We now reach the final article in our series on the Twelve Steps. This is the point at which we should experience our spiritual awakening, assuming that we haven’t already. By the time we reach Step Twelve, our spiritual principles will rise to new levels. In most cases, we found ourselves to be happier and more useful than we were before we began drinking or abusing drugs in the first place. Now, we must take the principles we learned in previous steps and embody them on a daily basis.
This may sound a bit like Step Ten and Step Eleven. That’s because, much like those steps, Step Twelve is a way of life. It is the point at which we put all of our principles to the test every day. And, perhaps most importantly, it is the point at which we begin wearing these principles on our sleeves. Because while improving our own lives is important, service work is a key component of spiritual growth. Don’t forget that the Big Book has an entire chapter (“Working With Others”) dedicated solely to our work with other alcoholics. This chapter isn’t just errant service work—it’s the precise work we should be doing in Step Twelve.
Step Twelve might feel far away for any newcomers reading this simply to learn more about the Twelve Steps. And even for those who are just now reaching the Twelfth Step, it might sound like a pretty tall order. But in many ways, Step Twelve is the end of our 12 step recovery program. Because it was never just about quitting drugs and alcohol. Sobriety is about becoming a better person. When we learn to spend every day embodying spiritual principles and helping others, we will know that we are truly good people. This is when our journey becomes more wonderful than ever.
What Is Step Twelve?
As written in Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (also known as the 12&12), Step Twelve is as follows:
“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.”
After spending some time in Step Eleven, many recovering addicts and alcoholics find a new sense of calm. They feel at peace with who they are, and confident that they are growing in recovery. This is when they know that they are ready for Step Twelve.
There’s no point in discussing how the spiritual awakening occurs. Spiritual experiences are like snowflakes—some seem vaguely alike, but they’re all unique in many ways. But when you sense a new freedom in your heart and feel good about being sober today, it’s usually a sign that you’re on the right track. Perhaps your spiritual awakening will occur in a burst of light. Maybe you’ll just wake up feeling really good one day. But no matter how it happens, you’ll find yourself able to help others like never before. Because you can teach without lecturing. In your spiritually evolved state, you can simply lead by example.
Leading by example might be one way in which you can carry the message to other alcoholics. Attend a meeting and talk to the newcomers. Even if you don’t talk to them, they might get something out of seeing you there. Your attendance shows them that there are others like them. And your willingness to listen as they share their stories will show them that there are people who truly care. Newcomers need this kind of support. Those who have their feet back under them should be the first ones to offer it.
Step Twelve also talks about exhibiting the principles of recovery when managing all of our affairs. This part might sound particularly difficult, not to mention confusing. Does this mean we shouldn’t choose between Coke and Diet Coke without calling our sponsor? Do we have to pray and meditate before literally every decision? Does our daily inventory for Step Ten need to cover every little step we took throughout the day? These concerns are a bit overblown, but we nonetheless hear people use almost these exact words to describe their reservations concerning recovery. We’d like to put a few of those to rest.
What It Means
Practicing the principles in all of our affairs basically means that we don’t forget about them. Some of us are prone to reach Step Twelve and think “that’s it, all done now.” The 12&12 talks about that issue here:
“We temporarily cease to grow because we feel satisfied that there is no need for all of A.A.’s Twelve Steps for us. We are doing fine on a few of them. Maybe we are doing fine on only two of them, the First Step and that part of the Twelfth where we ‘carry the message.’ In A.A. slang, that blissful state is known as ‘two-stepping.’ And it can go on for years.”
Think of a two-stepper as someone who cares about sobriety, but often lets their principles fall by the wayside. They might stay sober for years, but they still harbor resentments and almost never make amends. Some of these people openly admit to their own selfishness, wearing it on their chest like a badge of honor. These people sometimes have the best of intentions. They simply aren’t working some aspects of their recovery. But even if they mean well, two-steppers can be dangerous if certain types of newcomers take them as role models.
The Twelve Steps provide us with numerous learning opportunities. In Step Twelve, we begin to think about these daily instead of acting on impulse. Because, as noted by the 12&12, a lack of inhibitions can be dangerous to our recovery:
“If we place instincts first, we have got the cart before the horse; we shall be pulled backward into disillusionment. But when we are willing to place spiritual growth first—then and only then do we have a real chance.”
Those who embody the spiritual awakening of Step Twelve are those who consider their actions. They treat their families with care and put their recovery before their dreams of wealth and power. A true twelve-stepper knows that material security is not the answer to fear. Instead, the answer to fear is to continue living a life of principle. Because any real twelve-stepper knows that a principled life is far more rewarding than any short-term, synthetic source of happiness. Step Twelve is the point at which we no longer seek such false panaceas. We don’t need drugs and alcohol so that we can pretend to be happy. In fact, we don’t need to pretend at all. We simply are. And even when times get rough, we can remember to express gratitude for all we’ve gained in sobriety.
How to Practice
The secret of Step Twelve is that we already know how to practice. Step One taught us to embrace acceptance rather than denial or false pride. We learned in Step Two and Step Three that the key to doing this is spirituality. Then, Step Four and Step Five taught us the importance of honesty in our moral inventory. In Step Six and Step Seven, we looked back on our character defects and resolved to have them removed. We then confronted our past by making amends in Step Eight and Step Nine. When we reached Step Ten, we began cataloguing our inventory daily. Then in Step Eleven, we sought to begin prioritizing our spiritual growth in the pursuit of true enlightenment. Step Twelve is simply the point at which we put these puzzle pieces together to form a new way of life for ourselves.
In other words, Step Twelve is about growing up. We don’t simply help others because it helps our recovery, but because it is the right thing to do. Instead of feeling like a chore, service work feels like a worthwhile responsibility. If we don’t see that we have responsibilities to those around us, we cannot truly claim to have embraced the Twelfth Step. And, as noted in the 12&12, those of us who live spiritually will almost certainly find ourselves with new responsibilities.
“When by devoted service to family, friends, business, or community we attract wide-spread affection and are sometimes singled out for posts of greater responsibility and trust, we try to be humbly grateful and exert ourselves the more in a spirit of love and service. True leadership, we find, depends upon able example and not upon vain displays of power or glory.”
Eventually, those who practice Step Twelve should consider sponsorship. But in truth, every moment we spend on the right path allows us to carry the message. People see us, even when we think nobody’s watching. Will they feel our stress, or will they bask in our joy? If we carry these principles with us wherever we go, it will often be the latter.
Never let anyone convince you that AA and NA are simply groups of people who talk about their problems. Certainly, addicts and alcoholics require a bit of troubleshooting. But when we reach the Twelfth Step, we don’t need to focus on the problem so much. Because in most cases, people will look at us as evidence of the solution. When we reach this point, we will truly be a part of something great. Because, more than anything else, Step Twelve is the path to experiencing true fellowship. The opportunity to be a part of something bigger only serves to enhance our recovery, making it feel sweeter than ever. We should all be so lucky to experience this wonder. And we all can—as long as we stay sober just one day at a time.