The 12 Step Programme – Why it is not Religious

The 12 Step Programme is not Religious

The biggest misconception about the 12 Step Programme, and something that we are constantly asked about at the Haynes Clinic, is that it is a religious programme or part of some strange sect.

In America, back in 1935 when AA was founded and as membership of AA grew, the 12 Traditions were established in order that the growing number of AA groups could adhere to and function in an orderly way. These were guiding principles on how all groups should be run or managed. Following on from the 12 Traditions of the guidance of the AA groups there came the 12 Steps which are the guidance for individuals.

steps to recovery

At the time that they were written, it was the era of alcohol prohibition in America and very much a God-fearing society. However, it is a simple programme with straightforward Steps to reach a goal of being free from the constraints of alcohol. It provides the way forward – working a programme of Recovery – and because it works the words have never been updated or modernised.  It has proven to be extremely effective, for those willing to make changes, and over the years it has been adopted by other support groups such as Cocaine Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Over Eaters Anonymous and Gamblers Anonymous etc.

In all these years, the wording has never been changed or updated.  The word God is used four times in the Steps along with “power greater than ourselves” and this has led people to assume there are religious connotations. If a religious programme was the answer, we would just go to our respective places of worship each week. Alcohol rehabs such as The Haynes Clinic would only exist for a medicated detox. Everyone else would go to a place of worship – which would probably be a lot cheaper!

GOD can stand for a Group of Drunks as in people in Recovery in AA meetings or Good Orderly Direction, as in working a programme of Recovery.  It is not religious, and the essence of the programme is about our asking another person, on this planet, for help and then taking it.

The importance of the first step

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

This is the only Step that the word alcohol needs to be replaced or substituted for Cocaine, Heroin, Gambling etc for being appropriate in another support group. All the other words in the 12 Steps can remain unchanged, whatever our addiction. 

Generally, the first Step is the most important because if anyone is going to relapse back into their old behaviour and thinking, it will be from this Step.  It is about the first word, the “We” refers to those in Recovery who admitted and actually accepted that they could not control their alcoholism, their addiction or compulsion to drink alcohol. Then the second part of the Step is that their lives had become unmanageable and starting to spiral downwards, affecting adversely those around us.

A Relapse will happen when we stop admitting and accepting that we had a problem with alcohol and start to think we can manage our addiction by ourselves. A Relapse, if it’s going to happen, will normally occur within the first 6 months from leaving treatment when the individual reverts back to their old thinking and behaviour.   (Another danger time is a year, when some people think that having done a year, they must be better).

Whilst in residential rehab treatment in an alcohol and drug rehab or addiction clinic, part of the process will be to do some written assignments around the Steps to help with our understanding and to try and help to mentally reinforce the denial of the extent of our problem that can easily creep back into our thoughts.

Step 2 – a thinking step

Step 2 states,” Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” Step 1 and Step 2 are both thinking Steps whereby we are accepting in Step 1 that there is a problem and in Step 2 we are acknowledging that we need help with this problem. This can be from, for example, a power greater than ourselves which can be another person on this planet. We can not keep battling our addiction on our own – we need help from another who understands us.

Step 3 – an action step

Step 3 “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.”  “Made a decision” is that we have now decided, “to turn our will and lives” is simply to change our thinking and behaviour. “Over to the care of God as we understand him” is to let the people who we identified in Step 2 to just help us.

The first two Steps are the thinking Steps and now the third Step is the action Step. We know we have a problem; we understand who can help us with that problem and now in Step 3 we are going to let those people help us.

Most people get an understanding of all 12 steps in treatment

Depending on how long anyone is in treatment will probably depend on how far they will get with their written work and understanding of the 12 Steps.  However, if someone is in treatment for 28 days then they should have a solid understanding of the first 3 Steps and a rough overview of the other 9 Steps.

We also need to understand that being in residential rehab treatment it is not a course with a pass or fail mark or having a start and finish date. It is, hopefully, the beginning of a long journey which will also be the start of the road to Recovery from our addiction. All the written work will be read out by the individual within a group therapy setting. It also needs to be understood that any feedback to this written work is constructive from other members of the group and the therapists will help to potentially break down any denial that is starting to surface following any detox.

The 12 Step Programme is a programme to follow for life!

It will be important that whatever Steps you have worked on in treatment then this work should be continued with a Sponsor that you can find from your local AA meeting. A 12 Step programme of Recovery is based on “one day at a time” and the willingness to change our thinking a behaviour and find the humility to ask for help.