When first entering recovery, many of us find ourselves with a few doubts and reservations. We fear that it might become harder to make friends once we can no longer go to a bar and buy a few rounds. Perhaps we fear that we may lose the friends we already have if they perceive our sobriety as boring. This line of thinking does us no good, only serving as a distraction from the many benefits of working to overcome our addiction. Nevertheless, the rewards are great, both in quality and quantity. And perhaps nothing outlines these rewards better than the 12 Promises.
The 12 Promises are also referred to as the Ninth Step Promises. They appear in Chapter 6 of Alcoholics Anonymous (“Into Action”) on pages 83 and 84. The relevant passage reads:
“If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.
Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us—sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.”
This is the sentiment with which AA members should approach the 12 Promises. In addition to the 12 Promises, we might also take some comfort in the 12 Rewards. Presented at the 1985 International Convention in Montreal by an AA member from Ohio, the 12 Rewards present us with attributes that will come to replace certain character defects if we work on our sobriety long enough.
Below, we’ll briefly discuss each of the 12 Promises, providing links to articles with more information on each one. We’ll also discuss the manner in which each of the 12 Promises correlates to one of the 12 Rewards. It is our hope that this discussion will give new meaning to your sobriety. Remember when reading the following that these promises can come true if only you continue to nurture your recovery. In a life free from the bonds of alcoholism and addiction, anything is possible.
“We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.”
Reward: Hope instead of desperation.
The 12 Promises offer us freedom from the desperation often experienced in addiction. At first, this freedom manifests as hope. But as we continue our journey through recovery, we often find this hope transformed into something else. We become truly happy with our new way of life. In fact, we often find so many joys in recovery that it’s hard for us to remember why our old life ever appealed to us in the first place. While the Big Book associates the 12 Promises with Step Nine, many of us will see the First Promise fulfilled long before we reach this point.
“We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.”
Reward: Faith instead of despair.
Guilt and remorse permeate the mind of the newly recovering addict or alcoholic. We look back on our previous actions with regret and despair. The Second Promise reminds us to keep the faith. We can and will improve ourselves as long as we continue working on our recovery. That said, we must not try to repress the past or forget it entirely. Like it or not, our addiction is a part of us. We should try to learn from it rather than pretend that it never existed. Otherwise, we cannot properly work the 12 Steps. And if we don’t work the 12 Steps, we cannot fulfill the 12 Promises.
“We will comprehend the word serenity.”
Reward: Courage instead of fear.
Serenity plays a major role in recovery. Those who regularly attend AA and NA meetings should know the Serenity Prayer by heart. But despite speaking the word every day, we don’t always spend much time considering its meaning. The 12 Promises assure us that, with or without the help of a dictionary, we’ll come to understand. Not only will we understand what serenity means, but also how it feels. When we fulfill the Third Promise, we learn to accept the things we cannot change. We face them with courage instead of fear. This allows us to accept life on life’s terms without hiding behind drugs and alcohol.
(NOTE: In our introduction, you’ll see a line preceding the 12 Promises. This line states that we often begin to recognize the 12 Promises before we complete even half of Step Nine. We should note that many apply the First Reward to this statement. They then apply the Second Reward to the First Promise and the Third Reward to the Second Promise. When people affix the 12 Rewards to the 12 Promises in this fashion, they often combine the Third Promise and the Fourth Promise. So while the above Rewards may seem out of place to such people, the following entries should resemble the way in which the 12 Promises and 12 Rewards are always attached to one another.)
“We will know peace.”
Reward: Peace of mind instead of confusion.
Addiction leaves us dazed and confused. It’s difficult to live with much peace and clarity when constantly under the influence of mind-altering substances. The Fourth Promise offers an escape from this lifestyle. As long as we continue working toward fulfillment of the 12 Promises, we need not live in turmoil. The chaos of addiction finally subsides, and we can begin building new lives for ourselves in sobriety.
“No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others.”
Reward: Self-respect instead of self-contempt.
As we work on our recovery, we often begin performing acts of service work. But even before we perform service work, we find ways to help people. We share our experiences in meetings, showing others that they are not alone. The worst exploits of our past become tales of redemption in the present. As we begin to see this, we develop a new sense of self-worth. It is at this point that we fulfill the Fifth Promise.
“That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear.”
Reward: Self-confidence instead of helplessness.
Nobody enters recovery on the best day of his or her life. When a person first walks into an AA or NA meeting, they likely do so because they feel like they are out of other options. We feel helpless and afraid. And in the backs of our minds, we might fear that this attempt at sobriety will result in yet another failure. But as we continue working toward the 12 Promises, this defeatist line of thinking begins to dissipate. The Sixth Promise then instills within us a new sense of confidence. This strengthens our resolve, allowing us to pursue our recovery with greater passion.
“We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows.”
Reward: The respect of others instead of their pity and contempt.
The Seventh Promise marks an interesting point in the relationship between the 12 Promises and 12 Rewards. In most cases, the 12 Promises result in changes to our own mindset. These changes are reflected by the 12 Rewards. But in this case, the value of overcoming our selfishness is that others will begin to see us in a new light. When we acted selfishly in addiction, others often looked down on us. Once they see us growing and working on our principles, this begins to change. Not only do we gain greater respect for ourselves in sobriety, but others begin to respect us as well. This helps us put an end to our isolation, making our recovery just that much more fulfilling.
“Self-seeking will slip away.”
Reward: A clean conscience instead of a sense of guilt.
Another drawback of selfishness is that we often feel a heavy sense of guilt over it. Despite our self-seeking ways, we know intuitively that we should act more considerately toward others. When we begin doing so, we begin fulfilling the Eighth Promise. The guilt begins to subside as we no longer fail to consider the needs of those we love. In this way, the 12 Promises make it easier to rest each night with a clean conscience.
“Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change.”
Reward: Real friendships instead of loneliness.
For the next three entries in the 12 Promises, the 12 Rewards might not seem to line up perfectly. Nonetheless, we can still see some correlations if we try. For instance, the Ninth Promise discusses our attitude toward life itself. As we continue to grow, those around us will inevitably see us in a new light. This draws people to us and allows us to cultivate better friendships. Our escape from loneliness and our new outlook on life are a bit like the chicken and the egg. Regardless of which comes first, one will almost always lead to the other.
“Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us.”
Reward: A clean pattern of life instead of a purposeless existence.
Sobriety gives us a sense of purpose. Before entering recovery, we often fear people and financial matters, largely because we find ourselves unable to handle such issues. As we work to get our feet back under us, this insecurity should begin to wash away. The Tenth Promise will be fulfilled once we learn to approach every situation with confidence. We may still encounter financial struggles or interpersonal issues, but we encounter such problems with the knowledge that we possess the strength to keep moving forward.
“We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.”
Reward: The love and understanding of our families instead of their doubts and fears.
Many situations threw us for a loop before entering recovery. Even after becoming sober, this doesn’t just immediately go away. It takes time for us to adapt to our new way of life. We worry about certain potential situations, such as what to do if someone offers us drugs or alcohol. But at some point in our sobriety, we realize that we intuitively know how to deal with such issues. This is the point at which we can safely say that the Eleventh Promise has been fulfilled. And once we reach this point, our families will be able to trust us more than they have in quite some time. Not only is this great for us, but it’s quite a relief for our families as well. For years, they could hardly recognize the drunken wretch inhabiting our body. Now, thanks to the 12 Promises, they finally have us back.
“We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.”
Reward: The freedom of a happy life instead of the bondage of an alcoholic obsession.
The Twelfth Promise and the Twelfth Reward are the same in many ways. When we fulfill the Twelfth Promise, we realize that we can’t control everything in our lives. But instead of lamenting this fact, we celebrate it. Our lack of control means freedom and relief. After years of drinking and drug abuse, it’s been quite some time since we experienced freedom in any way, shape or form. On top of that, we also realize that things have been quite good for us since sacrificing control. No matter how we define our Higher Power, we can generally agree that it’s done a much better job of managing our world than we ever did.
The 12 Promises and 12 Rewards grant us these freedoms and more, but only if we work for them. With a bit of effort, sobriety can easily become the best chapter of our lives. All we must do is follow the steps and take suggestions when needed. As long as we remain honest with ourselves and adhere to this simple program, our lives—not to mention we ourselves—will be completely transformed. Learn more about how 12 step programs work and why a 12 step recovery program might be right for you.
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