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The Twelfth Step

Practicing these principles in all of our affairs

If someone told you that you had to give away your car to keep it, you would wonder if they needed to be evaluated for a psychiatric condition. But this is the exact concept that many people involved in 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Al- Anon, Overeaters Anonymous, and many others adopt as an important principle for recovery.

Each of the programs has a list of principles, including honesty, open mindedness, willingness, forgiveness, surrender, integrity, generosity, hope, faith, courage, humility, love, discipline, patience, perseverance, awareness and service—which are practiced through the 12 steps.

These programs all have almost the same wording for the 12th step. “Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to _________ and to practice these principles in all of our affairs.”

The blank involves others in the same program.

Giving away something of value—ourselves— helps to sustain us in our new way of life.

A sponsor is a key part of the 12th step.

This is the person who shows a new member through the 12 steps, and shares their past experience. There is no training to be a sponsor, it only involves an individual’s own experience, which was gained when they were taken through the steps by a sponsor of their own. This rite of passage is passed on through generations of program members.

Each member choosing to share their experience with someone in the program is giving of themselves, and the reflective benefits are their own success in their related program; whether it is staying sober, staying clean, staying away from codependent relationships, or foods that are triggering. And the giving equals getting so much more.

Amanda K., a woman in long-term 12-step recovery, shares her experience with the 12th step. “When I first entered 12-step programming I had certain ideas regarding what I thought the 12 steps were and what they meant,” she says. “I can remember waiting to ‘get’ to step 12 and hoping that I would be able to start sponsoring others.

I think I thought it was more of a destination that I would arrive at. It wasn’t until after I had been in the program for a few years that step 12 took on a much different meaning for me.

What I realized is that, for me, step 12 isn’t about helping others at the expense of myself. I learned that I can’t transmit something that I don’t have. I slowly started to come to the conclusion that I was burning out on helping others and that I needed to set some boundaries with myself regarding what I can give.

At that time I was a single mom and working a full time job as an alcohol and drug counselor in a residential program.”

Amanda says that her lack of self-care began having a negative impact on many aspects of her life, and that she knew she needed to make some adjustments. She began working with a new sponsor who helped her gain a new perspective on the 12th step.

“She reminded me step 12 was not just about helping others and being of service but also practicing spiritual principles in all of my affairs,” Amanda says. “She also reminded me that I have been working step 12 long before I ‘arrived’ at the step, and that practicing being patient, tolerant, kind and loving towards others and myself is practicing step 12.”

Amanda’s practice on the 12th step now includes being as kind to herself as she is to others, and setting boundaries. ”For me this step has become more of a balance versus something I just check off my to do list and that feels much better,” she says.

Justin R., another 12-step program member, shares his experience. “When I first began my journey in a 12-step fellowship, I had the tendency to jump ahead of myself and predict what upcoming steps would be like,” he says. “From my experience, these predictions were often pretty far from what the experience would turn out to be. Most of the time, the ever-present fear factor would creep in. When I thought about step 12, I solely attached it to the sponsorship of others within the program. As a person with the tendency to devalue themselves, I was not sure that I would be up to the task and potentially wouldn’t have enough to offer.”

Just like Amanda, Justin found his footing with the help of a sponsor, who read through the portion of the guiding text that describes step 12 along with him. “When I began to doubt my abilities, my sponsor asked ‘do you remember the actions you have taken to stay sober?’ I replied ‘yes.’ He then told me to simply ‘share that experience with others.’ Those instructions seemed like something I could do.”

Justin is mindful of the time-tested fact that sharing the message of recovery with others is the best way to stay on the path forward. “From my perspective, an often overlooked or undervalued piece of step 12 is the portion that states “and to practice these principles in all our affairs.” Constant evaluation of my behavior and daily practice of the prior steps has been instrumental to my recovery. If I forget or choose not to “practice the principles” through a relationship with a higher power and self-reflection of my fears, resentments, and selfishness…I may be headed for trouble.”

Justin says that practicing step 12 has been instrumental in helping him to maintain his recovery. “My appreciation and gratitude for being given the gift of recovery is something immeasurable,” he says. “It has impressed upon me that this gift was given with the intention that I will pass it on. To guide people through a process that was freely relayed to you is a privilege. To witness the sparkle come back into someone’s eyes and the blessings start flowing back into their lives is the most beautiful experience. When effort has been put forth to relay the message of recovery to others and practice the principles laid out within the 12-steps, the results have been something I may have never dreamed.”

“Practicing principles in all our affairs” is a concept from the 12th step that can be accessed by anyone.

You don’t have to be a drug addict, food addict, sex addict, alcoholic, or any other 12 stepper.

You only have to be human, and want to keep the important things in life like integrity, compassion, patience, tolerance and many others.

The question is, are you willing to give them away?


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