The purpose of the 12-step sober recovery programs, and the working through of each step, is to attain a spiritual awakening. As step 12 states: "Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps..." Therefore, it is important to note that the entire goal of these steps is to bring about a complete change of attitude toward spiritual matters in order to obtain and maintain a sober life.
Dealing with the Spiritual Aspect of the 12-Step Program
Fortunately, this is accomplished in incremental stages as the newly-sober addict progresses through the steps. Spiritual beliefs that may feel uncomfortable and outdated may be discarded along the way. Many addicts who enroll in 12-step programs look askance at the frequent mentions of God as we understand Him, or a Higher Power. Even the idea of spiritual awakening can bring a negative response in the early days of the program. As addicts work through the steps, however, they begin to understand that their ego defenses are the only things screaming for escape; the same ego defenses that will have them remain in their active addiction.
As new 12-step members begin the process of recovery, they must be willing to admit that they have, in fact, used their addiction as a Higher Power. Their addiction has repeatedly demanded of them that they do things that go against their instincts, personal beliefs, and even their moral code. Many recovering addicts have stories about the times they stole from loved ones, broke the hearts of those who were nearest and dearest to them, and behaved in ways that were not in accordance with the dictates of their personal ethical views. Others will have strong feelings about society's rules, the rules of an organized religion that they have spurned, or other rules imposed on them from external sources. These issues can remain outside the realm of what is meant by spiritual principles or a spiritual awakening within the context of 12-step programs.
Embracing Your Own Spiritual Path as Part of Recovery
A phrase that was used a lot in an early 12-step meetings was "Recovery means that I follow the rules that I know are right, even when no one is watching." This phrase refers to the type of spiritual awakening that is involved in 12-step recovery. If a recovering addict can be honest with themselves, they will recognize that they have always had an inherent sense of right and wrong; one that was not necessarily imposed on them by someone else. Following this credo in making decisions on how to be in the world on a day-to-day basis is the foundation of a very powerful spiritual awakening. What is the right path for each of us may not make sense to others, but we should cleave to that path because we know it is the right thing in our hearts.
It is easy to begin to recognize the stirrings of our first spiritual awakenings; the times when we tell the truth when we would have previously lied, when we correct someone who has given us too much change at the store, when we return something that we borrowed in a timely fashion, and when we show up because we said we would, even though it was a more difficult task than we thought it would be. These are steps we take to develop relationships with others that are based on trust and integrity. Our word becomes valid and honorable, as does our behavior. We know that this is something that we did not previously know how to do, but the Spirit of the 12 steps has shown us the way.