Working One Step at a Time

Working the StepsIt is easy to get discouraged, working the 12-Step program, if we obsess about a step we are not ready for.  Think about it.  Wouldn’t it be horribly discouraging to start obsessing about passing a college chemistry class when you are taking 7th grade science? Thinking ahead can paralyze you and keep you from making progress on the step you are working right now.  This is especially true if we start worrying about Steps 4,5,8, or 9.

Here is some good news! Each step prepares you for the next. The output of a step becomes the input for the one that follows it. When you are ready to move on to the next step you will WANT to do it. You may not be excited about the footwork you have to do, but you will be very excited as you anticipate the results of doing it.

If you are a newcomer to the 12-step program, you are on Step 1, admitting that you are powerless over the behavior or substance that brought you to the program. Since most of us spent years thinking we were in control and not powerless at all, and trying to prove it by our actions, that can be a tall order! Focus on Step 1 if that is where you are.  Read the step in the ARP manual, He Did Deliver Me from Bondage, or one of the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions books. (See my Resources page for more info on these books.) Use the tool of writing to identify material that you can apply to your own life. Colleen Harrison, the author of He Did Deliver Me from Bondage  calls it “Capturing”. Here is an abbreviated explanation of how I use this tool.

  1. As you come across a passage that you feel inclined to highlight, copy it into a notebook.
  2. Write about what you think the passage means.
  3. Pray for guidance on how to apply this passage to your life and then write about the impressions you get.

Take the time to thoughtfully answer the questions that appear in the book you are studying. Talk to your sponsor and/or other people who are working the steps about what you are learning. When you think you have learned all you can from this step (this time around), prayerfully ask the Lord if you are done with it and ready to move on.  When you get a confirmation, start working the next one.

Getting Stuck

If I am stuck on a step and can’t seem to find the willingness to move on, it usually means that I probably wasn’t really done with the previous step when I started this one.  For example, if I am working Step 3, and just can’t seem to find the willingness to turn my will and my life over to the Lord and trust Him so I can start Step 4, I might need to go back to Step 2, and dig deeper for the ability and willingness to embrace the fact that He really CAN deliver me from my situation. If I really believe that He can and will deliver me then why would I be reluctant to ask Him to do so in Step 3?

Input and Output

What did I mean when I said that the output of one step becomes the input for the next? In Step 4 you make an inventory.  That inventory contains the things you confess in Step 5.  As you work Step 5, and give away your inventory, the person who receives it will be able to help you identify patterns and put together a list of your shortcomings and weaknesses.  In Step 6, you become willing to ask the Lord to remove them.  Truly, every one of the steps prepares us to work the next step, if we give ourselves to the work with humility and persistence.

  1. What step are you working on?
  2. Are you doing it with humility and persistence?
  3. Are you making progress?
  4. Are you using the tool of writing?
  5. Are you talking to others about what you are learning?
  6. What are you willing to do to move forward?


8 thoughts on “Working One Step at a Time

  1. I have observed that sometimes a person thinks our program is like a work book that you hurry and answer the questions so that you can be finished and then you are suppose to be done with your addiction. I kind of thought that myself when I first started and thought that after completing the program I would be like a graduate and just move on. I have found that doesn’t work, or at least it didn’t for me. I really needed a sponsor to help me see where I was getting off track and to encourage me. I also found that when I had completed the program, I still needed to be working so that I could stay free. I am an emotional compulsive eater, so I have found that it is too easy to go back to old habits if I am not working the program. This second time around, I am learning even more and able to help others better. One step at a time works for me and others that I have observed. Thank you for your reminders, Mira. They help me to stay on track.

  2. I have learned, while working through the 12-steps, that I am not nearly as patient as I thought. Sometimes I do want to rush the process, skip ahead, finish-up and be “cured.” Ha! Completely devoting myself to thoroughly finishing each step before moving on allowed me to make steady, forward progress.

    Fear has also been a roadblock for me, apprehension of either a failure to measure up to the requirements of the task/step at hand or aversion to learning something uncomfortable or inconsistent with my own self-image. I must combat fear with prayer to confirm the next steps I take are the right ones, the ones God wants me to take. I also must do things to be of service so that I may have the Spirit with me while I work. “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Tim. 1:7) I need the Spirit’s presence to do this step-work!

    Whatever my excuse is for getting stuck in my progress I have to keep a good work ethic about my own effort and be clear about what I’m offering if I am to reasonably expect help from God. I also have to remember who’s plan I’m working and focus on the current step, the one that God wants me to complete. “Change is hard. Rather than going through the struggle to overcome a bad habit or rectify a mistake, some of us choose to make excuses for inactivity. Progress comes as we are able to give up something for something we want more.” (Marvin J. Ashton, Conference, April 1979).

    1. Jim, thanks so much for your thoughtful addition to this topic, especially for pointing out the role fear plays in getting stuck. Satan clearly is the source of this kind of fear, and he certainly does not want to see us make progress. He uses every tool he can find to keep us from moving forward.

  3. I’m a little confused about where I’m at in the steps. Before I ever got involved with the 12-step program I wrote an addiction inventory/narrative, which is step four. But does that mean I’m ready to “skip” steps 1-3, or that I already did them without really knowing it? I don’t think so, but I’m not sure. I like what you say about involving honest prayer to get the sense from God about where you are.

    1. Robert, it is my observation that a thorough working of steps 1, 2, and 3 sets up the rest if the steps. If you haven’t turned your will and your life over to the Lord as thoroughly as possible, steps 6&7 will not be as effective in helping you to let go of your shortcomings as they might otherwise be. Working the steps is not a race, and there is no advantage in getting “through” them quickly. Take what you like and leave the rest. The Lord will guide your progress through the steps.

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