In the early 1930s, Dr Robert Smith (Dr Bob) and Bill Wilson (Bill W) founded Alcoholics Anonymous. This non-profit organisation was created to allow those affected by alcoholism to come together to help and support one another in their recovery journeys. The principle of AA is that members share their stories to help encourage and motivate each other while members are also encouraged to work through the 12-steps.

Alcoholics Anonymous has been so successful in terms of recovery from alcohol addiction that many other organisations have been formed based on the same 12-step principles; this includes Narcotics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, and Marijuana Anonymous. In fact, there are 12-step fellowship programmes in place to deal with almost any addiction.

The 12 Steps

The twelve steps were devised by the earliest AA members and are broken down into the decision steps (steps 1-3), the action steps (steps 4-9), and the maintenance steps (steps 10-12).

Step 1

We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.

Step 2

Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could resort us to sanity.

Step 3

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

Step 4

Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Step 5

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

Step 6

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

Step 7

Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

Step 8

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

Step 9

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

Step 10

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

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.

Step 12

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.

Fellowship Meetings

Those who have never had any experience with 12-step meetings will naturally be worried about what to expect. In general, these meetings are informal and friendly and are similar to social groups. The meetings will include speakers and members sharing their experiences of a particular topic.

Most members feel comfortable speaking up and sharing their stories because they know that those in attendance will not judge them. However, some members prefer to keep quiet initially until they are more comfortable with the process and the other members. It is important to bear in mind that no member is ever forced to speak up and will only do so voluntarily.

Open Meetings

At an open meeting, members can bring guests who do not have addiction issues. As well as this, many members choose to attend an open meeting as their first meeting. Open meetings are a great way for new members to get information on what the fellowship group is all about.

Closed Meetings

Closed meetings are only for those with addiction issues. These are more intense and are designed to help those with addiction problems get the help they need to stay sober. Guests are unable to attend closed meetings.

What to Expect

Twelve step fellowship meetings generally last for an hour, but members usually arrive early to help set up and to chat with other members. The meeting will typically start with readings, which could include the Serenity Prayer, the 12-steps, the Twelve Traditions, or other fellowship material. This may be followed by scheduled speakers before an open discussion on a particular topic.

Meetings are often filled with a full gamut of emotions – from tears to laughter and everything in between – and members usually find they can relate to what others are saying. It is common for many members to have faced similar experiences, and sharing these stories helps with recovery. Once the meeting has finished, members may stay back for tea and coffee and chat with friends.

The number of people attending a 12-step fellowship meeting will vary from place to place. Some will have hundreds of members while others will just have a handful.

You do not have to do anything at your first meeting except listen. You may be asked to identify yourself and, if so, you can simply give your first name and nothing else. If you would prefer to avoid this altogether, you can just arrive a few minutes after the meeting is scheduled to start and sit at the back.

Working the Twelve Steps

The first three steps are called the ‘decision’ steps and are focused on accepting that a particular substance or activity has started to control your life and recognising that this is a problem that needs to be addressed.

Steps four to nine are ‘action’ steps and focus on the journey of getting help and working hard to become sober. While working through these steps, individuals are encouraged to take stock of their lives and examine their shortcomings. Recovering addicts are also encouraged to think about those they have hurt or harmed and to make amends with them.

Steps ten to twelve are known as the ‘maintenance’ steps and while working through these steps, recovering addicts will be expected to ensure that they focus on their sobriety. Most recovering addicts will know that this is the time when they can use what they have learned to help others start their journeys. Upon completion of the twelve steps, recovering addicts should be actively showing other addicts the tools they have learned and should be encouraging them to reach out for the help they need.

Provided one works the twelve steps completely and honestly he or she should find that the recovery journey is more fulfilling and more enjoyable.