How Does the Program Really Work?

My previous article was “When Did Meetings Become the Program?” This article addresses my understanding and experience of how the program of recovery works.

Based on my 34 years of experience, there are many wonderful and helpful components to support the initial approach to recovery in AA:

  • Attending and participating in a variety of Twelve Step meetings;
  • Taking and performing commitments at those meetings;
  • Having and regularly attending a home group;
  • Getting and fostering an effective relationship with an experienced sponsor;
  • Obtaining and reading the literature, especially the books Alcoholics Anonymous and Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions;
  • Knowing and understanding the Twelve Steps.

But these, singularly or cumulatively, are NOT the “program of recovery” outlined in the “Big Book” Alcoholics Anonymous! The “program of recovery” is the actual application of the suggested Twelve Steps to our personal life.

Thinking that one can achieve the Step Twelve promise of a Spiritual Awakening by reading the Twelve Step literature, sitting in meetings, and discussing it with our sponsor, is like sitting in our garage, reading the auto manual with our mechanic, and expecting the car to be fixed.

Change is not going to happen until there is the application of the information in the manual!

My understanding of the AA “program of recovery” is a series of suggested personal actions described precisely in the Big Book:

1. We establish a personal relationship with: 

  • Power: Steps 1‐3 = our experience of “no choice” & a decision about and for Power

  • Self: Steps 4‐7 = our identification & removal of the obstacles in us to Power

  • Others: Steps 8‐9 =our willingness to change & to repair the damage we caused others.

It is a process based on a sequence of rigorous actions…

  • Prayer
  • Reading
  • Reflection
  • Writing
  • Discussion

… leading to the experience of the promised Spiritual Awakening. We are changed!

2. We continue to foster these relationships through a consistent daily practice of:

  • Step 10:  Inventory = Examining our disturbances and resulting behavior on the spot
  • Step 11:  Prayer & Meditation = Improving consciousness twice a day = a.m. and p.m.
  • Step 12:  Principles and Service = Enlarging compassion as an organic 24/7 attitude

Meetings are NOT the AA Program!

The key to my initial recovery was a twofold gift:
1. Abstinence, for which I did nothing; people call this Grace;
2. My “willingness” to take the suggested actions; I call this Grace!

However, during these four years of being a “good” AA, my pre‐sobriety behavior continued and I was restless, irritable, and discontent! I was having trouble at work, at home and most everywhere. The “bedevilments” were rampant. I was a man without integrity and clueless about internal guiding principles.

In 1988 in an AA meeting, I heard a man share about having an experience of being changed through a precise application of the Twelve Steps from the book Alcoholics Anonymous. I asked for his help. Over the next year he guided me through that process. By the completion of the Ninth Step I was aware I had been radically changed. I had had an authentic spiritual awakening: a dramatic change in the way I felt, thought, and behaved; and it was done TO me not BY me! I lived with a sense of serenity, peace and contentment. I knew that experience for the very 1st time. I had become a finder! My career problems were resolved; my marriage became healed; and, I found a personal relationship with the “mystery” that I never knew was possible.