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writing the 12 steps

You may have heard Bill W’s story about writing the 12 steps. He sat at home one afternoon with a yellow legal pad, and the 12 steps just rolled out. He indeed may have just written them all at one time but they came from other sources before, and had other changes later.

AA evolved from the Oxford Group Movement. Their four spiritual activities were:

  1. The Sharing of our sins and temptations with another Christian life given to God, and to use Sharing as Witness to help others, still unchanged, to recognize and acknowledge their sins.
  2. Surrender of our life, past, present, and future, into God’s keeping and direction.
  3. Restitution to all whom we have wronged directly or indirectly.
  4. Listening to, accepting, relying on God’s Guidance and carrying it out in everything we do or say, great or small.

In writing the Big Book, Bill created several versions of his own story, but his program of recovery could be summarized into four steps:

  1. Place your life in the hands of God as you understand him—forever.
  2. Make a thorough and ruthless inventory of all moral defects and immoral actions.
  3. Be willing to get rid of all these defects and immoral actions and realize that you can’t do this alone.
  4. Make amends for all past transgressions.

This led to these:

Admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.

Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care and direction of God as we understood Him.

Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

Were entirely willing that God remove all these defects of character.

Humbly, on our knees, asked Him to remove our shortcomings – holding nothing back.

Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make complete amends to them all.

Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our contact with God, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

Having had a spiritual experience as the result of this course of action, we tried to carry this message to others, especially alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

During pre-publication several changes got made in addition to writing the 12 steps. The single word, God, was modified to add “as we understand Him” or generalized to some version of Higher Power to ameliorate those coming in with aversion to that word—something like half of us the Big Book claims. The terms “direction” and “on our knees” died a similar death.

The final phrase “others, especially alcoholics” got its scope reduced. We made it a more attemptable level.

Spiritual experience” made it into the first printings. Thereafter we changed it to “spiritual awakening” for those of us for whom this was less dramatic. We also added Appendix II: Spiritual Experience with footnotes referencing it on pages 25, 25, and 47 with increasing emphasis. Any future changes to the Steps require the consent of 3/4 of the registered groups.

By Bob M.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the AA Cleveland District Office.