the First Step to Get the Help You Need
At French Creek Recovery Center, we are ready to help you regain and maintain your sobriety. Via our medically supervised detoxification program and our evidence-based approach to rehabilitation, we provide support, resources, and strategies for staying sober over time. And we can address any co-occurring mental health disorders that may be contributing to (or be worsened by) your substance use disorder.
If you need help, you don’t have to worry about 12 steps right now. Worry about just one. Get in touch so we can get your journey to recovery underway.