Importance of Working the Steps

1)       What is meant by "working the Steps"?

For me, working the Steps means studying them and applying them. I study the Steps by reading different literature like the CoDA pamphlets or other 12 Step literature, and attending Step meetings. By studying the Steps I come to an understanding of what they mean to me. Then I practice using them in my daily life. Working the Steps means I am developing a new (effective) way to deal with old problems and that I am becoming an active participant in my own life.

2)       Why is working the Steps important?

Working the Steps is important because I have chosen to be in a 12 Step program. If I don’t work the Steps, what’s the point? I spent about a year not working the Steps when I first got in to CoDA. I didn’t know what to do or how to find out. I listened to people share and that was comforting but my life didn’t change; the group did not have that power. I began reading all the 12 Step literature I could get my hands on. I found a sponsor that I could relate to. I came to understand that I have the power to change my life and I began to actually change when I started doing the work and working the Steps.

3)       Can I recover if I don't work any Steps?

I don’t know if you can, but I don’t think I can. Everyone has their own path. The Steps are my path out of codependency. When I don’t work the Steps then I practice old behavior instead. When I do what I used to do I get what I used to get and that is craziness. I prefer recovery and for me that involves working the Steps.

4)       If I participate in a Step table, have I worked the Step?

All that is required to work a Step is the willingness to try. I don’t even know what a Step table is, but I believe that any means you find to help you find personal meaning in the Steps means you have worked a Step.

5)       How do I know when I have worked a Step?

I know I have worked a Step when I have found personal meaning in that step. The Step becomes an understandable, relevant idea that I can use in my daily life

6)       Do I have to work all 12 Steps?

Of course not, but it’s a good idea. Taken together, the Steps are a healthy, practical philosophy for being human. Each Step fits together into a whole way of life. I chose to work all 12 Steps because I wanted a whole new way of life, free from perpetual agony and self-hatred. I got what I wanted.

7)       Is there a time frame for working all 12 Steps?

The only time frame is yours and your higher power’s.

8)       Do I have to do the Steps in order?

You don’t have to but it works best that way the first time through. Each Step serves as a foundation for later Steps. Developing a relationship with a higher power in Steps 1-3 gave me the spiritual support I needed to do a fearless moral inventory, and the trust that my HP would remove any defects I was ready to let go of as I worked Steps 4-7. The relationship I developed with myself in those steps helped prepare me to develop a relationship with other people in Steps 8-10. At first I thought I could start off with 8 and 9 then people who hated me would like me and I would be OK. Not! By releasing much of my past baggage in previous steps, I was freed to just practice being myself in Step 10 and to deepen my relationship with a power greater than myself in Step 11. As the result of working all the previous steps, I was ready both to live my recovery and to share my recovery with others in step 12.

9)       When I have worked all 12 Steps can I quit?

My first thought is "why would you want to?" For me, working the Steps has not been like following a recipe from start to finish, but more like learning to play a musical instrument, starting with the basics and then continuing to refine and practice. My first time through the Steps I learned and I grew but it didn’t end there. Whenever I am faced with the codependent crazies I can choose to work the Steps on that issue. Each time I do that, I release a little more old behavior and find a little more freedom and joy. The Steps are a way of living and a progressive unfolding discovery for me. This is not something I want to quit.

10)     Is working the Steps in CODA the same as working the Steps in other 12 Step programs?

How is CODA different?

I think that working the Steps in CoDA is a lot like working the Steps in other programs. All 12 Step programs are about releasing our illusions of control, developing a relationship with a higher power, and taking responsibility for ourselves. Each program also has its unique focus as does CoDA. I have found that working the following Steps can be different in CoDA.

STEP1: "admitted we were powerless over others..."

This also means that others are powerless over me. I believe this "flipside" to Step 1 is unique to CoDA To me it emphasizes that no one make me do or feel anything, and that I have a choice about how to experience my own life.

STEP 4: "made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves."

As a codependent I could never put my finger on just what it was that I was "addicted" to so I didn’t have a clear direction for seeking out my "wrongs," or "shortcomings," or "defects of character." So I figured my very existence was wrong and everything about me was a character defect. Although these feelings are not unique to codependents, I think they can be harder to sort out in this program. The Fourth Step is a tool for self-disclosure that allows us ultimately to reclaim our lives. I think it is very important to have some guidance doing a 4th Step in CoDA so that the newcomer doesn’t waste too much time and pain using the Fourth Step as a means of self-punishment rather than self discovery.

STEP 8: "made a list of all persons we had harmed…"

As a rescuing, self-effacing, martyr type of codependent, this made my brain hurt. How can a doormat harm anybody? What about what they did to me? It was only by seeking guidance and by trusting in the program and a power greater than myself that I was able to face my intense confusion over this Step and to be transformed by it. My codependency is harmful, to me especially, and to others also. This Step helped me put the focus firmly on me and helped me uncover my participation in my own distress. This Step can be a crucial turning point for codependents who are martyrs.

STEP 9: "made direct amends… except when to do so would injure them or others."

I include myself in "others." As a codependent who has traditionally placed my own needs last, it is essential that I place my needs first when working this Step. If I am afraid of how someone will react to my amends, then I have given them the power to injure me and I am not ready to make direct amends. I need to prepare further by working Steps 1-8 again and seeking guidance from my higher power, my sponsor, and my group.

STEP12: "…we carried the message to other codependents…"

Speaking as a codependent who wants to fix everything and make people feel better, I think this Step can be a trigger for relapse if taken to soon or out of context. Early in my pink cloud recovery I wanted to tell everybody that they needed to be in CoDA. Now I can tell people that I am in CoDA. If they would like to find out more, I can say “this is where and when the meetings are,” and maybe share my story. I don’t have to “convince” them anymore. I am drawn to service work now because I enjoy participating. I want CoDA to continue to exist because it has given me a new life. I want to help let people know that CoDA exists too, not so that they will come, but so that they will have the option to come if they choose. It’s easy to get frustrated when only a few members participate in service work. When I begin feeling irritable because I’m doing so much and they don’t understand or care or appreciate me etc., it’s time to do a quick personal inventory. I am not in control of my group or CoDA as a whole. I don’t have all the answers. A power greater than me is in charge. Everything is as it should be, and my only responsibility is to take care of me, pray for knowledge of god’s will for me and the power to carry that out, and allow others the same privilege.

Allison (2000)