A newcomer’s guide to the first three steps of AA
The first three steps are easier to understand when their language is as friendly and solution-focused as possible.
An old-timer walked into a Twelve Step meeting and was hailed from across the room by a group of friends. As he moved to catch up with them, he noticed someone he couldn’t place among the identifiable faces.
A young man in his early 20s was sitting by himself, looking rather grumpy, and his head was buried in his iPhone. The old-timer got the feeling that the young man was either new to recovery or this was his first meeting.
Our responsibility is to help the still-suffering alcoholics
Part of the old-timers considered ignoring the newbie, as he wanted to catch up with his friends. The young man could never understand an “old gentleman” like him. The old-timer thought that one of the younger people in the group would go up to the newcomer, introduce themselves, and ask, among other things, if this was his first Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting. However, the veteran recalled the AA Responsibility Statement, so he sat next to the young man and started talking.
Today, groups recite the AA Responsibility Statement in an increasing number of meetings: “I am responsible – when anyone, anywhere, reaches out for help, I want the hand of AA always to be there, and for that: I am responsible.”
But saying something is one thing; doing it is quite another.
The young man said that it was his first time at an AA meeting and that he had never heard of recovery or the Twelve Steps. He told the veteran that although his fiancée recommended he check out AA, he wasn’t too excited about it.
That tune was familiar to the veteran. He might have even performed the song himself.
How recovery works, or something along those lines, was the young man’s query to the veteran.
The veteran could tell that the young man desperately needed more information than “It works just fine.” He wanted to talk about his problems rather than listen to an older man’s lecture. The young man was prepared to run out the door if given a chance. It wouldn’t do to be ordered to wait around and figure it out for himself.
The First Three Steps into Plain English
The old-timer thought about how serious the circumstance was. He knew that one interaction could make or break this young man’s decision to try to stop drinking or to go back to drinking.
The veteran then took a moment to explain everything, saying, “It works through the combination of two things: the fellowship and the programme within the Twelve Steps.”
However, the old-timer could once more feel the young man’s nervousness. He wanted to discuss his circumstances but wanted to avoid hearing an older adult’s insider knowledge of the Twelve Steps. The veteran kept things straightforward and began with the first three Steps.
The old-timer knew to make the language as approachable and solution-oriented as possible and to make the Steps more actionable. He broke them down something like this:
“Do you see a connection between your drinking or using and the unmanageability of your life?” Look, “unmanageable” has five syllables and means “out of control.” Have you ever felt “out of control”? Yes? Then carry on.
The idea of being helpless is the same. A few words that essentially say, “When I use drugs or drink alcohol, things spiral out of control.” Congratulations! You’ve finished the first Step if you can relate to being helpless.
He moved on to Step 2 when he observed the young man making progress in understanding.
The fundamental tenet of Step 2 is that we cannot “treat” our addictions. Ham is cured, but not addiction. The good news is that help is available, and you’ve come to the correct place if you can relate to being “out of control.”
“People in Twelve Step recovery don’t hold sobriety in a hammerlock. There are alternative ways to quit drinking that have been successful for other individuals. But if you remain with us, you might devise a solution that works for you. Even while we acknowledge that we cannot “treat” our addictions, we:
“Came”: We showed up at the scheduled meetings.
“Came to”: We realised that we were unconsciously living life, not realising how much damage we were doing to ourselves and others.
“Came to believe: We saw that something outside of ourselves can help us, whether that ‘something’ happens to be a Higher Power (however we define it) or even the 12 Step program itself.”
The old-timer continued through Step 3, painstakingly outlining each Step.
In the first edition of the Big Book, there is a tale where Bill Wilson, a co-founder of AA, tells a newcomer, “Your life is certainly jumbled up. Would you consider inviting God to help you unjumble it? That sums up Step 3 in a nutshell.
We adopt a spiritual approach to stop drinking and using drugs by accepting the spiritual support a Higher Power provides. In Bill’s words, if we let a Higher Power “unjumble” what we have managed to jumble, there is a road forward.
The veteran concluded by saying, “That’s what we do in 12 Step programmes. We discover the Power to “unjumble” our life deep inside ourselves through the Steps and the fellowship.
This strategy is still effective for both newcomers and seasoned veterans, young and old. Everyone has a responsibility to one another – that’s how sobriety spreads from one person to the next.
Editor’s note: We prefer using terminology that puts the person’s individuality before the illness. However, we have chosen to preserve the term “alcoholic” to characterise people with alcohol use problems in keeping with the history of AA and NA, their founding principles, and the language used in the fellowships.
Our goal is to embody the fellowships’ spirit and speak to people about how they typically think about the disease of addiction.
If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, call Freephone 0800 140 4044