A Brief Introduction To The Various Twelve-Step Programs

Don't be shy! Are you twelve-step curious? Is one right for you?
A brief introduction to the various Twelve-Step programs

The truth is that the twelve steps saved my life. Did I want to do them? Hell no, but then again, I shy away from broccoli and doctor appointments. But almost dying has a way of getting your attention. Long before I entered the rooms, I was really curious about what the heck was going on in there. 

Wikipedia lists thirty-eight twelve-step programs available. Here are a few highlights:

"Sometimes, the smallest step in the right direction ends up being the biggest step of your life. Tiptoe if you must, but take the step.”

-Naeem Callaway

Alcoholics Anonymous

AA started in 1935 in Akron, Ohio, when Bill Wilson, a stockbroker from New York called a local clergyman because he was away on a business trip and was afraid he was going to drink.

The priest gave him the number of Dr. Bob Smith, a local surgeon with a history of alcohol abuse, and the rest is history. Two drunks talking to each other is the magic of the fellowship. No one preaching or claiming he has a solution, but two equals coming to terms with an illness that has devastating consequences.

 This is the mothership, the program on which all others are based. The twelve steps of AA are used in all other fellowships, what you are powerless over is the only substitution. There are no dues or fees in any of the programs.

“I am a survivor, not a victim.”


The bedrock of the fellowship is powerlessness over alcohol: It is the first drink that gets you drunk. One is too many and a thousand is never enough. Step One is the only step you have to get perfectly. Freedom from the drink, though, brings with it a bunch of character defects that the steps help address. The rest are listed below. 

  • We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
  • Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  • Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  • Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  • Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  • Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  • Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  • Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
  • Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  • Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  • 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.
  • Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Many people fret about the “God” thing, but many atheists and agnostics have no problem with the program because you get to define your own Higher Power.  Many use God as “Good Orderly Direction” or “Group of Drunks.” The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. 

Step Four is also off-putting to many. One day at a time! When you are ready to tackle it, then that is when you’ll do it.  Think of the steps as more of a marathon than a race. I wrote a lot of inventory and found it to be very free to read it to my sponsor, to truly let another person know me and not judge me. You are only as sick as your secrets!

Debtors Anonymous

This is a great program for anyone with money problems. Did you know you inherit your parent’s view of money without even realizing it?  My grandparents struggled through the Great Depression and both my parents were raised with a scarcity mindset which they passed on to me.

It really is no one's fault, but it feels good to take responsibility and define our own relationship to money. Fear of economic insecurity that has plagued me for a lifetime has been replaced with serenity.

Money problems come in all shapes and sizes: are you overspending to stuff your feelings, or hoarding because you fear the future? Some people come in who are unable to open mail by themselves or who haven’t filed a tax return in over ten years. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop incurring unsecured debt.  

Hopefully, someday, money management will be taught in high school. The ability to save, have a checking account, and use credit cards responsibly are great skills to have.  

Overeater Anonymous

There are so many ways people deal with trauma. Some use alcohol, sex, or narcotics to numb the pain. Others use food. I know that was my first drug of choice. This can be tough because you can go cold turkey from the drugs or the booze but not so much with food. Here is a safe place to learn how to nourish yourself without overeating, and learn the root causes of your dis-ease.

Underearners Anonymous

This is my current favorite. Chronic underearning is a core issue for me. Being an actress and a writer, I have always gravitated toward low-paying jobs to keep myself free for auditions.

I thought I had to be poor and suffer for art, and suffer I did. I have not only been underachieving career-wise, but also under being all of my life (which UA defines as not fully acknowledging and expressing your capabilities and competencies.)

Most of this stems from low self-esteem, but whatever the reason, it no longer works for me. Getting a lot of support from action groups and having accountability with my time, I have managed slowly to start to apply my skills and talents to areas I never believed I could make money in.

Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous

SLAA is not just for the over-sexed, but also those who compulsively avoid sex and emotional attachment. Sexual anorexia and sexual compulsiveness can be brought about by many factors, including rape, incest, and other forms of sexual abuse.

There are many same-sex meetings to avoid distraction. Keeping silent about trauma is never a good idea, and many people use this program in addition to therapy to achieve the best results.

Below are the Promises of the programs, which work if you work it!

The Twelve Promises

1. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.

2. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.

3. We will comprehend the word serenity.

4. We will know peace.

5. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others.

6. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear.

7. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows.

8. Self-seeking will slip away.

9. Our whole attitude and outlook on life will change.

10. Fear of people and economic insecurity will leave us.

11. We will intuitively know how to handle situations that used to baffle us.

12. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.

Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us—sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.

The joy of helping others and building a community around you often fills the God-shaped hole that we’d tried to fix by stuffing it with food, alcohol, or pills. Whatever the meeting, we always close with the Serenity prayer.

God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

I hope you come to visit, many meetings are open and encourage visitors. See you there!

Sheila is an LA-based writer and actress working in the Television industry.

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