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Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) founded the 12 Step program to create a guide of principles and steps for a plan of action to help recover from alcoholism, addiction, and compulsive behaviors. The program has proven to be successful in other support groups for many types of addiction. The 12 Steps can be modified to fit any recovery program. The 12 Step treatment program was based on Christian beliefs originally, but over time has changed to reflect secular philosophies to fit any belief so that everyone from all walks of life can benefit from it. The language found in the 12 Steps recognizes a higher power and allows for people with different religious beliefs to participate.

The 12 Steps

Recovery is a lifelong commitment, and there is no wrong way to attempt the steps as you try to figure out what is best for your needs. Many individuals find that they will need to repeat some steps or even take more than one step at a time. Below are the 12 Steps in recovery:

  1. We admitted that we are powerless over our addiction; that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. We are entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. We humbly asked him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. We made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. We 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.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to addicts and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Different Types of Recovery Meetings

Those who are attending a 12 Step recovery meeting for the first time should know there are different variations. Below are a few types of 12 Step meetings that can be found:

Open Meetings – Open meetings are open to the public. Not only are they for addicts but also for supporters, those looking for knowledge, or for court-ordered reasons. Even though these meetings are open to the public, the privacy of those attending should still be respected while in the meeting or out in the community.

Closed Meetings – Closed meetings are for those looking for complete privacy. Typically for people searching for sobriety from alcohol, however, members of other 12 Step programs can attend.

Gender-Specific Meetings – Some individuals would rather attend a meeting solely for men or women. They typically feel more at ease with people of a certain gender.

LBGT Meetings –These meetings address particular issues surrounding lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals. Having an LBGT meeting allows individuals to be able to open-up freely regarding any concerns without negativity and feel accepted with their sexual identity.

Step Meetings – 12 Step meetings focus and discuss the 12 Steps. These forms of meetings are associated with specific stages of recovery. However new members are welcome.

Meditation Meetings – Meditation is a useful tool for 12 Step programs. During these meetings, individuals partake in intervals of silence to look back on their success in the program, connect with their higher power, or help quiet their thoughts.

The two common 12 Step treatment programs include Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA). Those who have attended recovery meetings such as these regularly have a higher chance of being substance free. 12 Step meetings are combined with other rehab programs, but members of these groups still attend meetings even years after sobriety or a rehab program. These forms of programs encourage individuals to refrain from alcohol, drugs or any other addictive behaviors or substances.

What Happens at 12 Step Meetings?

Every 12 Step meeting can be different. No meeting is the same. This is because each addiction affects individuals differently. However, there are still some traditions that are in just about every meeting. Below are some things that you can expect to see at your first meeting:

  • 12 Step meetings do not charge any dues or fees; however, donations may be requested at some point. There is no set limit on these donations, and if you are not able to contribute, this does not mean you cannot attend. The reason donations are accepted is because nonalcoholic drinks and food are often provided, and the donations help cover some of these costs.
  • The leader or chairperson position is shared between the individuals in the groups to lead the meetings. This individual will begin and end the meetings, start a specific topic, or ask if there is a particular issue that needs to be discussed.
  • When the meeting begins, the chairperson will introduce any new members. This gives newcomers a chance to be recognized so they can receive the support, help and any guidance they may need. New members are appreciated in 12 Step groups because they allow members who are more experienced to pass on their sobriety tips and advice to others.
  • While present in the meeting, you should not interrupt when someone is talking, offering mutual support or advice. Interruption is known as “crosstalk.” During the meeting, members sit quietly and listen to the conversation until the speaker has finished talking.
  • At the end of the meeting, a religious, nonreligious or the Serenity prayer is spoken, a moment of silence (meditation) is observed, or text from the 12 Steps is read. At some 12 Step meetings, members will join hands, but you are not compelled to do so. If you are uncomfortable with any of the closing rituals, you may sit quietly with your arms folded.

Once the meeting has ended, you can get up and mingle with others. This offers the opportunity to get to know others and introduce yourself to new members. You can share your interest in recovery and how you plan on getting and staying sober. However, if you feel uncomfortable socializing with members, you can leave as soon as the meeting ends. You will not be looked at any differently as others understand new members may be more uncomfortable, nervous and shy.

Remember that for your first time attending a 12 Step program, the type of meeting is not as important. Instead, the simple act of choosing to seek help is what is essential. In larger communities, you will find there are many different types of 12 Step meetings and in time, you will discover which one works best for you and where you feel the most substantial support. In the meantime, trying different support groups and introducing yourself to the powerful and different 12 Step communities can be beneficial to your recovery process.

The 12 Traditions

From the time of the publishing of the first edition of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous in the late 1930s, the number of 12 Step groups grew rapidly. Soon AA founder Bill W. realized the need to explain how the different groups related to one another, to the national AA organization, and to the public at large. Thus were born the guidelines called the 12 Traditions:

  1. Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends on NA/AA unity.
  2. For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority – a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience, our leaders are but trusted servants, they do not govern.
  3. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop using.
  4. Each group should be autonomous, except in matters affecting other groups, or NA/AA as a whole.
  5. Each group has but one primary purpose, to carry the message to the addict who still suffers.
  6. An NA/AA group ought never endorse, finance or lend the NA/AA name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property, or prestige divert us from our primary purpose.
  7. Every NA/AA group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.
  8. NA/AA should remain forever nonprofessional, but our Service Centers may employ special workers.
  9. NA/AA, such as, ought never be organized, but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.
  10. NA/AA has no opinion on outside issues; hence, the NA/AA name ought never be drawn into public controversy.
  11. Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films.
  12. Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.