Working the Steps

One of the things that used to really piss me off when I was new in recovery was hearing somebody telling me that all I needed to do was “work the steps.”

Here’s how it would go:

Early StepsMe: I lost my sobriety.
*HB: Just work the steps.

Me: I lost my sobriety again.
HB: Just work the steps.

Me: I can’t do this.
HB: You gotta work the steps.

Me: It doesn’t work for me.
HB: Just work the steps.

Me: <yelling> This program sucks!
HB: <laughing> Why not work the steps‽**

Talk about frustrating! I’d gladly work the steps if someone would tell me what the heck that meant. If you’re in the same boat, regardless of your drug of choice, maybe this will help. Work the steps means do the same stuff we did and you will probably have the same result. We did these 12 things and had a spiritual awakening as a result. It isn’t magic, but some of us believe it is. We don’t understand exactly how and why it works, but some of us are sure we do.There are variations in how we’ve done each of these steps. Some people write all the consequences they’ve suffered as a result of their addiction. After they read it aloud at a meeting, they say they’ve finished step one. Other people come to a realization that their life is a mess and they’ve got to change or die. Maybe they’re in jail. Maybe they’re sitting in the doctor’s office trying to explain how they injured their genitals. Some people use a worksheet. Some carry a slip of paper in their wallets so they never forget how unmanageable their life was. When they read it, they’re working step one.Think of working the steps as washing your hands with hot soapy water. Back in the 1700’s we didn’t have a clue about germs, but we did know that washed wounds heal better.Today we understand infectious disease, but not addiction. What we know is that doing these things gives many of us relief from self-destructive compulsive behaviors.

* HB stands for Happy Bastard. This is what I privately called all the sober men in my meetings. Addicts every one, and none of them was miserable like me.

** It’s an interrobang. I learned about it from the Grammar Girl.



  1. A plan of action. I like that! Prester John, Thank you for stopping by – I’m touched that you would take the time to read anything I write since I’m an atheist.

    Thingmebob82, Thank you for your comment!

    My home group is a 2 hour drive each way. My sponsor suggested I attend open AA meetings, which was pretty scary talk about feeling “less than!” But recovery is recovery. My drug of choice is different, but I have the same magical magnifying mind. I’m so grateful for what I’ve learned in AA meetings!

  2. Someone in an AA meeting the other day said that working the steps is SIMPLE, but HARD. A lot of people take simple to mean easy but it’s not at all. All of recovery is simple, you only have to refrain from picking up your drug of choice one day at a time to stay sober – but because our brains are wired to make things complicated we automatically find some of the simplest things the most difficult. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is ‘yes, the steps are tough, but if you want to get better then just do them because they’ve already made millions of people better around the world’. I agree with Prester John above that the Big Book way is the best.

  3. Work the steps with a sponsor who is serious about recovery and has worked them with his/her sponsor. AA spirituality isn’t magic. It’s a plan of action and 12 step work is the culmination of that plan. The best way to work them, I think, is just like suggested in the BB. Not the 12 and 12. Not some treatment center mumbo-jumbo.

    The steps are the program. Nothing more and nothing less. Not getting the spiritual part of the program is not getting any of the program because the whole program is spiritual. Think Mother Teresa spiritual, not Trappists monks.

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