A Program for Living By Jackie Stein, MS, BALM Family Recovery Life Coach

The Twelve Step recovery program is essentially a program for living, even if the person is not suffering from an addictive behavior. But there is a stigma associated with Twelve Step programs that make other people leery of considering implementing these steps in their lives.  If there was a way to let the world see that the steps can be used by everyone, perhaps others could use them and change the face of the world.

There are many Twelve Step programs in 2018.  Once there was only Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) founded in 1939 Bill Wilson and Bob Smith.  Later AA was accompanied by Narcotics Anonymous (NA), founded in 1953 by Jimmy K. Since then Twelve Step recovery has exploded and added a multitude of recovery groups:  

  • Adult Children of Alcoholics,
  • Agnostic AA,
  • Agnostic NA,
  • Al-Anon,
  • Alateen,
  • Chronic Pain Anonymous,
  • Cocaine Anonymous,
  • Co-Dependents Anonymous,
  • Crystal Meth Anonymous,
  • Debtors Anonymous,
  • Dual Recovery Anonymous,
  • Emotions Anonymous,
  • Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous,
  • Gamblers Anonymous,
  • Marijuana Anonymous,
  • Naranon,
  • Nicotine Anonymous,
  • Online Gamers Anonymous,
  • Overeaters Anonymous,
  • Sex Addicts Anonymous,
  • Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous.  

I believe I have probably missed at least a few, and there are one or two that I would like to create, like Jackasses Anonymous — but I digress.  The bigger point is that everyone can make use of the Twelve Steps, even without a recognized addiction of any kind. And yet, the stigma surrounding Twelve Step recovery programs keeps people from making good use of what is essentially a program for living.  And what is that stigma? Those who have not dealt with the disease of addiction often still think this is a moral failing, rather than a mental/psychological issue which often results in serious physical consequences. As a result, they often feel that use of the Twelve Step model is relegated to those who are not strong enough to live a good and proper life on their own.  If they were to even consider using the Twelve Step program, it would be an admission of a defect in their make-up. But they are very wrong and we can help them to understand the value of following the Twelve Steps no matter who they are.

While being in the rooms of recovery over the years, I have heard many old-timers refer to a description of the Twelve Steps, originally coined by Dr. Bob Smith, which might be just what we need to attract the rest of the world to Twelve Step recovery.  At some point Dr. Bob said something to the effect that the Twelve Steps could be boiled down to a simple phrase:

Trust God —– Clean House —– Help Others

That seems innocuous enough.  How could anyone — addict or not — have a problem with this simple suggestion?  (Put aside for the moment those that have a problem with the concept of God. We could just change the phrase to Trust a Power Greater Than Yourself.) Believe in something bigger than yourself.  Get you house in order. Help others. How could anyone object to a program like that? So, how do we explain that simple phrase as a parallel to Twelve Step recovery to alleviate the stigma and give non-addicts a path to this simple program?

The Steps are essentially identical in all programs, save for the first sentence, which identifies our addiction.  We admit that we are powerless over something and our lives are unmanageable as a result. Everyone is powerless over something, even if it is as simple as the boss, a teen-aged child or traffic.  

If taken to the extreme, any one of these things could make our lives unmanageable.  How many have suffered through jobs with bosses they hate because they need the job and have found their lives unraveling because of the anger or despair? Over the decades, how many parents have found it impossible to manage their lives with adolescents in the house, listening to odd music and dressing freakishly?  How many of us will drive 5 miles out of our way to keep moving and not sit in traffic? (c’mon, admit it). Unmanageable lives do not have to be living on the precipice. They can just be frustrated.

Steps Two and Three together:  We believe that there is a power of some sort that is more powerful than we are and we stop trying to run everyone else’s lives.  Think about how much calmer life would be for EVERYONE, if we stopped trying to control everything and everyone around us. What if we just stayed in our own hula hoops and worried about doing the next right thing ourselves, knowing that no matter how much we want to control others, we can’t?  We can’t talk our bosses into being reasonable. We can’t talk our children into using common sense and we can’t throttle the person who slows down for tunnels or bridges. When we let go of being in control, our lives get better.

The action steps, Four through Nine, are the initial process of “cleaning house”.  We look deep into ourselves to see what we have done wrong over the years. We admit it to our Higher Power, ourselves and another person.  We acknowledge that we have character defects and we would give anything to have them removed from us. We acknowledge that over the years we have harmed a few people and we want to make that right if we can and if “fixing” it won’t make it worse.  

These steps ask us to take a hard look at who we are, how we got where we are and where we want to go from here.  Everyone could stand to look at their behaviors now and again, whether or not those behaviors were fueled by addiction.  No one among us is so pure that he or she has never wronged another person. None of us are completely fearless. How many of us could be better served by actually taking our actions and committing them to paper, so we can see what we have done that might have harmed another person?  (That was rhetorical.)

And why should the Catholics have a monopoly on confession? The idiom is that confession is good for the soul.  Idiomatic expressions arise out of truth. Confessing what we have done wrong to another person lets those things see the light of day and takes away some of their power over us.  And which person or group of people has absolutely no character defects that they could address? From where do we think the Seven Deadly Sins arose? They certainly did not originate with the addicts.  

And if we look at the harm we have done in our past, even if it is miniscule, we can do whatever is possible to make it right, so long as making it right doesn’t make it worse.   Cleaning house is never a pleasant task. It takes a lot of work and it’s messy. But when we are done, we feel relief and a sense of accomplishment. What person would not want to have a clean slate?

Steps Ten, Eleven and Twelve are the maintenance steps that allow us to help others.  Once we have done an inventory, we NEVER want our house to be that dirty or cluttered again.  So we take the time to stay on top of it. If we hurt someone, we apologize right away and ask what we can do to make it right.  We no long have to carry that stuff around with us, like excess luggage.

We pray and meditate, keeping close to our Higher Power so we don’t have to start at the beginning again.  And we try to teach these simple principles to others so they can feel as good as we do. Who wouldn’t want to be able to help his fellow with just kindness, love and tolerance?

The Twelve Steps are truly a program for living that absolutely anybody could use to make their lives better.  

Jacqlyn Stein

About Jacqlyn Stein

Jackie Stein is a life coach, recovery life coach, financial recovery life coach and BALM family recovery life coach, located in Pittsburgh PA, but accessible the world over, thanks to Skype. She provides general life coaching, recovery life coaching to those in recovery from alcoholism and addictions, both substance and process, financial recovery life coaching for those trying to recover from the financial wreckage of their past and family recovery life coaching, using the BALM method, to family members of loved ones caught in the grip of substance or process addictions. Jackie also holds a Masters Degree in Addiction Counseling. A member of In The Rooms and a regular writer for I Love Recovery Café and the Family Recovery Institute, her website is www.anewwayoflifecoaching.com and her email address is Jackie@anewwayoflifecoaching.com
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  1. Thank you. This was the best article I’ve read on this site. I appreciated how you showed the steps in action. For a newcomer ithe steps start off as just words until the blossoming awareness of how to put it in motion.

  2. Dr. Scott Peck had a lot of good things to say about AA. He calls Alcoholism “the sacred disease” and says that alcoholics and AA have a great blessing and a great genius.” The great blessing of Alcoholism is the nature of the disease. It puts people into a visible crisis, and as a result into a community–an AA group. AA is the Grandfather of all 12 step groups and I hope that the message of AA never gets watered down.

  3. Dr. Scott Peck calls Alcoholism “the sacred Disease” and says that Alcoholics and AA have a great blessing and a great genius”Pecks praise of AA isn’t some feel good technique it is backed up by some really interesting points and can be read in his book, Further Along the Road Less Travelled. He believes that we are all “broken”-full of grief and terror–even if we are not fully aware of it. And we are doubly cursed because we can’t talk to each other about these things. So the great blessing is the nature of the disease, it puts people into a visible crisis, and as a result a community-an AA group. From an article/ Castle Craig Hospital. AA is the grandfather of all 12 step groups and I hope the message never gets watered down.

  4. I think this may be the best article I have ever read on here and Mark’s comments for follow up were amazing! Thank you for helping me gain some clarity today!!

  5. I enjoyed reading this great article Jacqlyn. The 12 Steps gave me a new understanding on how to live my life, and then the results once they were applied. I’ve also wondered why people hesitate to make use of this way of life? These are my thoughts on the subject.

    I heard someone say “Alcoholics are the only people in the world who think you’re supposed to feel good all the time”. You can add many more to that list these days. I pledged my allegiance to it.

    Unfortunately, the most important thing in life for many people is how they feel. They find one or two things (alcohol, drugs, food, sex, etc.) that can change or remove any unwanted feelings they have and never look for anything else that will work. They have the solution to their biggest problem. When one of their answers fail, they switch seats on the Titantic. Many return to their original seat because it just fits better.

    When desperation arrives, they may or may not admit that their life must change. The old ideas and solutions are too ingrained. I always looked for a quick fix.

    Many people who are well-adjusted to what life is really all about have other answers to their human problems and don’t suffer from self-destruction. I didn’t pay much attention to them or their communities.

    To the individual who hasn’t tried a spiritual solution, love and service are overrated and certainly wouldn’t work. However, it’s the nature of the paradox that the experiment must be tested over a period of time before the results can be gained and judged. Otherwise it doesn’t compute—that’s where the scoffers congregate.

    I found out that love and service as solutions are only paradoxical to selfish/self-centered people. I’ve been a member of that tribe.

    After I really tried, I found that I wanted to be part of a community I could be useful in. I wanted to care about people. There was no better place I could be in as I learned to live on borrowed time, one day at a time.

    I’m grateful to the people who helped me delay my judgement on how my life was going at the onset of this great journey. I would have missed my life. They helped me to believe in something that’s hard to believe in.

    Someone else said– “There’s a place inside of us all where doing good and feeling good meets.” I hope those who need it can find it. It’s there.

  6. What a great read Jackie, many thanks. Someone should start a Humans Anonymous for people simply looking for a happier, more contended and meaningful way of life. Can you imagine how much more beauty and peace there would be in the world?

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