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The 12 Spiritual Principles (Virtues) of AA & What They Mean

The 12-steps are the cornerstone of a popular approach to treating addiction, first popularized decades ago by Alcoholics Anonymous. The steps and the 12-step process more generally have a spiritual component.

However, the spiritual components of each step are not always apparent. In addition, the wording behind the steps often stresses practical concerns over spiritual ones.

Bill W., one of the two founders of AA, stressed the spiritual side of the program and wished to make that element more explicit. The 12 step program ultimately aims to replace destructive tendencies and addiction with a healthier and more sustainable way of life. Therefore he envisioned a spiritual program that would be incorporated into all facets of day-to-day life.

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The 12 Spiritual Principles of AA

The 12-step approach is based on the conception that addiction is 12-step programs hold that addiction has three elements: mental, physical, and spiritual. Spirituality is never far from the surface in this approach. The principles of alcoholics anonymous and the 12-step approach are a guide to a well-considered and planned form of spiritual growth and personal betterment. The 12-steps are all based on one or more of these spiritual principles or virtues.

The steps are intended to be worked and reworked so that the 12 principles of AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) are not just understood in theory. They are meant to be woven intimately into the fabric of day-to-day life. What are the 12 step principles of AA (Alcoholics Anonymous)?

Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable

The Spiritual Principle of step 1 is Honesty.

Honesty: It took honesty just to walk into those rooms for the first time. You were honest with yourself and others, admitting that you had lost control and needed help. Honesty with yourself and others becomes even more central when you start working on the steps. From creating an inventory of your faults through to offering to make amends, dishonesty has no place in the process.

Step 2: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

The Spiritual Principle of step 2 is Hope.

Hope: If you didn’t believe deep down inside that things can get better; you wouldn’t be reading this. The belief, despite the darkness of your personal experience, that a better life is attainable is indispensable to building a healthier life. Working the 12-steps is difficult and time-consuming and despair has no place in it.

Step 3: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

The Spiritual Principle of step 3 is Faith.

Faith: We may have never had faith or lost it somewhere along the line. However, we cannot fully recover without it. Several of the steps require faith that our Higher Power has a plan for us and can restore order and sanity to our lives. It is difficult to believe that despite our failure to manage life, all is not lost. Faith that a Higher Power can succeed where we failed is essential to the process.

Step 4: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

The Spiritual Principle of step 4 is Courage.

Courage: If you are in recovery, you are a courageous person. Thank goodness, because otherwise, you would not be able to do this. The 12-step process requires facing and admitting all of your failings. This is not done to self-flagellate but rather to take your failings on, make amends for them, and overcome them.

Step 5: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

The Spiritual Principle of step 5 is Honesty & Integrity.

Honesty & Integrity: Addiction changes are us for the worse and we lose so much of our integrity on the way down. However, it is never too late to build a new life based on honesty and trustworthiness. To recover we accept responsibility for our mistakes and immediately recognize and own up to new missteps. A sober life is one lived with renewed integrity in all of our dealings.

Step 6: Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

The Spiritual Principle of step 6 is Patience & Willingness.

Patience & Willingness: What is the process of recovery if not a heroic show of willingness, both to improve yourself and the world around you? The two are intimately connected, like a better version of you will be capable of providing more to your community and those around you. By the time you are done working the steps, your willingness to help others will become a central part of your daily life.

Step 7: Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

The Spiritual Principle of step 7 is Humility.

Humility: Addiction is fed by a cycle of inflated and deflated sense of self-worth. Riding the highs of our addiction we felt superior, crashing down to rock bottom we felt inferior and unworthy. When we embrace humility, we accept ourselves as worthy people, no better or worse than anyone else. To work the steps, we must also show humility before our Higher Power and accept that only they can restore sanity to our lives and take away our shortcomings.

Step 8: Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.

The Spiritual Principle of step 8 is Love.

Love is the unselfish deep concern for others. In addiction, we hurt others and do things to them; we would never wish upon ourselves. We practice love in 8 by taking responsibility for the harm we have done to others and cultivating the willingness to make it right.

Step 9: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

The Spiritual Principle of step 9 is Brotherly Love & Responsibility.

Brotherly-love & Responsibility: This is an antiquated (and gender-biased) sounding name for the worthy Biblical principle of treating other people as family. We do this by making amends to others we have harmed and engaging in service to aid other members. When our lives cease to be all about our selfish needs, we will know that love is now an important element in our lives.

Step 10: Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

The Spiritual Principle of step 10 is Perseverance & Discipline.

Perseverance & Discipline: As addicts, we had no patience. We wanted that high and the next high as quickly and cheaply as possible. Long-term consequences are damned. However, as the old saying goes “good things come to those who wait.” Recovery is a long process with many ups and downs. We will not get better overnight. When working the steps, there is more value to thoroughness than speed. It is not a race.

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.

The Spiritual Principle of step 11 is Awareness.

Awareness: You can’t perform an extensive and honest inventory unless you are fully aware of your shortcomings. As your progress in your recovery, you will always be on the lookout for new missteps and unhealthy behavior you may be engaging in.

Step 12: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and practice these principles in all our affairs.

The Spiritual Principle of step 12 is Service.

Service: Think back to your early days in the program. How many people welcomed you, helped you, listened, and put you at ease? How far would you have made it in recovery without them? Once you reach the 12th step, it is your turn to give back. Act as a sponsor, treasurer, secretary, or lead meetings. Remember psychological studies show that when we help others, we become happier. So, there is no downside to performing service and we can’t recover without it.

Final Word on The AA 12 Step Principles

The 12-steps work because they help us live a more fulfilling spiritual life. By the time you are done with the steps, you will have revitalized your inner spiritual life, connection to a Higher Power, and bonds with those around you. All of those outcomes are intentional and highly beneficial. So, as you work the steps, pay attention to the spiritual principles behind each step. It will improve your life immeasurably.

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