12 Step Recovery Crash Course

12 Step Recovery Crash Course

When we first visit the rooms of 12 step-based recovery, every catchphrase is new, every shared story seems brilliant, and every tidbit of wisdom is potentially life-changing. For newcomers our tools remain as bedrocks of why recovery works. For old-timers they serve as welcome reminders to stay vigilant and prevent complacency.

Here are the basics:

Meetings are not the program.

Meetings are a place to connect with other addicts, to share and hear solutions, and to benefit from the experience, strength, and hope of those who are getting it right. They are not a substitute for working a program. You cannot get from hungry to full by skipping the meal. Attend meetings to find people who are actively working to stay clean and sober. Pick their brains, find out how they do it, and follow their example!

Get a sponsor and work the steps.

The steps give us insight and awareness about our motives, patterns, and capabilities. They help us identify our assets and liabilities. They teach us to set healthy boundaries and attract positive relationships. It is helpful to find a sponsor you can relate to – someone with a similar vocational field, life experience, or hobbies. Call five sober supports every day for a week. At the end of the week, you’ll know who your sponsor is. Sponsors should be age and gender appropriate, to avoid confusion and mixed signals. Someone of the same gender is more likely to come from a place with which you can identify, irrespective of sexual orientation. (Please note that sex and gender are not synonymous, and that there are rare exceptions who manage cross-gender sponsorship successfully.)

Immerse yourself.

Make recovery your first priority, your mission, your job. Speaking of jobs, imagine if all you did at work was show up and warm a chair. If you don’t do your work, you lose your job. The same goes for your recovery.  Invest as much energy and focus towards your recovery as you invested in your active addiction. Work for it.

Engage in fellowship.

Embrace social activities and see how addicts in recovery can have fun. If you’re on a budget, invite friends over to do a craft project, or share a potluck meal, or watch a movie. Go to a park or beach and have a picnic. Work out together. Start a volleyball game. Check your local newspaper for free activities. Go to a pet rescue facility and offer to walk the animals together. Browse the book store or the library and compare books of interest. If you have a small social budget, go out for pizza, ice cream, or coffee. Go bowling, visit a museum, window shop at the mall.

Stay busy.

Addicts need structure. Whether you’re right out of treatment, or you’ve been at this a while and gotten off-track with your program, it helps to make a one-week chart of your time to see how you spend it – to identify patterns and gaps.

Find a service commitment.

Make coffee, stack chairs, mop, be a greeter, give smiles, give hugs, take a trusted servant position, serve on a subcommittee (Many subcommittees have only a one day clean time requirement.).

Stay away from people who use.

Recognize the people who are still sick and suffering and give them a wide berth. Unconditional love and acceptance means offering support. It does not mean allowing yourself to be taken advantage of or used. Delete their phone numbers and avoid places where they hang out.

Stay connected.

Get at least two phone numbers every time you attend a meeting and call them within 24 hours. It helps to make a note to yourself about what someone looks like, or what you talked about.

Stay honest, open-minded, willing, humble, and teachable:

Practice honesty in all things. Be open-minded to new ideas; stay teachable. Be willing to try new methods; don’t criticize suggestions until you give them a fair chance.

Fight the insanity.

In recovery, we think of insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Step work provides awareness of these destructive behaviors.


If you don’t have a connection to a Higher Power right now, then take psychologist Alfred Adler’s advice and “act as if.”  A Higher Power is any power greater than you. It only takes two people to make a meeting, and that is a power greater than you. Start there. If that’s as far as you get, it’s enough.

Take responsibility.

Own your choices, your actions, and your feelings. Whatever happened in the past, it’s time to live in the solution. That means letting go of blame and moving forward.

Always look at your part in things.

Whether you’re the victim or the perpetrator, you are always a participant.

Examine your motives.

Are you coming from a place of love or a place of ego?

Don’t judge.

People who judge don’t matter, and people who matter don’t judge. Take your own inventory and let other people worry about themselves. Making their business your business produces expectations. Expectations breed resentments.

Pay attention to your negative emotions.

Face your fears through step work; ignore it and it will fester. Confront anger or it will consume your energy. Indulging resentments will prevent you from carrying or hearing a message of recovery.

Don’t pick up, no matter what.

If you plan to pick up a drink, a drug, or an addictive behavior, pick up the phone instead – BEFORE you use, not after. You can get through anything for ten minutes. It takes less time than that to reach out to someone who can help you get through the next 24 hours or accompany you to a meeting. A meeting is somewhere you can go for a whole hour and not use. If you can make it through that hour, you can make it through the next one.

Embrace the slogans.

Sayings achieve slogan status because they resonate with millions of people. When obsessive and compulsive thinking renders you incapable of good judgment, slogans might save your life with their simplicity and common sense.

If you want what we have, do what we do.

If you want everything to change, change everything.

If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.

When the pain is great enough, you’ll do something about it.

Whatever you place before your recovery, you will lose.

At most meetings, addicts and alcoholics share what works for them. You’ll also hear what doesn’t work from the people who have relapsed. A relapse happens long before you pick up. There are signs. When people in chronic relapse share at a meeting, they all say the same things: “I stopped…I haven’t…I didn’t…” I stopped going to meetings and reading the literature. I haven’t taken a service commitment or finished my step work. I didn’t call my supports. I fired my sponsor. This program is so simple, it’s almost idiot-proof, but not if we make idiotic choices. Having some clean time doesn’t mean we’re exempt from making poor decisions. Working a program means we develop the ability to identify our decisions as healthy or dysfunctional. Through working the steps and using the tools, we recover our lives.