In addition to the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions, did you know that there are 12 principles of our program? These were developed by various members of Alcoholics Anonymous and provide a guidepost for practicing the opposite of your defects.
Step 1. We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.
When you become aware that you are about to lie or manipulate the truth, if you remember this principle, maybe you will take a breath and take a chance on simply telling the truth. There is a tremendous relief in not living with the guilt of lying, not to mention that you don’t have to keep track of what you said.
Step 2. Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
When you find yourself drowning in self-pity thinking that there is no way out of your situation, making an outreach call to talk about it or having a PRG may give you ideas that you hadn’t had before … if you are open to them. They may not be the ideas that you would most like, but they might just lead you out of the darkness. Hope is seeing that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Step 3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.
Faith is not the same as belief. Faith has to come first. Faith is when you see that others have experienced relief from this disease by following the steps and taking certain actions. Belief is when you experience it for yourself. As a newcomer, you may have to act on faith. But when you want to turn away, get to a meeting or call someone who has been in program awhile and ask them about the miracles they have experienced. That is how you can develop faith before you experience belief yourself.
Step 4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
When you find yourself wanting to run away from an unpleasant reality, maybe back into compulsive spending and debting and away from program, take a breath and instead, run headlong toward recovery. Do your 4th step. Take direction from your PRG group even if it is not what you wish it were. Do what makes you uncomfortable if you trust that it is the right thing. Experience the pain of delayed gratification with gratitude, knowing that you are behaving in a courageous manner and facing the inevitable pain of life instead of the taking the path of addiction and avoidance.
Step 5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
When you find yourself blaming others for your problems, you can learn to take responsibility for your part in a conflict. In the past, continuing to ruminate on what others have done to us was a just a way of staying stuck and sick, a manipulation of our disease to lead us to blot out the pain of our pitiful situation with our drug of choice.
Stepping up to own your behavior instead of focusing on what others did wrong is character building. Yes, it is natural to instinctively focus on what others have done to us, but taking a moment to reflect on where we may have been wrong, and acknowledging it, is integral to living a life of integrity.
Step 6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
Without willingness, there is no recovery. Acting on these principles and, indeed, on the steps of this program takes a determined effort of willingness. We do not like discomfort and there is inevitable pain in learning a new way of being in the world and within yourself. When you feel yourself bristle at the suggestions of your PRG or sponsor, instead of hardening your heart to the idea, soften to the suggestion and open to the possibility of becoming willing to at least try the approach suggested.
Step 7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
Principle: Brotherly Love
Let’s face it, love of others brings far more inner peace than hatred does. When we acknowledge that others are no different than we are, no more fallible and filled with defects, then we can forgive them their trespasses with compassion. Or at least we can try. When you find yourself doing the opposite, take a breath and think about the fact that these are just other humans doing their best, even if their best is causing you emotional angst. Aspiring to love, rather than criticizing, judging, and hating, is all it takes. Just try. That’s all.
Step 8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
Apologizing, especially when others have done us wrong as well, is not always easy. But remember that you only have to apologize for what you did. You are not saying that what they did was OK. We cannot control the actions of others. But we can own our part.
Remember the Golden Rule – Treat others as you want to be treated. Or don’t treat others as you don’t want them to treat you. Either way, admitting you are wrong when you are can be a huge relief. As someone said, “You can be right or you can be happy.”
Being so attached to being right that you cannot find where you are wrong, or at the least releasing the resentment, can have lifelong consequences. Moving from “being right” to “staying right” can fracture relationships that will cause you pain the rest of your life. Seeing your errors and admitting them to others in a sincere apology or living amends (not repeating the behavior) heals the soul and removes the heavy boulder of “being right” off of your back.
Step 9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
If you use this principle to emotionally lash out at someone, re-evaluate your amends before you make it. I have seen people make an amends and add a “but” at the end, as in, “I was wrong to call you a jerk … but you really made me so angry when you didn’t like my hat. I think you really have poor taste and you shouldn’t be so rude…”
Justice stops at our border when we practice this principle. They say we don’t take someone else’s inventory and that is particularly important when doing Step 9 and following the principle of Justice. Justice is not an excuse to cause more harm. The 9th step is about our amends, not about our pain. Justice is about doing what is right or moral. In the case of our program, it is about our internal sense of justice, not judging others. We need to just work on making things right on our end. That is more than enough for one lifetime’s work.
Step 10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
When you feel like giving up, don’t. It’s just that simple. 🙂 12 step programs have ebbs and flows, times when it is easy and times when it feels like you are up against the wall. I have seen people leave because they felt they had to debt or spend huge money and weren’t willing to sit with the discomfort.
This is not a program for just when it feels comfortable. That is the point. And with money, especially, opportunities seem to come up at inopportune moments. Terror fills us or desire. What if I don’t get that training now, today? What if I don’t buy that on sale now, today? What if I miss this opportunity?
For me, I have found that the more I feel compelled to take a big spending action immediately, the more I am driven by compulsion and impulse, the less likely, despite how it appears on its face, that it is the right thing for me to do. My program tells me to wait on all big purchases until the compulsion passes, and I do. Sometimes it is very hard, and I lean heavily on my PRG team, network, and sponsor to get through it.
But I have never regretted waiting, though I have regretting acting more times than I can remember.
Perseverance in this program means that we continue to work our program when it feels easy or hard. We don’t change the rules to suit our fancy because our disease rears its ugly head enticing us with desire or fear.
Perseverance means being willing to wait even if we miss an opportunity if acting on it will take us into disease. We don’t look to justify spending our savings just because we want something right now, this minute. Finally, perseverance means that we just do today what we did yesterday with our program and keep committed to a life of sane decisions with money.
Step 11. 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.
This is a three part program, physical, mental, and spiritual. While we have to deal with the idea of money and spending it wisely, we also have to deal with the obsession and compulsion that can overtake our minds. But we cannot forget the spiritual aspect of our program. This is the part that reminds us that we are not alone and we are not all powerful. Prayer, they say, is asking our Higher Power for guidance and meditation is being open to hearing an answer.
The spiritual aspect of this program enables us to learn to sit in discomfort. Once you can do that, you can handle anything. Meditation teaches us to sit still despite our minds going berserk. Prayer teaches us to reach out to something or someone bigger than ourselves or to reach inside ourselves for that still small voice that is bigger than we, our personalities, are.
Using spirituality to help you work the rest of these principles will make doing so much easier. By practicing the spiritual parts of this program, you will learn to soften and become more open and able to hear your Higher Power’s voice coming through others and throughout your life as you need to make decisions.
Step 12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others, especially alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
No matter how awful we feel, no matter how deep into self-pity and depression we sink, if we can manage, at those times, to reach out and give help to another person, we will inevitably find at least a bit of release from our pain. Addicts are self-centered. We have habitually used our pain to become even more so.
Drowning in self-pity, we can reach out to others for help. And sometimes, that help comes in the form of focusing on their problems instead of on our own. By taking your mind off your own problem for a few minutes, you may be able to begin finding your way out of the black hole, to see some light again. Supporting someone else is also giving yourself positive self-talk, reminding yourself consciously of what you know subconsciously.
Yes, we need to give back what we have been given, but most of us still want to know what’s in it for us. So we may give service because it’s part of the program, but what’s in it for you is that you will feel better about yourself and are more likely to stay sober with money because of it. You will be reinforcing what you have learned about recovery and we know that repeating actions creates habits. This is a good habit. Using these principles and steps will, over time, help you to live a more meaningful life. And isn’t that what we all want?