A Twelve Step programme – The first three steps

Origin of the Twelve Step Programme

At The Haynes Clinic we hear many excuses as to why going into a residential rehab centre is not the way forward for that individual.  Probably, the most used excuse is that “I am not going anywhere where there is a religious programme, “or “they use the word GOD and that’s not for me”.

Well, if it was just a religious programme, we would give everyone an alcohol detox (or drug detox) and send them off to their respective weekly religious meetings.  This misconception that the 12 Step programme is a solely based on religion is completely flawed.

The 12 Step programme was devised by a Bill Wilson, known as Bill W, in 1938 in a place called Akron in Ohio in the United States. The first support groups were established to help those people suffering with alcoholism and AA was formed. This programme has now evolved over the years as a way to help those with other addictions such as drug addiction, gambling addiction and sex addiction – and even eating disorders.

Interestingly, the first AA meeting in the UK was in 1947 and held in Room 202 at the Dorchester Hotel in London and this has now grown to today there being over 4,500 AA meetings a week being held in the UK alone.

Here we offer a brief understanding of the first 3 Steps of the 12 Step programme

Step 1 of the Twelve Step Programme

“We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.”

The first word is “We.” This refers to those people who want to stop drinking. It is not ‘I’. Every individual needs help. The second word is “admitted.”  Clearly to seek help, we need to admit that we have a problem, but just admitting there is a problem is not enough.  We need to go mentally one step further and accept that there is a problem that we need help with. Otherwise, we stay in that rut where we just say to people, “yes I know I have a problem, it’s a medical condition” but are choosing not to do anything about it.  

At The Haynes Clinic, we have met people who simply recognise that there is a problem but have trouble accepting help with the problem.  After all, it is only liquid in a bottle. The feeling is that ‘I should be able to beat it myself’. Some of us can stop – but not stay stopped . It is accepting that our old way of doing things isn’t working and we need to change our thinking.

Powerless refers to the fact that we had lost control over our intake of alcohol. Our body was or had become tolerant to alcohol and we could not dictate when or how much we would drink.  Slowly, due to our tolerance, our daily consumption of alcohol will increase. Family members will quite often be horrified at the quantity that we consume.  We need to break down our denial and realise that we cannot now drink normally or safely. Once we start, we cannot stop.

The second part of the Step is about our lives becoming unmanageable.  Clearly, no one would be seeking help or be considering going into a residential rehab if their life was normal. 

Addiction is generally about loss and that is what everyone experiences and in all sorts of different ways. It could simply be loss of self-esteem or the loss of our family who have finally had enough of our behaviour and dishonesty. It could be the loss of a relationship as we have chosen our relationship with alcohol over that of a loved one.  Our lives are also unmanageable in that we tend to have become unreliable and are even chaotic.


Step 2 of the Twelve Step Programme

“Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

“Came to believe” is the individual coming to realise that there is hope and an acceptance that there is a way forward and that Recovery is possible with the help of a Power greater than ourselves.  Now this can be the first wording that can be questioned.  What is a “Power greater than ourselves?” Very simply, in mathematics, a power greater than one is two, therefore a power greater than ourselves could be another person. So, we come to believe that someone else can help us if we are prepared to let them.

This then follows that if we let someone else or people help us, our lives will resort back to normality, and we will not continue to be driven by the madness of addiction. If our thinking changes then it follows that so will our behaviour.

Step 3 of the Twelve Step Programme

“Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”

“Made a decision” is simply, I have now decided, I have now made the mental decision and I have finally decided to change my thinking and behaviour.  In the wording of the Step we can replace the word will with ‘thinking’ and lives with ‘behaviour’.

In essence this Step is the action Step. The first two Steps are thinking Steps in recognising that there is a problem and I need help and then identifying who can help me. It is then at this Step that I have decided that I will let them help me.

GOD, in this Step, could stand for a Group of Drunks, such as an AA support group. It does not have to be a religious God and this is again a point where people can get confused that this is a religious programme.

A more down to earth example is that there is a large heavy table that needs moving.  It is too heavy for us to move on our own and we therefore ask others for help in moving it.  It is similar with the first 3  Steps. We have a problem; we recognise who can help us and we ask them for help. It is the breaking down of our denial and finding humility to ask help from others that will make the difference in working a positive programme of Recovery.