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What Does It Mean to “Twelve Step” a problem?

Twelve stepping a problem is just as it sounds: Applying the 12 steps to solve an obstacle. It’s the application of a single step or multiple steps to a problem.

Of course, this implies you’ve worked the steps or are in touch with someone who’s worked the steps. It also means that the steps aren’t a “one and done” process, and they are designed to work throughout a lifetime.

For instance, if you’re struggling with a coworker relationship, you can see what steps may benefit that situation. A fourth step inventory may be in order, along with steps 6-7. If we’ve caused any harm to the other person, we may also need to work on making amends with the 8th and 9th steps.

The possibilities are endless. As the Big Book suggests, the steps are for solving all of life’s problems, not just our problem with drinking. So it’s crucial to align our lives with the steps and not believe we’re done with them or that we can go back to living our lives as we did before.

Below are more examples for situations that call for twelve stepping a problem.

Financial Hardships

When finances are a problem, there is a myriad of ways we can apply the steps. One often overlooked one in this situation is step 12. The program suggests we provide service to others rather than focus on our own needs to overcome a problem.

Finances feel like an all-encompassing issue that demands all of our attention to overcome. However, a shift in thinking is in order. We can gain value by providing value to others. Whether that’s volunteering, offering to assist others at our jobs, or looking for opportunities to be helpful, the goal is not to become so self-absorbed that money becomes our sole objective.

The money comes when we’re giving ourselves to others and providing value.

Romantic Relationships

Romantic relationships are perhaps the most challenging place to work the program. They bring with them intense emotions and dredge up issues we never dealt with from our childhood.

Relationships often call for all the steps in a long enough timeframe. It’s important to remember we’re powerless over other people, as in step 1. We must also frequently give up relationship issues to our higher power to handle, as in step 3. We also often need to examine our behaviors and motives with self-inventory.

Someone who has built and maintained healthy romantic relationships is invaluable. Relationship advice comes frequently and quickly from people who don’t have any experience, and they probably engage in unhealthy partnerships that don’t last long or end in tears.

Advice from someone with experience is rare, and you should seek it out more than advice from someone who doesn’t.

Work Problems

The workplace often brings about situations we feel completely powerless over. In a hierarchy of people running a business, tempers flare, managers have opposing goals, and office politics leaves us with sore feelings.

Working the steps at our job can relieve us of feeling we have to run the show ourselves. It provides space for our higher power to manage things and get out of concerns we have no control over, such as pleasing a client, keeping an unrealistic project management timeline, or pleasing our boss all the time.

The steps can teach us where our power extends and where it ends, which helps ease anxiety and fear in the workplace.

Depression or emotional upheavaLs

Alcoholics and addicts aren’t well known for their stoicism and grace under fire. We often fall prey to our emotions and have a unique sensitivity to them. A large part of getting sober is learning to deal with emotions without acting out or seeking relief via destructive outlets.

We gain emotional sobriety gradually day by day as we resolve novel problems over and over. However, the steps can act as a cornerstone for tackling each daily problem.

For instance, if we are diligent about our 10th step nightly inventory, we are much less likely to carry fears and anxieties with us into the next day. We solve problems as they arise, such as making amends quickly when we’ve harmed another person. As a result, we are more balanced during the day and less likely to “blow up” over minor issues.

In other words, the steps provide emotional resilience. Before we came into the program, we probably didn’t know how to resolve relationship issues or maintain an even keel in our daily affairs. This unmanageability led to constant feelings of pressure, where we had to lie or cheat to feel good about ourselves.

Now, with a recovery framework, we have guidelines to live by, and we no longer have to live with several monkeys on our backs that require constant attention. That attention can be better spent in the present moment of our lives.

Everyday Indecision

Even when it comes to making a common decision we’re unsure about, such as planning a purchase or pursuing more continuing education, the steps also come in handy.

Steps 10 and 11 come to mind here, which ask us to slow down, take stock, and pray for the right decision. The steps remind us that we no longer need to live by self-propulsion, rushing from one decision to another without care. They remind us to pause frequently and reflect on what’s in front of us so that our complete intuition can come to bear on the situation. When our entire intuition is free to spark our minds, the best decision usually becomes apparent. The ideal choice becomes more evident than if we only applied logical thinking.


Twelve stepping a problem can take many forms. But the idea is simple: we use what we learned from doing the steps to solve a problem in our lives. We can use our intuition to accomplish this or involve a trusted mentor who understands the program and uses it in their own lives.

A lot of people complete the steps and go about their lives. However, going through the entire process should have been a once-in-a-lifetime learning experience. What we learned the first go-around can be applied during the rest of our lives, and we shouldn’t let that fall by the wayside.

So keeping the steps in mind throughout the day, solving problems as soon as they arise, and using the steps to keep us on an even keel protects us from becoming emotionally worn out, leading back to a drink.

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