Many of us joke around and say, “I’m addicted to chocolate,” “I’m a shoe addict”–but truly damaging and uncontrolled addictions are real, and prevalent. Anything taken to excess can become an addiction: alcohol, drugs, food, fasting (anorexia), extreme healthy living (orthorexia), shopping, sex…
My own biggest struggle was with alcohol. I am a grateful recovering alcoholic because of Twelve Steps. Although the twelve steps were written for alcoholics, they can assist anyone who desires to break free of an addictive personality. A member of Alcoholics Anonymous does the steps with a sponsor in order to ensure accountability. Doing this process alone is less successful. If you are not treating a deadly addiction, you can certainly practice these steps with a friend or loved one.
The Twelve steps were formulated in 1938, by Dr. Bob Smith and Bill Wilson in Akron, Ohio. These “guiding principles” were born out of the Theosophic Society, which interestingly comes much from yogic, Hindu, and Buddhist philosophy as well as Christianity. The steps mindfully take one from acknowledging a problem, all the way to helping others through the same problem. It is a system that awakens and connects us to ourselves and others. In yogic terms, this is a way of creating a new samskara; a psychologic pathway in the mind.
If you are struggling with an unhealthy obsession, see if these twelve steps can be applied to lose this false attachment.
Step One: We admitted we were powerless over (insert affliction here), that our lives had become unmanageable.
(Honesty/Acceptance) It is important to emphasize that powerless does not mean helpless. We are powerless over our past, but we can help ourselves in the present moment. This is where we surrender, and overcome denial. Admitting to ourselves that the problem exists is powerful. It is the very beginning of a new psychological path, or samskara. In Buddhism, this means to recognize dukkha (suffering caused by craving, clinging, and seeking to control). In yoga, they call this kaja. When we are willing to seek the truth, we are willing to stop avoiding feelings, and trying to control people, situations, and forces beyond our control.
Step Two: Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity.
(Hope/possibility for change) This step is about putting faith in the road ahead. Many people become uncomfortable at the very mention of God, which is simply translated as a power greater than ourselves. It is to know that we need to seek help beyond ourselves, whether that’s the Universe, or the Divine. This step means to let go.
Step Three: Made a decision to turn our will and lives over to the care of God, as we understand Him.
(Faith/commitment) This step is often explained as, “Turning it over.” It is to accept thing as they are, because when we do not approve of something beyond our control, we find ourselves powerless to our affliction. This can mean to live your dharma, embracing the challenges set in front of you.
Step Four: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves
(courage/ackknowledge our failings) This is where we really get down to business. Make three columns on paper. Write down in the left column all of your most traumatic memories. In the second column, write the feelings that coordinate. In the third column, write down your liability in the situation. You may begin to pick up on your “character defects,” which are the parts of your personality that cause you to respond negatively. Getting to know these character defects heightens your awareness, enabling you to scratch a new samskara, with new and better outcomes.
Step Five: Admitted to God, ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrong doings
(integrity/power of confession) This step is the most scary, and also the most liberating step. In this step, you share the list your created with another person. You let your skeletons out to someone you trust, who agrees not to share this information. This vulnerability helps us accept ourself with our shortcomings, diminishing our shame.
Step Six: We are entirely ready for God to remove our defects of character
(Willingness/power of intention) Get to know that list of character defects that you recorded. This is where your will and your ego interject in your life. Agree to observe the feelings that arise, and then see if you can make more and more space before you react. See where it is possible to act upon best intention, beyond the ego. Perhaps make an alternate list of the ways you would prefer to react. This is a practice; it is not to set fire to the things we would like to get rid of. You may also find it difficult to follow this step because you feel as though you are losing your identity, but fear not. We are always changing and evolving through out our lifetime.
Step Seven: Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings
(Humility/let go) Humility is the key word in step seven. This is a further exploration of living and reacting beyond the chains of our ego. It means to live with a whole heart, meeting others with compassion and love, cultivating equanimity so that we may move through difficult times with grace.
Step Eight: Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and willing to make amends to them all
(compassion/owning ourtruth) Making this list will make you squirm, or will have knots in your belly. You might want to throw up, but it can change your life. Acknowledge the people whom you have hurt, so that they might forgive you, and more importantly, so that you can forgive yourself.
Step Nine: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others
(Justice/forgiveness) It is important to use your judgment here: don’t tell people things that will destroy their life. This step is to move through the troubles already caused. Making amends will allow you to loosen your attachment to your ego even further, and may connect you back to your true self. Accepting and admitting our shortcomings to those we have hurt is to stare our shame in the eyes, diminishing it, and allowing our heart to crack open.
Step Ten: Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it
(perserverance/enduring effort) This is not a one-shot process; make it a habit to verbalize your amends as you hurt people from now on! We humbly recognize that we are not perfect, and our ego and old habits will keep coming out to bite. Our new samskara is not ingrained immediately, but will develop over time through a committed practice to a new way of being. Would you rather be happy or right?
Step Eleven: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of his for us and the power to carry that out
(Spirituality/true self) Connect to the present moment, live in accordance to our dharma, and hand your will over to the highest good. Commit to a meditation and/or prayer practice of your choosing. Many say they get on their knees every night or every morning, others may pray or meditate over rosary beads or mala beads, using mantras or prayers. To connect with the common good, metta and tonglen are useful techniques. It is important to find what works for you.
Step Twelve: Having had a spiritual awakening as the results of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others (with a similar affliction), and to practice these principles in all of our affairs
(Service) This spiritual awakening is often gradual. Step Twelve also talks about “giving it away,” “sharing our experience, hope, and joy.” By sharing, we stay on course and help others at the same time. Being of service keeps us connected, and connection is what we seek beneath all of our habits, addictions, and afflictions.
I encourage you to do the steps. See what unfolds!
Related: How to Break Free from Negative Patterns
How Happy Are You, Really? A Wellness Check
Also by Jessica: GF Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp