Taking One Step at a Time toward a Sober Future
My favorite thing about walking into town, rather than driving, is that I can only take one step at a time in order to reach my destination. I can look around and enjoy the sights or I can talk to a companion along the way but only one step at a time will get me to the center of town, where I can do my shopping or visit with friends. It is neither helpful nor possible to take two steps at a time. I’m not a horse, after all. Two feet. One road. I will get there in good time and I enjoy the simplicity of this form of travel every time. You cannot take one step at a time without getting a little dirt on your feet.
There’s no secret why the phrase one step at a time is used by recovering users to encourage a simple, sensible, and self-nurturing approach to recovery. When you break recovery down into simple steps, you enable yourself to take the path one step at a time and arrive safely and securely at your sober destination.
Simplifying Life so that You Can Take it One Step at a Time
What steps should you take? The steps toward sobriety are different for everyone, but here are some suggestions:
- The first step is to recognize that you have a problem.
- Finding a treatment center or sober living facility can support you as you begin the journey toward sobriety.
- Commit to taking it one step at a time so that you do not try to accomplish too much at once. When you try to take on too much, you place yourself in danger of becoming overwhelmed. Take on less than you think you can handle and only take on more when you are completely ready.
- Develop a plan for maintaining sobriety. This could mean working with a 12-step program or joining an LDS sober community that will allow you to take one step at a time with like-minded people.
- Maintain an active and engaged lifestyle. Your hobbies and interests can help you stay sober by keeping you involved in activities that you enjoy. Not only will they distract you as you take one step at a time toward sobriety, but they will engage the pleasure centers in your brain so that alcohol or drugs will be less appealing.
- Nurture yourself one step at a time by taking care of your body, mind, and soul.
If these feel like large leaps, break them down into smaller and smaller steps so that you can take one step at a time at your own pace. You can create a one step at a time plan in a notebook, on a spreadsheet, or in your head. When you finally reach your goal, you can look back and see just how one step at a time brought you to your new life in recovery.
Working the Twelve Steps One Step at a Time
Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) is a non-profit organization created by alcoholics for alcoholics. The founders, Bill W. and Dr. Bob, started the program in 1935, basing it on the exercise of spiritual values in daily life as a way to overcome alcohol addiction. By 1941 there were 2,000 members enrolled in the program, and today there are about 2 million worldwide. A.A.’s abstinence-based addiction recovery program, known as the 12-step program, has remained consistent to its roots with only slight modifications made over the decades.
The essences of the12 steps, or principles, is based on the incremental progression—referred to as “working the steps”—that culminates with a spiritual awakening. Arriving at this pinnacle, the 12th Step, happens after a painstaking and methodical process of tackling one step at a time. Completing the 12 steps can result in a fundamental shift in the way he or she conducts their life and the decisions they make going forward. The program addresses all aspects of the person, including the mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional realms, helping to identify the root causes or factors involved in the person’s addictive behavior.
The A.A. recovery meetings are designed for mutual mentoring and support, fostering peer-based sobriety reinforcement as well as encouraging service as a means to further solidify recovery.
Bill Wilson, one of the founders of the 12-step program, when writing what was to become known as the Big Book, noted that people who struggled with addiction benefited from sharing their personal stories and experiences with others.
The 12-step meetings are a free and readily accessible source of ongoing recovery support. The meetings are available in virtually every community, and have flourished globally numbering nearly 110,000 groups. The recovery meetings provide an opportunity to share each other’s stories, to gain new insights and inspiration from the members, and to find a sponsor to safeguard the recovery process.
What are the Twelve Steps of Recovery?
The twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous are designed as an ongoing continuum for achieving sobriety. Starting with the admission that life has spun out of control due to addiction, the steps provide benchmarks that help the individual stay focused on moving forward in recovery. Beginning with self-evaluation, then humble recognition of how one’s actions have hurt others, and eventually to arrive at a spiritual breakthrough. The 12-step program enables members to define their higher power in a way that resonates for them. The member works on the steps chronologically, completing them at their own pace with no set timeline.
The twelve steps of A.A. include:
- We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.
- Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity
- Mad a decision to turn our will and ourselves over to the care of God as we understood Him.
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
- Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
- Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
- Humbly ask Him to remove our shortcomings.
- Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
- Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
- Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us, and the power to carry that out.
- Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
Finding Lifelong Sobriety One Step at a Time
Addiction is a chronic, relapse-prone brain disease that is eventually fatal if not treated. In order to achieve sustained sobriety one must choose the most effective tools available. The 12-step program can be an essential component in the recovery plan, alongside other actions. Sober living housing and ongoing outpatient therapy form two more prongs of a strategy to maintain sobriety after rehab.
Short and long-term surveys of individuals in recovery have demonstrated the positive impact of the 12-step program on their ability to remain abstinent. Even those who no longer regularly attend meetings may refer to the principles learned in A.A. that reshaped their thoughts and changed their life for the better. According to a study in 2007, “Pathways to Long-Term Recovery: A Preliminary Investigation,” affiliations with 12-step organizations was a key factor cited for sustained recovery. The authors state, “Most participants, even those not currently attending meetings, reported that the 12-step program of recovery was an active part of their daily lives.”
An article by Scott Lilienfield and Hal Arkowitz, published in the Scientific American, described one well-designed study called Project Match that shows how participation in the 12-step program can facilitate a new, sober lifestyle. The study compares the results of participants in a 12-step program with those in evidence-based therapy, such as a cognitive-based therapy program and motivational enhancement therapy. The recovery results achieved by A.A. participants compared favorably with the other two groups who had been participating in the psychotherapy.
Approaching addiction recovery with a “one step at a time” mindset allows the individual in recovery to feel they have some control over their destiny. Instead of being overwhelmed by the feeling that they must conquer the entire recovery process at once, taking a one step at a time view can make it feel achievable, that it is possible to overcome addiction and find freedom in sobriety in small attainable chunks.
While the 12-step program is a valuable component of a successful outcome, every small action taken to improve and restore health and wellness, both mental and physical, will take the individual closer and closer to the gift of sustained sobriety.