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Step Twelve

"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."

The joy of living is the theme of A.A.'s Twelfth Step, and action is its key
word. Here we turn outward toward our fellow alcoholics who are still in
distress. Here we experience the kind of giving that asks no rewards. Here we
begin to practice all Twelve Steps of the program in our daily lives so that we
and those about us may find emotional sobriety. When the Twelfth Step is seen
in its full implication, it is really talking about the kind of love that has
no price tag on it.
Our Twelfth Step also says that as a result of practicing all the Steps, we
have each found something called a spiritual awakening. To new A.A.'s, this
often seems like a very dubious and improbable state of affairs. "What do you
mean when you talk about a `spiritual awakening'?" they ask.
Maybe there are as many definitions of spiritual awakening as there are people
who have had them. But certainly each genuine one has something in common with
all the others. And these things which they have in common are not too hard to
understand. When a man or a woman has a spiritual awakening, the most important
meaning of it is that he has now become able to do, feel, and believe that
which he could not do before on his unaided strength and resources alone. He
has been granted a gift which amounts to a new state of consciousness and
being. He has been set on a path which tells him he is really going somewhere,
that life is not a dead end, not something to be endured or mastered. In a very
real sense he has been transformed, because he has laid hold of a source of
strength which, in one way or another, he had hitherto denied himself. He finds
himself in possession of a degree of honesty, tolerance, unselfishness, peace
of mind, and love of which he had thought himself quite incapable. What he has
received is a free gift, and yet usually, at least in some small part, he has
made himself ready to receive it.
A.A.'s manner of making ready to receive this gift lies in the practice of the
Twelve Steps in our program. So let's consider briefly what we have been trying
to do up to this point:
Step One showed us an amazing paradox: We found that we were totally unable to
be rid of the alcohol obsession until we first admitted that we were powerless
over it. In Step Two we saw that since we could not restore ourselves to
sanity, some Higher Power must necessarily do so if we were to survive.
Consequently, in Step Three we turned our will and our lives over to the care
of God as we understood Him. For the time being, we who were atheist or
agnostic discovered that our own group, or A.A. as a whole, would suffice as a
higher power. Beginning with Step Four, we commenced to search out the things
in ourselves which had brought us to physical, moral, and spiritual bankruptcy.
We made a searching and fearless moral inventory. Looking at Step Five, we
decided that an inventory, taken alone, wouldn't be enough. We knew we would
have to quit the deadly business of living alone with our conflicts, and in
honesty confide these to God and another human being. At Step Six, many of us
balked--for the practical reason that we did not wish to have all our defects
of character removed, because we still loved some of them too much. Yet we knew
we had to make a settlement with the fundamental principle of Step Six. So we
decided that while we still had some flaws of character that we could not yet
relinquish, we ought nevertheless to quit our stubborn, rebellious hanging on
to them. We said to ourselves, "This I cannot do today, perhaps, but I can stop
crying out `No, never!' " Then, in Step Seven, we humbly asked God to remove
our shortcomings such as He could or would under the conditions of the day we
asked. In Step Eight, we continued our housecleaning, for we saw that we were
not only in conflict with ourselves, but also with people and situations in the
world in which we lived. We had to begin to make our peace, and so we listed
the people we had harmed and became willing to set things right. We followed
this up in Step Nine by making direct amends to those concerned, except when it
would injure them or other people. By this time, at Step Ten, we had begun to
get a basis for daily living, and we keenly realized that we would need to
continue taking personal inventory, and that when we were in the wrong we ought
to admit it promptly. In Step Eleven we saw that if a Higher Power had restored
us to sanity and had enabled us to live with some peace of mind in a sorely
troubled world, then such a Higher Power was worth knowing better, by as direct
contact as possible. The persistent use of meditation and prayer, we found, did
open the channel so that where there had been a trickle, there now was a river
which led to sure power and safe guidance from God as we were increasingly
better able to understand Him.
So, practicing these Steps, we had a spiritual awakening about which finally
there was no question. Looking at those who were only beginning and still
doubted themselves, the rest of us were able to see the change setting in. From
great numbers of such experiences, we could predict that the doubter who still
claimed that he hadn't got the "spiritual angle," and who still considered his
well-loved A.A. group the higher power, would presently love God and call Him
by name.
Now, what about the rest of the Twelfth Step? The wonderful energy it releases
and the eager action by which it carries our message to the next suffering
alcoholic and which finally translates the Twelve Steps into action upon all
our affairs is the payoff, the magnificent reality, of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Even the newest of newcomers finds undreamed rewards as he tries to help his
brother alcoholic, the one who is even blinder than he. This is indeed the kind
of giving that actually demands nothing. He does not expect his brother
sufferer to pay him, or even to love him. And then he discovers that by the
divine paradox of this kind of giving he has found his own reward, whether his
brother has yet received anything or not. His own character may still be
gravely defective, but he somehow knows that God has enabled him to make a
mighty beginning, and he senses that he stands at the edge of new mysteries,
joys, and experiences of which he had never even dreamed.
Practically every A.A. member declares that no satisfaction has been deeper
and no joy greater than in a Twelfth Step job well done. To watch the eyes of
men and women open with wonder as they move from darkness into light, to see
their lives quickly fill with new purpose and meaning, to see whole families
reassembled, to see the alcoholic outcast received back into his community in
full citizenship, and above all to watch these people awaken to the presence of
a loving God in their lives--these things are the substance of what we receive
as we carry A.A.'s message to the next alcoholic.
Nor is this the only kind of Twelfth Step work. We sit in A.A. meetings and
listen, not only to receive something ourselves, but to give the reassurance
and support which our presence can bring. If our turn comes to speak at a
meeting, we again try to carry A.A.'s message. Whether our audience is one or
many, it is still Twelfth Step work. There are many opportunities even for
those of us who feel unable to speak at meetings or who are so situated that we
cannot do much face-to-face Twelfth Step work. We can be the ones who take on
the unspectacular but important tasks that make good Twelfth Step work
possible, perhaps arranging for the coffee and cake after the meetings, where
so many skeptical, suspicious newcomers have found confidence and comfort in
the laughter and talk. This is Twelfth Step work in the very best sense of the
word. "Freely ye have received; freely give..." is the core of this part of
Step Twelve.
We may often pass through Twelfth Step experiences where we will seem to be
temporarily off the beam. These will appear as big setbacks at the time, but
will be seen later as stepping-stones to better things. For example, we may set
our hearts on getting a particular person sobered up, and after doing all we
can for months, we see him relapse. Perhaps this will happen in a succession of
cases, and we may be deeply discouraged as to our ability to carry A.A.'s
message. Or we may encounter the reverse situation, in which we are highly
elated because we seem to have been successful. Here the temptation is to
become rather possessive of these newcomers. Perhaps we try to give them advice
about their affairs which we aren't really competent to give or ought not give
at all. Then we are hurt and confused when the advice is rejected, or when it
is accepted and brings still greater confusion. By a great deal of ardent
Twelfth Step work we sometimes carry the message to so many alcoholics that
they place us in a position of trust. They make us, let us say, the group's
chairman. Here again we are presented with the temptation to overmanage things,
and sometimes this results in rebuffs and other consequences which are hard to
But in the longer run we clearly realize that these are only the pains of
growing up, and nothing but good can come from them if we turn more and more to
the entire Twelve Steps for the answers.
Now comes the biggest question yet. What about the practice of these
principles in all our affairs? Can we love the whole pattern of living
as eagerly as we do the small segment of it we discover when we try to help
other alcoholics achieve sobriety? Can we bring the same spirit of love and
tolerance into our sometimes deranged family lives that we bring to our A.A.
group? Can we have the same kind of confidence and faith in these people who
have been infected and sometimes crippled by our own illness that we have in
our sponsors? Can we actually carry the A.A. spirit into our daily work? Can we
meet our newly recognized responsibilities to the world at large? And can we
bring new purpose and devotion to the religion of our choice? Can we find a new
joy of living in trying to do something about all these things?
Furthermore, how shall we come to terms with seeming failure or success? Can
we now accept and adjust to either without despair or pride? Can we accept
poverty, sickness, loneliness, and bereavement with courage and serenity? Can
we steadfastly content ourselves with the humbler, yet sometimes more durable,
satisfactions when the brighter, more glittering achievements are denied us?
The A.A. answer to these questions about living is "Yes, all of these things
are possible." We know this because we see monotony, pain, and even calamity
turned to good use by those who keep on trying to practice A.A.'s Twelve Steps.
And if these are facts of life for the many alcoholics who have recovered in
A.A., they can become the facts of life for many more.
Of course all A.A.'s, even the best, fall far short of such achievements as a
consistent thing. Without necessarily taking that first drink, we often get
quite far off the beam. Our troubles sometimes begin with indifference. We are
sober and happy in our A.A. work. Things go well at home and office. We
naturally congratulate ourselves on what later proves to be a far too easy and
superficial point of view. 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.
The best-intentioned of us can fall for the "two-step" illusion. Sooner or
later the pink cloud stage wears off and things go disappointingly dull. We
begin to think that A.A. doesn't pay off after all. We become puzzled and
Then perhaps life, as it has a way of doing, suddenly hands us a great big
lump that we can't begin to swallow, let alone digest. We fail to get a
worked-for promotion. We lose that good job. Maybe there are serious domestic
or romantic difficulties, or perhaps that boy we thought God was looking after
becomes a military casualty.
What then? Have we alcoholics in A.A. got, or can we get, the resources to
meet these calamities which come to so many? These were problems of life which
we could never face up to. Can we now, with the help of God as we understand
Him, handle them as well and as bravely as our nonalcoholic friends often do?
Can we transform these calamities into assets, sources of growth and comfort to
ourselves and those about us? Well, we surely have a chance if we switch from
" two-stepping" to "twelve-stepping," if we are willing to receive that grace of
God which can sustain and strengthen us in any catastrophe.
Our basic troubles are the same as everyone else's, but when an honest effort
is made "to practice these principles in all our affairs," well-grounded A.A.'s
seem to have the ability, by God's grace, to take these troubles in stride and
turn them into demonstrations of faith. We have seen A.A.'s suffer lingering
and fatal illness with little complaint, and often in good cheer. We have
sometimes seen families broken apart by misunderstanding, tensions, or actual
infidelity, who are reunited by the A.A. way of life.
Though the earning power of most A.A.'s is relatively high, we have some
members who never seem to get on their feet moneywise, and still others who
encounter heavy financial reverses. Ordinarily we see these situations met with
fortitude and faith.
Like most people, we have found that we can take our big lumps as they come.
But also like others, we often discover a greater challenge in the lesser and
more continuous problems of life. Our answer is in still more spiritual
development. Only by this means can we improve our chances for really happy and
useful living. And as we grow spiritually, we find that our old attitudes
toward our instincts need to undergo drastic revisions. Our desires for
emotional security and wealth, for personal prestige and power, for romance,
and for family satisfactions--all these have to be tempered and redirected. We
have learned that the satisfaction of instincts cannot be the sole end and aim
of our lives. 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
After we come into A.A., if we go on growing, our attitudes and actions toward
security--emotional security and financial security--commence to change
profoundly. Our demand for emotional security, for our own way, had constantly
thrown us into unworkable relations with other people. Though we were sometimes
quite unconscious of this, the result always had been the same. Either we had
tried to play God and dominate those about us, or we had insisted on being
overdependent upon them. Where people had temporarily let us run their lives as
though they were still children, we had felt very happy and secure ourselves.
But when they finally resisted or ran away, we were bitterly hurt and
disappointed. We blamed them, being quite unable to see that our unreasonable
demands had been the cause.
When we had taken the opposite tack and had insisted, like infants ourselves,
that people protect and take care of us or that the world owed us a living,
then the result had been equally unfortunate. This often caused the people we
had loved most to push us aside or perhaps desert us entirely. Our
disillusionment had been hard to bear. We couldn't imagine people acting that
way toward us. We had failed to see that though adult in years we were still
behaving childishly, trying to turn everybody--friends, wives, husbands, even
the world itself--into protective parents. We had refused to learn the very
hard lesson that overdependence upon people is unsuccessful because all people
are fallible, and even the best of them will sometimes let us down, especially
when our demands for attention become unreasonable.
As we made spiritual progress, we saw through these fallacies. It became clear
that if we ever were to feel emotionally secure among grown-up people, we would
have to put our lives on a give-and-take basis; we would have to develop the
sense of being in partnership or brotherhood with all those around us. We saw
that we would need to give constantly of ourselves without demands for
repayment. When we persistently did this we gradually found that people were
attracted to us as never before. And even if they failed us, we could be
understanding and not too seriously affected.
When we developed still more, we discovered the best possible source of
emotional stability to be God Himself. We found that dependence upon His
perfect justice, forgiveness, and love was healthy, and that it would work
where nothing else would. If we really depended upon God, we couldn't very well
play God to our fellows nor would we feel the urge wholly to rely on human
protection and care. These were the new attitudes that finally brought many of
us an inner strength and peace that could not be deeply shaken by the
shortcomings of others or by any calamity not of our own making.
This new outlook was, we learned, something especially necessary to us
alcoholics. For alcoholism had been a lonely business, even though we had been
surrounded by people who loved us. But when self-will had driven everybody away
and our isolation had become complete, it caused us to play the big shot in
cheap barrooms and then fare forth alone on the street to depend upon the
charity of passersby. We were still trying to find emotional security by being
dominating or dependent upon others. Even when our fortunes had not ebbed that
much and we nevertheless found ourselves alone in the world, we still vainly
tried to be secure by some unhealthy kind of domination or dependence. For
those of us who were like that, A.A. had a very special meaning. Through it we
begin to learn right relations with people who understand us; we don't have to
be alone any more.
Most married folks in A.A. have very happy homes. To a surprising extent, A.A.
has offset the damage to family life brought about by years of alcoholism. But
just like all other societies, we do have sex and marital problems, and
sometimes they are distressingly acute. Permanent marriage breakups and
separations, however, are unusual in A.A. Our main problem is not how we are to
stay married; it is how to be more happily married by eliminating the severe
emotional twists that have so often stemmed from alcoholism.
Nearly every sound human being experiences, at some time in life, a compelling
desire to find a mate of the opposite sex with whom the fullest possible union
can be made --spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical. This mighty urge is
the root of great human accomplishments, a creative energy that deeply
influences our lives. God fashioned us that way. So our question will be this:
How, by ignorance, compulsion, and self-will, do we misuse this gift for our
own destruction? We A.A. cannot pretend to offer full answers to age-old
perplexities, but our own experience does provide certain answers that work for
When alcoholism strikes, very unnatural situations may develop which work
against marriage partnership and compatible union. If the man is affected, the
wife must become the head of the house, often the breadwinner. As matters get
worse, the husband becomes a sick and irresponsible child who needs to be
looked after and extricated from endless scrapes and impasses. Very gradually,
and usually without any realization of the fact, the wife is forced to become
the mother of an erring boy. And if she had a strong maternal instinct to begin
with, the situation is aggravated. Obviously not much partnership can exist
under these conditions. The wife usually goes on doing the best she knows how,
but meanwhile the alcoholic alternately loves and hates her maternal care. A
pattern is thereby established that may take a lot of undoing later on.
Nevertheless, under the influence of A.A.'s Twelve Steps, these situations are
often set right. *
When the distortion has been great, however, a long period of patient striving
may be necessary. After the husband joins A.A., the wife may become
discontented, even highly resentful that Alcoholics Anonymous has done the very
thing that all her years of devotion had failed to do. Her husband may become
so wrapped up in A.A. and his new friends that he is inconsiderately away from
home more than when he drank. Seeing her unhappiness, he recommends A.A.'s
Twelve Steps and tries to teach her how to live. She naturally feels that for
years she has made a far better job of living than he has. Both of them blame
each other and ask when their marriage is ever going to be happy again. They may even begin to suspect it had
never been any good in the first place.
Compatibility, of course, can be so impossibly damaged that a separation may
be necessary. But those cases are the unusual ones. The alcoholic, realizing
what his wife has endured, and now fully understanding how much he himself did
to damage her and his children, nearly always takes up his marriage
responsibilities with a willingness to repair what he can and to accept what he
can't. He persistently tries all of A.A.'s Twelve Steps in his home, often with
fine results. At this point he firmly but lovingly commences to behave like a
partner instead of like a bad boy. And above all he is finally convinced that
reckless romancing is not a way of life for him.
A.A. has many single alcoholics who wish to marry and are in a position to do
so. Some marry fellow A.A.'s. How do they come out? On the whole these
marriages are very good ones. Their common suffering as drinkers, their common
interest in A.A. and spiritual things, often enhance such unions. It is only
where "boy meets girl on A.A. campus," and love follows at first sight, that
difficulties may develop. The prospective partners need to be solid A.A.'s and
long enough acquainted to know that their compatibility at spiritual, mental,
and emotional levels is a fact and not wishful thinking. They need to be as
sure as possible that no deep-lying emotional handicap in either will be likely
to rise up under later pressures to cripple them. The considerations are
equally true and important for the A.A.'s who marry "outside" A.A. With clear
understanding and right, grown-up attitudes, very happy results do follow.
And what can be said of many A.A. members who, for a variety of reasons,
cannot have a family life? At first many of these feel lonely, hurt, and left
out as they witness so much domestic happiness about them. If they cannot have
this kind of happiness, can A.A. offer them satisfactions of similar worth and
durability? Yes--whenever they try hard to seek them out. Surrounded by so many
A.A. friends, these so-called loners tell us they no longer feel alone. In
partnership with others--women and men--they can devote themselves to any
number of ideas, people, and constructive projects. Free of marital
responsibilities, they can participate in enterprises which would be denied to
family men and women. We daily see such members render prodigies of service,
and receive great joys in return.
Where the possession of money and material things was concerned, our outlook
underwent the same revolutionary change. With a few exceptions, all of us had
been spendthrifts. We threw money about in every direction with the purpose of
pleasing ourselves and impressing other people. In our drinking time, we acted
as if the money supply was inexhaustible, though between binges we'd sometimes
go to the other extreme and become almost miserly. Without realizing it we were
just accumulating funds for the next spree. Money was the symbol of pleasure
and self-importance. When our drinking had become much worse, money was only an
urgent requirement which could supply us with the next drink and the temporary
comfort of oblivion it brought.
Upon entering A.A., these attitudes were sharply reversed, often going much
too far in the opposite direction. The spectacle of years of waste threw us
into panic. There simply wouldn't be time, we thought, to rebuild our shattered
fortunes. How could we ever take care of those awful debts, possess a decent
home, educate the kids, and set something by for old age? Financial importance
was no longer our principal aim; we now clamored for material security. Even
when we were well reestablished in our business, these terrible fears often
continued to haunt us. This made us misers and penny pinchers all over again.
Complete financial security we must have--or else. We forgot that most
alcoholics in A.A. have an earning power considerably above average; we forgot
the immense goodwill of our brother A.A.'s who were only too eager to help us
to better jobs when we deserved them; we forgot the actual or potential
financial insecurity of every human being in the world. And, worst of all, we
forgot God. In money matters we had faith only in ourselves, and not too much
of that.
This all meant, of course, that we were still far off balance. When a job
still looked like a mere means of getting money rather than an opportunity for
service, when the acquisition of money for financial independence looked more
important than a right dependence upon God, we were still the victims of
unreasonable fears. And these were fears which would make a serene and useful
existence, at any financial level, quite impossible.
But as time passed we found that with the help of A.A.'s Twelve Steps we could
lose those fears, no matter what our material prospects were. We could
cheerfully perform humble labor without worrying about tomorrow. If our
circumstances happened to be good, we no longer dreaded a change for the worse,
for we had learned that these troubles could be turned into great values. It
did not matter too much what our material condition was, but it did matter what
our spiritual condition was. Money gradually became our servant and not our
master. It became a means of exchanging love and service with those about us.
When, with God's help, we calmly accepted our lot, then we found we could live
at peace with ourselves and show others who still suffered the same fears that
they could get over them, too. We found that freedom from fear was more
important than freedom from want.
Let's here take note of our improved outlook upon the problems of personal
importance, power, ambition, and leadership. These were reefs upon which many
of us came to shipwreck during our drinking careers.
Practically every boy in the United States dreams of becoming our President.
He wants to be his country's number one man. As he gets older and sees the
impossibility of this, he can smile good-naturedly at his childhood dream. In
later life he finds that real happiness is not to be found in just trying to be
a number one man, or even a first-rater in the heartbreaking struggle for
money, romance, or self-importance. He learns that he can be content as long as
he plays well whatever cards life deals him. He's still ambitious, but not
absurdly so, because he can now see and accept actual reality. He's willing to
stay right size.
But not so with alcoholics. When A.A. was quite young, a number of eminent
psychologists and doctors made an exhaustive study of a good-sized group of
so-called problem drinkers. The doctors weren't trying to find how different we
were from one another; they sought to find whatever personality traits, if any,
this group of alcoholics had in common. They finally came up with a conclusion
that shocked the A.A. members of that time. These distinguished men had the
nerve to say that most of the alcoholics under investigation were still
childish, emotionally sensitive, and grandiose.
How we alcoholics did resent that verdict! We would not believe that our adult
dreams were often truly childish. And considering the rough deal life had given
us, we felt it perfectly natural that we were sensitive. As to our grandiose
behavior, we insisted that we had been possessed of nothing but a high and
legitimate ambition to win the battle of life.
In the years since, however, most of us have come to agree with those doctors.
We have had a much keener look at ourselves and those about us. We have seen
that we were prodded by unreasonable fears or anxieties into making a life
business of winning fame, money, and what we thought was leadership. So false
pride became the reverse side of that ruinous coin marked "Fear." We simply had
to be number one people to cover up our deep-lying inferiorities. In fitful
successes we boasted of greater feats to be done; in defeat we were bitter. If
we didn't have much of any worldly success we became depressed and cowed. Then
people said we were of the "inferior" type. But now we see ourselves as chips
off the same old block. At heart we had all been abnormally fearful. It
mattered little whether we had sat on the shore of life drinking ourselves into
forgetfulness or had plunged in recklessly and willfully beyond our depth and
ability. The result was the same--all of us had nearly perished in a sea of
But today, in well-matured A.A.'s, these distorted drives have been restored
to something like their true purpose and direction. We no longer strive to
dominate or rule those about us in order to gain self-importance. We no longer
seek fame and honor in order to be praised. When by devoted service to family,
friends, business, or community we attract widespread 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.
Still more wonderful is the feeling that we do not have to be specially
distinguished among our fellows in order to be useful and profoundly happy. Not
many of us can be leaders of prominence, nor do we wish to be. Service, gladly
rendered, obligations squarely met, troubles well accepted or solved with God's
help, the knowledge that at home or in the world outside we are partners in a
common effort, the well-understood fact that in God's sight all human beings
are important, the proof that love freely given surely brings a full return,
the certainty that we are no longer isolated and alone in self-constructed
prisons, the surety that we need no longer be square pegs in round holes but
can fit and belong in God's scheme of things--these are the permanent and
legitimate satisfactions of right living for which no amount of pomp and
circumstance, no heap of material possessions, could possibly be substitutes.
True ambition is not what we thought it was. True ambition is the deep desire
to live usefully and walk humbly under the grace of God.
These little studies of A.A. Twelve Steps now come to a close. We have been
considering so many problems that it may appear that A.A. consists mainly of
racking dilemmas and troubleshooting. To a certain extent, that is true. We
have been talking about problems because we are problem people who have found a
way up and out, and who wish to share our knowledge of that way with all who
can use it. For it is only by accepting and solving our problems that we can
begin to get right with ourselves and with the world about us, and with Him who
presides over us all. Understanding is the key to right principles and
attitudes, and right action is the key to good living; therefore the joy of
good living is the theme of A.A. Twelfth Step.
With each passing day of our lives, may every one of us sense more deeply the
inner meaning of A.A. simple prayer:

God grant us the serenity
to accept the things we cannot change,
Courage to change the things we can,
And wisdom to know the difference.



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