Tools for Recovery: What do Addicts Use?

Examines some of the tools learned in 12-Step programs, and explores what they teach and why they are effective.

Recovering addicts who attend Twelve-Step meetings frequently dramatically change their lives.  What makes “The Program” so effective?  A group of people all facing the same challenges, who meet and share their experiences without judgment or comment is an extraordinarily safe space that encourages  reflection and self-examination, and provides a supportive environment for experiments with change.  There are many reasons for the success of 12-Step programs.  One critical element is the many tools shared among addicts.

Some of the tools we explore are:
•  Meetings
    o  New members are encouraged to attend “90 meetings in 90 days”.  Achieving this goal means the addict carries through on a commitment to be in the company of others in recovery every day for three months!  Just showing up that often means that the ideas and work of recovery is omnipresent, and the addict begins to absorb recovery almost by osmosis!
•  Sharing stories
    o  In many meetings, a speaker shares their story for around 30 minutes (the standard format is to share experience, (what it was like, what happened, what it is like now), strength, and hope); followed by the rest of the attendees sharing feelings and their own experiences triggered by the story (2 or 3 minutes each).  Listening to stories (in AA, these are sometimes called “drunk-a-logs”) the “newbie” learns that there are others with histories even more sad than their own, that they are not alone in the world, that they are not the worst people in the world.  One common issue for addicts is “terminal uniqueness” and hearing others’ stories begins the cure.
    o  Most meetings have a rule of “no cross-talk” that forbids members from directly or indirectly commenting on another person’s share.  So 12-step members learn to listen without judging, without opinions, without thinking about what they will say soon.
•  Slogans -   One of the most powerful tools is slogans – short phrases that capture an idea.  Slogans allow the recovering addict to replace temptations, cravings, doubts and fears with a thought that can be repeated until it drives other thoughts away.
    o  One Day at A Time – reminds addicts to stay in the moment, to set reasonable and achievable goals, to stay away from the far future.   Addicts NEVER give up an addiction “for life” – that would be unreasonable and terrifying!  They learn to stay away from the substance One Day at a Time.
    o  Let Go and Let God – Do what Is possible, but resist the need to control all outcomes.  Recognize that you cannot control the world, and release the need to be in charge!
    o  Fake it till You Make it – When a new behavior is hard, don’t demand perfection.  Realize that it takes time to learn new stuff – and in the meantime, you can  “act as if” you were not an addict – even though it feels false and you KNOW you are craving the addictive substance.
    o  Easy Does It – Forgive yourself for mistakes, set small goals, don’t try to do everything at once.
    o  What You Think of Me is None of My Business – release your need for approval, stop people-pleasing, and recognize that you will never please everyone – so stop trying!
•  Sponsors
    o  The new member asks an experienced member to act as sponsor.  The sponsor shares their own experience of recovery, and oversees the member’s journey through the Twelve Steps.   The sponsor acts as a confidante, a resource, a coach, a cheerleader, a guide, an open ear and a healing heart.  The sponsor is the one to call when cravings attack, when urges feel overwhelming.  When the newbie completes Step 4 (Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves) the sponsor is often the listener for Step 5 (Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.)  Steps 4 and 5 are possibly the strongest forces for healing in the UNIVERSE!

There are many tools available at a Twelve-Step program, and every member has their own favorites. This is a short overview of some of the tools addicts use to change their lives.  There are 12-Step meetings for nearly any addiction, and they are all free, confidential, and powerful!  If one deals with  your struggle -  welcome!

Tess Pender is an ordained Interfaith Minister, active in 12-step programs for over thirty years.   Her spiritual practice began with Native American Sweat Lodges, and continued with a series of Vision Quests. She led a Teen Spiritual Education Program, and regularly teaches classes on accessing intuition.  She practices Earth-Centered Spirituality.  She can be reached on Facebook at

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Comment by Lisa Shaw on October 16, 2017 at 7:21am

Hi, Tess. Thanks for this article.  While the content is of course valuable, I'm concerned that this is all common knowledge to most people, and it would be great if you could slant it a bit to show what the non-addict could learn and adapt from these 12 step elements.  It would give it a broader audience with a particular self-help dynamic.  What do you think?

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