What Are The 12 Step Promises? What They Mean

The 12 Step Promises

The 9th Step in the 12-step program is a highly consequential one. It is the step wherein a recovering addict makes amends for the harm they have done to other people in their lives and mainly due to their addiction.

As it says in the Big Book of AA, when working this Step, we: “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”

As part of completing this crucial step, individuals make and fulfill a series of promises, which appear in chapter 6 of the big book of AA. Though conceived as part of working a specific step, they often become an essential part of the outlook of recovering addicts.

The 12th Step in 12 Step Programs – What it is and what it means to carry the message and practice the principles

12 Step Principles

Step 12 is, of course, the final step in 12-step programs. In this step, we are told ‘Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others, and to practice these principles in all our affairs’. As we embark on the final step in our twelve-step journey, we learn how to take the wisdom and experience gained in this process and pass it on to others struggling with addiction.

This is a crucial step. One of the main problems that led us into addiction and kept us there, was our destructive tendency towards selfishness. Amongst the main themes of the 12-step process is the realization that we must put the feelings of others on par with our, and sometimes even ahead of our own.

In step 12 we learn to help others systematically and integrate an altruistic way of life into our day-to-day existence. This helps make the world around us significantly better, but it also helps us make more out of our lives. Psychological and sociological studies have shown for years now that serving a greater purpose and helping others makes people happier in the long-term than just about any other activity.

The 11th Step – Through Prayer and Meditation, We Seek to Improve our Conscious Contact with God

Step 11 - Prayer & Meditation

In this step we “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.”

What is the 11th step and why is it important?

The 12-step program is fundamentally a spiritual one. It is based on the belief that a strong spiritual foundation is an essential component of maintaining a healthy and fulfilling sober life. Daily spiritual practice is therefore one of the cornerstones of a sober lifestyle. This step can be very difficult for some members, and utterly natural for others. All 12-step programs include their fair share of agnostics and atheists as well as assorted skeptics of other types.

The program encourages everyone, regardless of their belief system, to engage daily in this habit. This should be done with an open heart and good intentions. There is a good reason for that. Everyone can and does benefit from verbalizing their spiritual needs and listening quietly in return. If nothing else, it establishes clarity regarding our spiritual needs and goals. More often than not, it results in an unexpectedly deep spiritual connection between our Higher Power and ourselves.

To work this step, set up a daily spiritual habit. Envision your spiritual goal, which is typically to connect more directly and fully with the Higher Power of your choosing. When cultivating your habit, find a quiet and relaxing spot and let go of your preconceived notions of spirituality and prayer.

Remember, the 12-step system is very open and accepting regarding the content of your spiritual practice. You can connect with any Higher Power of meaning to you, through any practice you find meaningful. This can consist of any combination of prayer, meditation, or other activities that have spiritual meaning for you. The exact method matters less than the ability to establish a meaningful relationship with your Higher Power.

The 10th Step and Personal Inventory

The 10th Step and Personal Inventory

In step 10 we “continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.” This is the first of what some call the maintenance steps. These are steps designed to manage our daily lives in recovery to assure a rich and happy life in recovery.

We have made an immense effort to get to this point in recovery. It has included looking at the wreckage addiction has wrought in our lives and the lives of others. Step ten is about the pursuit of consistency and continuity in recovery. In this step and the later steps in general, we look to take these efforts and bring them into our everyday life going forward. Real-life is the ultimate test for our sobriety: can we remain well-balanced and embrace our recovery daily?

Here the inventory we performed in the fourth step, becomes a way of life. Imagine our life when we started recovery as an incredibly messy and dirty house. The first nine steps saw us painstakingly cleaning it up until it was a beautiful home you would be proud to show off to visitors. To keep it aesthetically pleasing, you will need to do chores regularly and keep it up. This is your task now.

Now that you have completed the previous nine steps, a great deal of the baggage from the past is gone. We live with less anger and resentment than in the past. However, every day we still encounter obstacles. We build new resentments or suddenly rekindle old ones. We snap at people and take our anger out on them. Even with the best intentions, in our day to day interactions, we will sometimes fall back on the patterns of behavior from the less inspiring periods in our life.

Even if we remain sober, some emotions can send us into an emotional tailspin which jeopardizes our recovery. These emotions are the usual suspects: jealousy, pride, self-pity, and resentment. Though we feel these things often, and will certainly feel them many times in the future, we try to be aware of their influence in our lives and minimize its impact.

The 8th Step and Making a List of All People We Have Harmed

The 8th Step and Making a List of All People We Have Harmed

In step 8, we “made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all”. In the throes of our addiction we have created a great deal of damage in the lives of others. In order to reach true recovery, we need to face the hurt we have caused to others through our actions before we can truly lift the pall of shame in our lives.

This step is crucial to our recovery. You may have already apologized for many of your worst actions. But saying you are “sorry” and actually making amends are two very different things. In this step we start to go beyond merely taking account of our flaws and bad behavior, and prepare to do something about it. A recovered and spiritually healthy individual takes responsibility for their behavior but also acts to make things better and be a positive force in the world. That effort starts here.

Who should be included in you list?

Make a list of the people you feel you have hurt through your actions. This is a deliberate process. Take your time and calmly evaluate your actions, why they were wrong and who the primary victims of your actions may be. Write down the people who come to mind, in no particular order.

If a name pops into your head during this process, there is usually a good reason. The point is to include people you have harmed or hurt, without accounting for the circumstances. Therefore, indiscriminately include people you hurt before, during and after your addiction. Include people who you may have hurt quite mildly, at least in your opinion. At this point you are also not concerned over whether they will want to hear from you or not or even if the individuals on the list are living or dead.

The 7th Step & Humbly Asking our Higher Power to Remove Our Shortcomings

The 7th Step & Humbly Asking to Remove Our Shortcomings

In step 7 we build on this willingness and appeal to our Higher Power. Here we “Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.” At this point we start to take action towards removing our shortcomings.

Our flaws vary wildly. However, they all do have something in common. They all encourage and sustain a self-absorbed and selfish way of life. Therefore, one way to work on the removal of our defects is to think more about helping those around us and less about promoting or own narrow interests.

Therefore, humility should guide us throughout this process. As we work through all the steps, but this step in particular, we should cultivate that sense that the world does not revolve around us. That there is no justification for our holding on to flaws which hurt others. However, always remember that humility is not a form of self-negation or hatred. Humble person understands that while the world does not revolve around them, they are worthy and deserving of happiness.

The 6th Step and Becoming Ready to Have God Remove Our Defects

Step 6 Contemplation

Step 6 comes after we have made a full inventory of our flaws and admitted them before ourselves, others and our Higher Power. After all you and others have suffered as a result of your addiction, and the deep and unforgiving self-examination of the previous steps: there should be plenty of things you want to change about yourself!

Becoming Ready to Have God Remove Defects of Character

At this point, we “were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.” This is the natural progression from the admission that we are powerless over our addiction and the acceptance that only our Higher Power can help us break the hold addiction has on our lives.

In this step, we do not demand that our Higher Power remove our defects. Rather, we simply become and remain ready for the removal of our flaws. This means we vow to do the best we can to improve ourselves and to stop sabotaging ourselves with self-destructive behavior.

Of course, change does not happen magically overnight. We must be willing to patiently and slowly improve ourselves, with the help of our Higher Power. But we may be surprised at how much difference our willingness makes. After all, our Higher Power wants the best for us. It is our obstinate clinging to a destructive path which hampers recovery and makes us cling to our worst flaws.

The 5th Step and the Importance of Admitting our Wrongs

5th Step and Admitting out Wrongs

In this step, we: “admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” The process of working this step is incredibly simple. We openly share the content of the fearless moral inventory made in the previous step, with another person, and with our Higher Power.

However, admitting to our worst deeds can be challenging and frightening. As human beings, we are very protective of our egos. We seek quite consciously to inflate our egos by feeling better about ourselves and avoid anything that will deflate it. But step 5, like many other steps in this program, forces us in the other direction. It brings out our humility. However, it is utterly essential. The shame we feel over our addiction and the actions we committed under its influence feed our destructive behavior.

We have essentially admitted our wrongs to ourselves in the previous steps, particularly in step 4. In step 5, we share the inventory we arrived at in the previous step. However, step 5 reminds us that this process is never fully complete. We must continue to examine our faults honestly and completely throughout this process. If this means we need to go back to the inventory of our flaws and misdeeds again, we should do so fearlessly before proceeding with the next step.

However, admitting our wrongs to ourselves is not enough. We now see our past with greater clarity and that is a step in the right direction. However, that also means we have more shame and pain to deal with. If we do not share the burden, we will continue to struggle with the shame of our past deeds alone.

The 4th Step – Why it’s Important and What a ‘Searching and Fearless Moral Inventory’ Means

4th Step - Searching and fearless moral inventory

We did not end up with a serious addiction by living a perfect life and enjoying a flawless character.

In step 4 we look at our flaws and “made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” This starts by looking at the root causes of our addiction and the damage we have done as a result. But as we delve deeper, we can also see that we have many other imperfections and have made morally questionable choices unrelated or peripherally related to our addiction.

Step 4 involves a voyage of self-discovery requiring a great deal of humility and honesty.

There are two opposing but equally treacherous dangers when working on your moral inventory. One is to let ourselves off too easily and blame all of our flaws and behavior either on other people or on the circumstance. Many addicts think that they are morally blameless because of their addiction, but ultimately no matter what the circumstances are, we are all responsible for our behavior and all of its consequences.

If we do not take full responsibility for our behavior, we will not own our recovery either. The 12-step process is built on acknowledging our wrongs, making amends for them, and improving the world around us by giving back. The ability to understand and acknowledge our flaws and wrongs is an essential step down that road.

2nd Step in 12 Step Programs and What ‘a Power Greater than Ourselves’ Means

2nd Step in 12 Step Programs and What 'a Power Greater than Ourselves' Means

The Big Book of AA and the other 12-step programs, describe step two as the process by which we “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

In the first step, we admit we are utterly powerless over our addiction. We saw that the life we had led thus far had led us to misery and desperation. Our attempts to solve this on our own had led us nowhere. It was time to pursue a new path.

The two first steps are about humility. We accept that we need help in our lives generally and in overcoming addiction specifically.

The successful completion of this step can have a dramatic effect on our lives from here on out. From a life where we believed in nothing but ourselves, we will embark on one where we believe in something higher. From a life of chaos, we will emerge with a plan and a reason to live and stay sober.

We had made an explicit admission of defeat in the previous step. Thankfully, the second is about the restoration of hope. Despite our inability to control our own life, our life is controllable. This is a constructive surrender rather than a destructive one. It is time to place control in the hands of a Great Power.