Before beginning this post, I encourage you to read Part 1 because it holds several important and foundational ideas needed to understand and apply this post to its fullest potential. Read it. Chew on it. Then come back to this blog post and continue reading.
12-step programs, AA in particular, have been the butt of many debates ranging from “They’re God’s gift to man” to “They’re arrogant and ineffective”. It would be easy for us to jump into the debate along with everyone else, but I am not satisfied with that. Let the debaters shout at each other while you and I dodge the surface distractions and search for something more useful instead. Let’s upend the status quo by tracking down the things we can use in the midst of controversy rather than latching on to convenient reasons to distance ourselves from those things we don’t fully understand.
This blog post seeks to answer questions like these: How can the foundational ideas of AA help me? Why does it seem like every single one of AA’s 12 steps is designed to either improve your connection with others or prepare you to do so? Is it mere coincidence that the concept of “Bonding” within addiction is so vitally important and the potential efficacy of the 12 steps is found in guiding individuals in the “re-bonding” process with others?
Let’s take each of the 12 steps of AA (brackets signifying a term specific to alcohol being replaced with more general terms) and see what you might use in your own life:
- We admitted we were powerless over [our addiction] – that our lives had become unmanageable.
This step has to do with starting your journey from a place of humility and open-mindedness. Without these two things, the concept of re-engaging with reality (like other people for example) while maintaining your serenity, will be hard to come by.
- Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
If you believe you are all that is needed to be successful, why would you connect with other people or a higher power? All of us can clearly see how this belief does not work. Instead, you must be willing to search for, and find, strength outside of yourself. This is preparation for connection.
- Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
This is the first step directly calling for connection. Turning over our impulse to control everything to God is a weighty exercise in intimacy and intimacy is among the most powerful of bonding agents.
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
Like any good business, regular inventory must be taken in order to know what is “dead weight” and what can be used more effectively. When I know myself, I am much more able to interact with others and maintain my sense of self. Addiction or not, this the regular exercise of any wise person.
- Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
This is paramount. It’s extremely important to share my whole self with God, but He is also largely abstract. My brain still has an opportunity to act as if hidden from the people I can see and touch. Sharing every dark and shameful corner of me with another safe human being, on the other hand, is a major connection step because, after you have shared everything and that person still accepts you, great freedom and confidence begin to take root.
- Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
If I want to maintain a connection, or bonding, with other people, I need to “keep my side of the street clean”. Without the presence of true willingness and acceptance, I would merely be a man with a leaf blower – simply rearranging my bad habits rather than eliminating them. This step helps prepare you for that elimination process.
- Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
There is a vast difference between being ready to take action, and actually taking that action. Actually working on my struggles not only makes me more grounded and approachable to others, but it also makes me genuine – which is a priceless attribute to have when connecting with other people.
- Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
Similar to previous preparation steps, this step is important because it encourages you to make a plan. Life, much less addiction, consists of our personal set of habits. Changing habits finds a large part of its success through good planning. Bonding that is well thought through before hand seems to be much more effective and shows better long term effects not just because of the plan itself, but because of the effect it has on your habits.
- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when doing so would injure them or others.
Of the 12 steps, this one is arguably the most potent connection step. This action is what allows you to cut the dead weight and shame loose and begin to look the world in the eye again. Understandably, people tend to have a tough time with step 9. If you choose to do this, be kind to yourself in the process and do it with a guide.
- Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
As much as we would like to believe that the first 9 steps are enough, we are never going to be perfect or “on point” all the time. New distractions, temptations, or frustrations always come so we need to be in constant readiness to surrender wrongs done to us and make right the wrongs we cause. Like a ship putting out to sea for the first time, step 10 is the test to see if all your work (and on going work) can keep you right side up.
- 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.
By this time, we have done a lot of work at “re-bonding” with people. This step helps us confirm that we have not lost sight of God. Making sure we are intentionally connecting with him AND other people. Life, as defined by the peace, sanity, and fulfillment we all hope for, doesn’t last if either of those are missing.
- Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to [people struggling with addiction] and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
Step 12 is our final encouragement towards connection and bonding with others. As they say, “The best way to help yourself is to help someone else.” Keep up the work of connecting or re-connecting with people with a healthy balance and you will find that sense of life you seek.
Hopefully you can now see how a human being’s natural tendency to establish a healthy bond with God and other people is profoundly important for the prevention of starting an addiction, healing from an addiction, or generally living a peaceful life. Take what you can from the steps above and, if you find them to be helpful, use them in your own life. If these steps work for you, teach the principles to your children or use the skills with your family and friends. The better you use the truth buried in every area of this life, the better chance you will establish a healthy bond and be able to maintain it for the long haul.
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