How Do I Work the 12 Steps?

In our last post about doing daily step work, we got a few questions about how to work the 12 Steps one day at a time.

Before we share our experience, what’s been your’s?

How do you work the 12 Steps on a daily basis?

What does “working the 12 Steps” mean to you?

As I thought about this question – “How do I work the 12 Steps every day?” – quite a few different ideas, and possibly justifications, came to mind.

 Can I justify that I’m “working the Steps” if I take a call from a friend in group? Isn’t that “working Step 12?”

 Can I claim that I’m “working the Steps” if I go to a meeting and share how my day/week/month is going? (Step 1, 2, 3, 10)

 Am I “working the Steps” if I do a nightly check-in with my wife or sponsor? (Step 10)

 If I recognize that I’m broken and I need God’s help throughout the day, isn’t that “working the Steps?” (Step 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 10)

 What about if I reach out to surrender a trigger to a sponsor or friend? (Step 1, 2, 3, 10, 12)

 What if I’m trying but just can’t make it a habit to work the steps every day? Or maybe working the steps every day is unrealistic?

While all of these things may be part of “living in recovery,” are they practices of “working the Steps” of the program?

I’m not sure.

What are your thoughts and experience?

Need help working the 12 Steps? Check out the Men’s 12-Step Curriculum today!

How to Work the 12 Steps: What the White Book Says

For those of us participating in SAL 12-Step meetings, the White Book of SA is one of our go-to’s. It’s what we read from, and it helps us learn from those who have gone before us – those who know what real sobriety and recovery look and feel like.

It’s also very straight forward: no softening, no minimizing, no catering to the person who may not think he’s really an ‘addict’ yet.

The White Book simply calls it what it is. And it addresses the core issue: LUST.

“Lust is the driving force behind our sexual acting out, and true sobriety includes progressive victory over lust.” (p. 202)

With that in mind, let’s see what the people who have gone before us have to say about working the Steps.

How does it benefit them?

What’s been their experience?

“The fear of our vulnerability gradually diminishes as we stay sober and work the Steps.” (p. 69)

“However else we work the Steps, there is benefit in working them in order.” (p. 140)

“How did I do it? I didn’t. A woman in AA told me after she spoke in a meeting, quoting Chapter 5 in Alcoholics Anonymous, that ‘God could and would, if He were sought.’ And that’s how I did it. By letting God do it. Because I couldn’t. But God could and would-and did. But I had to go to meetings to learn things like that. ‘Meetings, meetings, meetings, meetings, meetings . . .’ That’s what they told me. ‘Just keep bringing the body.’ ‘Work the Steps, work the Steps, work the Steps, work the Steps, work the Steps.’ Going to meetings and working the Steps; that’s how I did it. That’s how I learned to let ‘the grace of God enter to expel the obsession.'” (p. 158, bold added)

“When we take responsibility, we’ve stopped saying ‘Fix me’ and are willing to take the actions necessary to get well. We’re willing to take direction and work the Steps. This same attitude is what leads us to tie in to another sober member as helper or sponsor-one who can help us learn how to work the Steps in our daily lives. When we remain ‘in charge,’ however, we’re shutting ourselves off from the light and help of other recovering members.” (p. 186)

work the 12 steps(p. 213)

Which of these suggestions resonates most with you?

What Step Into Action Says about Working the Steps

Step Into Action is also an SA book. It was written to help us know how to work the Steps. In this book, members share their experiences and provides different ideas on how we can work each step.

“My life in recovery is proof that I have serenity and sobriety as long as I work the Steps and Traditions in all parts of my life, go to meetings, call my sponsor regularly, follow his directions, and let God lead my life.” (p. 15)

When we arrive at Sexaholics Anonymous, we are told to:

1. go to as many meetings as possible,
2. to get phone numbers of fellow members
3. start using [these numbers] daily
4. to begin daily readings of the literature
5. to get a sponsor (even if only a ‘temporary’ sponsor)
6. so that we can start working the Steps” (p. 19-20)

“My spiritual awakening was a very, very, gradual process. I first had to become open-minded, willing, and honest. I needed to start praying again and make phone calls. I needed to agree with SA’s Sobriety Definition. I needed to come to meetings, get a sponsor, and work the Steps, work the Steps, work the Steps, work the Steps, work the Steps” (p. 33, bold added)

“One night, my sponsor confronted me. If I wasn’t willing to work the Steps, he didn’t need to be my sponsor. I was resentful of being called on my arrogance, but I knew he was right.” (p. 62)

“For me, working the Steps in more of a process than an event. As I discover these more subtle character defects, I write about them, then give them away to the God of my understanding and to my sponsor. This is the way I begin to free myself of the power they have over me.” (p. 63)

“Meetings are not a dumping ground for our problems. They are not a substitute for working the Steps with our sponsor.” (p. 189)

“We practice our recovery on a daily basis. Last week’s recovery, we find, is about as useful in keeping us sober in today’s moments of temptation as last week’s shower keeps us clean today! We learn to practice an attitude of surrender. Part of our daily recovery practice is reading SA literature…AS we read of others’ struggles, successes, and insights, we find encouragement and inspiration. It is useful to set a regular time for daily reading. Reading each morning gives us a new outlook on the day and healthy new ideas to carry with us.” (p. 193)

“The key to the happy, joyous, and free way of life that the SA Program promises is working the Steps. Working the Steps refers to following the guidelines for recovery set out in the Twelve Steps of SA. Step work requires spending time and effort on each of these twelve stages of our recovery journey. We work the Twelve Steps with the guidance of another, more experienced member of the Fellowship, usually our sponsor…

“Step work is the heart of the SA program. As opposed to reading the Steps, believing the Steps, or memorizing the Steps, ‘working the Steps’ means taking action. Going to meetings, calling our sponsor, and participating in the Fellowship strengthen our recovery, but unless we are actively working the Steps, we are not working the SA program. Working the Steps is the SA program of recovery.” (p. 196-197)

What are your thoughts on these ideas and experiences for daily Step work?

work the 12 steps

How to Work the Steps on a Daily Basis
(6 Simple Concepts that Work)

Before working the Steps, it’s recommended that you find a sponsor, someone that has been down this path and has experience to help you through.

Working the Steps without a sponsor is like cruising down a bike trail with no brakes – not only will it be scary and uncomfortable, but most likely I’m going to crash or just stop due to fear or lack of knowing where I’m going.

Having a sponsor there to share his experience and direction is essential.

Step Into Action gives a really clear method for working the Steps that doesn’t seem too overwhelming.

Step 1: Get the materials you need

Pen, paper, Step guide, Big Book, White Book – or, in my case, a computer and Google Drive.

Step 2: Read the pertinent material

Step Into Action gives some suggested readings at the end of each Step.

S.A. Lifeline has also created a 12-Step Curriculum that gives suggested readings.

If you’re interested in that, fill out this form and we’ll send you Step 0 to begin the process.

Step 3: Ask God to direct the results

For me, this is often in the form of saying the Step Three prayer and the Serenity Prayer.

Both these prayers are a submission of my will to God’s – they don’t have an agenda and they aren’t me asking for what I think I need or want.

Instead, they are simply a request that God will give me the power to understand His will and then the capacity to carry out whatever His will is.

Step 4: Set a timer for ten minutes & write until the alarm sounds

One quote that really backs this up for me is on page 59 in Step Into Action:

“Some of us found it helpful to do [this work] in small, daily chunks rather than attempting an hours-long marathon…Five or ten minutes each day was far better than longer periods once or twice a month. We needed to practice recovery every day…Thus, we were encouraged by our progress.”

Step 5: Decide whether to continue or stop writing

Once the timer has gone off at the ten minute mark, it then becomes my decision if I want to write more.

As the Step Into Action states, “continuing to write means more progress on the Step.”

Step 6: When finished, say a prayer of thanks

“Gratitude is the antidote to lust.”

The more I can be grateful for the direction God has given me in the moment, the less I’m tempted to do my own will and completely forget His hand in my life and in my recovery.

See page 197 of Step Into Action for these suggestions on Working the Steps.


How can these ideas work for you?

Will they work for you? Why or why not?

What’s preventing you from making progress on the Steps?

What fears are getting in the way?

How can you work through these fears and take the next best step?

I wish I could say I was “perfect” at these ideas.

I’m not.

But I find that when I do put them into practice, I’m better in every way: I’m more connected with God, I’m more connected emotionally with my wife and kids, I’m less irritable and more patient, and I’m more effective in my work and other responsibilities.

Can we all put these ideas to the test together?

What do you think the outcome will be if we do?

I look forward to your feedback, questions, and experience.

6 thoughts on “How Do I Work the 12 Steps?”

  1. This is definitely the way I like to do my step work. I have to set aside time daily to read the experience of others (SA literature) reflect on it, pray about it and write it down. Does doing other dailies such as calls, check ins and group aid in my recovery, definitely. Progress in the steps is crucial though because I had to reach certain points such as step 4 and 9 where I had to admit to myself and others the exact nature of my being. Those steps have brought tremendous growth and learning, but they aren’t what keep me connected and sober. The daily connection to God and others through reading and wiring is essential.

    1. Thanks @Ed.

      I’ve found the same to be true. When I don’t so Step Work, I just feel off.

      Going to meetings, reaching out, praying – all that stuff really helps.

      But for me, writing out my thoughts, feelings, emotions, and digging into what I’m feeling, why, and the next step I can take (with God’s help) have been crucial for me.

      If/When I don’t feel like working the Steps is generally when I need to work them the most.

      Thanks for your experience.

  2. I like the 6 principles listed here. I also like the comment above. I have noticed that when I set time aside to read, write and pray, I get so much more out of it than just reading. When I start my day with step work l notice a huge difference. I have also found it helpful to listen to God when doing my step work especially if I’m not in a particular step. I’m addition, stirring the surrender process and putting the steps into practice help me stay sober and healthy. I’m not perfect at it, but I have made progress and that’s what matters to me. Learning to give my will to God rather than have him just take this from me is what turned things around for me. That came from writing the steps of the program.

    1. Progress, not perfection. That’s me too.

      For me, one way I’m trying to “give my will to God” is by working my Steps more consistently and being accountable to my sponsor and others in the group.

      Writing has been such a huge part of my recovery – trying to figure out what I’m really feeling, do what I can, and then surrender what I can’t control are a new practice for me.

      All growing up I would just not feel anything or numb out as soon as something felt tough.

      Thanks for your comment Danny!

      1. Thanka Webguy You mentioned about numbing out any uncomfortable emotional feelings or thoughts. Now getting sober i can rightly stop, evaluate what i’m feeling or thinking and the use the tools we learn in recovery from what we thought was a seemingly hopeless condtion of mind and body

  3. I have spent thousands of dollars on therapy. I was busy and would do the homework in a rush before my weekly appointments. My sobriety remained the same, relapsing every few months and after 3 years I discontinued therapy.
    But, then, when my wife reached the end of her emotional rope and set firm boundaries for our marriage to continue.
    I jumped into the steps. I seriously have worked them daily. As men have mentioned, they all have involved writing and deep introspection. I have used the Step Into Action, Castimonia, online suggestions, and suggestions from my sponsor. I just completed Step 4 and am in the process of sharing it with my sponsor.
    I have found better sobriety in this than what therapy had to offer alone. I have realized I need both. In addition to working the steps I read, journal nightly, listen to podcasts, attend my 12 step meeting, pray, and try to apply the principles I have learned. The most important principle I have learned is to keep my connection to God, seek His will, and surrender to Him and have accountability partners witness my surrender when the desire for lust hits. This brings my lust into the light, dispels it and the shame surrounding it.
    For me working the steps is to do them as outlined and using the additional tools I mentioned to put them into action in my life.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

* Attention: your comments will be viewed by other people in our community and potentially by the world wide web. If you'd like to remain anonymous, please only put your first name and last initial.

Your email may also pull up a picture of you depending on how you've set things up with your email provider. Unless you want to receive notifications of comments via email, you are welcome to put Thanks for your participation in the community.