What Is 12 Step Recovery?

what is 12 step recoveryWe talk about 12 Step Recovery, but rarely discuss what that actually might mean. Here’s my take on it at the moment:

Letting go of the addiction

First of all it means stopping the addictive substance or behavior.

That’s most obvious when it comes to alcohol and other drugs. Every day I don’t drink or use drugs (and nicotine for me) I know my basic recovery is intact.

With programs that address behaviors it’s sometimes not so clear. True, gamblers know if they’ve gambled or not, but it gets a bit trickier with programs that address things we have to do like eating and using money. There it’s not a matter of completely giving something up, but of using something in a truly healthy way. For example in Debtors Anonymous, my goal is to not take on any unsecured debt; in Underearners Anonymous it’s not to underearn – talk about a personal decision!

But wait! There’s more!

Most of us who have had successful recovery for any length of time report that there’s more to it. It starts with the letting go of the addicition, but the Book promises and the Steps deliver much more.




As I mentioned in Returning Fully To Life, there are the promises on pages 83 and 84 of the Big Book. There’s also the serenity we talk about in the Serenity Prayer.

Perhaps, however, the most telling description of recovery occurs on page 103 of the 12 and 12, where Step 12 opens with:

Joy of living in the theme of AA’s 12th Step

and page 133 of our Big Book says:

We are sure God wants us to be happy, joyous, and free.

Joy is a powerfully word. The writers of both books make it clear that we can expect some joy in our lives if we work the Program. What a nifty promise! I know I’m not alone when I say recovery has meant quite a bit of joy for me.

Not all the time and not all at once – the human condition seems to be one of up and down emotions regardless of how long we’ve been in recovery. But with recovery has come not only some real joy, but some real willingness and ability to let the good things back in my life as well.




It’s probably just as well there’s no precise definition of recovery. After all, even though we’re much alike, we’re also very different. Just as we experienced our addiction both in many similar ways and in many different ways, we also experience 12 Step recovery in different ways. I also notice that my joy seems to increase in pretty much direct proportion to not only my ‘spiritual fitness,’ but to my willingness to notice my happiness as well. Finally, I also recognize that my definition of recovery continue to change over time.

What’s your take on the meaning of recovery? How, once you let go of the addiction, did you know you were experiencing recovery?




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Image: Attribution Some rights reserved by rubenvike

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