Why Don’t I Work the Steps?

why don't i work the stepsThis question has been on my mind a lot lately – “Why don’t I work the Steps?

Is working the Steps really that difficult?

Does it take too much of my “precious” time?

If my life were dependent on whether or not I worked the Steps of Recovery, would I work them?

It’s easy to say I would.

But isn’t it true that my life does depend on working the Steps?

After all, I know from sad experience that if I don’t stay sober and practice recovery, I will eventually lose everything that’s most important to me. Isn’t that really what life is about – family, friends, and real relationships?

Why, at the end of every SAL meeting, do I say, with everyone else, “It works when I work it, so work it, you’re worth it?”

What does that really mean?

Do I really believe this statement or am I’m just “going through the motions?”

Why Work the Steps?

Why do the recovery materials encourage us so much to work the Steps?

What do they do for us?

In my experience, working the Steps of Recovery is a way I can choose, in this moment, to put God’s will before my own (Step 3).

Working the Steps is a way I can recognize, one day at a time, that my life is truly unmanageable (Step 1).

Working the Steps can help me connect with God through surrender, prayer, and meditation (Step 11).

Working the Steps can give me insights on things I can share with sponsees that are new to sobriety and recovery (Step 12).

Working the Steps can help me recognize my character defects, surrender them to God and others, and ask for forgiveness when I make mistakes (Step 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10).

Working the Steps, for me, is all about real connection – the same connection I thought I was getting my whole life when looking at pornography and living in my addiction.

Today I recognize the lie I’ve been telling myself and believing for too long…

How Do I Work the Steps?

Another good question and one I don’t know the “right” answer to.

Does working the Steps require that I read recovery literature every day?

Does working the Steps mean that I have to write out how I’m feeling and how what I’ve read applies to me today?

Does it need to be a formal thing I make time for each day, or is doing a check-in with my wife, taking calls, and reaching out to others “working the Steps” as well?

Is going to meetings enough sometimes?

I really don’t know the answer.

But, I do know this: when I feel like I’m getting complacent, when I feel like the addictive behaviors are coming back (easy to anger, impatient, defensive, combative, irritable, lazy, overly tired, fearful, etc.), it’s usually because I’ve started believing that reading and writing aren’t really crucial to working the Steps  – I’m good by just doing the minimum (or nothing at all).

For me, reading and writing are an essential part of truly working the Steps, and, without those components, I find myself coasting. And as one brother said in a meeting once, “The only way to coast is downhill…”

I don’t believe that there is a right way to work the Steps, but I believe this statement from the White Book:

“Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly fol­lowed our path.” (p. 206)

What is that path?

The Big Book says it pretty clearly:

“Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such unfortunates…They are naturally incapable of grasping and developing a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty.” (p. 58)

“If you have decided you want what we have and are willing to go to any length to get it – then you are ready to take certain steps.

“At some of these we balked. We thought we could find an easier, softer way. But we could not….” (p. 58)

“Half measures availed us nothing.” (p. 59)

“Here are the steps we took, which are suggested as a program of recovery.” (p. 59)

It then lists the 12 Steps.

And this gives me hope as well:

“Many of us exclaimed, ‘What an order! I can’t go through with it.’ Do not be discouraged. No one among us has been able to maintain anything like per­fect adherence to these principles. We are not saints. The point is, that we are willing to grow along spiritual lines. The principles we have set down are guides to progress. We claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection.” (p. 60, bold added)

It seems pretty straightforward. Progress, not perfection. But doing nothing, to me, isn’t progress…

Some of the Reasons I Might Not Work the Steps

In an effort to try to be honest and clear my mind, I put together a list of potential reasons I may not work the Steps on a consistent basis.

Out of curiosity, I turned it into a survey that I’d love for you to fill out as well. You can remain anonymous, put in an email like [email protected], but I’d appreciate your honest feedback.

The hope is that, together, we can figure out the barriers we’re not willing to let go of and give them up to our Higher Power.

The hope is that, by doing this, working the Steps will become something we really can’t live without.

I look forward to your feedback and thoughts.

12 thoughts on “Why Don’t I Work the Steps?”

  1. I have made a commitment to work the steps continually. For me it’s a non issue, I have to work the steps everyday. I don’t need to be perfect with my step work or spend a month on a step. If I am remembering correctly Bill Was acculy on the 4th step on his second night, (I’m not sure if that’s​ 100% accurate or not but it as within the first week). For me the steps are everything, even though relapse. They’ve helped me to stay out of the shame spiral after relapse. I’m​ going to be working the steps for the rest of my life so I don’t need to and shouldn’t get hung up on anything for too long because I’ll get another chance to work that step again. I’ll never get it perfect the first, second, third or even forth time, that’s why I keep working it. I just need to be honest and thorough and most importantly keep moving forward. I have a spiritual problem and the Big Book says that I can find the solution to that problem by working the steps. I personally haven’t found my exact spiritual solution but I’m on my way. I heard a great quote from an AA speaker that says, “I am a spiritual being having a human experience”. I find this to be very true. I have to work the steps daily to even have a chance at getting freedom one day.

    1. Thanks for the comment Devin. One question I have: If I’m working the steps with an open heart and with a desire to truly connect with my Higher Power, is relapse still even a possibility?

      I know from my own experience that I’m never “out of the woods” when it comes to recovery or the temptations revolving around my addiction, but, for me, working the Steps, when I’m actually working them and not just going through the motions, has been a way to connect with God and put off the addictive tendencies by surrendering them.

      The other thing that comes to mind is right along with what you said, this is about spiritual progress, not perfection. The best I can do is work things one day, and even one moment, at a time.

      Look forward to ongoing discussion. Thanks again.

      1. For me even with working the steps with an open heart and desire I have still relapsed. I may know what I need to do to stay sober but I don’t always know how to put it into practice. For instance right now I’m really trying to figure out exactly how to fully and truly trust my higher power. That sounds a little funny to me because I always figured that because I knew of a God that I knew him. I’ve recently realized that I don’t and I also don’t know how to let myself trust him. This was very difficult for me to come to terms with because of my upbringing. I now except that I don’t know who this higher power is that’s trying to guide my life. I also realized that I want to know him and that for me working the steps is my path to understanding his will for me. I had some good sobriety for about 14 months which I consider real sobriety and recovery but I also feel like I was sort of relying on others “testimonies” if you will of God to carry me through. When life hit the fan I quickly realized that something was missing in my recovery, MY relationship with God. I’m still on this journey, I’ve had slips and relapse but I know that my answer lies in the steps because I’ve seen it work in my life because I’m not the same person that I used to be. It’s a journey not a destination and I may have a bunch of bumps in the road but that’s the way these things go sometimes. My point is I’m not giving up just because of a relapse. (Sorry for the rambling ;).

        1. Thanks Devin. Makes sense.

          One thing that’s helped me is “burying my weapons of war.” In other words: setting boundaries based on the steps I’m used to taking prior to acting out.

          These include things like:
          – browsing the internet
          – surfing through TV channels
          – staying up late
          – browsing Facebook
          – reading news websites
          – searching for “articles” about random topics
          – almost any TV can be triggering
          – browsing highly populated areas: just seeing who I might know
          – joking about inappropriate things
          expecting intimacy from my wife

          I also am aware of addictive behaviors that always proceed the actions:
          – getting easily annoyed with my kids, wife, co-workers, sponsees, family
          – blaming others when things don’t go my way
          – isolating and not wanting to talk to my wife or others about how I’m feeling
          – unrealistic expectations
          – having a strong opinion about things that don’t really even matter
          – comparing myself to others in any way

          These are just a few things I’m aware of.

          If my wife feels that I’m displaying these addictive behaviors, she is learning to not be afraid to call them what they are in nightly checkins. If I don’t want to do checkins, that’s a red flag too.

          Long story short, there are lots of positive things I can do to monitor my progress and stay far away from the line.

          Progress, not perfection.

  2. The problem for me is that I tend to be task oriented. So, I’m all over the inventories. But, when I am asked to “practice these principles in all my affairs,” I get lost. There is a fundamental attitude change, a change of being, a change of how we relate to others, a change in how we respond to life, that is more than the inventories. I haven’t yet figured that part out. I do step reading every day – it is one of my dailies. I have been going through the inventories and am nearing the end of that part of Step 9. But, other than that, I’m trying to figure out what “step work” means. Steven C would probably say the “principles” we are to practice in all our affairs are honesty, humility, and accountability. If I look at it in terms of the steps, it means the following. First, admitting daily that I need help, reaching out to God and others for help, getting outside my head through prayer, calls, and journaling. Second, being accountable when i cross boundaries or do any form of acting out. Third, realizing as soon as possible when my character defects are active, and do what it takes (usually prayer, calls,and journaling) to get out of it. Fourth, take responsibility for my role in any conflicts or harm, and make amends as soon as possible. Fifth, help others in recover as much as I can. Sixth, do whatever I can to have spiritual contact with God daily. That is the steps in a daily format. it is like the first principles and ordinances of the LDS gospel. You don’t just have faith, repent, get baptized, get the Holy Ghost, and call it good. You have faith and repent on a daily basis. You take the sacrament each week. You seek to be guided by the Spirit in all things. Etc.

    1. Thanks Sam. I don’t know the answer, I guess it may vary from person to person. But for me, working the Steps looks like this:

      1. I start with a prayer, asking God what I can do today to connect best with Him or what He would have me do today.
      2. I dedicate time (15 minutes or so) to read Step work from the following books (Big Book, White Book, 12 and 12, and Step Into Action). I don’t read all of these in the same reading, but I try to focus on one and pick up where I left off.
      3. As I read, I’m looking for things that I can try to apply today in my life. How does this apply to me right now? How can I implement this statement today? What do I need to work on to make this more part of who I am? Questions like these help me look at ME and not think about how what I’m reading applies to that person or someone else (a common occurrence when I’m not truly in recovery but just “white-knuckle sober”)
      4. I then write out what I’m thinking, feeling, and try to dig with my writing. The writing is where I feel the direction really comes for me.

      Granted, I’m not perfect at this, in some ways, this is my “ideal.” But it’s simple, straightforward, and “it works when I work it.”

      Reaching out to my sponsor and others is also a part of my Step work, but it isn’t working the Steps in an of itself. Going to meetings is part of Step work too, but again, it’s not “Step work” on its own.

      Not sure if any of that is helpful, but this is where I am today. Look forward to your feedback and experience.

      1. For me step work is one of 5 thing i need to do at least one of every day in my recovery. Step work, surrender, reach out, meeting and prayer.

        I went through the steps about 13 years ago and felt and acted like they were a check list. read the book, write down a few things, finish, healed. Boy was I wrong.

        I know today that my recovery is a life long journey not a one and done. The steps and step work will be part of me the rest of my life.

        I am right now struggling to get back into my pattern and routine. I took a two week vacation a month ago and am having a hard time getting back to my routine. I will cause I know I need it.

        1. Thanks T. I know what you mean about getting back into a routine. I was gone for a couple weeks as well recently and could really feel the affects of not keeping to my routine.

          I appreciate the comment and your thoughts on step work.

  3. The answer for this question of “what is working the steps” has somewhat been a developing and evolving answer for me over the course of my recovery. It used to be very task based. I’d have to complete certain amount of stepwork everyday in order to stay on track. But as I’ve continued to take steps forward (and backwards sometimes), stepwork and working the steps has started to become much more personal. Connection is what i seek. It always has been. Connection with family and friends, but most importantly God. My connection with God is more and more becoming my main desire. I get off track when I start making my connection with anything else my main goal. Even making connection with my wife, or maybe especially when making connection with my wife, the main goal. I still work the steps through similar mediums (reading, writing, reaching out, checking in), but I think my approach has changed. Rather than the quality of my stepwork being based off of how much I did, it’s seems to be more based off of how well I’m connecting with my God.

    1. That’s a great insight Sean. I agree that it’s all about connection. Real connection. And especially God-centered connection. If I’m centered on myself, on my wife, or on my job or whatever else, I’m off.

      If I sense that I’m justifying why I didn’t make time to officially “work my recovery” today, I need to check myself and make sure I’m not following the path I’ve always followed – do what I want and the justify my behavior. I feel myself doing that when I tell myself, “Well, I’ve been to a meeting today so I don’t need to read or write at all, I’m good.” Or, even worse for me, “I’ve been working the steps now for X years – I need a break.” There is no such thing as arrival when it comes to addiction recovery – lust will never lose it’s toxicity for me.

      Unfortunately, this is exactly what I told myself in 2012 after having been going to meetings and working recovery (sort of) for 3 years or so. I thought I’d arrived, overcome, finished. So I stopped working the Steps. Then, just like that, I “arrived” at a new rock bottom I never thought I’d hit.

      Working recovery, for me, has to be part of a new normal or I will die.

      Thanks for your thoughts.

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