The first was Alcoholics Anonymous, founded in 1935 by Bill Wilson and Robert Smith as they sought sobriety in their own lives. Its basic principles have become the model for overcoming many different forms of destructive behavior.
The basic twelve-step philosophy is used by Narcotics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous and Debtors Anonymous, as well as support systems for those who love the addicted person like AlAnon and Alateen.
Most AA meetings begin with a reading of the fifth chapter of the book Alcoholics Anonymous entitled “How It Works.”
“Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path,” it reads. “Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves.”
The process the Twelve Steps outline is simple. The first three steps invite the individual to posit his faith in a “power greater than himself.”
Since AA is not allied with any specific sect or denomination, it leaves an understanding of that power to each individual. The only attribute that the concept of God must have for recovery is that he is greater than the addict or alcoholic – the first stage in the destruction of pride and self will.
Once the individual has acknowledged that there is a Power that can help, he is invited to look inward to see precisely what he has done and who he has become because of his addiction, and then turn it over the healing power of God with the realization that God’s grace will bless the outcome, but the footwork is still up to the individual.
As some members put it, “God will do for us what we cannot do for ourselves; however, he will not do for us the things we can do for ourselves.”
Once this process of interior cleansing is underway, the steps outline both a return to living in society, as well as keeping the process of recovery alive as a permanent part of one’s life.
These steps become a guideline for sober living. They offer hope and a way out of a seemingly hopeless situation.
Monsignor Joseph Calise is the pastor of St. Stanislaus-Transfiguration Church in Maspeth and works with men and women in addiction recovery programs in Williamsburg.