12 Step Recovery: In Giving That We Receive

  1. 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.

In the early years of what would become the 12 Step program, the originators worked one-on-one with suffering addicts, trying to help them gain sobriety. Their efforts largely failed – in terms of those receiving help. The people giving the help, however, soon realized that their efforts were instrumental in keeping them sober.


The Conversation – Edgar Degas, 1895

You keep sobriety by giving it away, a paradox that all-or-nothing thinking can never countenance. You are only ready to see the wisdom in the 12th Step once you have gone through all of the other steps, including the contemplative mindset of the the 11th Step. By this point you realize that you are not in control and that recovery is happening in you and through you by a Power not your own. This “spiritual awakening” is what moves you to let it happen.

An important and parallel psychological process is also at work. By carrying the message, you gather and process all of your recovery experiences in the left brain. Early on, neither addiction nor recovery make much sense. You are consumed by the experience itself, like “breathing underwater.” To completely internalize and own an experience, you have to understand it at some level using reason and language. Words symbolize and organize, creating insight. The resulting message reinforces the integration and the integration strengthens the message. Old-timers in recovery have a deep wisdom.

This anchoring of experience is not just conceptual, but also practical. We further try “to practice these principles in all of our affairs,” a broadening of the 8th, 9th and 10th steps.

Communicating and practicing with “these principles” indicates not only recovery, but also transformation. I would say that a person who is sober in emotion and behavior is transformed beyond typical consciousness, which is why these folks make such valuable and wonderful friends.