Many therapists have no idea that the 12 steps of the 12-step program aren’t just an antidote for addiction. Rather, they are guidelines for a complete transformation of one’s personality. Bill Wilson, founder of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), found influence from Carl Jung. Jung wrote to Wilson that the alcoholism cure would need to be one of spiritualism - the only power equal to the power of alcohol addiction.
That’s why the 12-step program is a spiritual remedy. The 12 steps outline a process of spiritualism where the ego is surrendered to the unconscious, or a higher power, and resembles the transformation process that is used in Jungian therapy.
We will explore the 12-step process below. However, the description is linear, which can be misleading because the steps are experienced in a circular manner and simultaneously. The process is applicable to recovery from addictions such as compulsive gambling and dieting as well as substances like drugs, alcohol and food. Primarily, we will focus on this in terms of drug and alcohol addiction in addition to the members of the family in a codependent relationship with the addict or alcoholic.
The beginning stages of recovery is acknowledging that you have a problem with alcohol or drugs, that there is help that can be obtained outside of yourself, and the willingness to access that help. This is also the beginning of trust beyond yourself, such as the program, a sponsor, or a therapist, and the opening up of a closed-off family system. In many cases, it can take years to address the problem.
As the problem is better understood, it is picked away a little more at a time. During the first step, addicts admit that they are powerless over the substance and that their lives are essentially unmanageable. The addict comes around to the fact that he or she is powerless over the alcohols or drugs, and the codependent begins to realize that he or she is unable to control the addict. The struggle to not drink or use drugs slowly begins to slip away, as does the codependent’s diligent watching of the addict. Over time, attention will no longer be on the substance itself, but on oneself.
Essentially, there are three stages of this first step.
Once you have acknowledged that you are powerless over the substance, there is a void left behind—a void that was once filled with physical and mental activity that was attempting to control and even manipulate you (the addict) and your addiction. Many feelings may arise—emptiness, loss, anger, depression, boredom, and possibly even fear. With a little bit of trust, you need to be willing to turn to a higher power—far beyond yourself—in order to restore your sanity.
This higher power can be a spiritual power—like God—or it can be a therapist, sponsor, your therapy group, the therapy process itself, or something similar. It is simply important that you turn your addiction, frustrating situations, and people over to that higher power. Your ego will relinquish control as you put your trust into the higher power, the overall growth process, and life itself.
What has essentially been happening up until this point has been an increasing awareness and observation of your dysfunctional behavior and your addiction—referred to as “insanity” during Step 2. This is an important development that indicates the origins of an observing ego. It is now time to start exercising restraint over undesirable and addictive words, habits, and deeds. After all, this program doesn’t only work spiritually, it also works behaviorally.
Forbearance and abstinence from old behaviors are often accompanied by anger, anxiety, and a loss of control. New, preferable behaviors and attitudes will feel uncomfortable and tend to arouse new emotions, such as guilty and fear. Group support can be helpful when it comes to reinforcing your new behaviors since these changes can evoke powerful emotions and can often retard and arrest recovery. Plus, resistance is typically experienced from family, friends, and oneself for similar reasons. The resistance and anxiety can often be so powerful that the abuser or addict heads into relapse.
In Step 3, lives are turned over to God’s care because God is understood. This is considered “letting go” and also “turning it over”. As you build your faith, the ability to let things go will also increase and you will be able to move toward far more functional behaviors.
Once you have built more ego awareness, faith, and self-discipline, you are ready to tackle your past in Step 4. This requires a very thorough inventory (an examination) of one’s past relationships and experiences with a focus on uncovering patterns of flawed behaviors and emotions (referred to as character defects).
The disclosure of this inventory in Step 5—with a sponsor or in therapy—will assist in the development on an observing ego and self-esteem. You will be able to gain more self-acceptance and objectivity, while resentments, guilty, and paralyzing shame fade away, and with it, false self, depression, and self-loathing begin to dissolve. For many individuals, the process often involves recalling pain from their childhood, which is the beginning stages of empathy for themselves as well as others.
It is not enough to change yourself to simply acknowledge your own behavior. It cannot happen until those behavior patterns are able to be replaced with healthier skills—or until the benefit that is derived from those old heavier patterns can be removed. Old habits no longer work, though they are incredibly painful. This particularly process can be described in Step 6 when you are ready for God to remove your character defects. This emphasizes the psychological process of one’s transformation that progresses throughout the recovery process and represents further development of self-acceptance, which is essential to change. So long as an individual is trying to change, yet blames him or herself during the process, movement will not occur—at least not until he or she gives up completely. It is at this time that an individual is “fully ready”. Step 6 is essentially asking the person to give up fully control and ego clinging, and then look forward for a source beyond him or herself.
Then, it is recommended to move on to Step 7, which is to humbly request God’s help to remove one’s shortcomings. When it comes to reviewing your shortcomings, you are essentially revealing your effect on other individuals, and the process will awaken empathy for those individuals you have caused harm to.
For Steps 8 and 9, it is suggested that you make amends with those individuals that you had shortcomings with and caused harm to (Step 7), which is one step further in building a more solid and stable self, compassion, humility, and self-esteem.
Spiritual growth and recovery are two things that you have to continuously work on and toward. Luckily, the 12 Steps offer daily tools.
For more information about the 12 Steps and how they can help you through your recovery, contact us at Shadow Mountain Recovery today.