Twelve Steps to Freedom

guy The Twelve Steps originated with Alcoholics Anonymous in the mid 1930’s.   Besides being used to help alcoholics and drug addicts, the Twelve Steps have been used in support groups for family members, over-eaters, compulsive gamblers, and even for those desiring to escape from sexual addiction.  These Steps formed the basis of treatment and counseling activities at New Creation Center where I served as Executive Director for ten years in the 1980’s. In the past few years, a movement recognizing the power of the Twelve Steps has sprung up among evangelical Christians concerned with those struggling with various addictions.

Some believers worry that they bring secular concepts to the Christian counseling field. From where do these Twelve Steps derive their power?   The answer is very simple; from the Bible!   Although following the Steps does not always bring an alcoholic (or other sufferer) into a saving relationship with Christ, they do work in overcoming addictions.   This is shown by the millions of people who have found sobriety since AA’s beginning.   In some ways, it is very much like the businessman who succeeds financially when he makes spiritual principles the basis of his business practices.

With so many excellent books discussing the Twelve Steps in depth, this article is written only as a simple introduction for those who have had no previous exposure to them.   The Steps can be broken down into three categories;   Step 1   the addict’s relationship with his addiction, Steps 2 – 5:   his relationship with God, and Steps 7 – 12:   his relationship with others.   The word “recovery”, as used in this article, is synonymous with the Biblical term, “sanctification.”   Just as the word sanctification implies that overcoming sin is a life-long process, so to, recovering from the “fall-out” of an addiction takes a lifetime program of growth.

Step One – “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.” Interestingly enough, the first step is the only one that mentions alcohol.   This illustrates the fact that there is a big difference between being sober and just not drinking.   Without a concrete program that leads to a changed life, most non-drinking alcoholics are just as dishonest and hard to live with as when they are actively drinking.   Step One also emphasizes the necessity of an admission of complete defeat.   As long as an alcoholic thinks he can handle his problem on his own, he will never find real freedom from his addiction.   “Hitting bottom” is referred to as the time where the addict, through the confrontation of circumstances, is willing to admit powerlessness.

Step Two – “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” According to the Bible, God created human beings to be dependent by nature.   The problem is not whether or not we are dependent.   The issue is, what will we be dependent on?   Trusting in ourselves is always destructive.   Dependence on alcohol or drugs is even more so.   Many have asked, “How can you get alcoholics to trust in Christ?”   The answer is obvious.   They already know what it means to be totally sold out to a higher power; their drug of choice!   They need to learn how to transfer their dependence to something that will not destroy their lives, but will equip them to live a whole new way of life.

Step Three – “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” When the alcoholic or drug addict comes to a real understanding of the destructiveness of his addiction, the need for something (or Someone) outside of himself becomes clear.   Step Three points him to the One who will set him free from his life of chemical-induced insanity.   Although AA is not a Christian organization, like the other support groups mentioned earlier, millions of people have rediscovered their faith and have returned to the churches of their childhoods because of this Step.   Only in heaven, will we actually know the number!

Step Four – “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” This Step is essentially an effort to help the alcoholic in recovery to discover his limitations.   By examining his sins, as well as his character assets, he can regain his lost sense of self-awareness.   This is the first step involving a review of his relationships with others.

Step Five – “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” Confession of our sins to one another, as commanded in James 5:16, is a too little practiced Christian discipline.   Yet, for the recovering alcoholic, it is an essential step in the process of becoming free from the past and its guilt.   Practicing it also helps him to overcome his sense of isolation while learning humility and the “rigorous honesty” that is essential for a successful recovery program.   Furthermore, self-confidence   returns, along with a good conscience and restored fellowship with God.

Step Six – “Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

Step Seven – “Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.” These two steps work together to help the person in recovery to grow in the realization that only God Himself is really able to work the changes in his life that are so necessary to maintain sobriety.

Step Eight – “Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.”

Step Nine – “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except where to do so would injure them or others.” These two steps are aids toward the restoration of the alcoholic’s personal relationships.   A thorough examination of his past behavior is the first step toward making actual amends, restitution, and apologies to those most affected by his harmful behavior.   It means that he must be ready to take responsibility for his own behavior and to share honestly with those he has hurt. (see “Restoration through Making Amends Part 1 & Part 2)

Step Ten – “Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.” To succeed in a recovery program, a habit of self-searching must become a way of life.   And, when wrongs are pointed out, they must be made right in all humility.

Step Eleven – “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry it out.” The terms used in this Step are very familiar to most Christians.   In it the recovering alcoholic is encouraged to develop the “lost” spiritual art of meditation.   Through prayerful contemplation on spiritual truths, he is led into a knowledge of God’s will for his life.   This Step emphasizes the need for continued spiritual growth, while he goes on in the faith-building adventure of answered prayer.

Step Twelve – “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry the message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.” This last Step is an action step.   The aim of the Twelve Steps, according to AA, is to bring the alcoholic into the experience of a spiritual awakening, a renewed consciousness of the presence and power of God in his life.   He cannot keep this life-transforming experience to himself, but will want to share it with others who still suffer as he once did.

It is hoped that the significance of this approach can be seen through this very brief discussion.   I believe that, as the message of the Twelve Steps coupled with the power of the Gospel spreads, many more suffering alcoholics will find their way to a fulfilled life, free of alcohol and drugs.

For additional information on the Twelve Steps and the role of the Bible in their origins, visit

Helping Children from Addicted & Dysfunctional Families

A. Understanding the Problems of Children from Addicted Families

In the US, twenty million children are experiencing physical, verbal and emotional abuse from parents who are addicted to alcohol and/or drugs. This is tragic when we consider that childhood is the foundation on which our entire lives are built. When a child’s efforts to bond with an addicted parent are thwarted, the result is confusion and intense anxiety. In order to survive in a home devoid of healthy parental love, limits, and consistency, they must develop “survival skills” very early in life.

In a chaotic, dysfunctional family, the lack of external control through consistent loving discipline results in an inability to develop internal discipline and self control. They learn not to depend on their parents to meet their needs – instead, it is all up to themselves. And, because they can’t trust their own parents, they become generally suspicious and mistrustful of all human beings. Yet, they are defenseless against the projection of blame and often feel responsible for parents’ addiction. They become “little adults” that feel compelled to accept responsibilities well beyond their years.

One authority on these matters, Dr. Tim Cermack, says children from addicted homes actually suffer from emotional and psychological symptoms that are best described as a combination of codependency and a variant of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD is most widely known as a malady afflicting Vietnam veterans. According to Dr. Cermack it

…occurs when people are subject to stresses of such intensity and nature that they clearly lie outside the range of normal human experiences. The effects are especially severe if the stress is caused by a series of traumatic events, and is of human origin. The effects are even more severe if the individual under stress has rigid coping strategies, or if the person’s support system includes those who encourage denial of the stress. *

Growing up in an alcoholic family is certainly traumatic. In these homes, children experience a daily environment of inconsistency, chaos, fear, abandonment, denial, and real or potential violence. Survival becomes a full-time job. PTSD also leads to a condition called “psychic numbing” experienced as a sense of estrangement and being detached to the point of feeling there is no place or group to which we truly belong. Emotions become constricted, especially in the areas where intimacy, tenderness, and sexuality are involved. Is it any wonder that these children are eight times more likely become addicts themselves or to marry an alcoholic or drug addict.

B. Common Struggles of Children from Alcoholic/Drug-Addicted Homes

1. Guessing at what is normal.

2. Difficulty having fun.

3. Judging themselves mercilessly.

4. Difficulty with emotional relationships.

5. Feeling “different” from other people.

6. Tendency to be impulsive.

7. Either super responsible or super irresponsible.

8. Desperately seeking approval and affirmation.

9. Suffering from chronic anxiety.

10. Lacking self discipline.

11. Compulsive liars.

12. Suffering from a critical deficiency of self-respect.

13. Fear and mistrust for authority figures.

C. Healing Begins by “Breaking the Alcoholic Family Rules”

Early intervention significantly lessens the life-long effects of a traumatic childhood. The way Christian workers can best help these children is to lovingly assist them to “break the rules” of their dysfunctional family. These rules, according to Claudia Black in her book It will Never Happen to Me are “don’t trust, don’t feel, don’t talk.”

The first need of children from addicted families is learn that they are just normal kids who have been trying to cope in a extremely stressful and chaotic environment. While their alcoholic home is not normal, they are normal kids. Their biggest problem is usually not having anyone they trust with whom to they can talk openly about how they feel and what they are experiencing. Opening up and sharing from the heart in a safe atmosphere is a tremendously healing experience. We must make sure to provide time for such experiences. Still, it may take quite a while to gain the trust of children from troubled families. Usually they need enough non-confrontive interaction with workers and the opportunity to observe them in action as they relate to others. Opening up can be extremely difficult, especially because they have learned their entire lives that they must protect their families secrets. They can feel like traitors, betraying their family and the illusion that everything is all right at home.

Children from addicted families have learned to survive by suppressing their emotions. They are told that their perceptions are wrong and that their feelings are not acceptable. So, we need to let them know that it’s OK to have feelings and that they won’t be rejected for having them.

D. Some Other Suggestions

  1. Learn more about alcohol and drug addiction and its impact on children.
  2. Help them learn to take care of themselves and that it is OK to think about their own safety when faced with dangerous situations.
  3. Help them to learn to have fun.
  4. Help them to learn from the Bible how God sees them. And that His love is unconditional, not performance-based.
  5. Talk about honesty and its rewards.
  6. Bring them to structured support groups where they can share their experiences with others.

E. Resources:

Confident Kids support groups are a wonderful resource for helping children from alcoholic and dysfunctional families.

Official web site of Adult Children of Alcoholics International

* Timmen L. Cermack, MD, A Primer on Adult Children of Alcoholics, Health  Communications, Pompano Beach, FL, 1985

From RESCUE Magazine, January/February 1996 issue. The journal of the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions.

The Homeless and Addiction Recovery

drinkEvery substance abuse counselor has probably at one time or another pointed to the “skid row bum” and said, “You don’t have to be like him to be an addict or alcoholic! ” While this type of person may represent only 5% of all addicts, Christians who are in recovery have a lot more in common with him than they may think! A drive through the streets of any major city reminds us that the “skid row bum” has not disappeared. Alarmingly, he has been joined by hundreds of thousands of people now called “the homeless. ”

Who are they? 18-35 year old men, women who are 16-30 years of age, and single parents with children now represent the bulk of the homeless population. Most are minorities and local people, not transients, who have been homeless for one year or less. On today’s “skid row” we find people who are dependent on a variety of drugs, emotionally dysfunctional, mentally ill, and medically at-risk, especially for HIV/AIDS. A high percentage of them have been sexually and physically abused.

Besides not having a home to call their own, most of the 500,000 to 3 million people identified as homeless have something else in common – addiction and mental illness. According to one study, up to two-thirds of homeless adults suffer from alcoholism and at least half suffer from drug disorders. (1) In their book, A Nation In Denial, Alice Baum and Donald Burnes shatter many of the myths surrounding the root causes of homelessness, which have little to do with the economy, governmental social policies, lack of affordable housing, and so forth. According to their research at least 65-85% of all homeless adults suffer from chronic alcoholism, drug addiction, mental illness, or some combination of the three, often complicated by serious medical problems. At least 1/3 of the homeless suffer from severe and persistent chronic psychiatric disorders. Forty to fifty percent of these individuals are “dually diagnosed” – suffering from addiction to alcohol and/or drugs, as well. (2)

Ultimately, the condition labeled “homelessness” is best described as a state of “disaffiliation” or complete alienation from meaningful human relationships and the social support systems most people have working for them. Most homeless people are either addicts themselves, or are the products of dysfunctional families and broken homes that were significantly impacted by addiction. These are root problems and, unless they are adequately addressed, any other help we provide will not be effective.

While millions of dollars may be spent on education, housing, and employment for the homeless, these efforts do little to improve their lots if they are unable to stay sober by working through the very same recovery issues that many of us are dealing with in our own lives. Sadly enough, while these problems are on the rise, the resources that are available are usually priced beyond what those who need help the most can afford! Between 1978 and 1984 there was a 17% decrease in treatment beds for the indigent (those without insurance or funds to pay for care). According to recent congressional figures, only 12. 5% of the nation’s 6.5 million drug users have access to publicly funded treatment. (3)

Christian Recovery & Homelessness

Is it possible that what we’ve called the “Christian Recovery Movement” could be helpful in solving this problem? Recovery in the Christian community is still largely a phenomenon of the middle class. Most Christian support groups meet in predominantly white suburban churches, usually outside of the reach of inner city people who could greatly benefit from them. Additionally, almost all of the Christian self-help literature is written with a cultural and educational bias aimed at this social strata. There are, however, some encouraging signs.

Rethinking Rescue Missions

For many people, the stereotype of the “rescue mission” or “gospel mission” is that it is a place for middle-aged alcoholics gathered for a sermon, bowl of soup, and a semi-clean place to “crash” for the night. To the contrary, the types of people who now look to inner city missions for help have changed dramatically. They are younger men and women, and entire families, with deeper problems in their lives than ever before. Many rescue missions are responding by developing some very progressive and effective programs.

Comprehensive recovery-oriented programs, using the   Twelve Steps   and other   treatment strategies   are now operating to help these homeless men and   women   lead healthy, stable lives. Just how effective “Christian recovery” can be is powerfully illustrated in an SRI Gallup study of recovery from homelessness conducted for a rescue mission in Knoxville, TN. This study, conducted by a secular research organization, had no thought of “Christian recovery” principles factored into it. They identified six critical “life themes” that were strongly present in the lives of people who were able to recover from homelessness. (4) Interestingly enough, these “life themes” clearly reverberate through the Twelve Steps. The following are listed according to their degree of importance:

Spirituality – as a source of personal strength and as the basis for rebuilding relationships with other people.

Self-Insight – by overcoming denial, acceptance leads to a new and accurate knowledge of oneself.

Security – feeling safe both physically and emotionally

Self-Awareness – being in touch with one’s own emotions

People Support – having others who care enough to be truly involved with one’s life (the total opposite of “disaffiliation”)

Suppression – being reconciled with one’s past and able reject negative thoughts, worries, and a poor self-concept

The movement to bring Christian recovery to the homeless is still very much in its infancy. Countless gratifying “12th Step” opportunities exist at inner city missions for Christians in recovery who are willing to transcend their cultural ” comfort zones.” Rescue missions throughout the nation are in desperate need of staff members and volunteers who understand recovery and can share it with others. If you would like to become involved, contact the AGRM for more information.


“Mental Illness and Substance Abuse in the Contemporary Homeless Population,” Paper Submitted at the Professional Symposium, Recent Findings and New Approaches to the Treatment of Mental Illness and Substance Abuse, Pamela  J. Fischer &a mp; William. Breakley, Tulsa, OK 1988

A Nation In Denial, Alice Baum & Donald Burnes. Westview Press, Boulder, CO 1993  Baum & Burnes

“Rescue Ministries of Knoxville, Tennessee Recovery Study, Summary of Research,” SRI Gallup, Lincoln, Nebraska, July 1992

This article appeared in the Summer 1994 edition of STEPS magazine, journal of the National Association for Christian Recovery.        © NACR, 1994, all rights reserved