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Do you know how to do the 12-Steps?

Many people, including addicts and alcoholics, are unaware that the 12-Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous also has 12 Traditions. The Traditions provide guidelines for relationships between 12-Step groups and the outside world. They contain the spiritual principles to which we aspire.

I am telling you this because I am about to break a couple of the Traditions.

Tradition 11. “Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films.”

Tradition 12. “Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, ever reminding us
to place principles before personalities.”

Among the reasons anonymity is so important is that, God forbid I relapse, I do not want anyone to believe that my relapse demonstrates a failure of the 12-Step program.

However, as an alcoholic who has stayed sober for 18 years using the 12-Steps and as a mother who loves her child to the moon and back, I am going to break those traditions. (God help me and those of you who are going to send me angry replies.)

Here is why: If my child was sick with a potentially terminal illness I would want to know everything possible about treatment options – including how the treatment is administered, how likely it is to work and what are the side effects.

I would spend many sleepless nights researching exactly what my child would go through, how long the treatment might take and what it will cost – even though I would sell the roof over my head and cash in my 401K to save my child.

But where can parents get answers to these questions when they and their child decides the 12-Steps is their choice of treatment?

Sure, you can read countless personal testimonials about how the 12-Steps save an addict or alcoholic. You can even attend open 12-Step meetings. You can read the Big Book of Alcoholics anonymous and learn the 12-Steps yourself.

But will that tell you exactly how each step is done?


So, here is where I break Tradition 11 and 12. I am going to put my personality before the principles. I am going to tell you how I went through each of the Twelve Steps. The crucial thing I would like you to understand is that this is how I  experienced and went through the steps. I am NOT saying this is the way everyone should or will go through the 12-Steps.

This is my personal story – NOT a road-map or guide on how to perform the 12-Steps. This is just my story – my experience and should not be construed as rules for how one goes through the 12-Steps. There are no rules.

The first thing I learned is that I could not go through the 12-Steps alone. You don’t go to the bookstore, buy a workbook and do the Steps by yourself. The 12-Steps is a “we” program – not an “I” program. You go through the steps with the help of a sponsor.

A sponsor is another addict or alcoholic who has completed all 12-Steps. A newcomer picks a sponsor. A sponsor does not pick a newcomer. It is among the first acts of humility an addict/alcoholic performs. It is part of the first step – admitting you are powerless and need help.

How do you pick a sponsor?

It was suggested to me that I listen and watch those speaking at meetings (which is why you should NOT be texting on your phone during meetings.) Listen carefully to what she says and how she says it. Watch her body language. Observe how she carries herself.

It was explained to me that the woman I ask to be my sponsor should be the woman I want to become. DO NOT base this decision on how much money a person has – the watch she wears, the car she drives or how popular she is. For me – what I wanted more than anything else was to be a good, sober mother.

So, I went to women’s meetings (which I hated because I drank with men – not women – so why should I get sober with them?) Every week a woman spoke about her daughter’s upcoming wedding. She wanted to attend the wedding – where her ex-husband would be with his new wife. She wanted to be able to say a few words at the reception about her daughter without bursting out in tears. 

She said she drank throughout here daughter’s childhood. She did not abuse or neglect her daughter but her drinking prevented her from being the mother she wanted to be. So the wedding was very important to her. Finally, she went to the wedding and we did not see her at our meeting for two weeks.

When she returned she told us about the wedding, how she had no cravings to drink champagne, how she managed to get along with her ex and his new wife and how she was able to deliver a speech without turning into a puddle of tears.

This was the woman I asked to be my sponsor. She took me through the steps.

Here is how she did it.

Come back next week for Step 1.



Do you know how to do the 12-Steps?

Christine Stapleton

Christine Stapleton has been a journalist for 35 years. She is now an investigative reporter for The Palm Beach Post. In 2006, began writing a blog for PsychCentral called Depression on My Mind. Her latest blog, Addiction Matters, draws on her 19 years of sobriety and her coverage of the drug treatment industry in South Florida.

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APA Reference
Stapleton, C. (2017). Do you know how to do the 12-Steps?. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 25, 2019, from


Last updated: 25 Feb 2017
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 25 Feb 2017
Published on All rights reserved.