5 Tools I Learned in 12-Step That I Use Every Day
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5 Tools I Learned in 12-Step That I Use Every Day


This post was originally published on August 27, 2014.

It’s always kind of a bummer for me to try and explain to someone who isn’t in a 12-step program, or who is new to one, what being in recovery is actually about. While getting sober and staying sober are a requirement to be reap the benefits, not drinking or using drugs (or whatever addiction your group is focused on) is merely the key that unlocks the door to something astronomically greater. I hate to admit it, but I find myself getting frustrated when I am met with blank stares after attempting to answer why I still go to meetings. I know, I know, it’s not my job or business to try and educate the world about addiction or the magic of the 12 steps and the fellowship or the path I found to spirituality—but man, if there was a way to do it, things would sure be grand.

I am in now way implying that everyone needs a 12-step program; however, you don’t have to be an alcoholic or an addict (or have been raised or married to one) to be in need of tips on how to be happy and behave like an adult.

1)   If it’s a good idea today, it will be a good idea tomorrow.

I can’t tell you how many times my first sponsor had to say this to me before I really took it in; so many of my struggles in early sobriety had to do with my ego being bruised—or “right-sized” as some call it. I would always find myself proselytizing about how wronged I had been and what I was going to do about it. Sometimes my plan of action involved a cutting email, sometimes a crowbar, but they were always bad ideas (something I used to full of). Being told “If it’s a good idea today, it will be a good idea tomorrow” is the emotional equivalent of “one day at a time.” It means that if I feel like I have to take a baseball bat to someone’s face, I am free to do that—tomorrow. Of course, tomorrow we don’t want to (psst! That’s the trick).

 2)   I will not should all over myself.

Oh fellow perfectionists, hear me roar! Few things are more relatable to me than the sound of glaring self-hatred in a newcomers voice when they tell me about all the things they should be doing. When we are indulging our alcoholism, wet or dry, we are operating out of fear and typically avoiding some or all aspects of our adult life.  Even when I am working a top-notch program, I have the tendency to miss doctor appointments, let mail pile up, forget to wear make him wear a condom—some aspect of this is normal but the alcoholic mind will turn minor bloopers like this into a mental reenactment of pearl harbor. That is why—when I hear myself saying, “I really should…” I stop myself and have a cookie.

 3)   When I do what I do, I get what I get.

These words of wisdom are courtesy of my current sponsor who always delivers them to me after some over-the-phone dissertation about a guy I am involved with who I shouldn’t be –in other words, a guy I am involved with—and it’s the perfect gentle reminder that I am responsible for who I surround myself. Even if I am a sober angel, I still have a responsibility for continuing a relationship with a person who has shown that they can’t meet my needs. You don’t sleep with the dogs and not expect to get fleas.

 4)   You, thank God, are not my business.

Oy vey ist mir, is this one a monkey off my back! So many of us grew up in chaotic homes with sick (or Jewish) parents who taught us that to take control is to love. So many of us are also so wounded by people who have let us down that we have grown to feel if we want something done right, we have to do it ourselves. And it’s not that these ideas are bad or wrong all the time but they can be extremely toxic if not applied appropriately. When I start thinking that things would be fine if this other person would just act the way they should, I know it’s time to stop and figure out what I can do to make the situation better or to accept things how they are. It’s hard for anyone to not want to fix things but alcoholics and addicts (and Alanons) seem to have a tougher time with this—hence the Serenity Prayer.

5)   Honesty (with myself) is always the best policy.

In the 4th Step, we learn to take responsibility for our part in disagreements and resentments and in the 10th Step we are asked to promptly admit when we are wrong. Of course, my idea of promptly never seems to match up with others idea of it—but either way, when things go sour or I am upset, I have to immediately ask myself what is really going on within me that is causing the internal disturbance. It doesn’t mean I am to blame for it, it just means that I need to understand what I am actually upset about and why, even if it’s not necessary or appropriate to share it with the person I am mad at. The quicker I can get honest with myself, the quicker I am relieved of my resentment and possibly be open to compassion, as gross as that sounds.

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About Author

Danielle Stewart is a Los Angeles-based writer and recovering comedian. She has written for Showtime, E!, and MTV, as well as print publications such as Us Weekly and Life & Style Magazine. She returned to school and is currently working her way towards a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. She loves coffee, Law & Order SVU, and her emotional support dog, Benson.