Reflections on the 12th Step

By Ken Wells - 10/27/2020


Series One: Blog Seventy-Three

“Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to others, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”

I grew up in an evangelical cult. Not all churches that are evangelical are cult. But, mine was. The list of cultic behaviors is long and its impact is lasting. I learned to live my life for the purpose of saving the lost- heaven to gain and hell to shun. I was taught that there really was no purpose or reason for a life lived outside of the responsibilities and relationships within the cult. Wide was gate that led to destruction and narrow the path to everlasting life. Carefully, these realities were engrained deep within our lives. Even to this day with me being so distant from any practice in cult religion, the remnants of memory are fresh within my mind and experience. I will carry these recollections throughout the rest of my days and in many cases the awareness of flashback is so real it’s as if the moments of reality were just yesterday. 

The reflection of cult reminds me of the practice of the twelfth step with its emphasis upon carrying the message and practicing the principles in all our affairs. Working the 12 steps is designed to be a self-absorbed process. It begins with the admission of being powerlessly out of control with addiction. It’s about carefully examining the need for a Higher power, surrender and acceptance. The process turns the spotlight on shortcomings and self-admission to another. It includes preparing for and in humility asking God to remove harmful defects. There is then the focus on harming others and making restitution, followed by more self introspection and attempts to improve connection with God as you figure it out. The reflection and navel gazing makes sense in that this is where an addict is profoundly stuck. Then comes the epilogue- carrying the message and practicing the principles.

The approach many take to fulfilling the 12th step is interesting. Many addicts who begin the 12 steps never actually formally work through to the 12th step. Often they fall away before ever working the 12th step with a sponsor. However, I would suggest that the 12th step is a result of the flowering of all the other steps that have been addressed. It’s sort of a coming out or coming of age step. All the other steps prepare me for this one. The 12th is a kind of launch step. It is a step designed for those who have worked to grow and develop and are now to be pushed out of the nest and go fly. 

The concept of moving from self introspection to an outward look is revolutionizing for an addict. This is a step when it stops being all about me- my destructive outlook or my need for help. The invite is to embrace a destiny of transformative change that has taken place. Not only insular change but to carry the spirit of this change to family and community at large. 

For some “carrying the message” takes the form of sponsoring. Some people take on multiple sponsees. Others get real busy with acts of service around 12 step meetings.  Still others become absorbed in busyness in a multitude of different ways.  There is a myriad of service acts that recovering addicts might feel compelled to do. I watch people become imbalanced in their lives and become lost in busyness. Becoming a human doing prevents one from becoming centered in a sense of being. I have observed addicts who were once centered and focused in their recovery who get lost in all the doing. Most addicts who get lost in doing have a history that dates back to their family of origin that focused on performance related esteem. Needing to be more to keep from being less gets reignited and addicts lose themselves in all the “gotta dos” and “have to bes” that begin to dominate their lives. 

On the other side of the coin, there are many addicts who never mature to being able to see anything other than their own world. The 12 steps become insular and mostly about what is best for them so they can stay sober and find comfort and support from others in the program.  Of course, staying sober and finding serenity is an important goal. Yet, the program is shortchanged if you do not embrace reasonable ways to give back by living a transformed life. 

So again, the addict is faced with the challenge of alternate extremes. On one end of the spectrum, you can get stuck with an inward-looking mentality while on the other end become engulfed with doing more to keep from being less. 

Maturity requires that you strike a balance which can be found in focusing on being. It is important to resist the urge and pressure to join an organization and sign up to do acts of service simply because other addicts or organizations compel you to duty. Being is always enough. From being you will cultivate a sensitivity towards your sense of self. It is essential to stay the course and learn to listen to your heart and not allow distraction from the activity of others to mislead you from your awareness of self. Joseph Campbell once said that being a hero “is someone who has given his life to something bigger or other than himself.” What that something is can only be determined from within one’s heart. Ultimately, it must be embraced and carried out in obscurity. It shows up as a parent who gives painstaking hour upon hour of attention to the child rearing experience without glamour or notice. When you examine the long arc of history with cultural movements, you see heroic acts by unnamed people behind the scenes that without their sacrifice an important movement would have never come to fruition. 

There is nothing wrong with the notoriety of being a recognized leader in acts of service. It is only that giving to something bigger than yourself cannot overlook the embrace of being. It will be essential that you cultivate within yourself what you believe and can do as the aim of your life. This is the place where you discover your bliss. You do not have to join an organization to do heroic acts. A daily investment in treating others with dignity and respect is a heroic action that requires that you simply be. This position in life will call for a place of nirvana- which is a space to find yourself in rest. It is the center out of which you act. In this way though there be a whirlpool of activity around you, you are not compelled by fear but you hold true to your center. It requires that an addict quietly practice the principles of the 12 steps in all their affairs. This is revolutionizing and in itself is enough. Carrying the message requires practicing the principles anchored in a focus of being without the distraction and pull of needing to go do something. 


  • When thinking through your acts of service, are you driven by what others expect you to do? What would be different if you simply decided to focus on being?
  • In what ways are you challenged to treat others with dignity and respect and if you focus on being, what would that space dictate you do in terms of service? 

Recent Articles

Subscribe and thrive.

Subscribe to receive the latest stories, thought leadership, and growth strategies from PCS therapists.

© Psychological Counseling Services