First of all I want to say that I’m by no means a twelve step guru. The following are just ten things which come to mind when looking at why someone might be struggling with their 12 step programme.

The following is from personal experience, speaking to others who have struggled and from hearing shared experience in meetings… Although this might sound a little harsh in places it’s all coming from a place of love, please don’t take offence.

In many cases I had to be called out (and constantly reminded) of this stuff from people close to me, their honesty ultimately helped along this journey. If you’re struggling or want to know more please feel free to reach out…

Here we go:

  1. You’re not going to enough meetings
    Doing lots of meetings in early recovery is essential, I wrote here about how 90 meetings in 90 days helped set a strong platform for my journey. I was so broken when I came into recovery I needed a daily meeting (at least) to help re-wire my brain and get myself into a place where I could start to work on my wider recovery.
  2. You’re not being present enough in meetings
    It’s easy to feel disconnected with online recovery meetings, sometimes it’s easy to sit back and get distracted by your phone or something else going on in the world. Paying close attention to what’s being said in meetings, listening for the similarities and not the differences and sharing back are all key to getting the most from each meeting you attend.

    It’s important to note that no two meetings are the same, I’ve found some have a stronger recovery message for me than others. I personally get the most from meetings when people speak about their experiences and how the programme helps them recover and live a better life. I find it less helpful when a meeting only revolves around people talking about their day or how low they’re feeling. For me this doesn’t help, recovery isn’t group therapy, I want to hear about the solution. If you’re in a meeting where you’re not hearing a strong, inspiring message of recovery then it might be time to switch things up and try some new meetings…
  3. You’re not doing service
    In my experience service is a core foundation of recovery. 12 step recovery is all ultimately about getting free from ourselves by helping others. If you find a meeting you like speak to the group about what service positions might be available. One thing I have noticed is that I feel more connected when I put in my full attention and action into service. It’s easy in the world of zoom meetings to take a position and then sit back without putting in too much action. If you find this to be the case, maybe try getting a different position or try different ways of doing service, sharing in meetings and reaching out to other newcomers more for example.
  4. You’re not working the steps with a sponsor
    Going to meetings kept me clean and sober initially, but my real journey started when I asked someone to sponsor me and began working the 12 steps. It’s ‘a programme of action’ as they say. In my experience people who don’t work the steps are more likely to relapse or struggle with long term physical and emotional sobriety.
  5. You’re not putting your programme first
    Just having a programme isn’t enough, it needs to be the most important thing in your life, each and every day. There’s a saying “whatever I put in front of my recovery I stand to lose”, this could be a job, relationship or anything number of things, in my experience my recovery programme is the foundation for the life I lead today so it always has to come first.
  6. You’ve not been fearless and thorough
    “Fearless and thorough from the very start” is one of my favourite quotes from the Big Book. Working the 12 steps can be hard as it involves looking back at your past behaviour and thinking with a brutal honesty which often comes with pain. In my experience if you leave things out, work through the steps too quickly or in a way which isn’t totally honest and thorough it’s going to undermine the foundation of your recovery. Work with your sponsor, be honest and talk with others about their experience with this. Be honest, be fearless and your recovery will be stronger for it.
  7. You’re not building a recovery network and staying connected
    Reaching out and staying in regular contact with others has been a huge part of my recovery. I try to phone at least one or two people each day to check-in, have a chat and catchup. It could be a call with someone with more time than me for advice or guidance, or it could be a call to a newcomer who’s struggling and needs someone to be there and listen. Regularly staying in touch with people keeps me connected outside of meetings. Also think about the type of contact you have with people, in my experience a phone call is miles better than pinging out a quick text, Whatsapp message or forwarding recovery quotes and memes (I’m guilty of all of these at times just FYI).
  8. You don’t give your programme enough time or faith
    Time and faith are hugely important in 12 step recovery. It’s a journey where in many cases we’re trying to re-wire our brains from a lifetime of shitty thinking and behaviour. Give things time, don’t give up after a few bad days or a few bad meetings (believe me I’ve had lots of those). You will get there, just keep the faith and take things one day at a time…
  9. You’re doing your own version of the programme
    This one’s close to home for me. I’ve spent lots of time on Twitter, Reddit and other recovery communities. I’ve written this blog and built my own app for people in 12 step recovery. I have a podcast on the way. All of these things are great for my recovery, but in the past I’ve managed to convince myself at times that these were fine to work on instead of my actual programme.

    If you want AA (or any other 12 step programme) to work, you have to actually work that programme. For me that’s working the 12 steps of AA with my sponsor, going to meetings, being of service, living through spiritual principles and reading the first 164 pages of Alcoholics Anonymous. That’s my programme, the other extra curricular stuff is all great as long as it comes afterwards…
  10. You haven’t surrendered…
    This is the big one, have you actually accepted your illness and surrendered to the programme? Here’s a few things to think about?

    Are you only in recovery waiting until your life gets a bit better?
    Are you in recovery because someone else wants you to be there?
    Do you think a new job, house, car, relationship or some other shiny thing will fix things?
    Do you think in the back of your mind that one day you still might be able to drink/use again?

    You’ll need to think about these with absolute honesty, all of these are danger signals and will ultimately undermine your path to recovery.

    If any of these apply to you then this shit won’t work. Sorry to be blunt, but 12 step recovery is about accepting and surrendering to the illness (Step One) and then putting in action each and every day to overcome it. Without complete surrender we are only preparing to fail…