The 12 Steps Promises were described by their authors as “extravagant”. Indeed they are, as well as being bold, courageous and emphatic.
They are basically what the creators of the 12 Steps declared would come true for anyone who went through the 12 Steps. The Promises were written to give hope, inspiration and motivation to people in recovery, suggesting the positive results they could expect.
When they were written they were an exceptional move – and one that could have backfired on the then-young and only just-growing Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) fellowship. At the time, their main author Bill Wilson – a failed New York stockbroker who’d been hospitalized four times due to his alcohol addiction – was only around three years sober. Along with physician and surgeon Bob Smith, who also struggled with alcohol, he was the co-founder of AA.
There were less than 50 AA members when he started to write The Promises, which were first published in the 1939 book Alcoholics Anonymous (the “Big Book”). It is essentially a 12 Steps guidebook, considered by many to be the world’s most read self-help book as well as one of the best books on recovery.
But this bold move worked and continues to do so, because these Promises came true for more and more people, initially who were once hopeless alcoholics. For instance, today there are more than two million AA members.
There are also countless other 12 Steps groups successfully helping people quit all sorts of addictions ranging from gambling, clutterers, relationships and sex to the internet, work, drugs and food. Not only do the 12 Steps enable them to stop their addictions and stay stopped, but they also allow them to have a life that’s full of positivity.
What do the 12 Steps Promises say?
They are published on pages 83 and 84 of the Big Book, coming in the chapter called Into Action at the end of the paragraphs about Step Nine. For this reason, they are sometimes called the Step Nine Promises.
The 12 Steps Promises state:
“If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.
Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us-sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.”
Do the 12 Steps Promises come true?
Frequently, The Promises are read aloud by one member of a 12 Steps group at a meeting. At the reading aloud of the question in The Promises “Are these extravagant promises?” to show that they do come true there is often a chorus of the next sentence, the answer: “We think not.”
So, do they come true? In my experience having done the 12 Steps in 2002, and since guiding countless people through them, the answer is a definite yes. Naturally, the extent to which they come true varies from person to person, depending on their dedication to the 12 Steps program.
Why will the 12 Steps Promises come true?
As is said at the end of many 12 Steps meetings. “It works if you work it…” This is because as there are physical laws, so there are also spiritual and emotional laws.
The 12 Steps is a spiritual program that can improve people’s mental, emotional and physical well-being. This is so long as they are worked through thoroughly, honestly and fearlessly – and then maintained, one day at a time.
So we all understand there are physical laws, such as if someone bangs their shin hard with a heavy object, they are going to get a painful swollen and bruised shin. There are no exceptions: it’s a physical law.
In the same way, there are emotional and spiritual laws. So if certain things are done there will be a specific result.
An example of this is that as part of the 12 Steps, people read out their resentments to someone else, to realize and admit their own part in them. This is ego reduction and that will always result in spiritual growth.
This is why The Promises can say: “They will always materialize if we work for them.”
Going through the 12 Steps Promises
If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are halfway through.
The Promises come at the end of the explanation to Step Nine, which is about making amends to people for any behavior that might have caused them harm. The previous Steps will already have caused a positive transformation.
But the Steps are all really leading to this one (Steps 10, 11 and 12 are known as the “maintenance Steps”), and so long as someone has been “painstaking” – fearless, thorough and honest – they will be certain to be amazed most likely after just making their first few amends, but certainly when they are halfway through making them.
We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.
When someone can say no to whatever previously was an obsession of their mind and an overwhelming craving, they feel free. This is all bound to lead to happiness as no longer is the addiction their master: they have their life back.
We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.
In recovery, we realize every experience can be something to learn and grow from. In fact, as life takes on a whole new positive look, many people in recovery realize that without the pain and suffering, they would not be where they are now.
There is a growing understanding of the Dante line from his 14th-century narrative poem Divine Comedy: “The path to paradise begins in hell.”
We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace.
Addiction is chaos. As someone goes through the 12 Steps, they quit the addiction and start to look at their internal chaos in order to heal it. Progressively, this creates overall serenity and peace inside as well as in their external world.
No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others.
Our experiences can help others going through similar things. We are living proof that no one is beyond redemption. Even the worst situation gives lessons such as hope, courage and perseverance.
That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change.
Powerlessness over alcohol, other drugs or a behavioral addiction leaves feelings of uselessness and self-pity. When the powerlessness goes due to working the 12 Steps, these negative feelings will disappear.
The 12 Steps give empathy. We will meet like-minded people at the 12 Steps meetings and become interested in their well-being, especially if it’s someone who’s struggling as we once were.
Addiction is a self-centered way of being: spending time and money on an addiction when that time and money could be given to others. The 12 Steps encourage and create the opposite: selflessness and kindness.
Most people will also transform from having an attitude focusing on negativity, pessimism and lack to instead focus on positivity, optimism and abundance.
Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us.
When we’re clear-headed we are much more capable of dealing with our responsibilities. But this is not necessarily about having economic security or never coming across people with bad intentions or who wrong us.
It has to do with the fact the fear of these situations will leave us. As someone doing the 12 Steps gains a strong support network plus a growing belief that they are being looked after by a Power greater than themselves, this sort of fear will go away.
We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.
Again, as someone gains clarity away from the mess of addiction, they are much more likely to be able to make the right decisions. This is also because the 12 Steps allow anyone who does them to find their true self.
When we know who we really are, we are clearly in a better position to be able to make the right choices and decisions. The 12 Steps also take people to a place where they can start to feel and trust gut instinct more.
We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.
The 12 Steps are clear that the concept of God is up to each person. As the world’s most successful recovery program, the 12 Steps have for more than 80 years positively transformed many people who identify as atheist or agnostic. It really is about trusting that there is some kind of great loving force or energy that wants us to be alive, know meaning in our life and be happy – in just the same way most parents want for their children.
As the AA website says, The Promises “…give us permission to truly forgive and love ourselves. They remind us that it’s okay to take time for self-care, because that’s the true first step toward a better future, for everyone.”
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