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Principles and Recovery Part 1


“Moral authority comes from following universal and timeless principles like honesty, integrity, treating people with respect.” Stephen Covey

In my many tours of the 12 step fellowships, I saw the 12 principles on the wall. Many said they were the principles behind the 12 steps. In reality, those 12 principles were created by a group in the 1970’s, not A.A itself. The one principle behind the steps according to the founder is humility. He wrote clearly about that in the 7th step chapter in the “Twelve Steps and 12 Traditions” book. They are still very valuable and universal in their application and undoubtedly personal recovery.

I took too many people at face value and did no research. I did not cross reference what was told to me with the literature. These are literature-based fellowships after all. I learned the hard way that if you work the steps off the wall, you will get off the wall results. Almost anything on the wall of a meeting can be misconstrued or taken out of context. I’m not implying that if it’s not in the book it may not have life-altering value. I’m a huge fan of outside literature, and even the big book suggests reading other books.

The 12 Principles

Here is a view of the principles through the eyes of the literature, they won’t exactly line up with each step.

Honesty and Step One

The honesty spoken of concerning the first step is not cash register honesty or even telling the truth to others in general. The chapter “How it Works” begins with a paragraph that uses the word three times. This honesty is about admitting that we have a problem with our drinking. (pg. 58)

Hope and Step Two

In the chapter to agnostics where step two is addressed the topic of hope comes up. It is explained that many new people when being approached find hope in discussing alcoholism with another but, “his falls when we speak of spiritual matters.” An entire conversation ensues about the way we have viewed the world and a Higher Power. Through this new idea are presented coupled with the example of others recovery space for hope is often created.

Faith and Step Three

The decision to take action (steps 4 through 12) is based on faith. Often our strong faith in our sponsors better serves us than our limited faith in a higher power. Faith translates to action in the face of the unknown. The chapter in we agnostics speaks of the fact that our lives had been full of faith the entire time. Even when buying drugs an addict has faith that in the unknown substance being purchased. It’s what we apply our faith that is in question, not whether or not we have it.

Courage and Step Four

The principle of courage is addressed in the fear inventory of the 4th step. “All men of faith have courage.” It takes courage to ask for help from a stranger, to write an inventory. In the face of fear, our faith is exhibited in the courage to take action. It turns out faith is not the antithesis of fear, courage is, and courage always leads to action.

Integrity has different meanings for different people. Generally, it is loosely defined as consistency in thought, word, and action. To have integrity is to be complete. In the portion of instructions on the 5th step, the book discussed the lack of humility and honesty in holding back some secrets on a 5th step. This would be a lack of integrity. Drinking again is highly possible and even predicted for most if this is the case. The sharing of our entire life withholding nothing is often our first moment of real integrity for many.

Willingness and Step Six

The entire 6th step is contained only in a paragraph in the big book, but it emphasizes willingness as being indispensable. The 3rd step in the 12 and 12 says it’s the key to the entire process. If we are not willing to take action, there will be no recovery, from attending meetings to asking for a sponsor, to working the steps. No willingness, no recovery.

The spiritual principles for steps 7-12 will be out in our next blog. How have spiritual principles shown up in your life? Do you apply them to everyday life or do you find them coming to you more frequently through working a program? Get the conversation started with your sponsor about spiritual principles. It’s usually an interesting conversation it can give you a different perspective.

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