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Can You Do the 12 Steps without AA?

The twelve steps make decent enough sense when you read them on paper. It is tempting to do them in a way that you think is best and judge your results. When the big book was first published, the Central Office mailed it to desperate alcoholics asking for help. Using the text and following its guidelines as written, they got sober.

So why do we need to attend recovery meetings and receive guidance from other alcoholics?

Early members did use the book alone, with a catch.

However, in these early members’ stories, you’ll find that they didn’t stay alone very long after sobering up. They immediately sought out others whom they could help as part of the Program. The book, and its guidance on performing the step, were only a beginning for the readers who didn’t have groups in their cities. They recount that real, long-term recovery didn’t feel as possible until they started working with other alcoholics.

Long Distance Doesn’t Mean Alone.

Nowadays, there are thousands of groups and at least one in every major city. There aren’t many reasons to buy the book and try to decipher the texts on your own anymore. If you happen to be in a more remote area without meetings, there are loners meetings where members can meet online or write to each other as they work the steps. Though these enclaves of loner members may not be meeting in person, guidance from others is available.

Still, the temptation remains to go it alone. I can relate to this feeling. Even at first glance at the steps, you feel that they ask for a drastic way of life. They ask for actions that you’ve likely never done in your life or to a thorough extent.

Additionally, a few of the steps ask you to seek out another soul to confide in, which to me is daunting.

Let’s look at why we should use the fellowship in the meeting, and more specifically, a sponsor, to help us through the steps and quell the fears of bringing another person into our lives.

You Understand What the Steps Suggest.

When we read the steps alone, we bring our own biases and judgments. They can lead us to miss important lessons that the steps convey.

For instance, many readers bristle at the suggestion of God. Therefore, they may try to read the steps in a way that cuts out the spiritual journey. The measures never mention the word “God,” but our bias usually writes that concept whenever we read “higher power.”

In this example, reading the big book with a sponsor helps. The sponsor will point us to the passage for steps 2 and 3 that ask us to develop our conception of God. Most of us have a negative bias because of our experience with religion. The steps ask us to put that aside for a moment and honestly ask ourselves what we would prefer to believe.

You Won’t Be Tempted to Skip Steps that Seem Difficult or Uncomfortable.

The steps contain recommendations that most of us would preferably not do. For example, making restitution to people we had harmed doesn’t sound like a fun walk in the park.

So by ourselves, we would prefer to skip over the steps that ask a bit too much. As mentioned above, we probably approach the steps the black-and-white thinking and unyielding bias.

As a result, we overestimate the difficulty of the steps that we consider uncomfortable. A sponsor and home group can talk us down from the fears we have around any particular stage. They also show how doing every step in order is beneficial.

You Have Someone Who Can Help When You are Stuck or Discouraged.

The steps are simple but not easy. In other words, they are written clearly. However, doing them takes courage.

For many of us, the act of taking the steps is the first attempt at ever aligning our lives in proper order. Frustration and discouragement are typical side effects of aligning our lives in a new way.

Thus keeping sober companions nearby who have gone through the same struggles and how they got through them is essential. A sponsor knows what you are going through and shows the way through the pain points along the way.

You Know What the Process Should Look Like in Terms of Goals and Milestones.

Even though you’re persistently applying the steps and putting some sober time together, you probably expect more to happen in your life and now. Unfortunately, as much as I would have liked it, the world doesn’t suddenly pour applause and success the week you sober up.

Material success comes and goes. Sometimes, early sobriety means facing up to long-ignored legal and financial consequences. However, people stay sober in stride, despite a seemingly unfair system that doesn’t recognize they have turned a corner.

When you rely too much on external validation to determine how well you’re working the steps, you will likely be let down. A sponsor and a close network of friends can keep our perspective about what we should look for in success in sobriety. Hint: the quality of your recovery doesn’t depend on money, romance, or fame.

You Connect with Other People who Had the Same Experiences.

Twelve-step groups highlight the importance of the past experiences members have. You learn that your past, no matter how dark, can be turned into an asset for helping other members. You realize that you aren’t all that unique or shameful in your problems: Other members are dealing with the same issues. Your experience can help others see them through.

A sponsor and a homegroup can put us in touch with someone who dealt with the same problem we’re having. We can find someone who has real answers for a problem that’s eating us up, rather than someone who has just an opinion on the matter.

For example, we can find out how to build healthy long-term relationships with members who have done that. We can find members who have made it through the other side of poorly managed finances and taxes. The group members will have authentic advice for us rather than drive-by opinions on matters they have no experience with.

You Find Solutions for Your Difficulties with Spirituality by Hearing the Struggles Agnostic Members Had

Let’s face it. Traditional recovery meetings include some “higher power talk.” It is the cornerstone of recovery through the steps, so, naturally, it is a frequent topic.

But also, this aspect is the most troublesome for newcomers to accept. Despite all the reassurances and proof that the Program doesn’t ask anyone to believe in a certain God, religion, or philosophy, a new attendee often leaves angry and confused about a higher power as it comes to the 12 steps.

That’s where other people come in. Many members had similar problems with the idea of a higher power. We came in as stark atheists or agnostics. But we each found a way to work with spirituality in a way that worked for us. When you are around other people, one of their stories may eventually “click” for you in their approach. You can begin to build a concept of your spirituality.


Going through the Steps alone brings frustration and confusion. You have so many options in the current era for getting in touch with others who have worked the steps and have the experience to share.

Find a sponsor. Join a group you like and get to know the regulars there. Getting through the steps requires a team to guide you since they entail a profound change in your life, which isn’t comfortable at first.

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