What are the 12 Steps?

12 steps

The 12 Steps and Alcoholics Anonymous

Out of all the organizations in the world, Alcoholics Anonymous is one of the most well known and it is where the 12 step model of recovery originated. The 12 steps in their exact form are set forth in the book, Alcoholics Anonymous, also referred to as the ‘Big Book’. 

The 12 steps were not created as a cure for alcoholism; they are a group of principles that act as a guide to an addiction free life. They are a way of life that needs to be followed one day at a time. The steps are never completed because those who are ‘working the steps’, use them on an on-going basis, implementing them into their daily lives. Once a person has reached step 12 they will often start again from step 1, but there are a number of steps that also need to be continuously employed on a daily basis and there are some that apply situationally. Moving through the 12 steps one by one initially, and continuing to use the steps as tools later, ideally leads to long-term sobriety, a stronger sense of purpose in life, spiritual wholeness and overall happiness.

Although the 12 steps originated from Alcoholics Anonymous, nowadays the 12 steps are applied to a wide range of addictions, compulsive behaviors, and mental health problems. At the end of 2021 there were over 90 official 12 step fellowships that have been established to address various issues. These fellowships are widely varied from Narcotics Anonymous and Cocaine Anonymous through to Gamblers Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, and Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous.

12 steps to recovery

What are the 12 Steps?

The following is a brief overview of the steps and how they are taken. For the full version of the steps, refer to the AA Big Book: Alcoholics Anonymous.

In answer to “How do I do these steps?” the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous provides guidance. Some steps are clear in what action needs to be taken, such as making amends to people or talking to a trusted person. For steps that do not give this guidance, they are most commonly dealt with by writing about them as they relate to you. Most people will purchase a journal or note book which they use for their ‘step work’. For those who are less comfortable with writing, the steps can also be used for discussion with a sponsor, counsellor, another member of the fellowship, religious leader, or, if there is no other option, a non-judgemental and trusted friend. It is strongly suggested that someone who wants to “work the steps” does so with a mentor – referred to as a “sponsor” in the recovery world. A sponsor is someone who has worked through the steps themselves and has wisdom and insight to share.

Step One: Admit Powerlessness

“We admitted we were powerless over alcohol [or drugs] – that our lives had become unmanageable.”

 The consequences of addiction are far-reaching and destroy relationships, result in job loss and can cause devastating health or legal problems. Still, someone with an addiction will continue to use a substance anyway, largely due to changes in the brain’s learning, memory and reward centers that affect thought patterns and behavior.

Step one has two parts. The first part involves admitting that you have lost control (power) over your alcohol or drug use, and as a result, negative consequences have left you feeling hopeless and defeated. The second part of this step involves admitting that your life has become unmanageable. For some people this can be difficult – especially if they are “managing” well in some areas, such as work and finances. It is critical to look at emotions and feelings in addition to outside situations, i.e. do your emotions feel unmanageable with regard to your substance use?

Truly understanding and coming to terms with the fact that you’re powerless over your addiction and the unmanageability around it and acknowledging all of the negative consequences that occur as a result is key. It means stepping out of denial and into reality. Once someone has done this, they become willing to do whatever it takes to defeat the addiction and reclaim their life.


Step Two: Find Your Higher Power

“Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

Step two involves hope and faith. Hope, in this case, is the belief that the challenges of sobriety can be overcome through the support of a ‘higher power’ and it is the very foundation of recovery. While a higher power can be a religious God, 12 step programs are not religious, they are spiritual. A higher power can be the Universe, Mother Nature, or anything else that an individual chooses.

By having a higher power, one has to accept that they are not God themselves and ultimately, they are not in charge of the show. Having faith in that higher power leads to inner strength to overcome the challenges of recovery and helps one move forward toward a happy and peaceful life.

Step Three: Turn Your Will Over to Your Higher Power

“Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.”

The first two steps serve to restore hope for the future and faith that a power beyond your own flawed self can help you overcome your addiction. Step Three requires you to fully accept that you are not in control, and neither should you try to be (a common characteristic in alcoholics and addicts).

Step three leads you to mindfully release the death grip you have on the minutia of your life and listen to a deeper voice that’s wiser and more compassionate than you are. By turning your life over to the forces that drive your deeper, spiritual self, you can effectively navigate the difficult steps that follow and open your mind to new possibilities and ways of thinking about yourself and others.

Step Four: The Moral Inventory   

“Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”

Step four is a time of soul-searching. At the core of our inability to intimately know ourselves is denial, the act of ignoring our negative aspects and pretending they don’t exist because confronting them is terrifying on so many levels. Denial enables us to justify or rationalize our harmful thoughts and behaviors to make ourselves feel better about them.

The moral inventory is a comprehensive, brutally honest written list of all of the wrongs you have carried out over your life span. It is undertaken fearlessly because in Step three, you turned your life over to your higher power, which is eternally compassionate and forgiving. During Step three, you let go of self-judgment and, for now, accept your failings as a part of your past and regard them with impartiality.

By identifying the negative acts you have committed in the past, you can begin to work on forgiveness and compassion. You begin to draw a line in the sand and live in the present. Of course, there is more work to be done before that line can be fully realized.

Moral inventory

Step Five: Admit the Nature of Our Wrongs

“Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”

Once you have completed the moral inventory in step four, it is time to step out from behind the mask of guilt, self-deception and pride that isolates you from others and prevents you from being honest with yourself.

Step five results in an inner shift wherein who you are is no longer defined by your past but by self-forgiveness and sharing the weight of those deeds with your higher power and a supportive sponsor (or other appropriate person). Not only will you come out on the other side forgiven and whole, but you’ll also find that you’re no longer apart from humanity, no longer hiding behind a veil. You’ll move into the next phase of recovery with open-mindedness and honesty.

Step Six: Reflect and Find a Willingness to Change

“Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.”

Step six is about reflection, preparation, and a willingness to change. Being willing and ready to surrender your “defects of character” to a higher power means that you’re ready to let that higher power (God, Love, Buddha, The Universe, Allah, Nature etc) touch your life and move you in a spiritual direction. It is about becoming ready and willing to let go of certain things and honestly address imbalances in your life that prevent you from progressing in your recovery and your spiritual growth.

Step Seven: Ask Higher Power to Remove Your Shortcomings

“Humbly asked Him [or Her, or It] to remove our shortcomings.”

Step seven is about humility rather than the expectation that your higher power will swoop in, erase your shortcomings and transform you into a brand-new being. We are all human and shortcomings are a part of the fundamental human condition.

Humility is the ability to see yourself as you actually are—comprised of both strengths and weaknesses—so that you can make a sincere attempt to become what you want to be. Humility is essential for moving away from yourself and your limitations and toward others and your higher power. By humbly appealing to your higher power to remove your shortcomings, you’re embracing hope and committing to doing your part to rid your life of stumbling blocks that will inhibit your spiritual growth.

Step Eight: Make a List of Those You Harmed

“Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.”

In step eight, you work towards repairing the damage you’ve done to others, as identified in your step 4. Similar to the moral inventory, step eight requires first making a list of the people you hurt and recording thoughts about how you might make amends. Then, you work toward a willingness to make those amends.

Step eight demands rigorous honesty about your relationships with others. It begins the process of forgiving people who have hurt you and being forgiven by those you’ve hurt. It helps build an awareness of your changing attitudes about yourself and your relationships.

make amends

Step Nine: Make Amends 

“Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”

Step nine serves to help clear your conscience and finally move on from feelings of guilt, regret and shame. The ninth step helps you take ownership of what you have done in the past and  leads you to a different approach in the future – an accountable approach where you stop blaming others, cease justifying unjustifiable actions and making excuses for your behaviors. By making amends to the best of your ability, you’re able to clear your conscience, improve your self-esteem, relieve stress and let go of blame and guilt.

As you strive to make up for your actions and, in most cases, enjoy the forgiveness bestowed upon you, this step helps you examine your actions in detail and understand how they affect others.

Step Ten: Maintain Recovery

“Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.”

Step ten is about maintaining a peaceful and happy recovery by staying ever vigilant of your actions, behaviors and attitudes to ensure that you don’t revert to old, harmful ways of thinking and behaving. Spot-checks throughout your day enable you to identify selfish, dishonest, or fear-driven behaviors that can cause others harm. This, in turn, gives you the opportunity to make amends immediately so that you can live free of guilt and shame.

Daily examination of your thoughts and actions helps you to identify emotional states that lead you to act in a way that negatively affects others and compromises your recovery (triggers). It also helps you forgive others for their undesirable attitudes and behaviors that at one time might have led you to make bad choices. This step is a lifelong process that helps you keep your slate clean. It enhances your sense of compassion for yourself and for others, and it keeps you honest.

Step Eleven: Improve Conscious Contact with Your Higher Power

“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.”

Step eleven brings prayer and meditation into your daily life as an integral part of your ongoing recovery. The purpose of prayer in recovery is to be ever mindful of where you are and where you are going. It is a daily reminder of the presence of a higher power in your life and a reminder to draw strength from it (instead of substances, alcohol, food, money, sex etc). Meditation helps you make an explicit connection to a higher part of yourself and to find the calm and serenity that was missing from your life during active addiction.

helping others

Step Twelve: Spreading the Word

“Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.” 

The final step is about sharing your experience, strength and hope with others who are just starting their recovery journey. By now, you will have achieved emotional stability and will be enjoying a mindful life mostly free of actions that lead to guilt, shame, confusion and other negative emotions. Step twelve encourages you to sponsor someone in need of guidance through the steps. You show others by example how you overcame the many barriers to recovery, and that if you can do it, they can, too. You can show that hope is everything, that recovery is joyful and that even when life feels meaningless, it’s anything but.

Step twelve does not mean that you are ‘cured’. The 12 steps are an ongoing process and a guide to living that needs to be embraced and actively participated in on a daily basis.

Treatment at The Lighthouse Bali

At The Lighthouse Bali we offer an optional 12-step approach to recovery, as well a cognitive behavioural model, in conjunction with counselling with one of our clinical psychologists and multiple holistic options to address all aspects of an individual’s life. Our programs are tailormade around our clients – we do not take a one-size-fits-all approach. Going through our primary inpatient treatment process will help you to understand yourself and your addiction in order to overcome it. For those who need it, we can provide a medically assisted detox with our partner health care provider, which is the safest and most comfortable way to detox in the comfort of your own private villa.  We include extensive relapse prevention education so that when you step out into the real-world, you have the tools to manage. We also offer transitional outpatient programs to help you get back on your feet with support still being in place. In addition, we have an aftercare program that supports you for six months following discharge from treatment.

addiction recovery

If you are concerned about yourself or a loved one, we urge you to reach out and contact us in confidence. Our private programs are highly successful and our doctorate level clinical staff have extensive experience in the field of addiction. If you are not currently in Bali but would like to begin a recovery program immediately, we are able to assist you with travel arrangements and airport VIP service on arrival.

The duration of our Primary Inpatient Programs and Outpatient Care varies according to individual circumstances. Both Inpatient and Outpatient treatment is based around monthly (28 day) increments. As a general guideline we recommend one to three months in our primary inpatient program, followed by one to two months outpatient care in Bali, and up to six months of ongoing therapy (by Zoom or Skype from home). The longer you stay in rehab, the better your chances of staying clean and sober when you return home.

To talk to one of our team members, contact us on WhatsApp or by Phone. Alternatively, send us an email and we will either answer your questions in writing or call you back, according to your preference – contact us.

We understand how difficult it can be to reach out for help but it’s the first step towards recovery and a happier, healthier way of living.

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