12 Lessons Learned From the 12 Steps

I recently finished my first time through the 12 steps. I did this through a local step study class and with my sponsor. I wasn't sure how it was going to go and I think a big reason I avoided attending AA for so long was because of the 4th step where you write down your ugly past and then tell your sponsor about it in step 5. I was terrified. It definitely didn't go how I thought it would and it was not as scary. Plus, I learned a whole lot of other awesome stuff along the way. Here is what I learned during my first time through the 12 steps.

1. Religion is manmade, spirituality is innate

This a direct quote heard from my sponsor many times. When I entered AA I didn't really know there was a difference between religion and spirituality. Now I know they are two very different things. The steps taught me how to become spiritual and gave me tools to help quiet my mind. Religion on the other hand, is manmade, and is what they celebrate in churches and fight wars over. Each and every one of us was born with the ability to get in touch with our inner spirit and see how it connects to the beautiful world around us.

2. Character defects are coping mechanisms that no longer serve us

To my surprise, step 4 was actually about writing out all of my positive AND negative characteristics. It wasn't designed to bash me or point out all of my faults. It also wasn't designed to record all of the stupid things I had done during my drinking days. I was taught that my character defects are coping mechanisms that no longer serve me and this made sense. For years I had patterns of coping in unhealthy ways, some of which I had never noticed before. Not all of them had to do with drugs and alcohol.

3. Recognizing unhealthy patterns help me change

Step 4 was designed for me to physically see written out, patterns that had ruled my life. And that's exactly what it did. I learned about patterns I had been repeating and how to learn from them and make sure I won't repeat them in the future. I also learned that some of my negative characteristics will never go away, but I can keep them in balance like a pendulum.

4. Powerlessness doesn't mean you don't have the power to change

The first part of step 1 says: we admitted we were powerless over alcohol. I have to admit, at first I didn't like the word powerless. Who likes to be powerless? No one. Well I learned that I'm not just powerless over alcohol, I'm powerless over everything and that's a humbling experience. I can't change or control anyone or their attitudes. Knowing I'm powerless is just simply saying, "I don't know." I can't predict the future and I can't control it. But just because I don't have control doesn't mean I don't have the power to change. It's up to me to do the work in my recovery. I have the power to choose a different path for myself. Knowing I'm powerless actually gives me power - a paradox of the spiritual sort.

5. The only thing I have control over is my own attitude

There is one thing I do have control over and that's my attitude. The key here is to accept the world as it is and to accept people for who and where they are currently in life. I have the power to see the good in every situation. It's up to me whether I see the lesson or I see the negative.

6. My higher power doesn't have to be society's concept of God

Part of the reason I didn't enter AA sooner is that I had the idea it was religious and that I had to believe in God. Well I was pleased to find out this is just not true. Like I mentioned before, it's a spiritual program, not a religious one. This is not to say some people don't refer to their higher power as God, because many do. But I don't have to. I can think of my higher power as whatever I want and it can change and evolve. And that's a beautiful thing.

7. Personal inventory is a method of life

Step 10 says: continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it. This program is one of progress, not perfection. Mistakes will be made. I learned that it's best to review each day and go over what you could have done better, apologize for any wrong doings, and point out any negative patterns. Take steps toward change each day. This is a healthy way to live your life, even for non-alcoholics.

8. The foundation of recovery is self-care

My sponsor has this ingrained in my brain. The entire program of recovery is based on self-care. I cannot stay healthy, happy, and sober if I don't self-care. Sometimes this is hard for me. Sometimes I have to say no to things I want to do or leave jobs I wish would have worked out. But knowing when something no longer serves me is a part of my self-care. I can't expect to recover if I'm not taking take of my mind, body, and soul.

9. All that we have is this day and this moment

The future can be overwhelming. This is why I think it's so important to live one day, one moment, one second at a time. Through the steps I've learned that it's self-defeating not to live in the present moment and absolutely ridiculous to worry about the future. I give up my own serenity when I refuse to accept life on life's terms. I am not experiencing the world as it is, I'm experiencing the world as I am.

10. Humility is a realistic evaluation of our abilities

I finally learned what humility means and I actually have this feeling in my life today. Humility is not that constant state of unrest I used to feel striving to be someone I wasn't. It's knowing what my strengths and weaknesses are and being ok with them. It's truly recognizing my own humanity and the humanity of others. Humility is having peace in your heart.

11. Alcoholics are not the only sick people with emotions

The steps taught me I had seriously unrealistic expectations of myself and others when in active addiction. I set standards that were impossible to attain and then got hurt feelings when I and others did not live up these expectations. Everyone has their own path and their own higher power. Everyone also has their own demons. Although I would love everyone to walk on the path of recovery with me, this desire is just not realistic. Understanding this, I realize everyone is human, especially those closest to me. Some are sicker than others, but they are all exactly where they're supposed to be on their individual paths.

12. Forgiveness starts with me

My soul wants me to be authentic. Step 8 is about forgiveness and the first person on my list was myself. I never knew that I would have to forgive myself while going through the steps. I thought I would need to apologize to all the people I hurt, but I didn't know that I should be on that list too. I know that I was a sick person who is now getting well. Truly forgiving myself for my past was hard, but necessary for personal growth.

I've learned and grown so much thanks to the 12 steps. I hear that each time I go through them I will learn more and more. The 12 steps have helped me raise a lot of questions and given me a lot of answers. I've become spiritually awakened and learned that fear doesn't have to dominate my life. Today I have serenity, sobriety, and self-love.