At the beginning of a twelve-step recovery program, you may fall victim to a common fantasy that doing the steps will magically make everything better. Some of us may recall the beginning as the scariest time of our lives, and the big book (whatever color or colors they are) looked like an impossible task. Once you start working the steps, it can make all aspects of your life better, BUT no one else can do the work to make those changes. We start step one because we finally realize our lives are unmanageable. Most of us tried desperately to make things better and never asked for help for fear of being seen as weak or a failure. My perfectionism was an excellent way to deny how messed up my life was because it looked like I had my shit together. Oh, what tangled webs we weave, as the saying goes. When we are ready, we generally will do just about anything to begin living our lives differently.
Once you start working the steps, it can make all aspects of your life better, BUT no one else can do the work to make those changes.
The step work helped me find a life without chaos, authentic and loving relationships, and confidence to do things that before I would never do out of fear of judgment or to be seen any other way than I had always been. That journey started with step one, and with the help of my sponsor, I slowly moved my way through the steps and felt like a new person. The work is hard; it takes dedication and someone holding you accountable. It is also good to remind yourself that perfection is a broken concept that is not real, unattainable and a surefire way to revert to old codependent behaviors. The difference is once you have completed your steps the first time...YES, you never are "really" finished (sorry to break it to you), but they provide you with the skills and methods to get back on track. You are no longer helpless because you are prepared, and the steps are always there to help us find our way out of the old patterns.
Even after step twelve, when you feel elated that you have finally finished the steps, you are still HUMAN.
Life keeps happening, and we keep growing; we meet new people and change in numerous ways, and I promise you compulsive behavior waits under the surface to rear its ugly head, so it's a matter of time. Eight years later, I still slip up, and sometimes it stings; that instinct to beat myself up for failure is very strong, BUT I know how to handle it, and I make amends and permit myself to mess up because it is OKAY. A mistake does not define me; I have value despite my mistakes. My past no longer defines me because I have let the past go. I cannot change it, no matter how hard I try or as badly as I want to. What is in my control is to make better choices moving forward and practice the principles the steps provide in all areas of my life. Boundaries, by far, are the most important things I gained immediately in the programs and help me have a life filled with things and people who are important to me without attempting to micro-manage everyone else's. I have healthy relationships, and even eight years later, the healthy stuff feels yucky sometimes, like saying no or gathering the courage to have essential conversations, BUT I do it anyway. Guess what? People can get mad, and the urge to make the discomfort disappear is palpable, but I let them have their feelings and know they are not mine to manage. The old story I used to say was they would leave me if I stood up for myself, but healthy people do not leave because of a dispute or becoming upset; people do stay in my life despite my faults.
Eight years later, I still slip up, and sometimes it stings; that instinct to beat myself up for failure is very strong, BUT I know how to handle it, and I make amends and permit myself to mess up because it is OKAY.
Working the steps is one of the most productive and life-changing things I have done and continue to do daily. When you become ready to do them yourself, you will know, and guess what? You will do them like a champ. No one can make you READY, no one can make your schedule open for step work or meetings, and no one can do it for you; it works if you work it, and you are worth it. Even after years in the program, you will feel sad, overwhelmed, defeated, heartbroken, angry, resentful, all the feelings and experiences of being human, but you will never again be helpless because the gift of this program is revealing what was true from our first breath; we are inherently worthy. We have all the capacity to have the life we deserve, and the program gives us steps to maintain it, and you will still use them, even after step twelve.
Written by: Kimberly Sprintz
Founder and Director of Women Empowering Women Support Groups
A gratefully recovering alcoholic/addict, codependent, and ACA.