A Study of Step 12

The 12 Steps of A.A. and Al-Anon

Chairs in a circle
Carrying the Message Is How It Works. © Getty Images

For those in recovery programs, practicing Step 12 is simply "how it works," as the founders of the fellowship discovered for themselves in those early days.

Step 12
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.

As the history of Alcoholics Anonymous so clearly indicates, it was working with others who were still suffering that kept Bill W.

and Dr. Bob sober. The same principle is true for all members of 12 step groups: "to keep it you have to give it away."

In Al-Anon, the step reads try to carry the message to "others" and in Alcoholics Anonymous is says "to alcoholics." The principle is the same. In order to work all 12 of the steps, you must try to help others.

Carrying the message to others, by sharing experience, strength, and hope, reinforces the spiritual principle of the twelve steps in the person being 12th-stepped as well as the one doing the sharing.

If nobody was doing any 12th-step work, the program would simply cease to exist. Without the service work of those who came before, no members would be here now.

But Step 12 also admonishes members to put the spiritual growth they have found to work not only within the fellowship but it all aspects of their lives -- to practice these principles in all our affairs. This too is doing 12th step "work" and makes the program work as one of attraction and not promotion.

For many in the 12-step fellowships, working the 12th step is simply how it works. Visitors to this site share their experience with doing 12-step service:

Do No Harm

This is a very important step to me. I have made the mistake of caring the alcoholic instead of carrying the message.

Page 164 of the Big Book says, "Abandon yourself to God as you understand God.

Admit your faults to Him and your fellows. Clear away the wreckage of your past. Give freely of what you find and join us. We shall be with you in the fellowship of the Spirit, and you will surely meet some of us as you trudge the Road of Happy Destiny."

Page 96. "He may be broke and homeless. If he is, you might try to help him about getting a job, or give him a little financial assistance. But you should not deprive your family or creditors of money they should have. Perhaps you will want to take the man into your home for a few days. But be sure you use discretion. Be certain he will be welcomed by your family, and that he is not trying to impose upon you for money, connections, or shelter. Permit that and you only harm him. You will be making it possible for him to be insincere. You may be aiding in his destruction rather than his recovery."

In short don't rescue the alcoholic it harms him/her in the long run!


Living It to Give It Away

This step for me has always been so important to me. When I made my call to AA for help, they were at my door in 15 minutes.

As a newcomer to the program, I would be sitting around the AA clubroom when I would hear the phone ring and see these people run out the door like they were going to a fire, this always impressed me.

After I was sober for a while my sponsor would take me on 12 step calls. I would just sit there and listen to these old timers do their thing.

As we know it doesn't make much sense to try and get through to a person while they were drunk, all though there were times when they would bring the person to the AA clubroom and feed him orange juice and honey to get him over the shakes, and maybe on the start to a new life.

When I started doing 12 step calls on my own, although I try not to go alone, I started getting too involved and was letting myself get hurt because nobody I was 12 stepping was getting sober, I thought "what am I doing wrong?" My sponsor sat me down and had a long talk with me, #1 I was trying to save the world, #2 we carry the message, not the body.

I even had a couple of people that I 12-stepped go back out and die. Thank God, I had a great sponsor who set me straight, I can't sober up the whole world, all I can do is carry the message, the rest is up to them. One of the most important parts of a 12 step call is the follow-up. It doesn't hurt to call the person in a few days to see if they might want to go to a meeting with you, I find that it shows that you are for real.

I guess what I am trying to say it that we have to live it before we can give it.


Step 12 Saved My Life

I went on my first 12 step call at two weeks sober, barely an infant in this program. When I got there I found that I was more interested in his wife's legs than I was in helping him.

Gradually I discovered that 12 step work wasn't just going out to help the one who still suffers. It also included simply going to meetings and being seen there; making coffee; speaking up during comments; saying "yes" when asked to do service work or speak at a meeting; offering to give a ride to those who otherwise would not go to a meeting; in short, 12 step work is very much "setting the example".

In 1992 I was on disability leave from work for three months. I notified the Chicago central office that I was available for 12 step work, and they all had my name taped to their desks. I was getting so many calls I couldn't keep up. In one eight-day period, I had seven 12-step calls.

I did manage to help some, but I did a dis-service to many by spreading myself too thin. I could not possibly keep up with all of them, making sure they all went to meetings, and making those darn phone calls all day. Likewise, the phone rang so much, I didn't have time just for me. It was rewarding though, and today I have several under my belt who I still see regularly that stayed with the program and are happy, joyous and free.

But the real 12 step work that I know happened to me personally. When I was in my third month of sobriety, one day was particularly bad. I had a hard day at work. It was July and very hot outside. I walked my ten minutes to the club I was going to, and walked in, only to find the air conditioner was on the fritz. The room filled up (75) and the meeting started. I didn't like the lead. The comments began and out of 75 people, I was about number 70 to comment. I said "I'll pass".

After the meeting was over, Wally approached me: Would I give him a ride home? So we walked ten minutes to my car in silence. We got in the car, and I placed the key in the ignition. Suddenly Wally's hand was on mine. "You got something on your mind," he said. So? I replied. "Listen kid, don't do it. You got too much going for you. You're young and you got your whole life ahead of you. Listen to me, I'm old enough to be your father."

Now Wally and I came from different planets. I was a college grad, he was a 7th-grade dropout. I was a Chicagoan, he was a New Yorker. I was an executive, he was a machine shop setup man. He was in his 60's, I was in my 30's. We had zip in common. But here he was, telling me how to stay sober. It worked. What he said to me that evening saved my life. That was REAL 12 step work.

Thank you, Wally. I owe you my life.


Index of 12 Steps and Traditions Study

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