By Terence T. Gorski
This article is adapted from a presentation made by Terence T. Gorski at the ACOA Annual Conference in Del Mar, CA on February 11, 1994
Get Gorski’s Book: Understanding The Twelve Steps
The Twelve Steps
The Twelve Steps and are guidelines for recovery that are based upon twelve principles and about sixty techniques for change. I have analyzed this technology for recovery in a book called Understanding The Twelve Steps, which is also available form Herald House Independence Press.
Let’s briefly review the Twelve Steps and how they can be applied.
Step 1: We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives have become unmanageable.
The first step has three key elements: the selection of a target problem; the admission of powerlessness over that problem; and the admission that our lives have become unmanageable because of the problem.
The first element of step one is to select a target problem. Since the original steps were written for alcoholics, the target problem was alcohol. Other groups based upon the twelve steps have modified step 1 to accommodate the target problem that is the focus of that twelve-step organization.
The selection of the target problem is critical. The steps will succeed or fail dependent upon how clearly and specifically the target problem is selected. As you will see the critical elements of all the following steps depend upon correctly identifying the core or central target problem.
The second element of step one is to admit that we are powerless over the problem. To be powerless means that we have tried everything within our power (i.e. everything that we know) in order to solve the problem and that we have failed.
The third element of the first step involves the admission that the target problem and our inability to effectively resolve it has caused our life to become unmanageable. In other words we have developed problems in our work, social, and intimate lives as a result of not being able to cope with the target problem.
Applying Step 1 To CODEPENDENCE Recovery
As we mentioned, the Twelve Steps can be a powerful tool for recovery from Codependence. But in order for this approach to work, you must have a very clear definition of what Codependence is.
The Example of AA Recovery: Imagine the problem AA would have if its first step read: “Admitted we were powerless over beverages …” The target problem is too general. Alcoholics are not powerful over all beverages – just those that contain alcohol. For Step One to work the target problem, in this case drinking alcoholic beverages, must be clearly defined. This tells us exactly which beverages are we powerless over? Now we have a clear target problem upon which to focus the steps.
The Example of OA Recovery: Overeaters Anonymous (OA) has this problem. Their first step states “we are powerless over “food” or “compulsive overeating”. It fails to define what foods. The reason is easy. The binge foods are different for different people. Sugar is a good target for most compulsive over eaters, but others also need to abstain from wheat products, milk products, and a variety of other binge foods that activate the physiological craving to over eat.
Therefore, for OA to work, each person, as part of his or her first step, must identify the binge foods from which he or she must totally abstain and the legal foods that they are capable of controlling if they eat them in moderation according to a meal plan. There is even more to it than just finding our binge foods. Compulsive-overeaters need to learn how to develop a meal plan that avoids binge food ad is nutritious. Portion control, or eating the right amount of the legal foods s also important. So is learning to eat on a regular schedule.
Applications To CODEPENDENCE Recovery: In Codependence the problem is even more difficult. What is the target behavior that we should focus upon in the first step? I believe that there a wide variety of self-defeating behaviors that need to be the focus of the steps. These are dysfunctional personality styles caused by the symptoms of unresolved trauma and self-defeating personality styles resulting from the abuse and neglect of being raised in an addictive or dysfunctional family.
The Symptoms of Unresolved Trauma: Many of codependents were physically abused, sexually abused, or severely neglected as children and adolescents. Many have also been traumatized again as adults by becoming involved in addictive or exploitive relationships. As a result we have been experiencing painful symptoms ever since.
This has powerful implications for the first step in Codependence recovery. We must recognize that we are powerless over these symptoms, our lives have become unmanageable. Remember the focus is upon our current symptoms, not upon the original trauma. We only seek to remember and resolve the original trauma as a way of resolving our current symptoms. If we make the mistake of believing that recovery is about what happened to us in the past we will be in a trap. We cannot change what happened in the past. We can only change how we are reacted in the present as a result of our past experiences.
Recovery is about changing ourselves in the present. In recovery we identify how we are currently being affected by our ongoing reactions to what happened to us in the past. We can change how we are coping today with out memories of pain and problems. In other words, we can deal with our current symptoms resulting from past abuse.
The Twelve Sep Plus Approach
We need to find a source of courage strength and hope to begin our recovery, but then we need the help of a therapist who is skilled in teaching us how to cope with and resolve these difficult symptoms. I call this the Twelve Step Plus Approach – using the twelve steps plus professional counseling and therapy.
No one with serious symptoms from past trauma should try to recover with Twelve Step Programs alone. Seeking therapy is part of being willing to go to any lengths to recover. Twelve Step Programs alone are usually not adequate to help people recover from serious trauma, suicidal thoughts, seriously dysfunctional or self-destructive behavior. You need to make a decision to use the Twelve Step Plus Approach. Use the Twelve steps plus professional counseling and therapy. Find the help of a licensed psychologist or social worker with experience in trauma resolution and seek the help they need.
Father Martin says it better than I can when he said “If I leave this lecture hall and get hit by a truck, take me to an Emergency room, not to an AA meeting!” The spiritual Higher Power can give the courage, strength and hope. Treatment professionals can provide practical skills and tools for recovery.
Symptoms of Self-defeating Personality Styles
The second target needs to be the symptoms of self-defeating personality styles. Our personalities are composed of habitual ways of thinking, feeling, acting, and relating to others.
People who were raised in dysfunctional or addictive families develops one of two general styles of self-defeating personality – The Top Dog Style or the Under Dog Style. Many people shift back and forth from one to the other dependent upon who they are with and what they are doing.
Unable To Function (“I must freeze!”): Some of us have such severe trauma at the start of our recovery that we are unable to function normally or to maintain a consistent personality style. We are under so much stress that we feel like we are falling apart. With recovery, we begin to stabilize and one of the following personality styles will emerge.
Top Dog Personality Style – The Victimizer: The Victimizer is a person who exaggerates his or her strength. They want everyone to be afraid of them. They believe that they must fight every one in order to survive. The Top Dog personality style is based upon the belief “I must be strong and can never admit to or show weakness.”
Many of us develop this personality style as a result of our abuse. We have been so abused we decide “never again!” We make a commitment to ourselves that we will never let anyone abuse us ever again. Unfortunately many of us are locked into a mistaken belief system. We believe that we have only two choices – to be a victim or a victimizer: We can be a victim and get hurt, or we can defend ourselves by becoming a victimizer and hurting others. To keep from getting hurt we start hurting others and become a perpetrator and do to others exactly what was done to us.
The Under Dog Style – The Victim: Victim exaggerate weakness and by doing so set themselves up to be controlled and victimized by others. They believe that if they ever try to fight back they will be destroyed, so the only way to protect themselves in to lay down and play dead and pretend to be helpless whenever they feel threatened.
The Under Dog Style is based upon the belief that “I must be weak and can never show strength or directly assert myself or I will be attacked and victimized again!” Those of us who use this style have decided to protect ourselves from the abuse of others by convincing them that we are so weak and helpless that we won’t be a threat.
Under Dogs often attempt to find protection by aligning themselves with a strong powerful care giver who will protect them from others. The problem is that this powerful protector usually demands a fee for the protection they provide. This powerful protector usually demands the right to victimize us in return for protecting us from the victimization of others.
Switching Styles: Some people switch between the Top Dog Style and the Under Dog style dependent upon who they are with and what they are doing. I have met many people who a viscous top dogs at work, and revert to a victimized Under Dog in their intimate relationships.
The Goal of Recovery – Becoming A Healthy Self-Protector
We become a healthy self-protector when we develop the skills to take care of ourselves and those that we love in a healthy and responsible way. We know that we can protect ourselves without hurting others! The personality of the healthy self-protector is based upon the belief that “I can take car of myself without hurting others!”.
When we use this personality style we can keep ourselves safe without victimizing someone else or setting ourselves up to be a victim. Learning to consistently use this personality style is the ultimate goal of recovery.
Step 2: We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Let’s analyze this step in detail.
We came to believe …: Step 2 asks us to believe in the possibility that we can recover. It asks us to believe in the possibility that there is someone or something that is stronger, smarter, and more capable than we are in dealing with our target problem. That something is a power greater than ourselves.
That a power greater than ourselves …Step 2 asks us to believe that a power greater than ourselves exists. It also asks us to believe that this new source or power is capable of helping us to recover. What is this power? Step 2: asks us to believe in two powers that make recovery possible – a spiritual power (our Higher Power or the God of our understanding) and the non-spiritual power (new knowledge and skills that will allow us to heal and change and the people who are able to teach us how to use those skills.)
The spiritual power to recover comes from a source of courage, strength, and hope that we connect with. This is a source of emotional energy that empowers us to do what needs to be done.
The non-spiritual power to recover involves gaining access to a bigger frame of reference or a new way of thinking about our problems that will allow us to find solutions that were not available in the smaller frame of reference.
This non-spiritual power of recovery comes from knowledge of what recovery is and knowledge of the tools and skills necessary to make recovery happen for us. This knowledge almost comes from other people who are more knowledgeable in the recovery process than we are. People provide power to our recovery in two ways. First they teach us information and skills needed to change. Second, they provide ongoing feedback, encouragement, and support that we all need to to keep going when things get tough.
Can restore us to sanity. It is interesting that Step 2 uses the word “sanity.” The reason we use a higher power is to restore us to sanity. In essence step 2 tells us that we are crazy and need to be restored to sanity. But what is sanity? In my mind sanity means four things:
- The ability to think clearly, logically and rationally
- The ability to identify and manage our feelings and emotions
- The ability to use self-enhancing behaviors and resist the urge to use self-defeating behaviors
- The ability to develop healthy functional relationships
So step 2 implies that we need to do three things: First we must connect with s spiritual higher power that gives us a source or courage strength and hope. Second, we must use that courage, strength and hope to seek out the knowledge and skills we need to recover. Third, we must use those skills to change how we think, feel, act, and relate to other people. Access to our spiritual source of courage, strength, and hope will give us the ability to do this even if it is difficult to do so. Easy does it but do it!
Step 3: We made a decision to turn our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
First we make a decision. We decide to stop acting out our problem behaviors, and with the help of our newly found higher power, to begin acting out the solution. This implies however, that we have found a spiritual higher power that gives us a source of courage strength and hope, and a non-spiritual higher power that gives us the practical knowledge, skills, and ongoing support that we need to make a sustain important changes.
Step 4: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves
To understand Step 4 we must understand the term “Moral”. The term “moral” means understanding the difference between good and bad. We need to come to understand what is good for us and what is bad for us. I interpret the concept of goodness in relationship to the concept of life. That which is good for us is life-supporting and life-enhancing. The good supports life, health and full vitality.
That which is bad for us does not support or enhance life. It does the opposite. It supports and enhances dysfunction, illness, and eventually death, both death of the spirit and death of the physical body.
Now let’s look at what an Inventory is. An inventory is a system for self-examination. It is a way for use to critically evaluate ourselves to determine what about ourselves is good and what about ourselves is bad.
When doing this, it is important to know how to separate the spiritual self from our personality. Our spiritual self is who we really are as people. It is our core essence. This core essence is marked by connection with an inner sense of purpose. A felt sense knowledge of who we are, why we are here, and what we are meant to do with our lives.
Our spiritual self is the energy force within us that clings to life, that desires life, that is willing to fight for life. This fight is not just for physical life – it is for the essence of spiritual life, the essence of that which is good, and just, and loving and caring. This fight almost always embodies the basic right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Our core self is the part of us that is capable of embracing higher values and expanding our consciousness beyond the limits of who we are as physical human beings. It is our higher self that is capable of self-evaluation. It is this higher self that allows us to objectively view the parts of our lower self – our ability to think, feel, act and relate to others, and evaluate whether that lower self is acting in a way that enhances life and helps us to actualize (make real through action) our primary purpose, or moves us toward dysfunction, illness, and death. This connection with a higher self makes step 5 possible.
Step 5: Admitted to God, ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
In order to admit something there must be a part of us that is conscious and self-aware. This is the higher self. This higher self must have a volitional consciousness – in other words it must have the power to choose. The process of admission requires choice. I choose to consciously acknowledge and affirm the truth that I have discovered in my inventory. The general truths are these …
- I am a fallible human being with strengths and weaknesses who will eventually face physical death
- I have a higher self, an observing ego, a witness, or some source of higher consciousness
- This higher consciousness creates within me the power to choose
- The significant choices are between good (that which leads to fuller physical and spiritual life) and death (that which leads to dysfunction, illness, and death).
- Within me is the potential for both good (life enhancing decisions) and bad (death enhancing decisions).
- In order to recover I must learn how to affirm both the good within me, so I can recognize and build upon that good, and the bad within me so that I can decide to change.
Step 6: Were entirely ready to have God remove these defects of character.
Step six tells us we must get ready to change. We ,must prepare ourselves. What does that preparation require. To understand this we must ask ourselves What stops me from change?” The answer is very simple – our habits.
Each of us has habits of thinking, managing our feelings, behaving and relating to other people. These self defeating habits are bad for us in that they lead us from a full life into dysfunction, illness and death.
We must be ready to give these old habits of thinking feeling, acting, and relating to others. This is difficult because many of us have constructed out personal identity around these habits. We have come to believe that: I am what I think! I am what feel! I am what I do! I am my relationships!
With these beliefs we are trapped and we cannot change. Why? Because we believe if we change how we think, manage our feelings, behave or relate to others we will no longer be us. In other words we belief that if we change we will die.
Becoming ready means we must clearly distinguish between our spiritual self – this higher self, this observer, this eternal witness that gives us access to courage strength and hope. We must also identify and evaluate our thoughts, feelings, behavior and relationships. We must identify the aspects of those thoughts, feelings, behaviors an relationships that are leading us into dysfunction, illness, and death and become willing to change them.
Step 7: Humbly asked him to remove our short-comings
In step 7 we must change. We must move from self-observation to self-change.
I initially had trouble with this step because I thought it was a passive step. I thought all I had to do was sit back and ask God to take away these defects and it would happen.
Father Joseph Martin helped me to clarify this step. God acts in accordance with the natural. If you ask God “Make me a Doctor, God answers by saying “Go To medical school!”
If you want to change your thinking, you must learn the difference between rational thinking and irrational thinking, learn to identify and challenge your irrational thoughts and replace them with rational ones. You must practice this process long enough for it to become a comfortable and self-enhancing habit.
The same is true if you want to change your feelings, behaviors or relationships. You must learn the difference between healthy (life enhancing) unhealthy (life diminishing) ways of managing feelings, behaving and relating to others. Then you must make a decision to change. This requires connecting with you Higher Self to find the source courage strength and hope to make the changes. Then the changes must be maintained.
Step 8: Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
Once we have changed on the inside, we are ready to make changes on the outside. We do this by making a list of people we have harmed by our old self-defeating ways of thinking, feeling, acting,, and relating to others. We then become willing to make amends.
The amends means to mend or to repair. We must be willing to actively do something to repair the pain or damage we have caused. This means we must become willing to change and start using our new ways of thinking, feelings, and acting in our lives.
Step 9: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible except when to do so would injure them or others.
In step nine we actually make the changes. We approach the people we have harmed and apologize and offer to make the situation right.
Step 10: Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
Step 10 tells us we must constantly continue to inventory ourselves. We must work on a daily basis to stay connected with our higher self that can help us to tell the difference between rational and irrational thoughts, effective and ineffective emotional management strategies, self-enhancing and self-defeating behaviors, and functional and dysfunctional relationships.
Step 11: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him praying only for knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry that out.
Step 11 tells us to turn within, connect with our higher elf, and through our higher self connect with the God of our understanding. I define God as a source of courage strength and hope that gives my life meaning and purpose.
When I connect with my Higher Power it is not rational. It is not irrational, it simply is. I move into a dimension beyond thought where I experience myself and my life in a different state of consciousness.
This state of consciousness gives me energy. It gives me courage to return from this state of consciousness and do what I need to keep moving forward in life. It gives me the strength or energy I need to do so. An on some deep level it gives me hope. It allows me to maintain the belief that this crazy world in all of its joy and pain, and all of its chaotic insanity has a purpose. And that I, as a part of this world, also have a purpose or a reason for being here.
Through conscious contact with my Higher Power I feel that I am significant, that I count for something, and that I am here for a purpose with something to contribute. Once I am in this state of consciousness I can move on to Step 12.
Step 12: Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all of a our affairs
To practice step 12, we must have achieved a higher level of consciousness. We must have learned something new and been able to improve out lives. It is then our job to tell others about this experience. The most powerful way to tell others is to practice the principles on a daily basis in our lives and show others that these principles work.
Understanding The Twelve Steps
RELATED GORSKI BLOGS
– Personality Change and The Twelve Step Plus Approach
– Is A.A. Legally A Religion?
– Twelve-Step Facilitation (TSF): An Evidence-based Approach